Talking music, faith, veganism and more with guitarist Sameer Bhattacharya
By: CECELIA ROEDER
On Feb. 20, alternative metal band Flyleaf performed to a full house at Club Fever in downtown South Bend. Flyleaf came to South Bend via the SnoCore tour, an annual winter tour featuring alternative and metal artists. They shared the stage with Adelita’s Way, Framing Hanley and Fit For Rivals.
The Preface had an exclusive interview Sameer Bhattacharya, one of Flyleaf’s guitarists and founding members, before the show.
It’s now ten years since Flyleaf’s self-titled debut album, which topped the Billboard Christian Albums chart and went Platinum. The band has evolved, according to Bhattacharya, and one of the biggest changes is that they’ve “grown up.”
“When we started, we were just kids. Jared [Hartmann, guitarist,] was 16, I was 17,” Bhattacharya said.
“There were so many lessons to be learned that we couldn’t have anticipated. There’s so much we’ve learned as musicians, as songwriters and as men.”
Bhattacharya said that perhaps one of the most difficult parts of being in a band is the ability to set one’s own ego aside while creating music.
“Everyone in my band is a songwriter,” he said. “We all have strong personalities and opinions. We all have ideas about the direction and vision of our art. You have to step outside yourself and see objectively. Some bands have a sole songwriter, but [in Flyleaf] we’re all songwriters. We all have a vision for the message of the song. It’s very important that we listen to each other. It doesn’t become a Flyleaf song until we all analyze it and make it the best it can be, despite what we think of it as an individual.”
Flyleaf has always been open about the religious influence in their music. References to Christianity can be found in their music, from songs like “Cassie”, about a Columbine shooting victim who died for her faith, to “Chasm,” based on the New Testament parable about Lazarus and the rich man. Bhattacharya said that faith continues to play a role in their music.
“Music is such a powerful language of the soul. I think anyone who has a faith in anything, if it’s a real faith, it’s going to infiltrate every aspect of their life. For something as powerful as faith not to influence your art, it says a lot about your faith.”
2012 was a year of change for Flyleaf. The release of their album “New Horizons” was prefaced by the news that their longtime vocalist, Lacey Sturm, was leaving the band. It was reported as an amicable departure, though Bhattacharya said that he is still not sure of the exact reason she left. For three years, they weren’t in contact.
“I held a pretty strong grudge for a long time,” he said. “But just recently I’ve gotten back in contact with her. I actually had tea with her when we went to Pittsburg on this tour. We sat down and talked like friends. It was nice.”
The band continued on after Strum’s departure with new vocalist Kristen May joining the group. Flyleaf went on to record their first album with the new lineup, “Between the Stars,” in 2014.
Bhattacharya described the process of creating “Between the Stars” as “painless.”
“Everything came together so smoothly. We got in the practice studio first, not the recording studio. [It’s a] practice studio our drummer built – the Flyleaf secret lair. It came together so quickly. It was really nice.”
When not touring or creating music, Bhattacharya lives in Los Angles with his wife, where they spend time outdoors, cooking and being active in the vegan community.
“I’ve been a vegan for six years,” he said. “The trick to doing it is to do it gradually. If you try to get into it cold turkey, your body will fail, and your mind will freak out.”
He says the key to successfully becoming vegan is to gradually replace elements of your diet. “For example, you could start with switching your dairy milk with some alternative. I enjoy rice milk; my wife enjoys almond milk. I used soy milk for my tea and for baking. It’s better for those things. Then, you continue to filter things out. All the sudden, a year-and-a-half later, you’re totally vegan. It’s about gradually doing things. It’s a lifestyle change. You can’t change overnight.”
Looking at the future of the band, Bhattacharya said that he sees Flyleaf everywhere.
“Our goal is to get our music to as many people as possible, to continue to write songs that are going to inspire people,” he said.
He closed by thanking all Flyleaf’s fans and supporters from over the years.
“We wouldn’t be doing what we do if it weren’t for them, if it wasn’t impacting their lives. This lifestyle is too exhausting. We’re away from home way too much. It wouldn’t be worth it [without them].”