INTERVIEW WITH DIEMONDS LEAD VOCALIST AND SOLO ARTIST PRIYA PANDA
Date: March 24, 2020
Photos: Mike Ford (first and second photos), Kung Fu Breakfast / Jay Kantor (fourth photo), Iron Mike Savoia (fifth photo),
IF YOU’VE BEEN FOLLOWING SLEAZE ROXX FOR THE LAST EIGHT YEARS OR SO, DIEMONDS’ LEAD VOCALIST PRIYA PANDA SHOULD NEED NO INTRODUCTION. THE SINGER IS THE FOUNDER OF THE CANADIAN SLEAZE ROCK BAND DIEMONDS, WHICH RELEASED FOUR ALBUMS — ‘IN THE ROUGH’ EP (2008), ‘THE BAD PACK‘ (2011), ‘NEVER WANNA DIE‘ (2015) AND ‘DIEMONDS‘ (2018) — OVER A SPAN OF 14 YEARS. DURING THE LAST TWO YEARS, PANDA HAS RELOCATED FROM TORONTO IN CANADA TO SUNNY CALIFORNIA AND SHE HAS STARTED A NEW CHAPTER IN HER MUSICAL CAREER WITH HER DEBUT SOLO SINGLE “TAKE ME BACK.” WHILE PANDA’S NEW MUSICAL DIRECTION IS ADMITTEDLY OUTSIDE OF SLEAZE ROXX’S MUSICAL SCOPE, THERE IS NO QUESTION THAT SHE HAS LEFT A POSITIVE MARK IN THE WORLD OF SLEAZE ROCK AND WE’RE EXCITED TO SEE HER CONTINUE WITH MUSIC ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.
Sleaze Roxx: Given the recent times and what is going on in the world, obviously, this has had an impact on everybody. How has the corona virus epidemic impacted you?
Priya Panda: I don’t really know even where to begin and I think that a lot of people can relate to what I am saying. They are just really confused right now and they don’t know what is going on. I had to cancel a bunch of gigs. I had plans to play shows until the end of August. Not my own projects but I was busy and I was looking forward to it. Those got cancelled. Of course, I had my own music that I was going to try to put out. I had a schedule going and kind of a timeline that’s fallen to the wayside. It’s not really like it has been a priority right now. But yeah, I thought that in the middle of all this craziness, I’d got back to a little bit to the schedule that I had set up. I still want to put out music. I was thinking that I would love to hear people put out music so I figured that I would do the same. And yeah, I have my single “Take Me Back” and I am just putting out the video for it on Friday, but I would have probably put it out a lot sooner had not so much going on with life right now.
Sleaze Roxx: So let’s take about your new single. You released it on Valentine’s Day and it’s a huge departure for you musically from your other projects. I knew that your solo stuff would be different but it’s even more different than I thought. So how come it’s so different from Diemonds, She Demons and things like that?
Priya Panda: It’s something that I have always wanted to do. It’s a style of music that I very much appreciate and listen to probably as much as hard rock and punk. Ask anyone in Diemonds. They all know my music because when I drive the van — which I was one of the primary van drivers — on tour with Diemonds, you got to pick the music if you’re driving. So everyone was listening to my Depeche Mode, my Pet Shop Boys, and they know all the words and they know all the songs.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Priya Panda: They knew it was coming actually out of all people. But yeah, it’s a big departure but it’s what I wanted to do. It’s what I like here right now. One of the changes is that I wanted to explore that side. It gives me the opportunity to be a little bit more introspective with what I am saying or what I am talking about. I thought with Diemonds, I felt limited. I never talked about myself so much and I never really talked about my experiences, relationships or my observations. When it comes to a lot of people interacting with people, a lot of my observations is kind of what is going on right now. The world is going to end. How are we going to survive it? Everything is so post-apocalyptic and dark. Usually and especially with the ‘Never Wanna Die‘ album, it’s basically about what we are seeing right now. The whole world shifting and a new normal happening. So now I can write about my own life.
Sleaze Roxx: It also looks like it’s a back to the roots type thing for you because you are bringing your Indian heritage into it as well.
Priya Panda: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think that I’ve gotten to incorporate into the music so much as I would have liked to on these songs that I worked on but I think that I’d like to incorporate more and more of it as I move forward. Yeah, I think it’s just another thing. Its just something that I never got to explore with Diemonds. In Diemonds, I don’t know if I even identified with being an Indian person or a woman. All these things, I was just into music and a rock n’ roll singer. And so, it was a different vibe. I am in touch with a lot more of just what makes me me.
Priya Panda‘s “Take Me Back” video:
‘take me back’ is from the forthcoming ep ‘snacks’video directed / shot / edited by: @missworldinc / natalie chahalstyling / creative: priya panda / natalie …
Sleaze Roxx: That’s cool. So what is your background in terms of India and stuff like that. Were you born in India or Canada? Did you go back?
Priya Panda: No. I was born in Canada. I went to school there [in India] for six months when I was four years old [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Priya Panda: And I have travelled there a bunch over the years but my connection to India, I must say, is generally second hand from my parents. But I feel obviously a huge strong connection to it because in my household, I was raised with the cultural background with people born in Bombai but living in suburban Toronto. So, it’s always been in a conflict. I don’t know if it’s been in conflict but it’s always been working among me. Having that background is what made me me.
Sleaze Roxx: And how was it growing up because you had a big love for hard rock / heavy metal but your parents are…
Priya Panda: Oh! My parents have no fucking clue about my life [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Priya Panda: I mean, my music was just my music. It’s what I did. I got good grades and they had no fucking idea what I was doing. I don’t think that they have anything against Diemonds really at this point. They’ve never really seen us play. It’s just so culturally different from them and how they were raised and whatever. I don’t know. I think that if I did music with my solo project, they probably would really like it and hopefully come out to that.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you ever try to get them out to [Diemonds] shows or they just weren’t interested?
Priya Panda: My mom came out one time, I think in 2007 [laughs]. Oh my gosh! It’s so long ago! At the Horseshoe Tavern and my dad never really did but I mean, they kind of wanted to come but to be fair, I don’t think that it was their world. I don’t know. To be 100% honest, I’m not sure if I was proud of where we were at as a band most of the time. I just wanted it to be… When they came, I kind of wanted them to have a seat and a glass of wine, and it just never really turned out that way for us.
Sleaze Roxx: Fair enough. So what are the timelines? You have one new single coming out. You have your video coming out. What are the other timelines for your solo project?
Priya Panda: Well, I have ten songs honestly that I’m pretty happy with and that I would love share eventually. I have no idea how to navigate the landscape right now when it comes to digital releases and all that. You of all people know that Diemonds was like a music to the people band with a lot of people buying our music right off the merch table. The digital thing, I’m learning. I figure I’ll just put out a single every once in a while when it feels right. There are no rules now. There’s nobody that I work with or nobody guiding me. I’m kind of doing it… I’m honestly doing it for myself. Things have changed drastically I think in that where I’m not really concerned with the outcome of the creation. I am just creating to create and that feels really good. I don’t know if the last times, I’ve been doing that. You kind of lose your way. I don’t know. I don’t even know how to explain myself. You kind of lose your way when there are other people involved, when there are other factors involved and you feel like — when I was in my band, I always felt like I did not want to let my band down. I always wanted to do something that would give us better opportunities. Now, I just want to make songs.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you find that you put pressure on yourself with Diemonds?
Priya Panda: Oh yeah. We were constantly — I don’t know — just urging ourselves to do better so we could have better shows and better tours and better opportunities. Of course, we loved to play which is why we started in the first place but like I said, with the external factors, you kind of get away from the pure creative aspect of it all.
Sleaze Roxx: So what’s the status for Diemonds? Is it just going to be one of those bands that if you get a couple of shows, you’ll play them such as the Monsters of Rock [Cruise] or….
Priya Panda: Yeah. Right on. That’s pretty much it. It’s a bummer but it’s also cool to see all of my friends flourishing. Daniel [Dekay] is out there with Exciter as you know. Tyrone [Buccione] is always playing and is insanely talented. Kyle [Lecourt] got married. You know, they are all living their lives. It’s crazy how something that you’ve done pretty much your entire life, all of a sudden can, in two years change so much.
Sleaze Roxx: So even though Diemonds did not achieve what you pictured that the band would achieve, at the end of the day, it’s still pretty cool that you made it to the Monsters of Rock Cruise level…
Priya Panda: Oh my gosh! I would just love to just sit and talk about the Monsters of Rock Cruise because that shit is amazing! Of course, because you know, that music is so frigging important to me. I’ve pretty much devoted my entire life to it. It’s cool to be noticed because of course, they don’t really have many bands that weren’t from the ’80s or early ’90s on the Cruise or at all. Yeah. It’s cool to be recognized for waving the flag for this music forever, even when it wasn’t happening for anyone. We were still out there doing it so yeah, it’s cool. It’s so crazy. I’m like gushing [laughs] because it’s so much fun for us. Last year was great. If course, we had our friend [Gerry Finn] from Killer Dwarfs. We were losing our mind you know. We had a schedule. We’d be like — our alarms would be going off — ‘Fuck, this band is playing.’ ‘That band is playing.’ ‘KIX is on. Hurry up!’ ‘Rose Tattoo! Hurry up!’
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Priya Panda: It was non-stop and this year was quite the same for us in having a blast. Lynch Mob. Winger was my fave. I saw both of their shows. They’re so good. So yes, it was cool to be there. It was cool to be a part of it. Our first show was quite well attended. We were so fucking lucky. You know, there’s a lot of people that like bands from the past and you know, they haven’t moved that much forward. I feel it too. I love my bands. When I go research a band, I tend to research more bands from the past that I haven’t heard already instead of the new bands. So we’re glad to be accepted in that family. It’s really cool!
Sleaze Roxx: So you have your solo material which is very different from Diemonds and stuff. Will you ever return to the hard rock / heavy metal writing style?
Priya Panda: I might be putting out ten songs of something else and then play a Diemonds show. It’s hard for it not to cross your mind right? The good thing is I’m never going to stop doing music, which is something that I really wasn’t sure about for a long time over the last few years. Just because I had gone through so much in my personal life that it stifled my creativity and my drive and my ability to work on music. It just wasn’t a thing for me. It feels good to be doing that again. It feels good to be exploring that side of myself again. When I was doing it, it just felt like something is missing.
Sleaze Roxx: Is there any plans — obviously the world has to change quite a bit now to get back to the normal that we all know and love — was there any plans on playing any of your solo material live?
Priya Panda: It was definitely something that I was considering as I moved closer to releasing more music. You know, I had been talking to a couple of people and some people had kind of offered to play my song, which they thought was cool. So I was getting really hopeful about that. I still am when all this shit is over. But yeah, I didn’t have anything concrete at the moment. And I’ve been playing in and out of tribute bands so was working on that, singing, dancing [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: So which kind of tribute bands have you been playing in?
Priya Panda: An ABBA tribute band.
Sleaze Roxx: Oh cool!
Priya Panda: I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like ABBA.
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] True.
Priya Panda: It’s fun but it’s also been very challenging. It’s a different form of entertainment.
Sleaze Roxx: For the songs for your solo stuff, did you write it with anybody or was it just by yourself?
Priya Panda: Yeah. So the bulk of my songs, I did with Dajaun Martineau who had worked with us on the last three Diemonds records. He flew out here [to L.A.] and we pretty much demoed in my kitchen for a while over a couple of weeks and then we recorded in a studio in Hollywood over the course of a week. So a couple of writing sessions and a couple of recording sessions. It went really well. It was fun! I worked with him and he’s awesome. I am comfortable with him but he’s also really talented and versatile. He’s always really busy and hard to get a hold of but I am really glad that he came out. I also did one track with Maximum Exposure and they are Ben Cook from No Warning Fucked Up and Young Guv, and his partner Anthony Nemet. They are very, very talented and I did a track with them. I also did tracks with James Doviak who produces and plays guitar for Johnny Marr who’s the legendary guitar player from The Smiths. It was very cool working with him. He’s from Manchester and he was out in L.A. for a bit. I am excited for people to hear those tracks. They have a completely different vibe as well. I dig working with different people. It was really fun. It’s not something that I’ve ever really done before. We tended to have the same team for Diemonds. Mixing it up helped me to kind of get over some of my shyness [laughs] and all that kind of stuff.
Diemonds‘ “Our Song” video (from Diemonds album):
OUR SONG taken from DIEMONDS Available online everywhere. Directed by: Skye Sweetnam This project is funded in part by FACTOR, the Governmentof Canada and Ca…