Priya Panda of Diemonds: Riding the wave of here and now

Photo by Marek Szkudlarek

Priya Panda likes her food hot. At Sneaky Dee’s, a Toronto institution for live music and Mexican fare, the lead vocalist of Diemonds orders two vegetarian tacos with rice, beans and salad. She asks for them “extra spicy,” so the waitress brings a bottle of their signature Habanero sauce.

Diemonds, a Toronto-based hard rock band, is supplying real “party rock” with heavy riffs and sixers of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Last year, the band played nearly 100 shows, but Panda yearns for more. As she digs into crunchy shells of cheese, avocado and tomato, she explains that her current appetite transcends what she eats for lunch.

“One of the things I’ve always wanted to commit my life to, other than music, is travel,” the vocalist says. “I’m that much more hungry to write more songs, play better live and stay in better shape for the longer tours.”

With guitarists C.C. Diemond and Daniel Dekay to Tommy Cee on bass and Aiden Tanquada on drums, Panda is all about the party on Diemonds’ debut full-length, In the Rough, to their 2012 release, The Bad Pack. The band has supported Doro Pesch, Slash and Megadeth to holding their own with sets at Montreal’s Heavy MTL festival. But Panda feels that Diemonds’ most enriching experience to date is one that correlates with her Indian ethnicity.

“India was surreal,” she says of performing in Shillong, a remote area of the Meghalaya state. “Bollywood dominates and it’s hard to infiltrate live entertainment, but once you do, there’s a good response.”

Diemonds made their mark as the first female-fronted band to perform in Shillong. The band’s grandiose arrival was supported by the same outdoor stage Scorpions played two years prior, billboards all over town and a “shitload of people.”

Yet, Panda recalls only two women in an audience surrounded by a “weird atmosphere” due to political unrest between the city and its neighbour, Tibet. Guards armed with AK47s traveled with Diemonds to every location, including the mosh pit, where alternative dancing to heavy music was foreign for locals.

“I had to get out of the pit as soon as I felt the nose of an AK47 hit my back,” Panda says. “We weren’t in Kansas anymore.”

Despite the risks, Panda says that touring the country “legitimized the band” to her parents, who are natives of Bombay. They didn’t immediately embrace their daughter’s career, but their values are present in Panda’s every motive.

“I saw my parents work themselves to the bone, and I think that has completely had an impact on how much time, dedication and effort I have towards everything I do,” she says of household values.

As her parents encouraged her to find a career, Panda studied journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto with hopes of applying her interests to a full-time job. But with her mind on the stage, it was during this time that Panda discovered a passion for spicy food and feisty music.

She worked consistently, and her favourite part-time gig was at Taste The Fourth Sense, a store with over 200 types of hot sauce. Lydia Taylor, its co-owner, is a Juno-award winning musician and founder of the Lydia & Taylor band, a group Panda picked up while shopping for vinyl and Guns N Roses cassette tapes at her local Value Village.

The vocalist insists that you “can’t deny” the aesthetic of the band’s album cover for Appetite For Destruction. The brash imagery of a cross, adorned with skulls of each band member, left a permanent mark on the vocalist, inspiring her second tattoo at age 17: a pair of black pistols on her upper left arm.

This physical tribute is mirrored in Panda’s goal to “bring the fun back to rock and roll.” Diemonds’ raw, sonic approach is driven by various sub-genres and has evolved stylistically on The Bad Pack is with tracks like “Take On The Night” and “Get The Fuck Outta Here.”

“Our personalities are a big part of the band, which is something that was lost at some point when it was Ace, Peter, Gene and Paul,” she says of a similar bond Diemonds and KISS share. “It’s like a big family in the genre that we play, which is kind of sleazy, hard rock. There’s a whole new wave and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

Being in an underground scene of resurgence has earned Diemonds high rank on an international scale. With their latest album released in Japan to performing at South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, and the band is crossing borders to bring their signature sound to a diverse audience through one passion-fueled goal.

“When we’re on stage, we’re bleeding for you,” Panda says of her greatest high. “When the crowd reacts, they put out 110 per cent of the energy we have given.”

Panda isn’t in the newsroom, but she’s telling another story about following her dreams. When Diemonds became her focus, she stopped worrying about expectations, income and monotony.

“We aren’t animals in a man made world,” she says. “We have desires beyond a piece of paper or what money can ever be quenched by.” With a Canadian tour this spring, writing a new album with Diemonds and scourging vintage stores for classic albums and denim jackets, Panda is going to need lots of water – and it’s not because of the Habanero sauce.

This piece was first published in the Spring 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine

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