Yazan Interview: “Spirituality & technicality are the yin & yang of art”


New album Hahaha is out on April 20th via Exploding in Sound Records.

After two albums of psychedelic folk and blues, New York musician Yazan is back with a distinctly more robust and aggressive offering. Titled Hahaha, his third album, which will be released on 20th April via Exploding in Sound Records, is a louder and more bruising listen. Joined by Nick Dooley on drums and Sam Gehrke on bass, the album still retains Yazan’s knack of imbuing his music with subtle meaning.

After listening to the record, we were fascinated by his new approach to his music. With that in mind, we had a chat with him all about it. We spoke about 4/20, balancing spirituality and technicality, and how growing up as a Palestinian refugee influences his music.

Overblown: You’ve just released a track called ‘The Star’ from your upcoming record ‘Hahaha’. For me, it has a distinct Black Sabbath influence. What led you to take a heftier approach on this song than you did on your previous work?

Yazan: The heaviness of ‘The Star’ reflects my urgency in communicating to listeners the power in reclaiming ownership of our world from forces of war and waste. I also feel passionate about reminding listeners to remember the mystery and magic of existence, in spite of how mundane our lives can sometimes feel. I am compelled to write a wide variety of types of songs, and the tunes on Hahaha represent just a small selection of styles that I’m interested in. My past few years have seen me through some deep darkness, so look out for more heavy jams on their way.

Overblown: Hahaha comes out on 20th April. 4/20. Any connection? 🙂

Yazan: Yeah I have a connection, I can give you his number but I don’t know if he delivers so far away 🙂

Overblown: You were born to Palestinian refugees. Does your heritage influence the music you create?

Yazan: My Palestinian heritage was heavily emphasized by my parents, as they feared the disappearance of their culture in the diaspora. My brothers and I were privileged to attend the United Nations International School for most of our young lives, where expressions of international culture were normal and encouraged — something I later learned is a very rare environment in the United States.

Growing up in New York City in the 1980s and 90s was just as much part of my heritage, and the cultural diversity I experienced has been incredibly influential on my work. At this point in my life, I identify as a sovereign human, attempting to create work that touches on universal truths common to all cultures and backgrounds.

Overblown: You are embarking on a pretty extensive US tour. What kind of thing can people expect from a Yazan live show?

Yazan: You can expect a profound transformative experience at best and a fun rock n roll show at the very least. I have Nick Dooley on drums and Sam Gehrke on bass for my upcoming tours — two incredible musicians who both play to support the songs as well as cutting loose when the situations call for unscripted explorations. I can promise it will be something special and unique every night!

Overblown: You were in New York’s financial district on Sept 11, 2001. How has that impacted your approach to music?

Yazan: The events of that day eventually caused me to realize the power that creators of culture have to influence the world. I felt powerless that day and felt powerless in the face of the declarations of war in the days that followed, but eventually realized that ordinary people outside of government and corporate systems have immense power to affect culture via artistic and creative expressions (especially in light of the development of the internet).

The destructive war culture and fear-mongering that pervades our day to day lives (even those of us who live in relative peace and stability are inundated with war every day via media) will be replaced with a culture of creation and cooperation thanks to visionary artists imbuing culture with sustainable values instead. The events of 9/11 have influenced all my expressions, beyond just my music — the ashes of death and destruction yield even more bountiful and resilient creations.

Overblown: I find it fascinating how you can create music that is so raw and vulnerable and yet also expansive and exploratory musically. How do you maintain that balance?

Yazan: After years of experimenting with different styles of music and various compositional techniques, I found myself bored with music. I eventually realized that all the variety and novelty of new music would only be meaningful to me if it communicated something honest and spirited.

I consider these two qualities (spirituality and technicality) to be the yin and yang of art — the balance of these two complementary qualities yields creations that approach a universal goodness. The two qualities require two totally different types of work: developing musical variety is a technical task that calls for study of the external world (rhythm, harmony, timbre, etc.), and creating vulnerable, spirited work requires a study of the self (as well as a willingness to be open about what you discover). I aim to attend to both of these types of tasks in equal measure!

Overblown: You’ve also released a track called ‘Cockroach’ from the album. Is ‘cockroach’ a metaphor for something?

Yazan: It is quite literal — the cockroaches that populated my basement studio were real. It’s my interactions with them that led me to realize that my acts of violence towards them were unnecessary, and reflected a darkness in me that I had avoided examining. I wrote the song to try to encourage others to see their own dark tendencies that they might be willfully ignoring.

Overblown: Bit of a random question, but where’s the best place in Brooklyn to get something to eat?

Yazan: There are two types of restaurants in NY: places where they will make food for you that is better than most of what you might make at home, and places where they make passable food for you to eat when you don’t have time to prepare your own meals. My favourite restaurant these days is Nhà Minh, but my favourite place to get a quick, cheap bite to eat is Oasis on Calyer in Greenpoint.

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