Anup Sastry Interview
(Unlike the majority of interviews which were conducted via e-mail, this interview was conducted via phone call, so below is a transcription of our more conversational approach to this interview).
1. What is your name and your profession(s)?
My name is Anup Sastry and I am a drummer, engineer, and producer.
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship?
Well, my parents are from India and I was born in the US and am a US citizen. My parents are both from Southern India. I do not actually know if they met in Southern India at any point or not. My mother lived in Holland for many years prior to moving to the States and I am pretty sure my father moved to the States before that. They then met in the US and had an arranged marriage.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry?
No... well, I guess way back in the day, they did, but it was not anything they pursued seriously. It was mostly performing for small family gatherings in India... I honestly don't know. I know my dad played tabla growing up and my mom played an instrument that is basically a sister-instrument to the sitar when she was younger. By the time they had me, music was not something they were pursuing at all.
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies.
When I was a young kid, music was not a defined passion. I had pretty cliche pressures of becoming an engineer or something else. My parents were not super militant about my [career path]--they just really wanted me to focus on school and get really good grades. When it came to college and everything after that--it was more like "Well, just don't do anything dumb and we'll support you"...
My dad actually made me make a powerpoint presentation on drum kits when I was in 6th grade, just to make me be "a responsible consumer". I did not actually think I would be getting a drum kit, and my parents put me in the car and told me they would take me to a music store to look at drum kits, but my parents had already purchased one. They started loading it up in the back of the SUV we had at the time and I started freaking out.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)?
Um, not really [connected]. I don't feel all that connected because I was born and raised in the US; I just kind of feel like I'm a US citizen and that's pretty much it. My parents did not force religion or anything like that on me, which was really nice, and again, it was more just like "Don't do anything dumb". I do not really identify too much with my heritage.
6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)?
I started off on the clarinet in 4th grade and prior to that there was on and off lessons on more traditional Indian instruments--I think that was my mom maybe trying to test the waters to see if that would be something I would be interested in. I don't remember pursing that, but then at some point the clarinet happened. Then, when I got into middle school, in 6th grade, I remember my best friend at the time played the simplest groove on the snare drum in the back of band class, just on the rim and the head. I remember turning around thinking, "HOW DID YOU JUST CREATE THAT SOUND?" and I was pretty much hooked at that point. Luckily, my music director at the time was really awesome; I don't really stay in touch with her, but I did meet up with her a few years ago to catch up on life, and she was really supportive of me making the switch to percussion even though I did not know anything about it.
So, that was my intro to music; it wasn't until the drums where things became much more serious. Growing up, I was always in a bunch of local bands too and [even did some really DIY tours].
As far as school, out of high school, I went to community college at first, just trying to figure things out. Eventually, I just decided to take the 100% dive into music--I had to do music or else I knew I would not be happy--so halfway through my first year, I switched all my courses over to music theory. I only ever took up to Music Theory 2, but there was a lot of aural and keyboard training as well which was awesome. At the same time, I went to a trade school for audio engineering at night. So, I was doing morning classes in my city (music theory etc.), and then I would drive closer to DC to this big recording school called Omega--they have an entire schooling program there and it was a trade school, so I didn't get an official degree or anything like that, but did get [a lot of hands-on experience]. It was pretty much right then when I made the jump [to pursue music].
6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now?
Right out of high school was when I knew I had to poke at the bear a little. All I knew was that at that specific time, I had to at least take the dive [into music]. My main goal was to surround myself 150% with music, not necessarily to make music my profession. It was not an obvious decision, it just started happening. I honestly had no idea what I was doing; you know, as a musician you can make income so many different ways. Back then, Instagram didn't exist, so it was a very different time.
My first music job was helping one of my teachers at the trade school set up doing live sound for these parties that D.C. lobbyists would throw--you'd see senators and politicians you'd see on the news, just tossing checks around--and they'd always get a live band. I only ever did a handful of gigs like that. In the background, I was making YouTube videos by that point as well. I was pushing that and trying to find other musicians in the world, not just limited to musicians in Maryland to work with.
[When I decided to really focus on music,] I think my parents just kind of "took it". My mother has been amazing and super supportive; my dad, on the other hand, not so much... well, financially yes, but [in every other sense], no. I wouldn't say they took it "badly", but there was definitely a time where I didn't feel like I was being taken seriously by them.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse.
The first one that comes to mind is working with Devin Townsend on an album (in 2018). The recording experience was absolutely insane and working with him was awesome. He is such an inspiring person to be around, and not only musically. We recorded in a crazy studio in the middle of Wales. My preparation for it was really cool too, I would track drums in this gigantic drum room engineered by Adam "Nolly" Getgood, an amazing producer-engineer guy... getting to work with him, getting him to hear me play--it was just amazing. Devin would be in the family room area and come in after I finished tracking drums and OK it, then I would sit behind this desk and edit my own drums in front of this huge console and drum room... it was just such an amazing experience. It was a lot of fun.
The next one would probably be working with Marty Friedman. I tracked drums for his last three releases. I also filled in for him on tour just for a week and a half of shows, because his drummer in Japan could not join the tour until then. That was just insane. Marty knows what he wants on every record I've done with him and it's very hard to see what he wants and see his end vision, but once you hear it afterwards -- you realize, "Oh wow, that was genius!". The first album I did with him, I finished tracking drums in 2.5 days and then he comes into the control room--the first time I ever met him--and he just tore my drums to pieces; he was being nice, but he just tore it to pieces. The next three or four days was just me doing revisions, hitting that talk-back mic, "No, no, no, Anup... that was [bad]; let's try something else". The reason I really appreciate that is that it was the first time that anyone [negatively critiqued] my recording, it was a really great lesson learned. The album after that we recorded at Dave Grohl's spot... every time I've worked with Marty, it's been a crazy experience. It's really pushed me with my writing ,too, as his music is different genre wise than what I was used to. Working with Marty has been such a huge treat.
I officially endorse Meinl, Tama, Evans, and Vratim.
8. Describe to me your dream project.
At this point, I would love for it to be possible to tour my own music, pay everyone well, tour really comfortably, and just be happy. That would be my dream project right now, that's pretty much it.
9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry or in general?
Hmmm, luckily I feel like I haven't experienced any situation where it's held me back. Maybe that's just because of the scene of music I choose to pursue--metal and prog metal, in general, that seems like a pretty open community... kind of. I say "kind of" because you have a girl post a guitar video and it's critiqued like crazy because she's a girl, but in general, I do feel like it's one of the more open communities.
I'm not sure if being an AAPI has benefitted me... possibly? When it came to working with Skyharbor, our first few shows were in India... so traveling to India is something I had done numerous times as a kid for family things; traveling there to play with a metal band was pretty cool, but I'm not sure if it really has helped or not.
In my non-music life, I feel like being an AAPI has not created many obstacles in my life, though after 9/11 things were a little crazy. I guess I am pretty fortunate. I've definitely had several racist remarks hurled at me over the years, for sure; it is crazy to say that I don't really consider them hardships, but that's maybe because of the current climate we live in and I see actually oppressed people--and I see I'm definitely not [dealing with] that.
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why?
Misha Mansoor from Periphery -- he's definitely been a big inspiration. I am a big fan of Periphery and I have always loved the stuff he would release even prior to Periphery being a band. He paved a large part of the route for prog metal kids doing their thing in terms of drum sounds and guitar tones.
Another person I'd like to mention, even though I don't know her personally, is Yvette Young... I believe she has dealt with a lot [of adversity], especially being a woman. She is out-of-this-world talented and her band [Covet] is really sick too!
10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general?
I never really thought about it to be honest. All I can really say is that I hope there will be growing diversity [in the industry]. It's interesting that you brought up community though. This doesn't really answer your question, haha... I guess I'd never put much importance on having a community and had not really given it much thought because of how everything works today. It almost feels like "every musician for themselves", you know?... but not really, at the same time. It just leaves us [little time] to focus on a [greater] community.
11. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate.
I love animals. I wish I had all the money in the world to quit everything and just help out at rescues. I also am really into cars--in fact, out of high school, I considered becoming a mechanic and going to school for it.
12. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community?
One thing I was curious to ask you--did you have a bigger picture in mind with this [project]?
Summer: I think it would be cool to have some sense of [an AAPI musician] community. I often see black artists playing with all-black backing bands... it would be great to maybe see more Asian artists playing with Asian backing band members. I think I will try to put together a directory so that people can hire AAPI musicians from it... maybe put on some events even, and if I have time, even apply for and offer grant money for AAPI projects. This project emerged from what was initially just me reflecting on my identity and I'm looking forward to seeing what other good it can bring to others down the road.
Also, happy birthday, Anup! :)
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