M: Thanks very much and I appreciate the chance to get to talk to you about my new work.
Firstly, do tell us how you decided to form this project. When did it all start?
M: About a couple of years ago when I published my first CD “Angels of Persepolis”, I formed a group to perform the music and some newer music that I had started to compose. As we performed around Chicago area and as the group went through some member changes, I felt a need to wrap up the new compositions and publish another CD.
Being a flamenco guitarist, you surely have in mind to play this kind of music… but as we see/hear you decided to go a step further and blend it with progressive, jazz, rock and atmospheric elements. Was it something that you primarily wanted to do?
M: Definitely! I think the music I recorded on the “Angels” album was music I had developed as I was refining my skills in Flamenco which takes years. I didn’t want to record something and say hey; here is some music for you to listen to. Out of respect for flamenco and the art form itself, I wanted to study it fully and record when I was ready. I got all of that stuff out of my system on the “Angels” album. You know, fresh new guitarist showing his chops. So, after the first CD, I felt an urge to make music without having to satisfy a particular group of listeners. In a way I felt so free to play whatever I wanted and as much as I love authentic Flamenco, I also have a burning affinity for rock music. I grew up listening to Pink Floyd, Eagles and Led Zeppelin. So, I decided to write freely but still use the Flamenco guitar and play with Flamenco technique that is using fingers rather than a pick. (i.n.: I’m glad you did so, for the outcome is wonderful)
By the way, how would you characterize the music style of “Subrerranea”?
M: I would describe it as flamenco/rock/jazz. To be more descriptive I would even say a little like Pink Floyd gone Flamenco. In a way the band line-up and instrumentation dictated that as we started putting the music together. The new line-up includes Carl Kennedy on the keyboards, Sam Werk on the drums and percussion and Krushanu Joseph on bass. Each one of the members collaborated to wrap it all up and turn the raw music that I had created into an orchestrated and complete composition. Because I was searching for a particular sound, I had to be careful in choosing the people I wanted to do this with. Sam has a very diverse background in percussion and drums as he is trained in the Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican ensemble percussion but his drum influence is a hundred percent John Bonham. Carl on the other hand is a Jazz keyboardist who is finishing his master’s degree in jazz composition but he has experience with world music, progressive, space rock and blues. Krushanu is also world music trained and inspired by players like Marcus Miller and Jaco Pastorius.
How was the idea for “Subrerranea” born? The story reminded me of the “Hollow Earth” theory, where people different from us live deep in the earth.
M: The story developed over a period of time. What started the whole concept in my mind is our current status as human being on the planet. It is our fast paced electronic age that has somewhat altered and even diminished our human values. That is beginning to show by our current socio economic decline globally. The world is going through a tough time and it is getting harder to deny that.
As a result of that we humans are becoming desensitized to a lot that is happening around us. We can tolerate hearing the worst news and witnessing genocide on the news somewhere but yet tomorrow we have to go to work and that schedule cannot change because we are living in a world that is poisoned by consumerism and greed. We can hear about starvation and disease somewhere else and not care about it because it is not affecting us. We can support sending troops to the other side of the world to destroy countries and kill hundreds of thousands of people just because we have a media system that engages in brainwashing and make believe. In the end a small and select number of people benefit from the pain afflicted on others and we tolerate that too. The gradual outcome of all this will be redefinition of our values as humans and that is why I developed the concept of “Subterranea”.
It is an objection to the way we treat each other and the planet. I wanted to remind us of what we are supposed to be and not what we have become. For that reason, I had to create an imaginary society and civilization that acts on love and transcendence. Symbolically their existence should serve as a template for us humans up above. They could be on another planet which would be too isolated and distant from us, so I put them under the earth and created an imaginary Subterranean “underworld” that was independent from up above. I also put them into the fourth dimension so they would not be subjected to the limitations imposed by being under the earth. (i.n.: Subterranea seems like an ideally place for someone to live in…)
That’s how the wonderful cover artwork was created, right? By having that concept in mind?
M: Exactly! The artwork was created by a talented friend of mine, Siamak Zarin Ghalami. We discussed the concept and decided to have green islands representing Sunterranea which are suspended under water with their shadows pointing downward to be the current world. He expressed the concept perfectly so we used it.
Since you have a full-time band, are you thinking of touring or giving some live shows from time to time? I bet there are quite a few people that can actually enjoy this kind of music.
M: Yes definitely. We have a good and loyal fan base here in Chicago and as we are expanding our geographic circle of performance we are planning to start out of state performances and perhaps farther tours.
So, the songs tell a story… can you give us a hint?
M: “Subterranea”: This song is a very dramatic slow start to the CD and introduces the listener to a majestic place or phenomenon.
“Into the Abyss”: Very rocky and filled with lots of tension and release. It ends with the first voice snippet talking about the gravity under the earth.
“Parvaz”: Parvas in Persian means flight. It is symbolically used here to represent freedom. Because Subterraneans have shed their human attributes of greed, ego and pride they are able to fly. There is another voice over in the beginning alluding to this and at the end of the song there is a bit of Persian poetry about the deep meaning of flying and freedom.
“Sunshower: This song is a rock ballad that leads into the next song.
“Breathe”: Very psychedelic instrumental piece similar to what you would hear in the album “Meddle” by Pink Floyd. It is more of a modern interpretation.
“Reflections”: This is a guitar solo piece.
“Natalia”: This is another romantic ballad.
“Desert Moon”: This song starts by different voices describing the perfect utopian Subterranea and ends with another voice telling you that the whole thing was a dream but lets the listener interpret however they want.
How did you choose to feature a cover on “Moonlight Sonata” as a bonus track on the album?
M: I wanted to remind us that humanity is capable of being perfect and beautiful and as a musician I have always considered Beethoven’s works as a huge contribution to humanity.
The album was recorded, mixed & mastered at JGM Studio and you produced it as well. Are you satisfied with the final outcome? I would prefer the electric guitar sound to be more dynamic at times though.
M: I am pretty happy with the final outcome considering we were working with a limited budget. I am sure if we spent fifty grand then it would be crisper and would sound better but being independent you always have to work within limits and constrains. I tend to agree with the sound of the electric guitar needing more punch but we only used it on couple of songs and that to provide thick pad underneath the flamenco guitar. I miss my Marshall amps from the time I was a rocker.
Tell us a few things about the guests that are participating in the album? Behdad Khorrami on voice, Maya Tatiana & Silvana Marzullo on hand claps & Poetry on Parvaz by Forough Farrokhzad.
M: Maya Tatiana and Silvana Marzullo are the two dancers we work with. They are very good and close friends of mine. We used the Palmas (Hand claps) they provided on “Into the Abyss” song. Behdad Khorrami is a Persian singer in Chicago and another friend that I invited to do a small portion of poetry and Persian chanting. This was meant to be more of an effect. The poetry that he sang was by a Persian contemporary poet, Forough Farrokhzad and it is called “Parvaz”. The poetry talks about having a broader vision and remembering that the flight is an immortal phenomenon whereas the bird is a mortal being.
You have released a video for “Into the Abyss”. Is there a chance to see an HD version of it in the future? Will you release any other video as well?
M: Yes if it gets selected to be played on MTV, I will release a HD version of it to them. We will be working on another video for the song “Natalia” soon. (i.n.: That’s good news…)
You made quite an impact with “Angels of Persepolis” but “Subrerranea” was something that none was expecting, as I can judge by the reactions. How hard was it to make this album since you already had a successful debut? Did you feel any pressure in any way?
M: With “Subterranea” I tried to put in more of myself and not follow a certain standard or discipline. For that reason I think actually it was easier and more natural. The difficulty came when recording “Moonlight Sonata”. It is a fairly difficult piece to play on the guitar if one wants to play it the correct way. It is full of unnatural stretches which can be hard on the hands specially the left hand. I had to practice it for six months, playing it completely a few times a day just to get a good flow to it. During recording my hand started to get numb and my Carpal Tunnel kicked in. It became very painful and I had to have a surgery for it after I finished recording the song. We continued to record while I was healing but that was an experience which I will never forget. (i.n.: What can someone say about this incident?!)
How do you think that fans will take this kind of music? Probably, it’s too flamenco-world music for the rockers and too prog/rock for the other ones huh? I think that it mainly addresses to open-minded fans that do love music no matter what.
M: I think the music we are creating will develop its own following because it is very unique and original. We are trying not to worry about what a specific category of music lovers will think about our music but we strongly believe that our music has enough diversity to be pleasant to a variety of music fans.
“Subrerranea” is a very special & unique album and that thing can sometimes be a double-edge sword. But then again, music is art and every artist/musician must express themselves in any way they want to… don’t you think?
M: I couldn’t agree more! To me creating music is all about expression. Another point I want to add is that I always strive to say something with my music and transcend the simple title of entertainer by engendering political and social change.
I’ve spotted: “In a world ruled by irrelevant & untalented people where music has become a copy-paste thing and every artist and band is trying to be “inspired” by stealing the music ideas of the once big ones… it’s encouraging to come across such inspired & stirred works once in a while…” in my review. What do you think of that?
M: You are very kind for saying that. Thank you! (i.n.: You’re welcome…)
I’ve also written: “Subrerranea” is a delightful journey of fantasy, world, memories, societal, compassion, mysticism, musical sounds & fine art…”. Do you agree?
Subrerranea” is an independent release. Is it better, after all, to have the control of your own music? Distributing, promoting and advertising your album… in every way you can… actually having the total control on all these things in the end.
M: That is our plan and the best way to reach that goal is to keep performing and keep getting new fans. The music business has obviously gone through major changes in the past few years and it seems like musicians are much more empowered and can control their own destiny with the right marketing and PR and especially social networking.
Do you believe that the Internet is a good tool to promote your music easily and reach a wider fan base… or downloading issues may cause various kinds of problems in your music generally?
M: Internet is a fantastic way of promoting but with it comes other unwanted monsters such as free downloading. Another issue I confront often is putting your music for streaming on services such as Spotify who assures their customers that they pay the musicians for their songs getting played. They pay a fraction of a penny for each stream. One can wonder how musicians are supposed to make any money with these services going around. (i.n.: Musicians & people must be aware of such wannabe “services”)
What’s your opinion of people downloading free music from the Internet? What shall an artist do in order to avoid losing money and time?
M: My solution is not to join the services such as Spotify or MOG. MOG is another service that actually allows downloading all music for free. I don’t understand how that could be even legal. The ideology of put your music out there for free and if people love it they will pay for it is totally defeated here. (i.n.: Every artist or band can do such a thing on their own… they do not need any middleman to do so...)
I see that we are on a terminal point... where especially the younger music fans have to re-consider their way of getting their music… Downloading a band’s music instead of buying it will cause a huge problem in the end… no one will record and release music anymore and that will be total music destruction. So, how do you see the future of this so called “free music” culture? What shall the musicians (and the labels) do if they want to keep producing music without losing their money and time?
M: They should continue going after these services and shutting them down. For musicians that don’t have a huge contract from major labels it will become very difficult to go on. Personally, if you don’t recover the expense of making a new CD then you cannot make another one. So, yes, it would be total music destruction.
And some weird Questions now!!! What is your favorite place in the world?
M: Mallorca, Spain. Although I hear a lot of good things about Brazil.
Which will be the best soundtrack to play the day we will be forced to evacuate planet earth?
M: Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”.
Were you obliged to give just one album to extraterrestrials that would represent the whole human music evolution, which album would it be and from which band/artist?
M: It would be Pink Floyd, “The Wall”.
Is fiction part of reality… or reality is fiction’s flaw?
M: I agree with both!
If you had the chance to travel in time… where would you choose to go? To the past or the future and why?
M: I would go back to when Ghengis Khan attacked Persia. I am fascinated with that era.
If you were a God’s messenger what would you tell Him to do for the well-being of humanity?
M: Software upgrade for humans. (i.n.: hehehe… I totally agree with that!)
Who is your favorite philosopher and why?
M: Descartes: I think, therefore I am...
Imagine that your girlfriend/wife is selling your whole album-collection just to buy an expensive ring for herself. How would you react?
M: Have you heard the song “Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand” by Jimi Hendrix? (i.n.: hahaha I think you have to play that one to your life-partner as well!)
Those were my questions Mehran… Thx for the music... Please leave a note to Grande Rock readers… Take care!
M: Hey Grande Rock readers, if you are reading this then please know that you are in the right place to find out about bands that you may know and bands you may not know. Please follow us on Facebook under Mehran or my website www.mehranguitar.com to keep up with what we are up to. Who knows maybe someday soon we will be playing in your city. Thanks for reading and thank you Thanos for this opportunity.