Interview: Hiran Deraniyagala of Battlecross

hiran4Hiran from Battlecross is quickly becoming one of my favorite live performers in metal. After seeing the BX live 5 times, and having been “Facebook friends” with Hiran for 3 years, I decided to take a shot in the dark and send him a request for an interview. Incredibly, his response was almost immediate and we were underway.

Warning: This isn’t a Vick, Greg D. or Masked Promoter style interview, filled with all that yummy wit and humor. After 3-4 years of being an enormous Battlecross/Hiran fan, I had some serious questions that needed answering. And as luck would have it, Mr. Deraniyagala DID NOT disappoint.

Mike Marlinski: Battlecross has been a force to be reckoned with since the late 2000s. Every band has its ups and downs during the formative years, but it seems like the magic really started when Push Pull Destroy became Pursuit of Honor and was released under the flag of Metal Blade Records in 2010. As a founding member, how did it feel to be taken in by Metal Blade and join that roster?

Hiran Deraniyagala: It was definitely a great sense of excitement and pride. We had worked so hard writing and working on those songs. When we first shopped the album we weren’t getting any interest. We thought maybe if we released it on our own we could show some interest in the band and what we were doing. Soon after self releasing it we changed vocalists and Kyle joined the band. When Metal Blade signed us we didn’t really have enough material to go right into the studio. We also didn’t want the first album to go under the radar. We were really proud of what we accomplished and wanted those songs to be heard so we decided to record new vocals on the album with Kyle and essentially have an album to release. Kyle’s vocals added a whole different level to the songs and we were really stoked on it. Metal Blade is such a legendary label and to be able to release that album with them was a huge step in our career.

MM: I’ve seen BX 5 times now. Each time, the energy on stage seems to be more intense. What kind of steps do you guys take to ensure your stage presence is on point at every show? It is a conscious effort you guys make, or is it more natural than that?

HD: It definitely comes natural and the energy of the crowd definitely plays into it as well. Overall though we never like to go out on stage half assed no matter how small or big the crowd is. We truly believe in delivering a killer show. I think that’s why people really latch on to us from the live show because it’s truly honest and real. I’ve always been a fan of bands that just went out there with nothing else but the music and the fans. No stage props, gimmicks, light show or explosions just the band pouring their heart and soul into their performance. I have nothing against bands that do that but I’ve always just been more fond of the up close and personal live show.

MM: You’ve done some great things for your local animal shelters over the years. I’m constantly seeing posts from you about dogs needing homes, animal abuse, etc. Although this has nothing to do with metal, can you talk about one of the more inspiring stories you have to tell about some animals you’ve helped.

HD: I am a lover of animals, especially dogs. I grew up with dogs all my life and it always breaks my heart to see how people can neglect or be cruel to these animals that love unconditionally. A couple of years ago I became aware of Detroit Dog Rescue and love what they do for abandoned or abused dogs. They’re a no-kill shelter which means they won’t euthanize the dog if no one adopts them. I haven’t been able to actually devote any personal volunteer time because I’ve been on the road however I’ve donated money and shared everything I can about them to raise awareness. My proudest moment was raising $500 for Detroit Dog Rescue. My friend Travis Tutwiler in the Dallas, Texas area took some awesome live shots of the band and came up with this cool idea to sell signed prints to raise money for them. I loved the idea and have sold prints on at least three tours.

MM: The guitar work on the 3 full lengths is phenomenal. You can really hear a variety of thrash, heavy metal and melodic death metal influences on every track, but the guitar dynamics present in BX songs make them truly unique in a genre that’s sadly becoming “cookie cutter”. How has your writing process evolved over the years? Is it a group effort, or are you and Tony the core of the process most of the time?

HD: We definitely work together when it comes to writing music however we have also been more efficient writing on our own first then coming together to work on the idea. Usually Tony, Don or myself demo an idea and send it to one another. Then we hash out the song together and come up with new ideas. I like when we can take the idea and jam together on it and see how it feels. I think that was sort of missing from the last record because our drummer at the time lived in California so we didn’t really get to jam the songs live until after they were recorded. Overall the songs have to have something special about them for us to be inspired. I can’t just churn out a riff for the sake of writing a song. If it doesn’t hit me in a special way I don’t bother with it. It’s what makes the writing process for us so natural. It’s also why we generally only end up with nine or ten songs for an album because we don’t want any filler.

MM: Whether they be metal bands or not, name some bands or artists that drove you to become a musician in the first place.

HD: It started with Marilyn Manson, Tool, Rage Against the Machine and Korn but from there I looked for heavier music and discovered Pantera, Slayer, Metallica, Testament, Slipknot, etc. I started going to local shows when I was 18 so I got introduced to even heavier extreme music. Michigan had a lot to offer locally and I was always going to shows and discovering new music because of it. It opened my horizon to death metal, grindcore and black metal. I got into Cannibal Corpse, Dying Fetus, Cephalic Carnage, Dimmu Borgir, Pig Destroyer and Morbid Angel. All these bands and many others shaped my playing style and influences.

MM: “Get Over It” is still to this day, my favorite BX song. At the end of the thrashy bridge, when the drums break and the harmonized single guitar notes kick in to set up the melodic outro, it gets me every time. What are some of your proudest moments/favorite sections of your favorite BX songs?

HD: I’ve always felt like I was a better rhythm player than lead so I was always proud of particular riffs or songs I helped write. From “Pursuit of Honor” my proudest moment is probably “Deception”. I helped write a lot of riffs and it also spawned one of my favorite Tony solos. On “War Of Will” I was really proud of how “Beast” turned out. I worked on that song for awhile and had a lot of riff ideas. When we had recorded it everyone thought it would be an end of the album song that would never be played live but it ended up being a fan favorite so Tony had to learn a Suecoff solo, haha. “Rise To Power”- my proudest moment is “Blood and Lies”. That song has such a different vibe than a lot of the stuff we write and I think it turned out pretty dark and “nasty” which I love.

MM: Being from the Detroit area, can you talk about some local bands you think we should check out?

HD: Of course! There is so much great talent in Detroit and all over Michigan really. Honestly, anything new I listen to would be one of our local bands we have here. Michigan has some of the best musicians I’ve seen and the support of the scene is great. I’ll list out a few bands here: Imminent Sonic Destruction, Wulfhook, Shit Life, Nightkin, Pick Axe Preacher, Centenary, Hellmouth, Voyag3r, Hate Unbound, From Blue to Gray, Fell Ruin, Recorrupter and tons more that are either unfortunately no longer bands or some I can’t think of. There are a lot more I probably don’t know about either, because I don’t get out as much as I used to.

MM: BX has toured quite a bit since 2011. Which was your favorite tour and which shows on those tours have been most memorable for you? Who has been your favorite band to tour with and why?

HD: This question is really tough. It’s hard to think of one specific tour or show that stands out as the best overall. Playing Mayhem Fest was an amazing experience and it really opened the doors for us. We played some of our biggest shows on that tour.
Touring with Killswitch Engage has always been one of my highlights because they’re not only a great band but they’re great guys as well. I can’t thank them enough for taking us out on more than one occasion especially when we got to do three shows in Brazil with them. Those were insane and amazing shows!

The last tours we did with Superjoint were amazing as well. Being a huge fan of Phil Anselmo and Pantera it was definitely surreal being able to tour with them. Phil along with the band and crew were all great people to tour with and we had a blast on the road with them. Of course one of my all time highlights was getting the opportunity to play “Fucking Hostile” with Phil! Unreal!

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MM: By now, I’ve seen hundreds, maybe even thousands of national/international metal bands live, but I can honestly say that Battlecross has been the most approachable band I’ve interacted with. You guys seem to remember Vick Sacha and I every time, we’ve talked about music and our personal lives and it never feels like we’re bothering you. Being in the FB group, Battlecross Fans Unite, I see a lot of similar accounts from many of your fans. Is this something you actively strive to do, as a way to connect with your fans, or would you say it’s more so your personalities just doing their thing?

HD: It’s definitely just a part of who we are. As I mentioned before about being honest and real, I think that’s all part of it. We have such an amazing, supportive fanbase and I think a lot of that comes from our personable approach and interaction with the fans. I’ve always appreciated any artist I’ve admired that has taken their time to shake my hand, say hi, take a picture or what have you. It’s not rocket science to just treat people with courtesy and decency. Yes we all have our moments where maybe we want to be left alone or just having a bad day but people are also taking time out of their day to come see you and pay for it too. The loyalty comes with the respect we show for one another. That’s just who we’ve always been.

MM: What kind of advice would you have to give to local musicians starting out?

HD: It’s a really tough business out there. One with a lot of hard work and sacrifice and sometimes very little reward but you have to remember why you do it in the first place. Your career is measured by your goals and work you put into it. It depends on how much you’re willing to sacrifice and put in to making a career out of music. Make sure everyone is on the same page with your goals and if someone isn’t then find someone else. Your music is the number one focus. Quality over quantity. Make sure your music is the best it can be and don’t be afraid to try different ideas or collaborate. Networking is crucial. Opening for a national band isn’t going to land you a record deal. Talk to the bands and crew but also be respectful. Be aware of your set times! I can’t stress that enough. Nothing more annoying than a local band starting or ending late. It throws the whole show off and only pisses the touring bands and crew off. Be humble and support your scene. Why should anyone support your band if you’re not willing to do the same? Get out to shows and network with other bands and meet new potential fans.

MM: Talk about one album that you can honestly say changed your life.

HD: Man…it’s really tough to choose one. Normally I say Pantera- Far Beyond Driven because that really was my true introduction into heavy music but I think I’m going to go a little less back in time and talk about Woe Of Tyrants. These guys are from Ohio and were probably the last new band to truly impress and inspire me. I was at a local show with Tony and our old drummer Mike. We were there to see Mike’s brother’s band play. It was an all day fest thing so we showed up around 1 or 2. We pretty much hung out in my car drinking beer and listening to music because a lot of the bands playing we weren’t really into. Anyway, we see these long haired dudes get out of this van and Tony and I were thinking, “These guys look pretty metal, we should check em out.” So these guys get on stage and just immediately destroy it. Total shredders and amazing stage presence, hair whips, the whole nine yards. I was blown away. I was so captivated by their performance I bought their album the next day. Their music and stage presence was everything I ever wanted to see in a metal band. We got a chance to know them and they’re all great guys. I even filled in on lead for them on a tour a couple of years later. They’re album Kingdom Of Might will always be one of my all time favorite metal records.

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MM: I’ve never really paid attention to your guitars or rig at shows. Name some equipment (brands, etc.) that you swear by when it comes to guitars, amps, additional electronics, etc.

HD: I pretty much swear by ESP guitars. I love those guitars and thankfully landed an endorsement with them after getting signed. They’ve always been good to us and I proudly play their guitars. We also use Peavey amps which I love. I don’t think you can go wrong with the 6505+ or 6534+ which are the two amps we use.

MM: My band just toured about a month ago. We ended up playing a place called The Rockery in Wyandotte, MI on a Sunday. Truth be told, it ended up being one of the funnest shows and the area we played in was beautiful. What are some of your favorite smaller bar venues in Michigan?

HD: The Rockery is awesome. I played a show there with a band called Nurse Ratched. It was my first show with them playing guitar. Michigan has a lot of cool venues. The Token Lounge is of course our stomping grounds and home venue but we also have The Machine Shop in Flint which is one of the best venues in Michigan. As far as small venues, New Dodge in Hamtramck, The Loving Touch in Ferndale, Corktown Tavern and the Shelter in Detroit, Small’s also in Hamtramck, to name a few.

MM: Name your favorite BX album. It’s OK to love all your children equally, but if you had to pick one..

HD: My favorite Battlecross album is “Rise To Power” mainly because I felt the most involved with that album. Before writing for that album I was feeling burnt out and uninspired but somehow I found this spark and just started churning out riffs. It was also the first time I was writing full demos. I just felt really accomplished with how that album turned out and had the best experience recording.

MM: Name your favorite BX song(s).

HD: Deception, Misery, Rupture, Force Fed Lies, Flesh and Bone, Never Coming Back, Beast, Get Over It, Not Your Slave, Spoiled, Blood and Lies, Absence, The Climb, Bound By Fear and The Path.

MM: Who have you been listening to lately? When you’re just sitting around and you’ve got nothing going on, who’s the first band to come to mind when you need something to listen to these days?

HD: Currently my favorite bands are Goatwhore, Mastodon, Cattle Decapitation and Pig Destroyer as far as metal goes. The new Mastodon record is incredible. Those guys just keep getting better. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Classic Soul and Motown music like James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and usual stuff they play on XM’s Classic Soul channel.

MM: Can you give us any tidbits of information regarding the next BX release?

HD: We’re currently writing for the next album. No idea on when it’ll be out, but we’re taking our time.

MM: Any idea when you’ll be back in Buffalo?

HD: Unfortunately, no idea at this time. As I said, we’re trying to focus on writing and taking time off from the road.

Conclusion:

Naturally, I had a million more questions to ask, including whether Hiran wears boxers or briefs, but people have places to be and people to see. My favorite bit of this interview was reading Hiran’s take on proper local band etiquette, both on and off stage. It’s a conversation we have a lot here at The Metal, and it’s nice to see like-minded individuals in signed national acts, who really pay attention to their scene and everyone else’s. This piece was very refreshing to me and I can’t wait to do it again. Stay tuned for some bigger names on our interview roster in the weeks to come!

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