Billy Yesudian singing
Billy Yesudian singing in Kodaikanal (Photo: Billy Yesudian)

Faith, Worship and Rock’n’Roll in Kodai

The small town of Kodaikanal is home to some big dreams.  When those dreams approach reality, the whole community celebrates. Billy Yesudian, a local Christian rock musician, had his moment recently.

Yesudian has always had a passion for rock, and started making his own music early on. He puts his religion first, and has used his musical talents to spread the word about his faith. His hometown is Nagercoil, and he went to college in Chennai, before moving to Kodai shortly after college. He made it his home and now has three kids―Micah, Malachi and Moriah. Yesudian writes and produces music with his wife, Archana.

After the long hours the rocker put into music, he reached a life-changing moment. The lead vocalist of a huge Christian metal band, Bride, got in touch with him. Bride was formed in the ’80s by Dale and Troy Thompson. In 1990, their genre changed from heavy metal to hard rock. They have stuck to rock since then, and their most recent album, Here Is Your God, was released in December 2020.

Yesudian listened to Bride since his college days, and was thrilled to hear from them. After a few back-and-forths, Dale Thompson featured on a song, ‘Mayday’, that Yesudian wrote himself, which premiered on his YouTube channel in May this year. 

The Kodai Chronicle caught up with Yesudian recently. Edited excerpts follow.

Maya Sarkar: Describe yourself a little. Who are you and what was your personal musical journey like?

Billy Yesudian: I grew up on a musical diet of rock and metal. I began writing original songs when I was in high school. I played in the college band at Madras Christian College, and learnt a lot playing together with Jim Satya, Timothy Madhukar and Clement Sastriyar. In 2002, one of my songs was picked to be featured on a compilation CD called Wow India. That got me started with recording more of my own songs and putting them out on the internet. I also played live. I’ve had the honour of opening for John Schlitt [lead vocalist of the legendary Christian rock band Petra, winner of four Grammy Awards and ten Dove Awards].

MS: What kind of music do you listen to, and how has that influenced the music you write?

BY: I like listening to various styles of music, from classical to jazz to pop to rock to metal. Being a producer, I’ve learnt to incorporate various styles. If you listen to the music on our YouTube channel, you’ll know what I mean. We have some hymns, unplugged stuff, classical, rock, rap. We have also produced songs in Garo, Tamil, Hindi and Kannada. 

MS: Your music seems to be quite diverse and appeals to all audiences. So tell me a little more about ‘Mayday’, the song with the special feature on it.

Billy Yesudian and Dale Thompson of Bride
Billy Yesudian and Dale Thompson of Bride collaborating on the song ‘Mayday’ (Image courtesy Billy Yesudian)

BY: ‘Mayday’ was written in the basement of my sister’s home when I was going through a rough time. I believe songs born from experience are powerful. ‘Mayday’ is a desperate cry for help that most of us can relate to, based on Psalm 22:19—‘Lord, you are my strength. Come quickly to help me.’ What makes it really special―it features Dale Thompson, the vocalist of the Christian hard rock band Bride.

MS: It’s incredible that the lead vocalist of such a huge band contacted you. What was your previous experience with Bride, before this happened? Were they a big part of the music that you listened to? 

BY: One of the bands I listened to a lot during my college days was Bride. Their blues-driven hard rock with solid guitar riffs and iconic screams really did it for me. Whenever my dad travelled to the US, he would bring me cassettes of bands I liked. I owned four Bride albums in cassette form: Kinetic Faith, Snakes in the Playground, Scarecrow Messiah and Drop. The inlay cards of those albums are now part of a collage in our Kodaikanal home studio. 

Bride is not just a thing of the past; last year, the Angelic Warlord Top 25 Albums of 2020 placed their album Here Is Your God at the number one spot. Dale Thompson has this voice that cuts through any mix. It’s really unique. Even the way he uses his breath is so creative. I truly feel he’s one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. His tone, resonance and harmonics are wild. And with an incredible range, his voice is simply epic.

MS: It’s incredible that you were such a huge fan and now you are regularly in contact with Dale Thompson. The younger version of yourself would be amazed. How did this happen?

BY: So, a few years back my friend Blesson and I covered one of their songs on a YouTube channel called Simplegram. It was ‘I Miss the Rain’. I was super-thrilled when Dale Thompson commented on the song. He said it was very cool. To cut a long story short, Dale and I got in touch. I sent him a song I wrote, he really liked the lyrics and the music, and I’m so grateful to have him feature on it.

Billy Yesudian recording
Billy Yesudian on the guitar (Photo: Billy Yesudian)

MS: So you live in Kodaikanal, and it is an important part of your identity. How long have you been here and how have this town and its people impacted and influenced your music?

BY: I have been here for around 16 years, so I am influenced a lot by Kodai. One, because it’s a quiet place, so it’s great to write and record music. Once it was raining when we were recording, so we captured the sound of the rain and let it run right across the song like a backdrop (the song is ‘Jisu Angnin’). I write many songs from the balcony of our house. I just have to step out of our main door to step into nature. That’s a great place to draw inspiration from. We have also included many folks from the Kodai community in our songs. We lead worship in our local church and fellowships, and that has influenced our production as well. We’re currently working on a song featuring the CLC [Christian Life Center] worship team.

MS: How do you feel about environmental issues in Kodai?

BY: It’s really important to address such issues. Traffic is a huge thing too, and plastic litter. We’re working on a song called ‘Knock Down Walls’, which also talks about some of these issues.

MS: I’m looking forward to hearing it soon. How else has Kodai influenced your writing?

BY: I worked at Kodaikanal International School as the webmaster, revamped the branding, and also taught music. After that I ran a ukulele club for kids. I then started Catnap Studios as a freelancer; all this is in Kodai. Kodai’s influence―the people, the place, the lovely vistas and experiences I’ve had…all are material for my songs. 

Billy Yesudian in the studio
Billy Yesudian making a recording in Kodaikanal (Photo: Billy Yesudian)

MS: Kodai is certainly a great place for this kind of career. What are your songs like, and how would you describe some of the music you make?

BY: What are my songs like? They’re simple, catchy and groovy! I give a lot of attention to the chord progression, melody and bass notes that lay the foundation. All the songs are produced from our home studio in Kodaikanal. 

MS: I have heard a good number of your songs. Are there any songs that feature Kodai?

BY: We have produced some music featuring local talent: songs written by Kanisha Johnny, Kripa Soans, Nicole Glasco, Nadisha Sagar, Paul Solomon and others. We even did a Christmas cover (‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’) driving around Kodai.

MS: Other than your YouTube account, you mainly play in churches, both online and around Kodai. What is the church’s usual response to your music? What’s the music scene in Kodai churches, in terms of other bands that you may have worked with or heard of?

BY: Churches seem to appreciate our music. In terms of the Kodai churches, there’s great talent here: singers, musicians, performers. I’ve judged some inter-school music competitions for both choirs and bands. I think the Rotary Club helps promote such events to encourage students to learn music. I feel there is a lot of DJ music in Kodai, but a few venues like Muncheez promote open mic events. Among other musicians, I’ve only heard of Prashant Sarkar’s band, Ashes & Tea. 

Billy Yesudian singing with his wife, Archana
Billy Yesudian singing with his wife, Archana (Photo: Billy Yesudian)

MS: What struggles did you face as a rising musician?

BY: The biggest struggle was not from society or family—it was from inside me. I know I’m cut out to write and record songs, but I’ve come close to quitting a few times. Finding a happy balance between personal time, family, work and music is what keeps me going. The struggle with society is that as an independent artist it’s not possible to compete with the big industry. Even Facebook and YouTube ask you to pay to boost your posts for wider reach, but we’re committed to growing our channel organically by being relevant and writing great songs. My family has been 100% behind me. My wife, Archana, is a wonderful singer. She used to sing with the Shillong Chamber Choir. Archana and I have put out quite a few songs together. So, with resources, time, talent and encouragement, my family inspires me. It’s a blessing to have an understanding family that not only supports and believes in what you do, but also roots for you and cheers you on!

Maya Sarkar

Maya Sarkar is in 12th grade at Kodaikanal International School and an editorial intern at The Kodai Chronicle.

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