Interview by Miriam Cadoni

Photo by Jack Lue

Life sometimes likes to throw the worst at you and the only way you can deal with it it’s just going through it. It looks like what happened to Diemonds‘s singer Priya Panda. Attempting to launch her solo career after relocating from Ontario to L.A., the whole pandemic began to hit worldwide, forcing Priya in a void full of incertainties. Between the pandemic, coming to term with an unhealthy relationship, Diemonds going on a hiatus and relocating, all this led to a critical moment of fragility where a sudden surge of creativity came up. Read together more about it with us. Enjoy!

Hi Priya, welcome back to Femme Metal Webzine, how are you and how these peculiar days are treating you?

Hello, well, thanks for having me back. It’s been a while since we chatted but it’s nice to hear from you and the world changes tons since we spoke it. Wasn’t 5 years ago?

Yes! So, in 5 years a lot of things have been changed and I suppose also for you…

I figured out that at that time our album “Never Wanna Die” came out and a lot has changed. Trust me, generally the world changed a lot in 6 months. So, I guess a lot of people in every walk of life is adapting to the best of their abilities.

As you mentioned before, the last time we gathered together to speak, it marked the release of Diemonds’s last album “Never Wanna Die” and right now, I know that the band is on hold, so to say…

I guess, we’re getting a bit of a nap. We’re all just doing other things at the moment and it doesn’t mean that we’re not play again or anything like that. It just means what we used to do like get into a van and drive around for weeks at the time. In all the kinds of weather, in all the kinds of different circumstances and you know, it might happen that the van was breaking down. All that things happened, I just think that I don’t know if it will happen again but recently, we have done a few things that we’re pretty cool. Since we last spoke, we put out a record two years ago which feels like a long time ago.

I remember reading this interview where you admitted that during your tour adventures you were blasting Depeche Mode‘s music. In a way, can this be related, or better, your variegated musical taste, to your new musical project?

Absolutely. Absolutely, I’ve been always a fan of the production of that era. Its music sound, its tones and that goes beyond saying that, of course, that I love rock and metal. But I also love the pop, the new wave and the synth music and I’ve always wanted to do that. You know, everyone in my band knows how much I love that stuff. Naturally, we have played with many friends, Steel Panther, Sebastian Bach or whatever but then, we were going to the van and I was playing stuff like Duran Duran or Pet Shop Boys.

In the end, everybody came to expect that and actually, in the middle of the night while you are driving, it’s such a soothing music. It really sooths the atmosphere and I associate that music with driving. In general, it’s not always in-your-face, aggressive and it’s much more subtle and it kinds creeps up and grows on you. And it sticks on you and I would like to make songs like that too, at least try.

Also, I’ve been following this side of your project and I really like your singles and I really like your videos because I can see that behind all this, there’s artisanal work. So, was this choice deliberated?

Yes, absolutely. You know, I’ve been always thought that the sound and the look should get along with each other. I think that the sounds is a bit vintage so, I though that the visuals has the same thing. For example, the first two videos I did with this artist from London but based in Los Angeles called Miss World and herself too, she’s a singer, performer and guitarist. Additionally, she makes music videos and I really stumble upon her, because I heard her music and then, when I discovered that she shot her videos with videotapes, I wanted to literally work with her.

Consequently, I worked with her on the first two videos while on the last video that I’ve released, “Freaky Girl”, I collaborated with my cousin who I never had the chance to work with before to due our distance. Normally, she’s really busy that we barely has time to speaking on the phone, but during the COVID pandemic, she wasn’t booked up and it worked out. She’s a colorist in post-production, so, in her job, she paints in different colors and visuals.

However in this case, she shot the video together with another crew member. It turned out pretty cool and I’m really excited about the next one on which we worked together. We put a lot of effort on the visuals, the aesthetics and the covers of my singles that were designed by CC, so, there are still a lot of people that are close in my friend’s circle but, yeah, we are just making different things now.

As you have observed before, recently you moved from Toronto, Ontario, Canada to Los Angeles. How this relocation impacted on you personally and on your project?

Well, before I moved we already come to the conclusion in the band that we weren’t to continue the way that had been before, so, touring the whole time with an independent label. Mostly, we played small clubs and just kinda hold off for cool opportunities in the middle such as festivals. But, primarily, we were self-booked and everything we did was a labor of love and we have already come to the decision that when this last album would be released, unless a lot of things would changed, we wouldn’t be able to continue that way.

You know, it was just the perfect timing for me to be out in LA because the last time we spoke, I was also in the process of working together with another project which is based here in LA called Shedemons. That was my first time a lot of time here, like weeks and weeks, and I really wanted to be out here a lot more. Then, I connected with a lot of interesting creative people and I really like the vibe out here, I really want to be out here.

And I said before, it was the perfect timing because we already knew that we weren’t touring anymore like the previous album. The last album was released just before I moved here and the video for “Our Song” was dropped two days after I moved here. It was different thing altogether. In the end, moving up here didn’t really impact the band because it wasn’t the same band anymore, but, sadly, it was really hard, I won’t gonna lie.

I understand but I remember that the last time when we speak together, Diemonds was signed with Napalm Records. Then, now learning that you guys were independent, it’s something surprising and I wasn’t aware before. So, I must deduce that things didn’t work out in the way as were supposed to, right?

Yeah, I would say so. I mean, we didn’t gel entirely with Napalm, we didn’t really get the guidance we wanted. Cuz’ we have been independent for so long, we did everything ourselves and we had a manager which was basically with us for so long that we was learning from each other. And it was something different than a lot of people we had around we had always a big team or label around.

So, we want to the point that we went working with labels: we had Napalm, we had one in Canada and one in Japan. Considering this, it was so different for us and as said before, we were expecting much more guidance and I don’t know we had such expectations. We kind of lose the reins on all the things we were used to do and it really affected the way we run our band. I think even after working so long and so hard, everything by the time we came to the point on relying on the labels in order to receive some guidance which then it really didn’t happened.

Photo by Jack Lue

I guess, what really happened later is that they have assessed what we have done without much guidance like helping us in terms of tour support or anything like that. I don’t know, we were left on tour on our devices because we’re like a self-functioning unit and then, after we did the work that we normally did, I suppose, it wasn’t what they were looking for.

Then, they said “we should done this and that…” but, we didn’t have any help. However, it’s too easy to after it is done. For example, one of the things we have received back and that I carry with me because it was such preventable, it’s when we have the final conversation with the representatives with Napalm Records, they suggested our album cover for “Never Wanna Die” didn’t suit the music and the material that was inside.

So, people would look at the cover and think that it would be some old thrash metal or something heavy and aggressive. Even though, it had some metal elements and some from all kinds of rock too, they wanted a picture of us on the cover or something more soft-ish. Of course, we would have considered that but nobody ever said to us and they straightly approved our artwork and its related design.

Though, later, they complain that it wasn’t good enough. The thing was that when we’re working on “Never Wanna Die”, we had just lost three of our friends who played in Diemonds. So, the album was named after them and the experience of the band continuing despite our bandmates whose cover album reflected that. It’s like an homage to them and it was like “Shit, here they are and they are still with us” and that for us, it was like a way to pay tribute to them which make ourselves being in a pretty dark place.

Actually, if you listen to a lot of the songs and the words “never”, “gonna”, “die”, it was almost that we were living in it. Recently, I had the occasion to re-listen to it because someone wanted to discuss it with me in a interview and I hadn’t listen to it in a long time and I know it sound horrible but it’s heavy. All that was going on with us personally and internally as band members, we’re also struggling and at the time, we’re recording this record and we’re proud of it now but we’re going through some shit while later in the year, we have discovered that, it wasn’t what the label was looking for.

That’s why I said before that the reason to work with us was preventable. You know, we aren’t the kind of band that would change a cover album for a picture of us or me because we’re a band and we’ve always acted like that. At the end, we always had the same kind of imagery on all of our albums expect for the last one because we were aware that we have took a huge departure from our past.

From your words Priya, I can sense a lot of criticism and disappointment towards the musical business. So, I must guess that you prefer for your new and upcoming project to be completely independent…

I’m not saying that I prefer it but, unless you are working with the right people, they just get in the way of the whole creative process which is something I needed to do for me. After 10 years in living in a van, after then 10 years to figuring out how to do all the work and constantly sending email and then driving the van for hours and hours. Then coming back from the tour and working all these jobs, so we can do our side activity, the band.

These 10 years were like this constant loop when I didn’t even get the chance to every stop and think. I grew up in that band, we all did and we were like babies when we started. In the end, there was a lot of decisions on which we could’ve made differently and I just needed to step away from it.

So, now I’m saying that I don’t want to work with anybody or things like, I just want make sure that I work with somebody who believes in what I’m doing and where my motivation comes from. For example, nobody has ever asked us (in Diemonds) “Never Gonna Die” was about. I would like to have a manager or a team that knows what your art is all about is important. I think that right now for me has a lot of value the fact that me and my arts get its right and thoughtful consideration.

Photo by Mike Ford

You kind of anticipated my next question, because I really love all the singles that you have published so far and I refer to “Take Me Back”, “Shook U Off” and “Freaky Girl”. And actually, I would like to ask you what they are about and I’m aware that for you, these songs hold a deeper meaning…

To be fair, after what happened with the band, so, losing pieces and in a way, losing my band and a part of my self because it’s what I did for a long time. At the end, I move out here because it’s somewhere where I wanted to be but I was still fragile which it happens to a lot of people. I feel it in the air when people are kind of rebuilding or start anew and I’m surely one of those too. Also, it’s part of what makes LA what LA is, so, interesting and cool.

However, I was wrapped up in a relationship that was extremely unhealthy for me and it was really hard to process all that was going on due to my past and my recent relocation. As well as dating this person who was just borderline and not a good person. I would say that it took me a long time to absorb everything was happened to me. He was really manipulative, definitely deceptive and he was seeing multiple different people. All this was so crushing and all this is what compelled me to start writing again.

Due to all that experience, I was in a place that I wasn’t even able to handle has it is. For this reason, my EP is almost like a cautionary tale of who you are let into your life, especially when you are not prepared for it, it’s like a monster entering your space. And this can only led in the wrong energy, the wrong people and somebody that can kick you when you are down and mostly, it’s what are the song about.

When he was doing all this to me, he was also constantly trying to get me back while he was simultaneously pushing me away. I’m sure that are a lot of women are really in an unhealthy relationship and he’s was significantly older than me which for me it was a big a learning curve because, I guess, some people don’t change. Anyway, that’s pretty much what of each of the song on the EP is about and I can safely say that if I haven’t written it down on paper and hang it out in the air, it would still there in my mind. I guess why people make art.

For what I’m aware your upcoming EP will be called “Snacks”, do you have any idea of when it will be fully released and should we also expect some sort of physical production?

Well, I probably should work on that now that I’m independent I get to do all the decisions but things changed so much and I’m still learning. Of course, sometimes is much easier to upload everything on Spotify but I know that’s not the way in which I like to listen to music. I like to hold it in my hands and I like see it for real. Surely, one option would be vinyl when it will come out and I think, it will be soon because I have already 3 singles out and another one will follow that it will represent the lead single from the entire release.

After those, I’m already busy writing more songs which will make up another EP. Before the virus hit, I managed to work with this producer from Manchester who was here in LA. We worked together for a couple of days here at my place while he was working on the upcoming record of the former guitarist of The Smiths, Johnny Marr. It’s so cool to have worked with him because I love all the records he has produced.

For me, working on different music helps me to connect to different people from different music genres and so far, this it’s really fun. Consider also, that I grew up listening to The Smiths and it’s like a six degrees of separation. He’s really talented and he brought out of me so much features and sounds and I’m looking forward to share that too.

While you’re mentioning over the right support on which publish your music, do you consider crowdfunding a viable option?

I definitely used in the past with Diemonds and actually, we were the first band in Canada to ever have a successful crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter. Of course, we adapted early on because we knew that we can count on our cool fanbase. However, what I’ll choose is some of sort of preorder where you would buy me the album in advance before that even produced, that could help me a lot in accumulating the funds to produced and you get it.

You know, for me, this takes a bit much longer to come out, especially now that we are not playing and doing the usual things that we do. Right now, it’s everything much harder right now. Basically, I’m learning how it has to be done and this pandemic didn’t help me out. I felt like a big hole hit me after this pandemic came because my plan was to put together my solo band and starting to play live but it’s all slowly coming back now. I’ll record a couple of more songs over the next couple of months, in effect, I getting another wave of creativity and everything will work out.

I’m aware also that a member of Diemonds, Dejaun Martineau, participated in your solo sessions too…

Well, Dejaun isn’t a member of Diemonds but he might as well be one because he’s around since “The Bad Pack”-era helping with demos, some songwriting ideas and basically, he’s part of our story. Big time. So, what I have him do was fly out to my apartment in LA, sleeping on the couch and working together on some music on my kitchen table, then, we wrote some demos and recorded them.

Even if it was a different style, it did come out pretty good. He’s super versatile, he works with all the kinds of bands and he super busy all the time. Of course, it was another guy hard to get ahold of but it really worked out and it was fun to work on something different with him. We spent such good time together and it felt quite familiar to work with him even though it was on something completely new.

Do you consider the upcoming EP a sort of going back to your own roots or just another new step for your musical career?

I don’t know. I was quite young when all this stuff [such as Duran Duran or Pet Shop Boys] was released, actually, too young to absorb it in real time. Though, I won’t say is going back to my roots but I’ve always enjoyed this together with the early 90s music of which I used to buy records back in the time. In fact, that really started my interest in different style of music and it feels good to make it, that’s for sure.

In normal times, this question doesn’t procure any embarrassment but I feel anyway obliged to ask you if you had any plans to play live and instead, how your plans changed? 

Well, in earliest time of COVID-19, Diemonds played in a cruise that departs from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA and it’s called “The Monster of Rock Cruise”. It’s amazing, it was like the best time we ever had and it was a lot of fun for us. We love all the bands featured there, you know, like Kix, Extreme, Winger and Lynch Mob. As I said, it was the first rumbling of the virus and by the time we got off a couple of weeks later, all of the sudden all this tours were getting cancelled due to a lockdown. Unfortunately, things have changed so much that it’s hard to say when it’s gonna come back. Prior to this unfortunate situation, I was starting to plan to play some local shows and try out with the new band. Then, pressing my EP and then, sell it at my shows.

Also, I was playing in a ABBA cover band and of course, we had a lot of shows in the pipeline. We’re supposed to play every weeks for months and at a certain point, we’re also supposed to fly around for playing gig and then, head out to Australia. It’s not only that I was looking forward to touring but I also think that everybody in the world loves ABBA, even metalheads. So to say, for me, ABBA represents going back to my roots because my parents had a couple of records being immigrants from India, and one of those was ABBA‘s “Greatest Hits VOL.2” and I’ve endlessly listened to it.

So, Priya, this was my last question. Please be free to say hi to your fans and our readers. Thank you so much for taking time to speak with me again.

I just wanted to say that I hope everyone is doing well out there and stay safe. Play music loud as hell.

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