I saw Imaad Wasif perform for the first time in Los Angeles in 2008 when he opened for Darker My Love and The Warlocks. His music has always been haunting, mysterious and evocative, and his performance had an influence on my own musical sensibilities. The second time I saw Wasif perform was with his band, Electric Flower Group, as they shared a bill with Dead Meadow side project Old Testament at the Nomad Collective art space in 2013. The band sounded as powerful and eerie as Wasif's solo work, and I’ve continued to listen and watch out for new music for him.
Now the time has finally come for Wasif, who has worked with the likes of Lou Barlow, Stephen McBean, Lykki Li and Karen O, to release a follow-up to his 2009 solo album, The Voidist. After a long journey through three “lost albums,” he has announced the March release of his new, Bobb Bruno–produced record, Dzi, and an upcoming show on Feb. 23 at Resident to showcase his new music.
Wasif and I talked about going back to basics in the music recording process and realizing it’s OK to be primitive and to be uncertain about the future.
A few years ago you were performing with Electric Flower Group and wrote some songs with local bands like Dead Meadow. What brought you back to your solo work?
I’ve always worked on collaborative projects but at the same time of the EFG music, I was also making records. There have been a few solo records I’ve made as a part of my disillusionment process to get me to the record I have now. Since my last solo record, The Voidist, I worked on a project with Steve McBean of Black Mountain called Grim Tower and I also worked a project called Acid with an artist friend of mine called Jeff Hassay. That album will be coming out within the next year.
I’ve been working on different processes and I think a lot of that informs the music I am making. But I am trying to kind of strip away a lot of false intentions to any of the music. That takes you on different journeys sometimes. A lot of the last year has been rediscovery processes.
You released a video teaser for your new album, Dzi. What did the video represent?
That was an assemblance from a very old film. It is credited to Jeff Hassay, who does video work for me. I made this record with Bobb Bruno; he's a really old friend of mine. I had gotten into the process over the last couple of years. I made three solo records that are just shelved right now, and the whole thing I was suffering through was this kind of disillusionment with the process and with the final outcomes. I’ve always had that discrepancy with music ... [as it] comes out, and starts forming into something audible, into different iterations of the songs, I find that they lose their potency. They become a contrivance of what you initially intend, or whatever it was that moved you.
How has your process evolved over the years to overcome your disillusionment?
My idea behind this record was to go into it in a very different way than I have been working, which is much of a daily writing process. So I talked to Bobb about the way I feeling about records. I just wanted to make a record based off of spontaneous compositions, and I would come in with my ideas and we could work off a Tascam 8-track [recorder]. We made the entire record off an old cassette 8-track.
Another thing was to get away from [computer] screens. Seeing music visually and working on it and editing it that way had just become a part of a whole process. ... I just didn’t want to do any of that. So I went back to a more primitive recording, where you have to write the song and play it. Since I was working in such a minimal way, there weren’t a lot of options to fix things.
That was the basic idea behind the record. I loved it.
Does being surrounded by so many musicians in Los Angeles have anything to do with your struggle with the standardized process of recording your music?
That should not be influencing your music. I’ve met a lot of people who are that point in their lives, but I don’t feel that personally. I also have never felt I was included or taken into a particular movement. I think that is sort of problematic for my music. I don’t think it fits into one genre. I’m not really interested in what’s around me. I’ve struggled with that my entire life, of maintaining a sacred value to what is inside of me.
How does it feel to be different in this social and political era? How do you navigate looking a bit different and having been born in Canada in these days of contentious immigration politics?
It has definitely affected me, fearing the outcome of what’s going on politically with our country right now. But that’s not some reason I should be granted an entitlement with the music I am making. I don’t expect anything more than anyone else working in their own world. The politics and the fear I feel because of the president right now are not influencing my music.
So what is Dzi about conceptually and stylistically?
It’s an extremely primitive record. I’m trying to get back to the notion that there is space and simplicity and that there is a spontaneity that you can never really understand, and I’m trying to capture that on an album. I’m using my instrument, which is guitar. I’m not trying in another element to change things up. It’s another piece of a larger body of work I am creating.
The past albums that got shelved, did the labels shelve them or did you put them away?
I pulled one myself because I just felt that the emotional content was way too dark, and in the end I didn’t want to release it. Then, the next album I made — there were some contractual issues I was going through. It is still around and it may come out, but I just don’t know.
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Getting caught up in stasis is something that can really keep you from moving forward. I think moving forward is the most important thing to do, and the thing I am most excited about with people moving into this dark time — I feel like there’s going to be a rising up of intention and it’s going to be positive. Everything that’s being put into those intentions is going to be positive in order to eclipse everyone’s fear.
It sounds awful to have had three records that aren’t going to be heard.
It’s torture. The whole process is torture. The thing is the process of making a record, and the process of writing and all of those things, should maintain some sense of mystery. I felt with those records, the mystery was kind of lost. There was a forward direction through them, but in the end I just never got perspective on them.
My new record is called Dzi. It’s a Tibetan word that means splendor and light. The thing with this record is that I don’t understand it, even though I wrote it. I’ve been working on getting the songs together with a band, and the whole unknown aspect of the music for me has been completely inspiring.
Imaad Wasif's Dzi will be released in late April 2017 through Grey Market.