Sunday, June 10, 2012

Alone In A Dark Room

That's what it felt like to make these videos. Performing to a camera with no one behind it is a deeply unsettling experience. I was scared. Almost more scared than I am when I first face a new audience.

Thank you to Alex for giving us access to the Paul Dresher Ensemble studio, thank you to Graham for setting up the blinding stage lights, and thank you to Jennifer for lending us her camera.




Thursday, May 31, 2012

Feed It Back

By now, over the course of three years, we've played more than five shows and less than twenty. I'm not sure of the exact number. However many it may be, in the light of heroic tour schedules such as this one, we've played very few shows, but there have been some shows, and there has been some feedback. I try to keep track of the random things that people say to us, because I like feedback. Without it, everything exists only in my head, and it's dark in there. Dark and messy. The gaze of an Other serves to shine light on forgotten thoughts, misplaced objects, and unconscious impulses. Of course, Stefan is my primary Other in that we regularly engage in exchanges of illumination, but sometimes, we fall so deep into the mire of back and forth self-assessment that nothing comes clear. At such times, the casual comments of mildly interested outsiders are crucial. For example: "I liked it when you danced!" I danced? Oh yes, I did dance during that one song. I did study dance, many years ago. I did once want to be dancer, despite my chubby thighs and regretful lack of coordination. Where does dancing fit in? What am I doing with my body? What is Stefan doing with his body? How do we look on stage? Should we position ourselves in more deliberate ways? A new area of focus emerges.

Most recently, we played at El Rio with Stratic, Noah Phillips, and Jason Hoopes. It looked something like this:



Afterwards, I received a slew of casual comments. These are the ones I remember:

1) I like your outfit. Good. I'm going for slightly slutty elegance.

2) What was Stefan doing with all those different machines? Many, many mysterious and unspeakable things.

3) I was standing to the side of the stage, and it sounded awful from there. Yes, it did. Unfortunately, the monitors at El Rio are shit. At least for our purposes they are. We're not a noisy rock band. Ideally, we need big lows, smooth mids, and clean highs. But there's no such thing as an ideal live set-up, except for maybe if you're Portishead and you're playing at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, so we tried to put up with it. Understandably, Stefan got frustrated. It's hard to enjoy a show if all your electronic instruments are coming back at you through shitty monitors. And usually, if Stefan feels like shit, I start to feel like shit, and then, it all goes to shit. This time, as soon as I started to sense little atoms of frustration hovering in the air between us, I made a sudden decision. I would ignore it. In a concerted act of self-preservation, I thought only of myself, my voice, and my keyboard parts, and it worked. I got through the show and gave the songs what they deserved of my heart and mind. It still wasn't a completely satisfying performance, but it would have really tanked if I had let myself become absorbed by the drama of nebulous technical problems, as I have often done in the past.

4) You have a beautiful voice. Why, thank you.

5) Why don't you stand in front of the synths? You should be more of a front woman. Well, sometimes I have to play the synths, so I can't always stand in front of them. But yes, there are some songs that only require me to sing. I could stand in front of the synths for those songs. In the case of this show, I tried to do that, and my microphone immediately started to feedback. In order to avoid the unfolding of yet another act in the drama of nebulous technical problems, I stepped back behind the synths. What's a singer to do? I realize that my voice is at the center of these songs, but there are only two of us. I can't always bask in the luxury of only singing. Also, let's say I really got into it, front woman style, dancing and emoting and gyrating and all. What would this make Stefan? A silent synth technician? An unknowable accompanist?  The Wizard of Oz? This is somewhat of a problem. I'd like to be part of a team. I'd prefer not to monopolize the foreground and push Stefan into the background. But audiences respond to front women. In pop music, the voice is a focal point. We could write more instrumental songs. I'd like to do this. And Stefan could sing every now and then. He's considering it. We'll see where all of this goes.

6) I really like that one song, the one in major. Oh yes, that song! Wait, we only perform one song in a major key? Maybe two? Shit. Must write more songs in major keys.

7) I can see you performing in a black box theater with additional text and lights and choreography. Something very theatrical. You guys are halfway between a band and a theater piece. What if you worked with a writer? Have you considered moving more in that direction? Uh oh. A can of worms has been opened. I was once a theater major, and Stefan loves Samuel Beckett. Our first project together was a staging of Beckett's inscrutable one-act Company. Yes, we often consider the world of theater. We talk about performance personae, a seamless live set with no gaps in it, concept albums, costumes, preplanned spoken segments between songs, musical interludes, and makeup. But when it comes down to it, Stefan wears the same navy blue t-shirt and jeans to every show, I say very little between songs, we have yet to write any incidental music, and I wear something that I think looks good on me and nothing more. I'd gladly work with a choreographer, a lighting designer, and costume designer, but that doesn't seem possible at the moment. As for a writer, I'd like for us to be the writers. I'd like to think hard about some kind of narrative or conceptual arc through which to connect the songs and some kind of distinct performance persona to inhabit every time I get on stage. I'd like to flesh out the relationship between myself and Stefan onstage. There may be bits of narrative already embedded in the sets that we've done so far, and there may some kind of performance personae we unconsciously gravitate toward, but it has yet to come clear to me. We work intuitively. It's the best we can do for now, and I suppose there's nothing wrong with working intuitively. In time, all will be revealed.


8) You know that thing you do with your eyes where you look up at nothing while you're singing? That sort of creeps me out. Yeah, I don't really feel like looking out at the audience for every minute of every song. But I can see how the spaced out gaze can be creepy. It means I'm going to that imaginary place and emotional space from which the song originally arose. It means I'm exiting the room. Maybe this makes some people uncomfortable. I have yet to figure out the proper balance between acknowledging and ignoring the audience.


9) Yeah, good show. Good show. Good show. Thanks for coming, guys. Excuse me while I go the bathroom and stare at myself in the mirror. What the fuck just happened? Who am I? Why did I reveal myself to an audience YET AGAIN?


Monday, May 21, 2012

Don Johnson's Speed Boat

Me and Zeina were driving along one day in my Landlady's Honda (Space Ship) Van and I  was listening to Zombi -  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dc00hVomuIw - my favourite driving music.
Zeina said something like, "does it make you think you are Don Johnson in your speed boat?"

Yesterday I was playing around with the arpeggiator on my monomachine and I made this. This is a small meandering tribute to Don - who coincidently shares the same birthday as me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Loudness

I've been reading Catching The Big Fish by David Lynch. "It starts with desire," writes Lynch. Desire is what brings in the big fish. Big fish are big ideas that live in deep water, and desire is the bait. If you have desire, patience, and a solid Transcendental Meditation practice, you'll dive deep and catch the big fish. Maybe I'll attempt meditation sometime in the future, but for now, I'll stick with desire. I have so much desire. So much desire, so much bait, and sometimes, I catch a big fish. This is how a song starts. A fish flops into my hands and says to me, "Being beautiful is easy." This is the opening line of a new song I'm writing. I don't know what it means. Being beautiful is actually hard, isn't it? But what if it were easy? Or is being beautiful a God-given state, neither easy nor difficult to achieve? The rest of the song is an attempt to solve the riddle of the first line.

Being beautiful is easy
I do it some of the time
Give up all the anger
Look up at the sky

I'm not done yet. I'm waiting for answers. I used to push lyrics along, writing whatever came to me so I could finish, because finishing was all that mattered. One more song in the can before I die. Now I know better.

And then last night, I ran into Aubrey. The first thing I said to her was, "You look exactly the same!" We talked about her exhausting year in China, my exhausting year in legal immigration purgatory, and how in Berlin, people dive deep right from the start. Aubrey used to live in Berlin. "I miss Berlin," she said. "They don't waste any time with surface level interactions. When you have to leave a table, you just get up and go. You don't have to say goodbye. And when you sit down, you jump right into the thick of the conversation. People are emotionally available." "Less reserve?" I asked. "Yeah, less caution."

I don't know anything about Berlin. I've never been there. My impression of Germany these days boils down to the image of a sadistic schoolmaster beating a Greek schoolchild to death, but yes, I believe in diving deep. Meanwhile, I'm in a loud Oakland bar, I'm talking to Aubrey, and we're shouting to hear each other over the noise. We're trying to dive deep, but the noise holds us back. I tell her about the big fish. "I'm reading this book," I say.

Before talking to Aubrey, I had performed five quiet guitar songs. This is why I was at the bar. Sometimes, Stefan lets me perform music unrelated to FEZANT. So I sat there, guitar in hand, microphone in face, diving deep to catch five big fish. I threw them onto the stage, one by one. They died slowly. At first, everyone listened. By the third song, I felt a shift in energy, and during the last two songs, the room was back to its boisterous state of drunken confusion.

At the end of the set, I rejoined the confusion, transitioning from performer to layperson in mere seconds. Aubrey intercepted me before I had a moment to think about what had just happened, and we talked about her exhausting year in China, my exhausting year in legal immigration purgatory, and you know the rest. Then Lovage and Alee got on stage. More big fish. Their songs were somewhat less quiet than mine, but still, too quiet for a loud bar. At first, everyone listened. By the third song, I felt a shift in energy, and during the last two songs, what was initially a beautiful hum of collective concentration waned into a din of distraction. Same thing all over again.

Lovage and Alee

Why is it, I wanted to ask Aubrey but didn't, that most of the people in this bar prefer to jabber than listen to the music? I doubt they all have terribly important things to say to each other. Maybe the music isn't great. Maybe the music is mediocre. But isn't mediocre music better than mediocre jabber? I'm usually relieved when a band starts playing, because it means I can finally stop coming up with things to say.

At our last FEZANT show, we blasted the audience with sound. We're a loud band. Most everyone seemed to be paying attention, and the ones who were talking didn't matter, because I couldn't hear them through the roar of synths. Is loudness the only way to make people listen? Is loudness the only kind of magic that maintains its power to silence and awe? Only by screaming over and over again, "THIS IS A BIG FUCKING FISH," will people listen? Are big fish otherwise so banal, so overabundant, farmed to a point of senseless profusion on the Internet and beyond, that alcohol-fueled jabber proves more enticing? Do I sound like a crotchety egomaniac? Maybe I'm just not good enough. I'm pretty bad at playing the guitar. Nina Simone would have shut them up. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

You Are The Audience

And you were a very good audience. Thank you for coming to our Hemlock Tavern show. Thank you to Blood Wedding for their thunderous drone chorus of ecstatic angels.  Thank you to Stratic for their powerful set of free jazz post rock (free rock). Thank you to Stratic's hot drummer for providing me with an excellent pre-show turkey sandwich. Thank you to those vaguely gothed out young women who walked in from the bar, stood right in front of us and stared at me throughout the set. Thank you to Carly Hoopes for taking the wonderful photographs below. Thank you to Jennifer and Joy for capturing some of the action on their nifty digital thingamabobs. We love you.







Friday, April 27, 2012

1980

This is for all our fans who like cute animal videos.
'Listening to Chariots of Fire with Zebedee.'
The camera called this film DSCN 1980. Make of that what you will.
video

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tarab

Brace yourselves. This is going to be a long one.

Someone listened to our music recently and said to me, "At first, I couldn't stand your vocals. Then I listened some more, and I started to get into them." He went on to say that my "Middle Eastern sounding voice, no wait, more like exotic, you know, for lack of a better term," stood in jarring contrast to Stefan's production style. "You sing from the gut," he said, "and to me, that doesn't really go with synths, but yeah, I'm into it now!" I asked him if he had expected to hear lighter, more washed out vocals. "Yeah, sung in more of a head voice," he concurred, "with more reverb on them." Yes, of course. Like this. And this. And this. I told him that I generally dislike fragile, over processed vocals, especially vocals drenched in reverb. That is, I don't personally identify with such vocals. They may blend well with layered electronics, but I have no desire to sound like a wispy dream girl. Fearful of causing offense, he quickly assured me that he fully respected the aesthetic choices Stefan and I have made. "What you guys do, it's different, it's really different," he insisted, "and I dig it. I respect you guys for making a bold choice, you know?" At this point, Stefan, who was sitting in on the conversation, joined in to say that we hadn't really decided to be bold. We had decided to work together, me as myself and him as himself. This was the choice we had made. And anyway, as Stefan put it, "The differences between us are the reason why we're interested in working together."

On a similar note, I recently received an email from a former co-worker who had finally listened to the FEZANT link I sent him ages ago. He wrote that he liked my "Middle Eastern approach" to singing, citing my use of minor modes and plaintive melisma. "You guys pull off a cool fusion of Eastern and Western music," he concluded. Then he compared us to Yazoo. I wrote back and thanked him for his kind words, all the while thinking to myself, "Plaintive melisma?" Yes, I'm from Lebanon and Stefan is from England, but does our making music together immediately equate to a cultural fusion of some kind? Does my voice really sound "Middle Eastern"? What does that even mean? Not that I'm upset by any of this. People hear what they hear. It's not my business to dictate how my voice should be identified or described. But I'm nonetheless intrigued by the label of "Middle Eastern" and the idea of fusion, because I can't sing a single song in Arabic, be it a folk tune, a classical masterpiece or a modern pop trifle. I rarely listen to Arabic music, and I can barely hear the difference between a half tone, a quarter tone, and a three quarters tone. I won't even go into all the different kinds of Middle Eastern music, be it North African, Levantine, Turkish, or Persian, and their respective vocal styles, because I can't sing in any one of these styles. I can't even fake it.

Several years ago, having returned to Beirut after four years in Western Massachusetts, I found myself at a creative loss. I was back in my home country, writing songs in English, listening to music in English, thinking in English, dreaming in English, and then wondering why I couldn't find my way into interesting collaborations with local musicians. Beirut is a fairly cosmopolitan (and somewhat confusing) place. Its citizens are multilingual, multicultural, and for the most part, have ample access to movies, music and the Internet. They consume cultural products from all over the world. Given such an open environment, I hoped that my diatonic pop songs, with their English lyrics and their verse-chorus-verse-chorus form, would be a relatively easy sell. This was not the case. Everywhere I went, I was asked why I didn't sing in Arabic, or at least, why I didn't incorporate Arabic elements into my sound. After all, everyone else was doing it. "You should learn to play the oud," a young oud player told me. "You should read some Arabic poetry," an old poet told me. "You should sing mix jazz with muwashah like Rima Khcheich," a friend of my mother's told me. So I put away my Kate Bush albums, found a music school, and enrolled myself in several courses, most notably, classical Arabic voice.

It didn't work out too well. Antonine University is located in a hilly suburb of Beirut. Its faculty comprises both priests of the Antonine order and laypeople. The curriculum is officially taught in French, but everyone speaks everything (Arabic, French and English) with varying degrees of fluency. It was vastly different from any educational institution I had attended thus far. My voice teacher was a young, blind, Egyptian man called Mustafa Said. He was witty, slightly neurotic, and unsparing in his criticism of my "American style" upbringing. In our first lesson, he asked me questions to which I could only offer unfavorable answers. "What do you think of Umm Kulthum?" I don't think of her all that much. "How many scales do you know?" Three or four at most. "What Arabic folk songs did you learn as a child?" None. "Do you realize that the call to prayer is the original form of Arabic vocalization?" No, but that makes sense. He then proceeded to hand me a flash drive full of ancient recordings of obscure imams reciting the call to prayer. He asked me to listen closely to the way they vocalized. "All in the chest and throat," he said. "Nothing in the head. Anyone who sings from the head is not singing Arabic music. They are singing a bastardized form of Arabic music that was perfected in the 1950s as a result of the infiltration of Western forms and styles into classical Arabic music." Oh. Good to know. "What about Asmahan?" I asked. "Wasn't she admired for her mastery of both classical Arabic and classical Western vocalization?" To which he replied, "What a loss, that woman. She could really sing. Why do you think they killed her? She was a spy. And even Umm Kulthum was lost by the end. Only her early recordings are excellent. At first, she was a miracle, but then she began to sing from the head to please the new audiences."

In other words, I was fucked. If late Umm Kulthum didn't cut it and Asmahan got killed for being embroiled in Western affairs, then there was no way in hell I would make it through a reconfiguration of my vocal technique alive. Surely enough, I couldn't sustain a strong chest voice through more than an octave of my range. Mustafa assured me that if I worked hard, I could undo my previous vocal training, unify my disparate vocal registers, and develop a monolithic, far-ranging chest voice, but after three months of lessons, I lost all interest in doing so. I had entrusted myself to Mustafa upon the premise that my musicality was lacking in ethnic authenticity and local relevance. All those years learning complex arrangements in middle school choir, belting overblown tunes in high school musicals, struggling with Italian arias, memorizing jazz standards, and dragging myself through hours and hours of college a cappella rehearsals were pushed aside in favor of the NEXT BEST THING, in this case, the Arabized version of my musical self. As I struggled through one Arabic folk song after another, I remembered the Bel canto teacher who told me my voice was too "cloudy" and needed to be lightened, the choir director who asked me to darken my timbre so as to blend more with the rest of the alto section, the guitar teacher who asked me to stop scooping up to notes so as to sing more "straight," the jazz band leader who told me my sense of time was too fluid and needed to be tightened up, and so on. I learned a great deal from all these well-meaning mentors, but the point is, everybody got their something. I'm interested in my own idiosyncratic muse rather than the infinitely varied and conflicting standards of teachers and peers. You can't please everyone. Not by any means.

The final unraveling of my doomed Arabization experiment was instigated by the insufferable husband of my mother's first cousin. One day, while we ate lunch in my aunt's bright and beautiful garden, he asked me what kind of music I made. Anticipating the worst, I said something monosyllabic about writing pop songs in English and hoped someone would change the subject. No one did. Instead, he, being of a hyper literary, congenitally Marxist, and perversely reactionary bent, began to lecture me on the merits of tarab. "Only Arabic music has tarab. Why would you want to make music that has no tarab? You should sing in Arabic. You should listen to the great singers of the past. You should..." I didn't bother defending myself. Tarab is a complex term. It signifies both a genre of Arabic vocal music and a more abstract concept of musical ecstasy. Although the term comes from Arabic music, it can be applied to any music whose main aim is to express and elicit emotion. It's actually a very useful way of drawing a distinction (as described in the "Arabic Music" blog to which I linked above) between the cerebral and the emotional in music.  The purpose of tarab is "to move one emotionally through the music" until a state of ecstasy is achieved. Tarab is all emotion. Clearly, all kinds of music have tarab. I'm pretty sure Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love you" is tarab through and through. Although he made that long ago lunch a miserable experience for me, in retrospect, thank you, insufferable husband of my mother's first cousin, for impressing upon me the value of the term tarab.

Now that I'm back in Amreeka and settled here for the forseeable future, I'm free to sing, think, and dream in English throughout the day and night. I can forget all about Umm Kulthum and the like. Except that people keep reminding of my secret Middle Eastern self. They hear this secret self in my voice. Could it be genetic? Something about my overbite and the shape of my nose? That seems ridiculous. Could it be something in my basic temperament? A fiery passion derived from a childhood spent beneath the hot Middle Eastern sun? Probably not. Could it be the result of passive absorption? Despite having never paid it much heed, isn't it undeniable that Arabic music seeped into my ears via the radios, televisions and calls to prayers that surrounded me for my most of youth? Maybe. Because whatever it is, it's there. I actually agree with the fellow whose thought-provoking comments opened this post. I do sound somewhat Middle Eastern, whatever that means. Maybe what it means is tarab. I can settle on this. Stefan and I are very committed to tarab. Musical ecstasy. Singing from the gut. Analog synths oscillating from the gut. And we're definitely not the only ones. There's this duo called Light Asylum. They're amazing. The singer is amazing. She's all throat voice. Mustafa would be proud. (OK, maybe not, but it would be nice be nice if he were). We're going to see them play in a few weeks:


Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Eternal Recurrence Of Record Players

If we made a record, would you buy it? I mean, if we put our music on a vinyl disc, would you buy it? Do you own a record player? I don't. I barely know how to use one. Therefore, I am indifferent to the format. It seems costly and arcane. BUT BUT BUT. Everyone tells me vinyl sounds ridiculously good, like glistening bacon fat crackling in the cast iron. Like a luscious apricot bursting on the tongue. And anyway, no one buys CDs, and no one pays for digital downloads, so why not put out a record that sounds ridiculously good? Why not sell it for something like $25 and show the world that your music is worth it? Stefan is all for it. I don't mind either way. We're still going to give out free CDs at our shows. We're still going to let you download our music for free. Or are we?

We met this guy yesterday. His name is Ben Tundra, and he has a small Oakland-based record label called Tundra Dubs. Stefan sent him our music, he really liked "Animal," and a few weeks later, we all sat down together for an early dinner at a hipster diner. It was interesting. Ben Tundra had a lot to say. I mean a lot. About everything from multiple formats to licensing to silk screening to outboard gear to techno to hardcore punk to puppy care to pot smoking to song workshops and more. He said people buy vinyl, and sometimes, they pay for digital downloads, especially if they're your friends and they feel morally obligated to do so. Yes, I've heard about the return of vinyl. It's not news to me or anyone, but I never imagined my own music on a vinyl disc. It's never crossed my mind. I guess I imagined my music on a CD. Actually, not really. I don't buy CDs anymore. Sometimes, I purchase digital downloads. I don't really listen to more than four or five new albums a year, so I pay for them. Sometimes, my friends send me music. I suppose this counts as stealing. I don't directly steal. I'm too lazy for that. I'm a passive stealer. Most of my listening happens through my laptop with headphones on. Given the free for all that is the current music market, how should our music exist? How should it be listened to? Any way you like. All formats available. Still, I'm having trouble imagining a FEZANT album on vinyl. And I'm having trouble imagining more than 50 people buying it. That would be nice. If 50 people bought our album, that would be nice. Every single body contains a multitude of atoms. So that's like a million billion trillion to the trillion atoms listening to our music. Excellent. And what about every single soul? Numbers fail to describe the enormity of a soul. So there. 50 people is enough. 2 people is enough.

But I want more. I wanna be where the people are, and I want more listeners. More more more. Which brings me to my secret wish. I want all of it to be for free. I want our shows to be free. I want our music to be free. I want our merch to be free. I want all formats no matter how expensive or inexpensive they were to produce to be free. Um, Zeina, you say, everything you do already IS for free. Yes, yes, it is now, but we're inching our way toward charging for shows and selling our music. This is the natural progression. Nobodies do everything for free and somebodies start charging. If you want to be a somebody, you've got to start charging. It's about self-worth and status. It sure isn't about putting food on the table. As Ben Tundra said, you gotta be in it because you really fucking love music. There's no other reason to be in it. But charge for it anyway. NO ONE MAKES A LIVING OFF OF THEIR MUSIC ANYMORE. But charge for it anyway. OK, fine. There are ways to live off of your music, most of which involve licensing, royalties and endless touring. There are ways. Not all musicians have completely unrelated day jobs. But most do. Most musicians I know, anyway.

So then, would you buy it if we sold it? Maybe you would. Would it make a difference to our lives if you bought it? No. Not unless a whole shitload of you bought it, again and again. Or a television network bought it. Or a car company bought it. If music were a gift to everyone but the corporations, and they bankrolled our existence (which seems to be what's happening anyway), then maybe everything would come clear. We would know who to sell to, who not to sell to, and what to aim for. Corporate sponsorship. Of course, there are other ways to go. Cobbling together an income from various non-corporate sources is also possible. Ben Tundra said that every little bit counts. I still like the idea of giving everything away for free as part of a miraculous gift economy. I give you music, you give me dinner? I haven't worked out the equation quite yet. For now, if we put out a vinyl disc, I hope you'll buy it. And then buy a record player. Or fix that broken record player you have in a box somewhere. Until that happens, this is the free CD you can pick up if you come to one of our shows next month. It's a collection of various songs from our 3 EPs. The FEZANT stamp took forever to make. DIY, bitches:

Friday, April 6, 2012

You Shouldn't Be In A Big Hurry To Play To Nobody

This astute piece of advice came my way courtesy of Bottom of the Hill's exhaustive booking page. It seems obvious. You shouldn't be in a big hurry to play to nobody. But to me, it's a revelation:

"You should feel ready to play the Bottom of the Hill -- essentially this means that if you played a Monday night at the club, you'd feel very confident that 40 - 50 people would come to see your band. If you don't feel that's the case, that's okay. It doesn't mean you suck. it just means that you should wait a bit before playing this particular club. You shouldn't be in a big hurry to play to nobody and that's what happens if you play before you're ready."

When we played Carnegie Hall last fall, the acoustics were mind-blowing and all, but no one came. My mother came, and so did my one friend who lives in Brooklyn, but that was about it. All those beautiful acoustics were wasted on absent ears. So next time I go to a show at this venue or that venue with its epilepsy inducing lights, massive line array speakers, and hordes of drunken fans, and a fellow musician friend says to me, "Damn it, why can't I play here? If I had a stage like this, a sound system like this, and a huge console with my very own devoted sound engineer to mix my shit, then yeah, I'd have screaming fans too," I'll say to her, "Listen, you shouldn't be in a big hurry to play to nobody." And she'll say, "Nobody? Everyone will come if I play here!" And I'll say, "Everyone who? Your everyone is not enough. Even if everyone you know on Schmacebook and Twatter comes, it still won't be enough. A thousand people you don't know also need to come." And she'll say, "Fuck you, I'm great. I deserve a great venue." And I'll say, "You may be great, but playing a great venue is secondary to having a great audience." And so on. You get the point. I used to wonder how we could book a show at this or that great venue. Now I'm wondering how to acquire hordes of drunken fans...

1) Play small local shows

Done. We're playing May 2nd at the Hemlock Tavern with Stratic and Blood Wedding and May 21st at El Rio with Stratic, Noah Phillips and Jason Hoopes.

2) Play more small local shows

Um. I guess there are a few more venues we should contact, such as Public Works, Amnesia, The Knockout, The Uptown, and The Makeout Room. I've been spamming them to no avail. Keep on keeping on.

3) Play medium-sized local shows

Let's see. There's The Rickshaw Stop, The New Parish, Elbo Room, and Bottom of the Hill. That's about it for the medium-sized local venues that might be into our kind of synthtastic poporgasmatics. But as you know now, I'm not in a big hurry to play to nobody, so we're not ready for these venues. Because we need to...

4) Get a manager/label/booking agent or SOMETHING besides me, Stefan and this blog.

The music is not enough. Write that down. The music is not enough. Or maybe our music is not good enough. Really? Apparently, this music is good enough. So is this music. And this music. I rest my case. All these schmucks have representation. How dare I compare FEZANT to such luminaries? Oh whatever. I don't like their music, and they probably wouldn't like mine. All things being equal, what gives? Which is why we should...

5) DO IT OURSELVES!!!!!!!! YES YES YES. DIYDIYDIYDDIIIYYY!!!!!!!!!!

Make your own t-shirts, print your own CDs/tapes/records, make your own flyers, book your own tour, mix your own music, master it with your own sketchy plug-ins, make your own costumes, design your own face, restructure your own skeleton, and oh yes, pay for your own health care.

6) I don't want to Do It Myself

I'll print some CDs (in the works) and hand them out at shows for free. I'll make some t-shirts. I'll email venues. We'll write songs. We'll perform them. But I miss extended families, borrowing an onion or two from the neighbors, and my parents. I miss how my parents used to take care of everything, especially the boring details. Which is why we should...

7) Focus on the music. The rest is somewhat necessary but mostly nonsense.

Yeah, OK. Here's a song we started a long time ago and abandoned. We didn't even get around to recording the vocals. It sounds interesting to me today:

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Song Is Something With Words In It

Or is it? My mother certainly thinks so. Although she can go on and on about instrumentation and vocal timbre, she cares primarily about lyrics. And as a non-native speaker, she has trouble with the anglais, especially when sung with careless abandon. In short, she's sent me several emails that go like this: "I want the words!" All of them? I couldn't be bothered. But then, earlier today, I received another such email. An old friend now living in Buenos Aires told me that he's passed along our songs to several of his Argentine friends and they've asked for the lyrics. "Lots of my Argentine friends use those lyrics websites to learn a song or be able to follow along (helpful for non-native English speakers)," he explained. How can one resist such a charming long-distance request? Therefore, in honor of our many international fans, I've added all of our lyrics to the bandcamp page. Click on whichever song your heart desires to more fully comprehend.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Inside Pushing Out

For the past ten days or so, I've been thinking. Meanwhile, Stefan has been listening to Hype Williams. He says their music feels like London. I'm not sure if I've got that right. It feels like his feeling of London. There's something about the wobbly, scratchy graininess of it that evokes and makes manifest an internal reality to which he strongly identifies. So I've been thinking. Fiona Apple just performed at SXSW. I read Nitsuh Abebe's review of the show and nearly wept when he quoted a Tori Amos lyric from "Silent All These Years." When was the last time a hip music critic like Abebe mentioned someone like Tori Amos? I had to stop reading and breathe as a tidal wave of Tori nostalgia hit me hard, as in, excuse me but can I be you for a while my dog won't bite if you sit real still I got the anti christ in the kitchen staring at me again you bet your life it is oh honey you bet your life dropped off the edge again down in juarez pandora pandora's aquarium here there must be something here all the world is all I am the black of the blackest ocean and that tear in your hand... Uh oh. Back to the article. Abebe makes a crucial point about a certain crop of 90s female performers as compared to the recent onslaught of hyper referential fantasy bands:

A lot of the acts around us in Austin right now are interested in dreaming up alternate realities, collapsing different sounds and styles from the world around them into something new. But this is another reason Apple’s shows here stand out: They have a distinct and overwhelming sense of taking something that’s going on inside her and giving it form, filling up a venue with it, letting it seep into the listener.

FEZANT is often accused of sounding too much like the 80s (and often, I'm the one doing the accusing). This is our alternate reality. We don't like now, we're scared of tomorrow, so let's go back to the pretend 80s and dance around in neon leggings! Stefan even wore eyeliner and a tight bright green sweater for our first ever photo shoot. And then his cousin called him my gay sidekick. Stefan won't be wearing that green sweater again. Not that he doesn't love the gays, but, well. Anyway. My point is that we're not really about the 80s. Sure, we use analog synthesizers and drum machines, but we're actually more like Fiona Apple in our intentions: sincere, self-critical and reaching for the raw. There's something going on inside to which we're trying to give form. Inside pushing out. Granted, we don't always succeed. Inside sometimes gets lost along the way. Too many fog machines. Still, it's important for me to remember: inside pushing out. I'm not interested in newness or oldness. I'm interested in nowness.

Tori knows
all about the pretend 80s:

And then when it all seemed clear, just then, you go and disappear...


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Commander

Liveness
(n)
the property of being animated; having animal life as distinguished from plant life

Liveness
The acoustical quality of a live room.

Liveness
In information security, liveness refers to the transmission of data that is happening now and not a replay of a recording of data sent previously. Liveness is introduced into secure transmissions by mixing in a number that cannot be duplicated again (see nonce). See replay attack.

This is the recorded version of "Commander." The song started as a melody accompanied by three chords on my dinky nylon string guitar. The recording evolved to include several synths, upright bass (Jason Hoopes), cello (William Ryan Fitch), alto saxophone (Jacob Zimmerman), and a sampled beat courtesy of the one and only professional fundamentalist Hassan Nasrallah. As you may be able to tell, we were going for brutal, epic, and possibly disturbing:



This is the live version of "Commander." We recorded it last week. It includes me, Stefan and two synths. We can't be dragging cellos, upright basses, and whatnot with us to gigs, not to mention the talented specimens who play them. So. Liveness. It comes down to this:




Friday, March 2, 2012

People Pay To See Others Believe In Themselves

You ask: will FEZANT ever perform again? I reply: once someone offers us a fucking gig or two, we'll decide whether or not we're too good for that shit. I kid, I kid. We'll perform anywhere, anytime. Well, not anywhere. A decent sound system is a must. And generally, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are no good. I'd like to perform again and a lot. Stefan is more reluctant. He sends me videos like this:



Which makes me think of this:



On one hand, you have imperturbable British dudes carefully wielding electronic sounds. On the other hand, you have disco-loving Palestinians willfully ignoring the police state in which they live. That's where we come in. Obviously, Stefan is the imperturbable British dude and I'm the desperate dancing girl. Somewhere in between clinical precision and physical abandon lies the metronomic heart of a good synth pop song. Kim Gordon wrote an article in 1983 about the function of the performer in a rock concert. At least, that's what I think it's about. She says something slightly confusing about Laurie Anderson, i.e. body mediated by machine mediated by body amounting to a neo-heroically masterful techno-woman-voice thing:

"The notion of merging avant-garde and popular culture (multimedia technology) by an artist is found in its most successful form in Laurie Anderson's recent performances. The position that Anderson represents, as one who has transcended the isolation of the art world, involves a different kind of heroics from that of the rock 'n' roll persona, who represents, even if mythically, a sense of real sexuality, real life or death. Anderson's androgynous appearance and mechanical voice create an impression of organized perfection, expressing the ideal as nonsexual. She has created her own atmosphere of mastering and mimicking a technology that is usually mystifying. Wherever she performs, she accomplishes what clubs cannot; she manipulates the audience by the unseen, creating moments that change and move along effortlessly. As in the multimedia presentations of religious organizations and corporate business, Anderson's seduction suggests, 'Sit back and relax, don't think, let us do it for, let us show you how.' She is identifying with a higher order of technology-power. "

So rock 'n' rollers are real, sexual, and messy while machines are unreal, nonsexual, and perfect. Maybe. I've always found Laurie Anderson to be a bit too clean and a bit too smooth, despite all her unabashed weirdness. What I'd like to figure out is how to juxtapose the real with the unreal without losing any of the heroic human rock 'n' roll mess. Ian Curtis and synthesizers. Like that. Because when I'm up there on stage, and Stefan is dealing with the machines, and my voice is running through four different boxes, and the audience is staring at us, and the sound system is all we've got to push our sound through, and our fragile bodies are sweating and my feeble voice (which is actually quite loud, but not compared to three synths) is shaking, I begin to think, how can my humanity remain intact amidst all of this rigid noise? I like the rigidity of electronic music, but sometimes, it scares me. I can't compete. Except for when I get my head around it just right. Then the machines begin to make me feel more human. And isn't that what you want to experience? Someone being human on stage? Someone being human in ways that make you believe in yourself?

"People pay to see others believe in themselves. Maybe people don't know whether they can experience the erotic or whether it exists only in commercials; but on stage, in the midst of rock 'n' roll, many things happen and anything can happen, whether people come as voyeurs or come to submit to the moment. As a performer you sacrifice yourself, you go through the motions and emotions of sexuality for all the people who pay to see it, to believe that it exists. The better and more convincing the performance, the more an audience can identify with the exterior involved in such an expenditure of energy. Performers appear to be submitting to the audience, but in the process they gain control of the audience's emotions. They begin to dominate the situation through the awe inspired by their total submission to it. Someone who works hard at his or her job is not going to become a "hero," but may make just enough money to be able to afford to be liberated temporarily through entertainment. A performer, however, as the hero, will be paid for being sexually uncontrolled, but will still be at the mercy of the clubs and the way the media shapes identity. How long can someone continue to exert intensity before it becomes mannered and dishonest?"

Here's to exerting intensity on stage and beyond. And surviving. One time, after he had forgotten my name for the third of fourth time, Roscoe Mitchell said to me, "You know, the ones who were all about themselves and their thing, they lasted about ten years. The ones who were about the MUSIC, they're still going strong."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Roll Your Fucking Window Down

Abandoned in the empty parking lot of Rent-A-Center. Discovered on a quiet Sunday morning. Welcome to Oakland, California.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Signing to XL Recordings




Richard calls me and says, "Zeina, what you and Stefan are doing, it's really good. We're flying you to London." "Thanks, Richard. About time," I say. Twenty hours later, I'm sitting in Richard's armchair, Stefan is sitting on Richard's couch, and Richard is staring at us. "How do you want to do this?" Richard asks. "I want full creative control," I say. "I want loads of roadies and gear," Stefan says. "Fine, fine," says Richard, "as long as you give me your eternal souls in 24 years time." Stefan and I look at each other. We can't think that far ahead. "Do you believe in heaven?" Stefan asks me. "I don't know," I say. "Fuck it," says Stefan. We'll do anything for a record deal. We turn to Richard and say,"Yes." "Welcome aboard," Richard smiles. "Our first order of business will be to push the envelope in an attention-grabbing but pleasing manner. Bottom line, the critics and the masses must love you in equal measure. Money and acclaim. That's how we do things at XL." "That's why we're here," I assure him. "We want it all," Stefan adds. "And we know you can give us everything, Richard," I coo, walking over to him and laying my hands on his shoulders. "Rub the right one really hard," Richard orders me. I do as I'm told.

We enter a whirlwind of recording, performing, touring, press, and basic pop star debauchery. Richard opens countless doors and strikes countless deals. We write vaguely experimental and increasingly mediocre songs, but charmed by Richard, the critics have decided to love us no matter what. And the crowds? They do as they're told. Richard tells them to buy our records. "The important thing," Richard reminds us when we visit him once every six months for a tune-up, as he calls it, "is to keep it real. You've got to tap into whatever kind of music poor people in Africa or Pakistan or whatever are making, and throw that in the mix. You've got to put your emotions on display. And if you run out of emotions, make it up. Make up a disastrous love affair. But don't shroud it in metaphorical bullshit. Tell it like it is, or would have been, if it had really happened. But not too hot and not too cold. Be gentle with the envelope. You get what I'm saying? Don't push it too hard." We nod our heads in agreement, and the hits keep coming.

Things start falling apart when Stefan tries to save the endangered lemurs of Kathmandu and I fall in love with an underage hottie. Stefan spends most of his time in Nepal while I never leave my underage hottie's bedroom. Pop music is no longer enough. I've started to feel ugly and old, and Stefan has lost all interest in the human species. He sends me songs about preternatural primates, and I send him songs about beautiful babies. Richard calls us and screams, "You're pushing the envelope way too fucking hard! The envelope has been torn to fucking shreds!! No, no, I can't even tell where the envelope is anymore. Forget 24 years. I'm coming to take your souls NOW. Enjoy a life of obscurity and an eternity of damnation, you miserable failures." Meanwhile, my underage hottie is sent to military school by his parents, and the last of the Kathmandu lemurs is pronounced dead. Stefan and I reunite. We mope over tea. It really is over. We're going to hell.

Having lost our souls, our record deal, our adoring fans, the approval of critics, and the grunt work of tireless roadies, Stefan and I find ourselves back in his bedroom studio with no booked shows or impending release dates. There's nothing to do but write a few songs. We go ahead and do that. In a month, we have an album's worth of material. We call our new album Going To Hell, and we post it online. Our friends and family listen to it, and they like it fine. I get a job as an assistant teacher at an elementary school, and Stefan works for a company that rents out audio gear. The seasons go by, and we wait to die. I remember our pop star days with fondness and wonder what hell will be like.

Years later, we receive a message from Richard:

You win. Apparently, God likes elementary school teachers and audio technicians. Also, God really likes that terrible album you put out years ago, Going To Hell. You've been forgiven. You're going to fucking heaven.
Fuck you,
Richard.

Monday, February 20, 2012

And One More Thing

"What all this adds up to is an increasing tendency to judge pop music intrinsically, the way poetry or jazz is judged. Social context is still important, as it is for most art. But although social and economic factors were once an integral part of the rock aesthetic - indeed, defined that aesthetic - they are now subordinate to the 'music itself.' On balance, in spite of all the good music that would never have happened otherwise, I think this tendency is regrettable. What it means is that rock has been co-opted by high culture, forced to adopt its standards - chief of which is the integrity of the art object. It means the end of rock as a radical experiment in creating mass culture on its own terms, ignoring elite definitions of what is or is not intrinsic to aesthetic experience."

Ellen Willis wrote this in 1968. She was the first full-time pop and rock music critic for the The New Yorker.

"The music itself." Oh, how I dread the thought of it. Grad school was full of this distinction. We do it for the music itself and only the music itself. I don't relate. I do it because there's something to feel and something to say. Music is just my chosen medium. Though I'm not about to get up on a soapbox about it. Terms such as "mass culture", "rock" and "pop" no longer mean what they used to in 1968. Whatever socio-political significance popular music had in the Euro-American world of the 60s and 70s is gone and gone forever. Times have changed (as they always do). But I wonder. I wonder what kind of "radical experiment in creating mass culture" is bubbling beneath the surface these days. Many decades from now, we'll know. For now, all I know is that I'd like to somehow be a part of it. FEZANT for prezidant!!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What's Going On

This morning, I received an email from my aunt:

Zanzoun
Je vais donner ton numéro de tel à Peter Sellars
il va t'appeler dans qq semaines qd il sera à Berkley
gros bisous

Translation:

Zanzoun [my childhood nickname]
I'm going to give your phone number to Peter Sellars
he's going to call you in a few weeks when he'll be in Berkley (sic)
big kisses

Very interesting. My uncle has worked with Peter Sellars several times. This is why my aunt knows him. She's aware that I'm an obscure musician of some kind, and she figured I could do with some help. Correct. I'm open to whatever comes my way. At this point in my life, I've sat through enough random rendezvous to be intrigued rather than frightened by the prospect of a conversation with Peter Sellars. Take note. I'm not talking about the dead British comedian. I'm talking about this guy:



Excellent hairdo. He's an iconoclastic theater and opera director, and he really means it. That's pretty much all I know about him. So I've taken it upon myself to do some research. If I'm potentially going to speak to the man, I should know a little more about him, shouldn't I? Yes, I should. Especially if, as evidenced by the YouTube clip linked above, he believes that one should not "WAIT FOR THEM TO COME WHERE YOU ARE, BUT INSTEAD, TAKE THE JOURNEY YOURSELF, BECAUSE IF YOU ARE BORED IT IS BECAUSE YOU ARE BO-RING." I can't bear the thought of being BO-RING, and Peter Sellars is definitely no slouch when it comes to engaging with others, The Other, and everything in between:

"For me, one of the hardest things to deal with about the 20th century — and I'm very relieved that it's finished — is that it was so absorbed in psychology and the self. Psychology is probably the least interesting thing going on in your life. At the end of the day, reducing your life to your own psychological problems is to devalue your place in history, is to devalue your political commitments, is to devalue what we're all doing here for each other. It is to devalue what overwhelming waves of spiritual energy or insight are breaking upon us, in the midst of these catastrophes, and not to get that life is difficult for a reason. It's not to get that we are actually being pushed, and pulled, and drawn out of ourselves."

Oh. Life is difficult for a reason. I should stop devaluing my place in history and make music that channels the "overwhelming waves of spiritual energy or insight" breaking upon us every single moment of our existence. I think I understand. Although it may begin there, art shouldn't stop at the psychology of the self. It's not about escaping far into an inner world and never emerging. It's not about hiding in your room for years and hoping that someone will miraculously discover your creations. It's about using the self as a means through which to connect with others and potentially overcome difficulty together. Obviously! I mean, obviously, this is what music is about. This is especially what pop music is about. Britney wants to make us dance. Adele wants to make us cry. Prince wants to make us horny. It's about us. Well, some of us. Maybe you hate Britney and can't understand how she has anything to do with Peter Sellars and all that stuff about being drawn out of ourselves, but her music is intended for someone. Her music draws someone out of themselves and onto a communal dance floor.

So then. Back to FEZANT. Who is our music for? What does it do? Why do we even bother? Our aim is to write songs that evoke emotion. At their best, as Stefan says, referencing Gilles Deleuze on Francis Bacon, our songs should be pure sensation. I used to write songs that primarily functioned as vehicles through which to escape my current reality with its slew of psychological problems. Why doesn't he love me, I love him so much, no one understands me, and so on. I still write songs like this. There's a place for solipsism. It's a valid state of mind. It exists. But it's not very useful on its own, by which I mean, it needs a frame, by which I mean, what's the bigger picture, by which I mean, how can I connect my love and pain to the love and pain of others? I can think about the listener as I write the music. I can look my audience in the face. I can pay attention to the place where I live, the people who surround me, and what the fuck they're all doing with their lives. As in, what's going on? This is what our new album will be about.

I'll let you know if and how the Sellars rendezvous goes. Meanwhile, new lyrics to a new song as of yet unsung, uncomposed and unarranged. Check it out:

The West

I miss my mother
The way she holds my hands
I miss my mother
The way she understands
About the future
And everything that's coming to me
You will be happy
As long as you have children

Without a father
I find myself afloat
Upon an ocean
Unacceptably cold
And at the bottom
Shipwrecks from Japan
Turned to pearls and sand

This is the West
This is the West
Travel light and do your best
To make a mark upon the virgin land
And when the spirits visit in the night
Don't give in to their demands

I saw a soldier
Standing on the pier
Without his boots on
Trembling in fear
It was the moon
Risen in the afternoon
As it does
Above the desert dunes

If he could show me
Something he has seen
And I could offer
Words to wash him clean
Then we would slowly
Start to cross the line
Separating space and time

This is the West
This is the West
Travel light and do your best
To make a mark upon the virgin land
And when the spirits visit in the night
Don't give in to their demands

Don't repeat the prayers they speak
Don't unlearn the language you earned
So many years ago
Don't unpack because
One day we will go back

Thursday, February 16, 2012

OMGOMGOMGOMG



It's FEZANT 3.

ListenLikeShare. And don't be a stranger. We like feedback. We like it very much. Comments and/or emails are most welcome, as are solicitations for use in commercials and movie soundtracks, particularly during opening credits, closing credits, and key scenes. Janis did this one for free, but she knew. She knew what was coming.

Sometimes It's Hard To Be Heard

Sometimes it's hard to be heard. The internet may be too crowded. The room may be too noisy. Your ears may be broken. You may be in a foreign country. And no one has the time. I don't have the time to listen to anything new, and yet I dream of something new, created especially for someone just like me. There's an infinite amount of music blogs out there. Some are OBVIOUSLY IMPORTANT and others are not. And new ones are born every day. These eager Brooklynites promise that "if you send us your music, we will actually listen to you." I gave them some money.