April 5th, 2008 | Interviews

Dan Monick

Imaad Wasif with Two Part Beast “Wanderlusting”


Imaad Wasif was once in Lowercase and Alaska! and now joins Bobb Bruno and Adam Garcia in Two Part Beast. Their album Strange Hexes is out now. Imaad speaks the night before starting his tour.

Who is Rolf Harris and how did his musical ideas shape your life?
Rolf Harris’ Sun Arise—that’s the first record I bought. I used to buy garage sale records when I was a kid. I bought a lot of stuff at garage sales. I may have had a nude photo of Marilyn Monroe, but it got confiscated. I bought a jewelry box and cut it open one day, and there was a black-and-white negative I was convinced was Marilyn Monroe. I’d shown it to my mother, and then it just disappeared. But Rolf—he’s an insane guy from Australia. Later I found out when I got that Alice Cooper record—there’s a version of his song! He’s just got a really demented sense of humor. In terms of lyrics—the record is definitely connected to like… the first time I ever heard anyone completely losing it. I don’t know how dark his actual life was—he could have been a really dark fucker but I don’t know!
Why are there no labels on the records your father gave you?
I have a box of records he gave me—all East Indian classical music I was hearing when I was growing up. When they left London, they took a ship and the records were ruined. They were waterlogged, and I guess the chest showed up and all the covers were ruined. I kind of pieced them together stylistically—I think I know who’s who.
Did you ever hear them in later life and realize who they were?
I feel like I hear that every day. I listen to those records a lot. Almost every morning. I learn different things from them as I listen at different times in my life. There was a sitar player Vilayat Khan—he’s actually dead now, but I recently saw a DVD of him playing and I had such an intense emotional experience. I was almost brought to tears but I wasfighting it off—it’s completely connected to my childhood.
What kind of music is the most reliable constant in your life?
Probably those drones. There’s that ongoing oceanic feel of music in my head a lot. In times of great focus, I feel like it shapes into something. But I mostly hear a lot of ocean in my head. And love is definitely something in my life that’s been thematically linked to every lyric I’ve written.
Have you ever been the victim of Stendhal syndrome?
Are you talking crystallization? I was reading his text On Love back in September, and he writes about the idea of crystallization, and the concept of love and how love starts to crystallize and how impassioned and fervent you become. And there’s a song I’d written two years ago that’s on the record—‘Cloudlines’—and it had imagery connected to that tradition. When I read it, I was completely amazed—I’d never read Stendhal before that! This real and strange understanding of love in that song, saying ‘You are so crystalline.’ But I’ve never heard of Stendhal syndrome.
It’s when you’re physically overcome by a work of art.
That’s the thing about music in general—if it doesn’t kind of wreck me with some intense rawenergy, then I can’t really listen to it.
What’s the most unexpected place you’ve found that?
When I was young, I lived out in the desert and there was some kind of oldies station, and one distinct memory I have—I had a really battered like Sears stereo, and I was really sick one night, and I’d woken up late from sleep and I had that radio on and I was throwing up, and that was the first time I heard ‘Sugar Mountain’ by Neil Young. I don’t even know why I was hearing it on the radio—I never heard it after that—and I remember hearing the static coming through and how forlorn and distant his voice sounded, and that really affected me. And not until years later did I hear Neil Young and put two things together. I equate a lot of feelings that I felt growing up to my memories of the desert—a lot of ideas of space that I think are now more consciously connected to my music. There’s a whole vastness, mostly in my memory.
How did your parents feel about living in Palm Desert after leaving India?
It’s pretty insane. I don’t think they were necessarily happy about it. My father in recent years has said he moved there because he wanted to be isolated. I don’t know a lot about my parents—they’re not very forthcoming with their history. But they broke the rules of secular marriage. They were pretty much run out of India, as far as I know. The environment growing up—my parents were both very artistic people. My father was a singer and artist and my mother was an artist. I really saw the passion eat them away. There was a great struggle and a great amount of discrimination against them, and they were not thriving artistically in the desert. I was aware of that being an extreme source of tension—seeing that sort of hopelessness come over somebody. I was kind of forced in a way to develop my own reality to live within—at times I become aware it’s a distortion that I live my life in, but at the same time, I can’t find any way out of it. The entire time I lived in the desert I felt completely like a misfit. There were a lot of issues there with being really young in school and not fitting in physically or racially or anything. It was always really strange. I’m now trying to stay away from my memories. I have very cloudy memories of my childhood. There’s a lot I blocked out. I’m living in the moment I’m living in now. If I do that, I can be free of the fear and the things that really haunt me.
You said you wrote your first record to destroy depression within yourself—what were you thinking about when you were writing Strange Hexes?
This record really took shape not completely within me. I felt possessed, really.
Productively possessed?
Yeah, a lot of writing came out of me at that time. I can look at it now and see there’s really an exploration of love, or the madness that I feel out of love. I had completely given myself to being a vessel. I’m not saying I’m some kind of mystic or something—fuck that! The false mysticisms that people adopt—it’s not that! I won’t allow myself to force it. It has to be an idea that comes from a pure origin. I’m just doing what—I know it makes me feel alive! On a day where I don’t sing, I feel suffocated. There’s an amazing thing that happens when you sing—when you feel that air moving through you. I know that makes me feel alive. To be at the mercy of a song is sometimes really tortuous, and I have felt that at times. I know I can’t push myself because I’m gonna break or snap. I have to give myself space. That’s always a very difficult thing for me—there’s always been a voice that kind of beats me down since I’m a child.
‘Get it done?’
‘You must keep going! You must keep going! You must figure this out!’ And it can completely wreck your perception of things—destroy your health and make you feel insane. I’m striving to understand these things so I can continue to write.
What’s the longest you went without writing?
There hasn’t been a day since I moved to Los Angeles—I think in 2001—and it’s been all day every day. It’s definitely an obsession-addiction-slash-I-don’t-know-what. I can’t exist any other way. I kind of don’t know what I’m going to do.
Was it different playing songs with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs?
That was a really serendipitous kind of crossing of paths. I just finished my solo acoustic record and was going on tour for it anyway, and they needed someone to flesh out their songs on Show Your Bones with lots of acoustic textures. I didn’t think too much—it just felt right.
What it’s like having Frances McDormand up front and screaming at your shows?
She’s an amazing person—sort of a constant supporter of my music since I met her. We just have a connection. I don’t know—it’s strange. I really try not to demystify the beauty of certain relationships and what you share with certain people and why. You just have to exist with them. I feel she adopted a very motherly role with me. Being able to have discussions with her about insanity—connections to insanity and Edward Gorey.
What do you think is the relationship between art and insanity?
I don’t think you have to suffer to create great art. But certain people do. I’ve known really sensitive people that have totally destroyed their lives because of that, and I’m very aware of those things. I’ve felt myself being pulled down by the weight of those things, but I dedicate myself to the struggle of being alive and being here, and I try to really understand those things for myself. I’m interested in this kind of as a universal principle—everyone feels insane at some point! I find if I pour myself into the music so completely that I shut myself off from the world and people, I experience almost an out-of-body kind of numbness. In my disciplinary playing, I’ll do spontaneous—I use the word loosely—raga-based compositions that are spontaneous, since I don’t have traditional knowledge of raga, and I realized at one point that if I play like a certain passage I’ll feel myself physically growing numb. At that point, I’m not within my body, but I haven’t left the room, which I’m trying to do. And then at some point in the day I feel so completely exhausted I have to stop. Occasionally I play songs I’ve already written—I try not to do it until I play live because the performance is an amazing thing. Things take different shapes.
How do they change with Bobb Bruno and Adam Garcia in Two Part Beast?
It’s scary! But I’m not holding back—that’s why it’s scary! They don’t need an explanation—it’s more an intuitive emotional connection. When I bring them songs, they instantly start shaping and evolving.
Have you ever woken up with the guitar next to you?
I have woken up with the guitar next to me, actually. But that’s a dangerous thing—allowing yourself not to control the insanity, you know? ‘Out In The Black’—that has connections to that theme and idea. ‘Coil’—those are really my connections to whatever this fucking catchphrase of mine is now. ‘Madness and love.’
Can we make that official?
Yeah, put it on my tombstone! But I really also want to be able to give to other people—to share with people. I don’t like to be so self-absorbed I can’t help people with their problems. There’s definitely been like a muted sense of pressure that’s always been on me—from an early age, I was told the meaning of my name was ‘pillar of faith,’ and I remember when I was told that, I felt extremely guilty all of a sudden. That I wasn’t giving enough to other people! But I don’t know if that’s a delusion as well—but I definitely want to help people. Through music—that’s great redemption!
What did you mean when you said ‘Every omen I see, I heed.’?
Have you seen Jalsagar? A Satayajit Ray film—it translates to ‘the music room.’ This is the most sinister and beautiful movie made—I think it’s from 1958. There’s a scene where this man who’s kind of dealing with issues of insanity brought about by having far too much pride and isolating himself—he believes that music is the true salvation and he hosts these jalsas, which are music ceremonies at his house, which is a deteriorating mansion in the middle of nowhere. His wife and son have gone off to visit her dying parent, and he sees lightning through the window and at one point looks into his glass, and there is a beautiful crystal chandelier above him but instead of that he sees an insect. And immediately his entire demeanor changes. In India, that is an omen. He knows something is wrong. And in the next scene we find out the houseboat his wife and son were on went into a whirlpool and they were both killed. There’s more, but that’s probably paranoia and superstition forced on me growing up from religious factors and things—I’ve definitely had to fight off being a really paranoid and superstitious person. I’ll see symbols or believe things—I definitely strive to confront them. My brother is like a really insanely fast driver—it always worried me. I had some vision of him dying—I was woke up crying and I went and called him and told him to quit doing that. When I was thirteen, he drove me off this turnoff—like an exit—we flew off through the air and landed in this desert pit, and I didn’t get thrown out of the car but I should have. I remember him laughing maniacally because he was so frightened by what happened. I don’t know. We were growing up in a crazy environment and always pushing the limits of our little world. And I don’t go on tour anymore in the wintertime because I was in a van accident a few years ago. I just have a lot of superstitions that I live my life by. Ultimately it’s just mental programming I’ve grown up with.
Where will you be a year from today?
I’m striving not to look into the future. I refuse to answer that question!