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,

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:

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


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


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.