Salim Ghazi Saeedi, former guitarist of the prog metal band Arashk and author of two solo albums (“Iconophobic” and “Human Encounter”) in the same year, is an interesting and unusual guy indeed. He lives in Iran, not a place for progressive music. However, despite all the obstacles, he managed to create his music, playing by himself all the instruments and publishing as private release his albums. Thanks to Salim’s great kindness, this interview gives us a glance into his World.
Here in Europe, when people read about you for the first time, the first reaction may be: "Oh, they play progressive rock also in Iran". Surely this astonishment derives from a stereotypical image about your country over here. Now, can you tell us something more about Persian rock scene?
Today, Persian rock scene is not active inside Iran, but like any other geographical coordination, minds of artists like me are capable of travelling through their imagination to any realm, including musical genre of progressive rock. Of course due to cultural recession resulting from domestic conservative policies, the artistic community in such music genres is very weak. During my music career I have mostly either acted alone or worked with my previous band, Arashk.
Of course as media is becoming more accessible every day, I think we are shrinking the world maybe to a degree that national importance within cultures fade and everyone picks his preferences from any accessible source. In this way, personally, I do not feel belonging to any specific culture and so I do not become surprised by finding various art forms being performed in any part of the world.
The point is - as I’m now reviewing the atmosphere I have grown in - my cultural/artistic experiences have had very little specific Iranian significance. Maybe that’s because the political revolution and eight years of war that prevented Iran to become a fertile place for artists to promote themselves. Even today, domestic media merely promotes art forms or cultural incidents either related to religious advertisements or revolution values... Interestingly, as I started producing the music my heart and soul felt an affinity with, I found myself a musician being compared by some critics to musical currents of rock in opposition and chamber rock scene in French and Belgium in the 70s! Who knows? Maybe that is my real home...
Your country has an important history and it has always been a land of great artists, even though, from here, life seems quite complicated for artists over there. Maybe you can explain us better what being an artist in Iran is like?
Often I have heard from Iranian artists that there is abundance of inspirational ideas useful for artistic creation, in Iran. Maybe that is because of the diversity among cultures in different parts of the country, unrestrained chaos in struggles between traditional and modern values or maybe just limitations that persuades artists to become more creative by seeking new forms of expression... Actually I agree with this notion. I guess I felt the need of finding a medium like music to express my sensory and mental overload resulting from extreme fears of war or other damages within the society I’ve grown in.
I don’t find artistic life in Iran pleasant at all. In our time the means of expression are controlled by the rulers and in order to publish, perform or exhibit “anything” including creative arts you have to ask for permission from Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. So in a sense, from the moment you create something in your head till it finds its permission, your thought is illegal. Besides there exist religious debates about music, dance and some other forms of artistic expression as being Haram (sinful by the law). I guess that is too much complex for an artist to understand – as the process of creation originates from beyond good and evil considerations. So maybe it would be more thoughtful or satiric to just accept the sin of the Fall and mention the poem once I wrote originally in Farsi: “Why psychosages do not abandon performance... visual arts, dance and silver screen? Aren’t these illusions? Doesn’t incomplete manifestation of illusion result in obsession? Are psychosages dead?”
Is there any Persian musician or other artist who has had a significant influence on you?
Not directly, I have mostly pursued western music world. However, the general style of solo instrument playing in Persian traditional music genre has inspired me to experiment the same with electric guitar. I guess this is very dramatic and a novel gesture in world of electric guitar... You may check out an example in “Artemis the Huntress” song from “Ustuqus-al-Uss” 2008 album. However, regarding Persian artists, my second album in Arashk band, “Sovereign” (2007) has themes inspired from Shahnameh, an epic by Ferdowsi, Iranian classical poet.
In your biography you wrote that listening to Nirvana for the first time was a turning point of your life and music career and, thanks to Kurt Cobain, you started to play guitar. Starting from Nirvana, how did you manage to arrive to avant prog which is on the opposite side of the rock universe?
I think that the process of music composition is like walking backwards. You realize your intention after it is done. You cannot decide what sounds to compose. The sounds decide.
I don’t know where the music inspiration comes to my head and moreover I had never listened to most of bands I have been compared to (like Univers Zero, John Zorn, etc). I just tried to find the musical culture to which I belong by listening to my inner ear and I arrived to avant-prog. Of course, by continuing this approach, I will not be surprised if I will land on different genres in the future!
I don't like to stereotype music, but you said that you started to play progressive rock and RIO spontaneously, without knowing much about this genre. Once you reached this point, did you start to "study" more this music? Who are your favourite artists in this genre?
After receiving criticism about “Iconophobic” I read about Rock In Opposition, experimental rock, Canterbury scene and art rock a little more seriously and each time I were compared to an artist I didn’t know (which includes most of the artists I have listed in the "Sound Like" page at my website) I tried to listen to their works... Among them I especially enjoyed Univers Zero and X-Legged Sally a lot.
You started your music career with a prog metal band called "Arashk". Is this project still alive? Why didn't other Arashk members follow you in your musical evolution towards progressive, experimental rock and jazz rock?
When I joined Arashk band in 2004, Pouyan Khajavi and Shahram Khosraviani were working on a hard rock project that included Persian vocals. Until 2008 when that project finished in form of Arashk album’s “YELL”, I composed three instrumental progressive metal albums in Arashk (“Abrahadabra” 2006, “Sovereign” 2007 and “Ustuqus-al-Uss” 2008) which found more jazz-rock/fusion tendencies in the latter.
At Arashk we always had regular practicing sessions but limitations on rock scene in Iran prevented the members to stick together after 4 years of practice (2004-2008) with only having 3 concerts at the universities... We also tried to manage applying for a few festivals aboard but due to costs and severe traveling limitations on Iranian passport we did not succeed. So after 2008 Arashk stopped its practice sessions and I went my way for a solo career. I guess Arashk is in a coma! If members see a serious opportunity, there still may be chances of getting back together.
In your solo albums you played all the instruments. Was it by choice or a need?
It has been out of need. I have no access to professional and performing jazz or rock musicians in Iran. I should add that besides my solo album I have also played all the instruments in 3 Arashk albums, “Abrahadabra” (2006), “Sovereign” (2007) and “Ustuqus-al-Uss” (2008) with few exceptions denoted in albums’ credit notes.
Can we say that one of the main differences between “Iconophobic” and “Human Encounter” is that you became more self-conscious of the music you are playing?
I guess that from “Iconophobic” to “Human Encounter” there is a transition from “phobia of icons” to “encountering the icons”. “Iconophobic” is composed from an infant’s viewpoint. As an example, in the song “Give my Childhood Back”, I try to depict the sounds I could have heard while floating in my mother’s womb from outside World (i.e. the reality or the world of icons).
In “Human Encounter” I visited the earth and tried to show the World, at the fullest form possible, its beauties and ugliness that I have encountered. I think by keen observation and reflecting about the world, the artist helps the reality to find its actual meaning in people’s minds. I think people naturally do not draw precise lines between their subjective and objective worlds until they realize it through a tangible medium (including an art form) and of course this also happens for the artist himself. Now after composing “Human Encounter” I have somehow transcend the obsessive nature for many of my pains and pleasures and now I am able to go on with my life to new realms!
Your songs are always quite short, why?
In 2006 after composing my first album, “Abrahadabra” in Arashk band, I wrote: “I like exaggerated details and very subtle techniques of the instrument and when I come across composing a catchy part in a song, I see no reason for repeating it. If someone liked that part, he can rewind the song!”
Beside this approach, I always spent a lot of time making melodies vertically rich. Especially in “Iconophobic” (2010) and “Human Encounter” (2011) all the instruments are playing almost always independent melodies and they do not merely maintain the atmosphere for others... I think such rich counterpoint/harmonic textures add many inner layers to the song and may interest listeners (including myself) in finding new sonic ideas after each time of listening. Of course I have adopted a little different approach in my upcoming album that I am currently working on.
Have you ever thought to insert vocal parts in your music?
I despise the words, as being source of misunderstanding and confusion. Maybe this is the reason why I have preferred instrumental music as an artistic medium of expression. Of course sometimes I write poetry, which I have called “the inferno of words” for the same reason, but not songs (The poems are available at my website).
Of course it is possible that I incorporate expressive human sounds in the future. Like I did in very few occasions in “Supreme Grades” track in “Ustuqus-al-Uss” (2008) album or “The Songful Song of Songbirds” in “Iconophobic” (2010).
In the last album you divided the world into evil and good persons. Why this sharp division?
Maybe that is the reflection of where I grew up. In the East you encounter these dualistic good and bad aspects a lot in daily life, religious beliefs or even ancient mythological ideas... People are judged being either devoted to God or devil; either religious or outsider; going either to hell or heaven, etc... Besides in Iran you find tons of “aphorisms” on street walls or highway billboards starting with phrases like “The worst sin is...” or “The best man is who...” etc.
Personally I do not hold such absolute views. But in “Human Encounter” I am illustrating the world as I have encountered and the living environment has indeed had an important effect. In the meantime in terms of artistic expression I have always preferred the extremities... Deep love, bitter pain, unusual phobias... Maybe that is because I try to draw striking sonic paintings... The way I have experienced them by my heart and soul...
You did a great work to promote your music. A well done website with lot of informations and translated in many languages. It's possible to find infos about you also on Wikipedia in several languages. Was all this work worth?
The reason why I translated my website content into 14 languages (and still growing) is that – like by adopting instrumental kind of music - I am trying to transcend the words. I am eager to eliminate every obstacle in the way of communicating my wordless instrumental music... As David Cronenberg puts it in Naked Lunch movie, “Exterminate all rational thought. That is the conclusion I have come to.
About the online information and content in general, I should say it is very disappointing to me when I find out about many great old bands having no or insufficient data accessible on the net... Online information and of course multimedia content are generally the easiest and fastest medium of information. I’m sure that querying online information, maybe when people will be able to carry their computers more easily in daily life, will soon even become a part of daily conversations...
Recently I have even set up a mini blog called “Salimworld live” describing it as my “live mind interactions, zero-paradigmatic”. It is available at http://www.salimworld.com/live/ and I post almost everything my mind “concludes”. I think it as a physical tie from my consciousness to our collective unconsciousness.
You wrote that your "fans" translated for you the website in many languages. How did you create such a trusted fanbase?
My fan base is scattered throughout the world but I always try to communicate personally to everyone getting in touch with me... When someone likes your art and cares enough to talk about it with you, it is the most precious conversation an artist could have. I have always made dear (yet unseen) friends around the world this way.
About website translations, beside fans some parts of my website are also translated by an online collaborative translation community called Cucumis (I am a part of it as well). I have also found many good friends there!
Which feedbacks did your music get in Iran?
I have not found Iranians serious listeners to avant-prog or jazz-rock generally. So most of feedbacks I have received had been merely out of curiosity about confronting something different. Of course I have never expected more anyway. Iranians in general pursue traditional music and culture or at least expect a considerable presence of it.
Nowadays, with internet, there are limitless possibilities. Have you ever thought about a collaboration with foreigner artists? Is there artists you would like to collaborate with?
Recently I participated to The Tangent’s solo competition and I also considered collaborating in creative commons based environments like ccMixter or Kompoz, but I haven’t put serious time for that... Once I also started working on remixing (actually recomposing) one of the songs from NIN’s “The Slip” as they have made this album’s samples available in creative commons.
I like to collaborate with record producers that technically produce music like myself... To name a few I can say Charlie Clouser and Liam Howlett.
Your music evolution is always in progress, what should we expect next from you?
Arlequins is the first place I am announcing it. I have started working on another album for about a month. It will be a concept album as a sequel to “Iconophobic” and “Human Encounter” albums. At the end of “Human Encounter” story (as outlined in its booklet) after I encountered the pleasures and ugliness, I depart from Earth... So now I should be in the nowhere land concentrating on this next album!! I expect it to be my reaction to “encountering the icons” (in “Human Encounter” 2011) after “phobia of icons” (in “Iconophobic” 2010).