Metal, Money & Mentalness – Decrypting Kryptos’ Frontman Nolan Lewis

By | September 25, 2017

Metal, Money & Mentalness – Decrypting Kryptos’ Frontman Nolan Lewis

Hi, Nolan! Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? How did music happen to you? Was taking it up professionally an instant decision? Cue us in!

Hey, thanks for the interview. Well, music was always around me, even at a very young age. My dad had a massive vinyl collection (mostly country music) so there was always music of some kind playing around our place at any given time. In a way you could say it all started with what my dad usually played on his record player, which was mostly Jim Reeves, ABBA, Frank Sinatra, Kenny Rogers, Elvis and similar artists.

However, I never really took to music until I moved from Kuwait to Bangalore for a couple of years in 1990 during the Gulf War. A neighbour and good friend of mine gave me a few tapes of bands like Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, AC/DC etc and everything just snowballed from there. It was almost as if someone flicked a switch in my head and the mysteries of the cosmos opened up before me.

But no, it wasn’t that dramatic (laughs). However, I can safely say that that was the precise moment my life changed forever. All I could think of from that point on was music. My grades slowly plummeted much to the dismay of my parents, my hair started growing longer (avoiding the barber as much as possible helped a lot), and the number of creeps following me at night increased tenfold.

Despite my voracious appetite for music, I still wasn’t particularly interested in learning an instrument. My mom, however, had other ideas. She signed me up for piano classes, which lasted a few years before I just got bored and gave up. But, since she insisted on me learning an instrument, she asked me to choose between the drums and the guitar.

I, of course, chose the guitar, thinking it would be far less work. But, little did I know that it would practically become an extra limb as time went by.

I moved permanently to Bangalore in 1997, and to cut a long story short, formed Kryptos in 1998. What started out as something ‘fun’ eventually morphed into something that’s grown beyond any and all expectations. From playing in a ratty old garage with beat up equipment, to touring Europe every year with some of the biggest names in heavy metal is pretty surreal.

But, through it all, we’re still the same knuckleheads we were when we started out. Regardless of how ‘serious’ things have become, we always have fun doing what we do. If we weren’t enjoying ourselves, we wouldn’t be doing it for so long. After all, it’s only rock n’ roll.

Metal, Money & Mentalness – Decrypting Kryptos’ Frontman Nolan Lewis

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Your band, ‘Kryptos’ is one of the oldest and most respected metal bands in India. You’ve got a dedicated, international fan following too. I’m sure it’s been a crazy ride. Tell us everything!

I’d love to tell you EVERYTHING, but that would take a couple of weeks. But, yeah, it’s been a pretty crazy ride all the way through. There really is nothing like being in a band, writing your own music and touring the world. The things you see, the people you meet, the absolutely bats***t insane experiences we’ve had…money can’t buy any of that stuff. Well, it probably can if you’re Hugh Hefner, but then again, who is?

In any case, it certainly hasn’t been easy. Not by a long shot. We absolutely struggled for about a decade before things eventually started going our way. But the bigger the band gets, the harder it is to keep the momentum going, especially creatively and financially.

Most people don’t really see what goes on behind the scenes. Every time we get up on stage, it is a culmination of years of grit and sweat that we put in to get there. I firmly believe that if you have conviction and drive in what you do, and you are absolutely aware of where you stand at all times without getting carried away, then you can do pretty much whatever you set your mind to.

Sure, we’ve been around for a long time, but to me it always feels like we’ve only just begun. We have many moons to go before we can rest. (This is what happens when you spend half your day trawling for native American memes)

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How often do you tour and which places? The biggest stage till date?

We play all across India pretty often, and over the last 7-8 years we’ve been touring Europe pretty regularly as well. We’ve played all over Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Norway, Hungary, Italy and Belgium. Hopefully in the next few years we’ll go one step further and hit South America or even Japan. That would be wild.

The biggest stage we’ve played at would probably be Wacken Open Air, which is arguably the biggest metal festival in the world. We’ve played there twice and it’s just absolutely massive. I mean, to be part of a festival that regularly draws 80,000+ people from all over the world is pretty nuts. We used to read about Wacken Open Air in magazines when we were growing up, and if someone told us we’d eventually play there we’d have probably asked him to take us to his dealer.

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What has being in a band for so long taught you from a personal as well as a financial perspective?

(Laughs) Loads of things. For starters, it’s taught me to be incredibly patient. Being in a band is no walk in the park. You have to deal with a ton of different personalities and characters, both in the band and externally. You have to learn how to compromise to a certain extent and learn how to adapt to different situations and different sides of people. It can be pretty exhausting, but that’s just the way it is.

I’ve also learnt (the hard way many times) that a single bad decision can create a ripple effect that could affect everything you do for years to come. If you’re in a band that’s always looking to ‘get somewhere’, making the right decisions at the right time is absolutely crucial. But, you live and you learn. And unfortunately, in the world of music, nothing is set in stone. Every time you think you have it all figured out, something else comes up and turns your entire world upside down. And being a metal band from India certainly isn’t easy, so it’s a constant uphill battle.

But, in a way, it keeps you grounded and teaches you to never take things for granted and to always keep your feet on the ground. I’ve seen way too many bands get carried away with a little ‘success’, but they don’t seem to realise that the ‘highs’ in the music scene are just temporary. There’s always an enormous valley right around the corner.

Financially speaking, I’ve learnt how to budget all the money the band makes and utilise it effectively for various things like recording an album, buying equipment, touring etc. Of course, it’s a lot easier now since we all take an active part in it, but if a band is serious about getting somewhere, managing how and where you spend the money you earn is vital.

And make no mistake about it, being in a band is an expensive affair. It certainly isn’t all about partying 24/7. Ok, well, maybe a little bit, but you get the drift.

We plan and budget well in advance whenever we have to hit the studios to record an album or head to Europe for a tour. It’s practically impossible to pull it off if you don’t have a plan in place. In fact, even coming up with a plan isn’t enough. You need to have backups for everything you do, because there are a million things that can go wrong at any given time. So, if you aren’t prepared to deal with whatever comes your way, you’ll sink before you know it.

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Metal, Money & Mentalness – Decrypting Kryptos’ Frontman Nolan Lewis

How would you define the independent music scene in India? Do you think it’s evolved over the years?

As far as the independent music scene in India goes, I’m only really clued in on the metal scene here, which in my opinion isn’t as great as it should’ve been or could’ve been. There are tons of metal bands in India, but only a handful that are really into what they do. Plus, of course, India isn’t really set up like Europe or the U.S when it comes to touring, so bands generally find gigs hard to come by.

But, having said that, the scene has improved drastically over the last 10 years or so. There are labels popping up everywhere, the equipment has improved by leaps and bounds, more bands are releasing albums every year and some have even broken out and started touring other parts of the world. So, yeah, in that sense, there’s been a massive change in a fairly short span of time.

Unfortunately, as far as money is concerned, bands still don’t get paid as much as they should. In fact, many of them don’t get paid at all. We’ve been through enough over the years to put our foot down when it comes to things like this, so everything we do is legally contracted, because there are a ton of shysters and fly-by-night operators working in the music scene that take bands for a ride. Hopefully this will change with time, but at the moment most bands, especially metal bands, aren’t really paid as well as they should be.

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Is Nolan Lewis good with his money?

(Laughs) That’s the million dollar question. I can manage the band’s finances just fine, but on a personal level, I wouldn’t say I’m all that great at it. I tend to get carried away when I’m having a good time and the next thing I know I’m sobbing over my bank balance in the morning.

But, it’s pretty up and down with me. There are weeks during which I barely spend a thing, while there are some weeks where I spend like I’ve just won the lottery. It’s a bit ridiculous actually, but that’s what happens when you get into the ‘spirit’ of things.

In any case, I have some fail-safes in place. I have a few Fixed Deposits and I’ve also invested in Mutual Funds, so I have something to fall back on. But, overall, I could certainly do with less spending and more saving.

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Any financial lessons you’ve learnt the hard way?

Yeah, a lot. When I first started working, I never bothered saving any money. It was always ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ with my salary. And things got worse when I got my first Credit Card. As you can imagine, I went a bit berserk buying music.

For all you freeloaders out there, I don’t download music. I buy everything. Tapes, CDs, DVDs, Vinyls, T-shirts, you name it, I buy it. I know how hard it is to be in a band, so I do everything I can to support the bands I like by buying their stuff. Whatever it takes to keep them afloat.

Anyway, I had a tough time keeping up with my Credit Card payments initially before I managed to rein myself in over time. So, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s to always pay off your Credit Card dues on time and as soon as possible. Even paying the minimum balance every month is pointless. Get done with it as quickly as possible or you could be in for a lot of sleepless nights.

Right now, I just use my Credit Card if I have to book flights or something substantial, and I end up paying back the amount in easy installments. I’ve noticed it isn’t the huge expenses that kill you, but the little ones that slowly pile up into a mountain of debt. Death by a thousand swipes and all that. However, if you use your Credit Card well, you can benefit from cashbacks, rewards and a whole lot of discounts. It’s really up to you.

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Your take on insurance? How important do you think it is?

I have a Life Insurance Policy, but that’s about it. Sure, it is pretty important to have some sort of insurance, but for some reason I just never got around to getting anything else.

But, for anyone reading this, it would probably be extremely beneficial if you did get yourself insured. Life Insurance will protect your dependents financially, Health Insurance will protect your finances should you have a medical emergency, while Car Insurance is, of course, mandatory.

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One form of insurance that I buy regularly is Travel Insurance, which is required before we go on tour. As you may have heard, some airlines tend to think your luggage or your instruments are made of soft, fluffy wool, so they have no qualms chucking them around like they’re at an NBA Championship game.

So, if you’re in a band, and you’re heading out on tour, whether in India or abroad, make sure you get a good Travel Insurance policy. It isn’t very expensive, and it could save your bacon if your guitar reaches you in a puzzle box.

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Metal, Money & Mentalness – Decrypting Kryptos’ Frontman Nolan Lewis

You’re a successful musician and have a full-time day job here at BankBazaar. I’ve seen you perform and I work with you and I can safely say that you’re pretty damn good at both. What’s your secret?

(Laughs) Thanks, but I wouldn’t really call myself a ‘successful’ musician. If I was I wouldn’t be sitting next to you at work (laughs again).

But, there really isn’t any secret to it. If I enjoy what I do, I do it as well as I possibly can. Actually, I try and do my best even if I don’t enjoy something that much. But, more than anything, I’m extremely competitive. I hate being second best at anything, even if it’s something I dislike. Regardless of how much I fail, I’ll keep trying and trying until I get better.

In fact, every time I lose or fail at something, it fires me up to go one better the next time. That’s pretty much how I’m wired.

Plus, at work, I get to incorporate all my dumb jokes and innuendos in almost everything I do, so that certainly helps (laughs).

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Any financial tips that are lesser known but work for you?

Yeah, it may sound a bit lame, but I leave Rs. 100 or Rs. 500 notes in some of my CD cases when I listen to music and then put them back on the shelf. More often than not I end up forgetting about them, or I forget which CD I put the money in, so every now and then I end up with some extra cash depending on which CD I listen to (laughs).

On a serious note, though, I’ve calculated how much money I expect to need once I retire (keeping inflation in mind) and am making efforts to save towards it. If you’re thinking about saving and investing for your retirement as well, then check this retirement calculator out – Retirement Savings Calculator 

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What goes into becoming a professional musician? What drives you to do it and what advice would you give aspiring musicians, especially as far as the financial aspects are concerned?

I wouldn’t say I’m a professional musician just yet, since I’m not exactly earning a living through music, but as far as touring and playing live goes, we try to be as professional as possible. That means sticking to schedules, respecting time and space boundaries, working within our limits without stepping into anyone else’s space, paying attention to the smallest details, making sure payments are made and received on time etc.

The best advice I can give any musician is to always love what you do. Take the good with the bad and never lose sight of where you want to be. In this day and age, it’s easy to get distracted by so many things around you, but as long as you maintain focus and keep one eye on your goal, things will work themselves out.

Also, it’s really important to surround yourself with good people you can work with. A band is only as good as the people it works with, and we’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the best people over the years, who also happen to be some of our closest friends. Whether it has to do with sound, touring, logistics, merchandise etc., all of them are fantastic at what they do.

As far as finances are concerned (and this applies to life in general), it’s really important for bands to chalk out a plan and a budget and start saving up accordingly. Whether you’re looking to cut an album or travel to other cities to play gigs, make sure you save up enough to take care of certain expenses. Whether you save this money from gigs or album sales, or through your own personal income, always put something aside every month so you can work towards what you’re trying to achieve.

And of course, always have fun doing what you do. There’s no point doing it if you aren’t having a good time. After all, that’s what rock ‘n roll is all about. To have a good time and to not take life too seriously. We only get one chance at this, so might as well go all guns blazing.

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Are investments a priority for you? Have you ensured that you keep going ‘full throttle’ right till the end?

Like I mentioned earlier, I have a few Mutual Fund investments and a couple of Fixed Deposits, but nothing particularly substantial. If anything, my music collection and my guitars are my investments. That being said, I do plan to invest more in the future.

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Funnily enough, if the band didn’t exist, and we actually pumped all the money we’ve put into the band into a bunch of investments, we’d probably be lounging somewhere in the Bahamas right about now. But, here we are, trying to navigate traffic over potholed roads that resembles the surface of Mars.

Who wouldn’t want to be in a band, huh?

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Is there a side of Nolan that people don’t know about?

Umm, if there was I wouldn’t want anyone to know about it (laughs). But, nah, nothing over the top. Apart from music, I love football. I’m a massive Liverpool fan and when there’s a game on the rest of the world doesn’t exist for me. I also love comics. I’ve been a comic buff since I was a kid, which also explains why I can’t stand most of the D.C and Marvel movie adaptations.

I also love reading about a lot of off-the-wall stuff, especially conspiracy theories. The more bizarre they are, the better. Anything to do with UFOs, space, other dimensions, psychedelic experiences, the occult etc. gets my blood flowing. It could be books, documentaries, movies…whatever. I love it all.

And, yeah, I love cartoons. Not the stupid stuff that’s on TV nowadays, but the really weird ones like Ren & Stimpy, The Brak Show, Aquateen Hungerforce etc.

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This was great, Nolan. Thanks a ton for doing this! Any parting words for our readers?

Cheers and thanks for the interview. Remember everyone, life is like cutlery and we’re all forked.

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