Q. First of all, I’d like to ask you to introduce yourself, please! (favourite bands, genres, your “metal roots”, etc.)
Kunal: Firstly, thank you so much for taking out the time to conduct this interview! I’m Kunal Choksi, from Mumbai, India and I started off, like many, as an enthusiastic metal fan, but went on to write about it (like yourself), first as a writer, then editor, and in 2010, started a record label by the same name. After a couple of years or so, I also started a PR company to further work with bands even outside of my little label. All of this keeps me immensely busy and sometimes I even forget to have my lunch! I’m mostly an old school guy, partial to that sound, but can also appreciate the newer type of bands. My favourites are Amorphis (old), Incantation, Suffocation, Deranged, Bolt Thrower, Metallica and many more! I’m partial to the genre of death metal but also love grindcore and doom, and can even appreciate thrash and black metal significantly.
My first metal album was Metallica‘s ‘Master of Puppets‘ which was given to me by my ‘mentor’. He made sure that I heard my music properly, and the fact that I know my music very well is probably because of that ― he wouldn’t share more music with me unless and until I heard what he gave me thoroughly (he used to ask me questions later on to check haha). It’s sad that these days the kids just stream a song on YouTube and think they know all they need to know about a band. I came from the tape era and we were trained to listen to an album in its entirety and actually try and figure out the difference between each song. I’m thankful to him and my very supportive family (R.I.P) for allowing me to pursue my passion for this kind of music. Sorry for the excessively long introduction!
Q. What was the first thing that turned you towards metal?
Kunal: The soul-satisfying heaviness perhaps. The level of speed and even complexity completely turned me on, which I don’t think many genres can provide. When I first listened to ‘Master of Puppets‘ on tape, I knew my search had ended. Back then I couldn’t properly describe what I was listening to, but I knew this was what I wanted to listen to, and definitely more of it. Thus began my quest for metal. Also, what drew me in were the exceptional horror movie-themed (or so I thought) artworks of bands like Iron Maiden back then.
Q. Tell us about Transcending Obscurity!
Kunal: It began initially as a forum in 2004 (back then Transcending Obscurity was called Diabolical Conquest), and a year later I started a proper .com webzine of the same name. In 2010 I started the record label. But after losing my mom and eventually also my family business, I re-started my metal activities in 2013 under the name of Transcending Obscurity, because it had a better meaning and till this date and in the future, it would form the essence of all my operations.
Q. Which is the main profile of TO (PR company, record label, online magazine)?
Kunal: I don’t want to do anything in a half-assed way. Be it the online magazine (which I’ve been doing for over a decade) or the PR activities, I would like to be considered as a professional in all those areas. Ultimately, it’s the music that I’m working with, and it’s my job to do the best work possible for all the bands who have trusted me with that responsibility. I wish eventually Transcending Obscurity comes to be known as a one-stop entity, a global one, that bands can trust and rely on when it comes to the propagation of music in all ways.
Q. What is the difference between TOMetal and TOMetal India?
Kunal: That’s a very good question. I’ve made a clear distinction as far as my labels are concerned, especially the primary ones ― Transcending Obscurity and Transcending Obscurity India. That’s because, if truth be said, the international bands are usually more experienced and have a better know-how of the scene, not to mention the better facilities that they have at their disposal. In comparison, not all Indian bands are experienced or have the best possible facilities, so it became important so provide a distinct platform to both kinds of bands without there being any unfair comparisons. Moreover, with Indian bands, because of my physical presence, I can even get them shows or do some myself. Other than that, I maintain the same level of international standard quality, even with the T-shirt sizes. There’s no quality difference between the labels in terms of products or promotion. I can’t change their music though, nor do I want to ever get involved in the creative process because as a label owner, that would be wrong.
Q. How many bands are in TOMetal roster?
Kunal: If you go by the 2015 label sampler, there were 65 bands. I’d say, by the end of this year, there can be up to 75 bands, which is QUITE a lot. But then again, not all of them are releasing albums that often, so my release schedule isn’t as crazy as one would think. Most of the bands though are on the ‘Distribution’ sub-label, which is a new label leg meant for the upcoming bands, who may not yet command a massive following, and as a result, have smaller pressings. My goal for 2016-2017 is to work with better and bigger international bands, which is the only way that I’ll be able to do something significant on a larger scale.
&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a href=”http://transcendingobscurityindia.bandcamp.com/album/volume-1″&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;Volume 1 by Transcending Obscurity Label Sampler&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Q. Which band is the best known at your label?
Kunal: The tricky thing is that I’m working with bands from many sub-genres. For example, Officium Triste, my latest signing (as of now), are very well known and respected in the doom metal circle. I’ll be releasing reissues of Deceased next, which are considered by many to be legendary death/thrash band. But honestly, I’d rather if the bands get better known because of my promotional or distributional efforts, which has happened in the past, especially with bands from my region. Then again, some known bands are important for reasons of credibility.
Q. You make artworks, too. Which of your works are you the proudest of?
Kunal: Thank you so much for noticing my little-known artworks! I’m frankly not too proud of any of them because the critic in me is not happy at all. That’s because I’ve only been doing this for a year barely, and realize that I still have a long, long way to go before it can be praised all over the world. But despite my ripe age and severe time constraints, I’ll keep doing something or the other, with the hope that perhaps a couple of years down the line, I can make artworks for my own upcoming band (learning guitar simultaneously) and perhaps come up with something that can be considered rather satisfactory. No matter what my credentials are, as a label owner, or a show organizer, in addition to being an editor or owner of TO as a whole, I think one must remain humble to realize one’s own shortcomings and accept that there’s work needed for it to be better.
Q. Which region of the world is the label/distro best known?
Kunal: It’s obviously known best in India, since that’s where the entity is based. But true, it also depends on my activities, which are getting increasingly known in the countries where my work is happening by way of say my PR work or label work such as US, France, Canada, Australia, even Spain (have a few labels from there utilizing my PR services) and Belgium/Netherlands.
Q. Tell us about the Rolling Stone interview, please! I think this is a big thing!
Kunal: I’m a bit embarrassed about being in the limelight, as I clearly remember having a problem with the Rolling Stone people who wanted a very clear picture of mine for the article. I hardly get my pictures taken and at one point, they were insisting on sending a professional photographer over to take some clear and new pictures! I think it’s very cool that they thought I was worthy to be interviewed, after having done some significant work for the metal scene here, mostly by way of the label and PR company. It only goes to show that the press, especially in this line, still holds considerable significance even in this day and age of social networks and their dominance.
Q. Do you know any Hungarian bands and/or labels/distros?
Kunal: I’m aware of bands like Unfit Ass. (so underrated!), Marblebog, Vrag, Vérzivatar, Veér, Mystagog, because most of them were reviewed on our webzine back in the day.
I also am aware of Neverheard distro/label, who I believe are doing a very good thing. Other than that, I’ve heard of Vile Disgust who play death/grind, and of course, Tyrant Goatgaldrakona, who again happen to be very underrated.
Overall, I think your black metal scene is very strong, and with some better promotion and exposure internationally, your scene could be very strong indeed!
Q. Do you want to send some message to Hungarian metal fans?
Kunal: Thanks for your interest and open-mindedness is all I can say. Perceptions can be a horrible thing, especially ill-informed ones. If there can be a substantial movement in a country not really known for metal at all, like India, then surely there can be something extremely powerful where the Hungarian metal scene is concerned. I’d also like to extend my hand of support to anyone from your region, who I could help in any way ― webzine, PR or even a record label.
Q. The last words are yours…
Kunal: You’re the hero here, because without your efforts and interest, none of this would’ve happened. Thank you once again for your time and patience in conducting this interview. It obviously means a lot to me because my work gets a little bit more acknowledged and that’s important for my bands in particular. I hope a couple of years down the line, I can make my label/PR activities more established, and god-willing, maybe by that time I’ll have a band of my own (please do consider for a fair review on your fine site ha-ha).
Thanks for reading everyone and please feel free to reach out to me personally here (one email address for ALL Transcending Obscurity activities):