You were born in the US and yet you infuse your otherwise western music in spurts with Persian lyrics. Can you tell us why?
Songs like Ay Dar Shekasteh, Hastee, Navayee, etc. have elements of Persian music as well as Persian lyrics in them. The styles of the drumming, the use of the setar, the drone element are all inspired by Persian music.
Is it an artistic or political choice?
It was pretty natural for me to start drawing on my Persian heritage in the composition of my music. All artists establish a palette and a vocabulary for their work that is based on what they’ve heard and seen through their lives. I was born in NYC and grew up all around the East Coast with Iranian parents, so I heard Persian music, Persian poetry, alongside American music and poetry. It’s been a pretty natural for me to draw on both cultures in my work. It feels more authentic to blend the two than to exclude one or the other in my work.
Each song on our new album ‘No Ceiling’ is its own brew, some more obviously Western, such as ‘Off Duty Fortune Teller’ and the title track. Some like ‘Zero to One’ and ‘Middle of Fire’ wear the Persian stylings very subtly. And others like ‘Ay Dar Shekasteh’ and ‘Hastee,’ wave that flag pretty vigorously. Each song exists somewhere on the spectrum between my American and Persian heritage. Identity is a dynamic thing, and so is the art that mirrors it.
Who is your audience? When you write your songs, who do you envision?
Our audience is very diverse and so are the venues we’ve performed at. We’ve played the Bonnaroo festival, Memorial Hall at Chapel Hill, Carnegie Hall, small rock clubs, cultural centers, universities, so we’ve cast a pretty wide net. We’ve played in Hot Springs, Arkansas; Austin, Texas; Chicago, Toronto, all over.
Music is music, it doesn’t really know boundaries. It’s just great to play for people who have ears and want to use them, regardless of where they’re from, how old they are, etc.
I don’t really envision an audience when I write my songs. I write whatever I need to write when I sit down with my guitar or at the blank page. Whoever wants to listen will.
What language did you grow up thinking in, and how (if at all) did that influence your creativity?
I definitely grew up thinking in English. There was a lot of great literature around me when I was growing up, my parents are both avid readers. So we had books by James Joyce, Chekhov, Allen Ginsberg, Kafka on the shelves alongside poetry by Sepehri, Kadkani, Rumi, etc. All these writers have left their mark on my mind. I was lucky to be exposed to all of this growing up.
What are your goals musically?
I intend to continue writing songs, to continue practicing, listening, and evolving what I do.
Who were your musical influences, who/what do you aspire to and why?
The musicians that inspire me most are people like Nina Simone, Bob Marley, David Byrne, Jimmy Page, Oumou Sangare, Patti Smith, Chris Whitley, Ghammar, Hengam Akhavan, Bjork. The list continues on and on, all the artists offered something holy to music. They were or are all dead serious about their work.
I feel best when I am focused and in the process of creating something, whether it’s a poem or a song. Attention is my salvation. That’s why I write. It keeps me alive and engaged.
In a perfect world, where would you perform and for whom?
I’d like to perform more in Europe, Glastonbury would be awesome. There’s a million venues I could name, Red Rocks, the Montreal Jazz Fest, etc. I’ll just keep putting out music and it’ll be great if I get the opportunity to perform as much as I want to. I really do love being on tour. I was built for that.