Guyana is a place you glance over easily on a map. That’s not something I’m saying to diminish the place, but it’s really a tiny bit of the South-American continent on the north. Part of a few former French, English and Dutch colonies, and these young states have developed a culture of their own.
After a turbulent history as a Dutch colony, later as an English one, slavery and a serious influx of migrants from India, the country has become a nation on its own in 1966. The history of countries like Guyana and the neighbouring Suriname connect them to the old ‘motherland’ and make them a melting pot of cultures.
I e-mailed with Gavin Mendonca and Gavin Singh on behalf of Feed the Flames, a band from Georgetown. We talked about how they want to put heavy metal on the map in their country, punkrock, the Caribbean scene and Creole culture. Enjoy reading about this intriguing place where heavy metal is just gaining a foothold.
Hello, could you kindly introduce yourselves and the band?
Gavin Mendonca (GM): I am the bassist of Feed the Flames. Feed The Flames is a five piece Guyanese Heavy Metal Band, members are as follows:
Gavin Persaud: Vocals
Gavin Singh: Guitar
Gavin Mendonca: Bass
Emilio Martins: Guitar
Nicholas Chung: Drums
How did Feed The Flames get started?
GM: Feed The Flames was formed about 8 years ago. The founding members are Gavin Singh and Gavin Persaud, I joined the band about 5 years ago as bassist.
Gavin Sing (GS): FTF was founded by myself and former vocalist Gavin Lee Persaud (his work is on the recordings). We were close friends who just loved the music, and back then still learning; this was around early 2007. I remembered we were listening to a Black Sabbath album when the idea came up to start a band, however we had no musical skills with the exception of a bit of music theory I learnt in school. Sometime after that we both bought cheap acoustic guitars and started the journey, spending the next year learning to play and holding the strings.
In 2008 we met Persaud’s old school friend who had just returned from the USA and had vocal training, so we immediately appointed him as front man. Through some friends we also met Zaheer Imran Baksh (former guitarist) and Nicholas J. Chung (current Drummer). After all being acquainted the first full line up was formed and officially founded on the 26th May 2008, Guyana’s independence date. At that we had little or no music skills, and so the journey began to learn and grow.
How did you get to the name Feed the Flames? And how would you describe your particular style and themes?
GM: Gavin Singh will have to tell you about the origin of the name. Our style is very reminiscent of Thrash Metal… it’s our favourite type of metal so there’s a heavy influence there. Guyanese Thrash Metal! Main themes include rebellion, and fighting for what you believe in.
GS: The name was actually presented by the first vocalist, Persaud’s friend, Quacy Ayotek. It was supposed to represent the idea of keeping the passion of the music alive in your heart, hence feed the flames. The style and themes have somewhat changed over the years since for about half our age was just about learning. One thing is for sure – hard, in your face metal was and is what we strive for, not only for its composition but most importantly the message of truth.
You mention you’re heavily inspired by various bands like Zeppelin, The Ramones and Megadeth and more. Which bands truly inspired you guys individually and what did you take from them? Also which ones got you into metal in the first place?
GM: For me, personally, my main influence as a Rock Musician is punk rock. The Ramones played a big part in me first picking up the guitar and learning to play. I was also the guitarist/bassist/vocalist of a local punk rock band which is now defunct.
I was never really a Heavy Metal guy, but after meeting the guys in FTF and being invited to join the band, I picked up the music and it has been a big part of my life since. My main Heavy Metal influences are Megadeth, Metallica, Iron Maiden and Lamb of God, Lamb of God especially, as our music is similar to theirs. The old school thrash bands are where most of our inspiration comes from, since we used so cover a lot of their music starting out.
GS: For myself, in the early days, the older bands really had me. Led Zeppelin really stood out to me mainly because of that unique tone/sound they had- you don’t hear anything like it anymore. I love what page did on II and III with the odd tunings, it was as though there were no rules but still sounds so great and gives me chills up to now. I guess I took that unorthodox approach to my writing. Metallica’s ‘Ride the Lightning’ was and still is one of my all-time favs. This really got me hooked and the list that follows is endless. I’ve listened to pretty much any style since. There were also a few modern bands at that time like Slipknot and Killswitch Engage. It was a combination of all these that got me into writing metal.
How did you get in touch with punkrock at the time?
GM: I got into punkrock after coming out of High School. I started to listen to rock music, and personally – I was very rebellious. I didn’t like being told what to do, I didn’t like being told that I Can’t do something, I didn’t like people telling me what to believe in, and I certainly didn’t like people telling me how to live my life.
So I don’t know if I found punkrock, or maybe punkrock found me. Because who I was, was punkrock. So I fell in love with the music, the fast drums, the noisy guitars, the shouting! Oi!
You guys are, according to your bio, currently working on a full length. Can you say a bit about that and what it’ll be like?
GM: We currently have 4 demo songs recorded, 2 more to go, for a total of 6 original songs. Here’s our most recent release, ‘ Firefight’, with a homemade video from our trip to Trinidad recently, where we performed with Lynchpin, winners of the first ever Wacken Metal Battle Caribbean.
GS: Well, it’s long overdue since some of these songs go back three or even four years. You will hear the evolution of this band on one album over five years.
What’s the writing and recording process like for Feed the Flames, what roles does every member have?
GM: The main composers are Gavin Singh and Emilio Martins. They come up with guitar riffs and patters and the general structure of the song… the drums and bass then add the glue. We all contribute to lyrics, and the overall structure of the songs.
Recording is fun. We do it ourselves in our band room. We invested in all the right software and equipment to be self-sufficient… a true ‘do it yourself’ band.
GS: Most of the composing or at least the concept comes from me. I usually would transcribe my ideas into Guitar Pro and then build on that idea from there. I would then play that to the guys and we’d start stripping away, adding or just doing it all over. Everyone has their own input and their own idea on songs. We just star with a concept and start jamming so the song finds its own identity through that.
I read that your music was featured in a film titled ‘A Bitter Lime’. How did that come about?
GS: A few years ago we were introduced through a sponsor to Max Orter, the producer/writer of the film. Gavin Mendonca remained close with him and even worked on the film itself. Earlier this year he came back to Guyana to do the finishing touches before its launch and needed a place to stay. He poured his money into the project and was low on cash, so we offered him to crash in the band room. In return he offered to add our music to the film.
GM: ‘A Bitter Lime’ is a neo-drama filmed shot mostly in Guyana, written and directed by Max Orter, a great friend of the band. Max was visiting Guyana often and we met him a few years ago and became great friends. I helped him on the set of the film while it was being shot in Guyana, as Production Assistant. He offered to have our song featured in the film, as a gesture of kind faith, to allow the band to get some global exposure by being featured in an international film. It is a huge opportunity that we are very grateful for… especially since it starts the infamous ‘Skin Diamond’!
I’ve noticed that you are, atleast Gavin Mendonca, interested to an extent into Guyanese music and folklore. Is that something you try to somehow put into Feed the Flames or do you save it for the Creole Rock project?
GM: I have a solo project aside from Feed the Flames. Creole Rock is my own style of music, where I have fused Guyanese Folk Music, our creole culture and dialect, with Punk Rock, creating a truly unique sound. Whenever I have to perform live, FTF would accompany me. We have a side project called Outta Box Experience for occasions like these, where it’s not all about Heavy Metal, but alternative forms of Rock n’ Roll at public forums.
Can you elaborate a little on that Creole identity, what it is and what it means to you?
GM: The Creole Identity, to me, is who we are as Guyanese people. It is our culture, our use of the English language, our traditions and practices. Most importantly, the way we speak. Creolese is our ‘Native Tongue’ here in Guyana. It is a broken down version of Standard English.
I Do not want to go there – Me nah wan go deh
Hey boy! How are you doing ? – Ayyy bai ! wuh goin on deh ?
My name is Gavin, and I am from Guyana – Me name Gavin, and me come from Guyana.
Our native tongue, and our Guyanese accent, I believe, is one of the most unique in the world. When we have a real conversation you will see what I’m talking about.
How important is the own identity for you as Guyanese musicians? I’m also looking at the radio show I’ve seen posts about Guyanese music.
GM: Guyanese Identity is very important. We are one of only two active rock bands here in Guyana. Our scene is very small. So to stand out in the larger Caribbean Rock Scene, and more so the international Rock Scene, we have to maintain the fact that we are GUYANESE HEAVY METAL MUSICIANS… That’s what makes us most unique.
What would you say is typical Guyanese music?
GM: Traditional Guyanese music, the folk music, would include our Creolese music, it’s part of our roots.
Modern Guyanese music borrows from mostly American and Jamaican pop culture.
If a Guyanese artist stays true to his or her culture, you will always hear that Creolese influence in there for sure. There may be even a hint of Indian or African drums, steel pan and lots of lyrics about ‘mashing down the road’.
So, would you guys like to say a bit about your concert in the national stadium? How significant is it for Guyanese metal?
GM: Our concert at the National Stadium was a milestone for the band, and for us as Musicians. We performed at a concert that was in celebration of our country’s 50th anniversary as an Independent Nation. We did not play ‘Heavy Metal’… it was more Creole Rock … but we played as Heavy as we possibly could. A huge accomplishment for a Rock band here in Guyana. We were well received by the mass audience.
GS: Although we didn’t get to go full metal for that gig, it was a huge step for Guyanese metal. No other rock band had ever performed there, so we achieved an exposure for the music and scene that no one else had done for a while. The thing is, it wasn’t like a rock party; there were hardly anyone that I knew there that even like rock, much less metal. But when they heard our set it really opened their minds and heart. I still can’t believe the reception we had; I even met people in the streets that came up to me excited asking for more. They didn’t appreciate it before but now they do!
Can you elaborate a bit on the history of metal in your country? What bands were significant and why?
GM: Heavy Metal was very popular in Guyana in the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s… The scene was thriving, with top local bands like Burning Bush, Pearls To Swine, Stone Blind, Struck Root, Et Tu Brutus – all who contributed to what Rock n’ Roll in Guyana is now. Most of the bands would have also ventured to Suriname, Trinidad and Brazil during their active years. Et Tu Brutus, the local veterans, have been active for almost 20 years now. The other bands have split over the years due to various reasons. Et Tu Brutus remains as the band that paved the way for FTF. Midnite Mars, a more recent band is currently building their rep here in Guyana.
GS: From what we’ve learnt from the older folks, metal has been around in Guyana since the 80’s. At one point our scene was even more vibrant than our neighbours (it’s the total opposite now). One of the biggest names to come out of that time was Pearls to Swines. I’d say that band made the most impact on the history of rock n’ roll in general for Guyana. I think its members still play in various bands around the world. This band is really important because they were A-class musicians and most bands that followed came around as an indirect or direct result of them.
There were a few other bands that weren’t so much metal that came out such as Burning Bush and Tech 21. However in the 90’s the first real heavy metal band came to being, and that was Et Tu Brutus. They paved the way for the younger bands which includes us. Still one of my own personal inspirations, this band still performs. They’re the veterans that kept the music alive in the country for a little over a decade, when no one else was doing it. Then we came along.
Did the music face any obstacles in your country? As in censorship on political or religious grounds?
GM: Rock Music is very underground in Guyana, and in this region. The airwaves are dominated by Soca, Chutney and Reggae … all which are Caribbean Music. Rock music is not very much accepted by the general public, as it is different in many ways.
It is hard to get airplay from just about all the radio stations and DJs… Because they believe it’s not what people want to hear… so… I create Radio Rock n’ Roll … so that Rock Music can be heard on Guyanese Radio every day.
Over the past year though, the public has been warming up to Feed the Flames, as we have been in the newspapers, and have made several public appearances recently. There is no moral war against Heavy Metal in Guyana. At least none that is stressed on. A few people might say things like it’s ‘devil music’ or that we’re destructive or something. But that hasn’t happened in a while, I don’t think it even happens any more.
GS: The typical Guyanese wouldn’t want to hear metal on the radio, hence that’s why Gavin Mendonca is the only radio-dj to do this. When we started as a band, even before Gavin M joined, we would try to record an original song and every studio turned us down or tried to rip us of. Just because of the stigma the music carries. Mainstream music here is really just Jamaican and American pop music.
In the 90’s a few students of the University of Guyana were accused of practicing witchcraft and satanic rituals. Some of these students of course were identified with the music and as such it caused a stigma. Also around that time, there was a popular rock club that got shut down after a patron got stabbed. This pretty much sealed the fate a rock and people’s perception of it. Literally killed it and kept it dead for years.
Do you have any real heavy metal gathering places, like venues, bars, record stores or rehearsal spaces? How readily available is any material and music to you guys?
GM: Unfortunately, we don’t have a place where usual gatherings happen. The only time a rock event/party/show/concert happens is when we decide to throw one ourselves. Back in the day, there was a place called Sidewalk Cafe, which was the CBGB’s of Guyana, but that eventually closed down. Live Rock n’ Roll happens as often as we perform.
GS: As the years go by the hanging spot changes. There a few pool bar that can be identified as rock bars. There is one in particular that everyone calls the rock bar ‘Nial’s bar’. The owner’s brother is also a musician and the owner himself is into the music, huge fan of it. So we do shows there every couple months. In terms of music material…internet. Everyone here downloads, for years it was the surest way. Either that or cheap bootleg and that’s if you’re lucky to find any type of rock. Nowadays though, people do order albums if we want the original.
What can you tell about the scene in Guyana? I suppose its similarly to the Suriname one very mixed. What sort of unity does it have?
GM: The scene in Guyana is very small… At the average gig, about 60 – 100 people would show up, sometimes less. At a big gig, for example when Lips Stick from Suriname came to perform, we had about 300 people. The diehard fans are always around to support. There is a small group of rock enthusiasts who are very close knitted and support the scene always.
GS: It’s pretty much the same in terms of people; spans across all class, race, age or creed. Although very small the folks of the scene are very friendly (for the most). It’s not as vibrant as su though. Moshing and so forth doesn’t really happen, unless it’s the musicians themselves.
You’ve taken part in the Wacken Metal Battle Caribbean, can you tell a bit about that experience?
GM: We had submitted our application for the event, but were not selected to compete. We still decided to drive to Suriname to attend the venue, and meet everyone and all the bands. Jerry Orie is a great friend of mine, and I support all of his shows as much as I could. I was lucky enough to serve as the first every Stage Hand for the Wacken Metal Battle Caribbean, alongside Jochen. An experience I am truly grateful for.
The overall experience was AWESOME. It probably was the biggest Rock event to happen in the Caribbean. We went there to network with the other bands, and two months later – we found ourselves in Trinidad performing with the winners, Lynchpin, and third place finalists – This Will Be No More from Aruba.
GS: Though we didn’t make it to the top five for the Caribbean to compete, it was a great experience. Some of us went to visit the event in Suriname, which was a wicked road trip by itself. The best of the Caribbean under one roof was an incredible experience, it’s the first time that happens and it was great to rub shoulders with some of the best n the world too. The band Taipan performed as well, who have worked with members from Megadeth and even Nine Inch Nails I think. It was one long, drunk weekend.
I understand from the chat with Luguber from Suriname that the metal battle is prompting more unity in the Caribbean scene. Do you guys feel that too and how does that work out?
GM: Luguber is AWESOME ! Shavero and I actually performed together in one-night band at one of Jerry Orie’s events – we formed a Punk Band called ‘Punk As Fuck!‘ for one night only, on the same stage as Disquiet. We have been developing a relationship with the Suriname Rock Scene since 2012, they are awesome and very friendly. A family. And we are happy to be a part of it. We have made great friends in the Surinamese Band – Morrighon, who performed in Guyana, and we performed with them in Suriname as well. We then made a huge link with Trinidad, where we have made new friends as well. Together we all are moving forward as ONE giant Caribbean Rock Scene.
GS: Ah It is! Back home people are stoked about this. It would be great if both bands travel forth and back to each other with fans and create a big network. I think it might be happening. We’ve also had the opportunity to perform in Trinidad a few weeks aback and it’s booked for next year April. We might be going to Suriname later this year as well and bands are willing to travel here. The Metal Battle surely has stirred the pot and turned heads.
Which bands from Guyana and around should people check out and why?
GM: Feed The Flames is the future of Heavy Metal in Guyana. I definitely would advise you to follow us closely, our YouTube page, our Instagram, everything. We plan to make huge waves across the Caribbean, then to the rest of the world.
Et Tu Brutus is an awesome Guyanese band, with a great group of guys. They will actually be performing in Brazil this August. Aeons of Disorder are a great band from French Guyana and we had the pleasure to play with them three times. There Will Be No More from Aruba is a great band that was in the finals of the Wacken Metal Battle Caribbean. We performed with them in Trinidad.
GS: Definitely Et Tu Brutus! Beside us, they are the only true metal band here. Also check out Pearl’s to swine, might be old but still awesome. Trinidad has some great bands to offer, like Lynchpin, who won the Wacken Metal Battle Caribbean. Anti-Everything is a great punk band and there’s much more going on there like Spectral Vibes, Orange Sky, Black Rose, Side Kick Envy, and much more.
If Feed the Flames was a dish, what would it be and why?
GM: We’d be Cook Up, with a side of Pepper-Pot. These are two Guyanese dishes that are legendary in Guyana, and truly represent the diversity and heritage of our culture.
GS: Haha! From the top of my head I’d say a 7 curry, like what you might get at an Indian wedding. Mainly because of all the influences and different affinities that add up to make feed the flames.
What future plans does Feed the Flames have right now?
GM: We are finishing up the recording for our first album. We aim to get it released by the end of the year. We also plan on getting more gigs across the Caribbean so we can build our name even more. Then, Wacken Metal Battle Caribbean 2018. Winners. On to Germany from there.
GS: We’re aiming to write and record an entirely new album by mid next year. Also we host our own events in Guyana and one hope to bring the world here. Definitely writing and recording but also touring. We’ve never done that, so I suppose that’s the next big leap for us!