Interview With Shoeb Ahmad | By Tahlia Palmer
How has your year been so far? What have you been up to?
It's been pretty crazy to be honest! I've spent all of the last 12 months working on getting "quiver" ready and playing shows around that as well as anticipating the release of the new Tangents album and the upcoming tour. As they say - when it rains, it pours.
What’s coming up for the rest of the year?
Perth is the last stop on the "quiver" launch tour so it's straight into Tangents touring after that and then a few sporadic shows here and there on the east coast. I am also working on a series of visual and audio works for You Are Here, a multi-arts festival in Canberra who commissioned me to work on an artistic response that helps with their development as an organisation.
One of your upcoming Perth shows is for the Revelation Film festival’s Music Days Program, so in the spirit of the festival, what’s your favourite film and what is your favourite film soundtrack?
It's pretty hard to pin down one favourite film these days - in a sad way, I don't really get to watch as many films as I would like any more. I do have a soft spot for Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (A Bout De Souffle), Lost In Translation and Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders. I do like to delve into soundtrack works when composing long extended instrumental things. Paul Kelly's score for Lantana is quite a moody post-rock thing while more recently, I really enjoyed Nils Frahm's work for Victoria - again, two more amazing films! - but I keep coming back to the many soundtracks that the band Tindersticks have done for the films of Clare Denis. They are truly great pieces of art, both to compliment the films themselves and on their own.
Do you have any favourite Perth artists?
I'm lucky that I get to play with both Erasers and Original Past Life at my album launch at The Bird but Andrew Ryan from CPN actually turned me onto Ryan Beno quite recently and that was a nice revelation. To be honest, all three of the other acts I'm playing with at The Rosemount are phenomenal. One of my all time fave bands is Bluetile Lounge so Perth music has had a certain allure for me for many years now.
"Quiver" is a sensual, soulful record full of vulnerability, the kind of vulnerability that displays immense strength. Can you talk a little bit about the creation of the album, the creative process, and the biggest influences over the atmosphere, both musically and personally?
The music itself was written more than three years ago now but I didn't quite feel the need to say anything important or relevant so I sat on the songs for a while while other projects kept going on. My juggles with identity were quite a personal matter during this time but in 2016, I experienced a hotel room robbery which blew the whole thing apart and made me realise that I needed to accept who I am and allow myself the time and space to reclaim and inhabit this part of me. I used the studio as a release from the pressure and slowly but surely, brought those who I knew would be accepting into my creative circle and working on this delicate and lush piece of music. The words on "quiver" are written for a therapeutic purpose but the greater idea of putting this music out there is for those who might be in a similar situation as me and for them to know that it's OK to be vulnerable and be strong in who they are. We are only prisoners if we let societal flaws get at our person.
How did you get your start in music? What inspired you to start playing?
I just wanted to play guitar and thought that I'd just do it - no real reasons apart from an idea it'd be fun and interesting... I'm not particularly talented and certainly not studious about it but I just picked one up and heard things that sounded nice to me and went with it. That was high school and I'm still here doing it, wrangling instruments and sounds to make music with. I was probably most inspired by reading about DIY indie rock and hardcore, just the idea of forming a band with yr friends and seeing what happened. Finding out about Sonic Youth, The Slits and The Pop Group really expanded my mind even before hearing their records - the whole Riot Grrl movement gave me a sense of excitement which I had trouble finding among all the white middle class males who surrounded me. Luke Sutherland and his band Long Fin Killie stood out especially - just as much Tjinder Singh and Cornershop, Natacha Atlas and Asian Dub Foundation did too.
In an interview from 2008, you mentioned you were in to nu metal when you were younger (I totally feel you, I was a Korn fan and still drunkenly indulge on occasion), and that playing in Spartak could sometimes result in “rocking out”, which you described at the time as something you weren’t "altogether pleased with”. What have you learnt about “rocking out” in the 10 years since then?
It's so funny, in hindsight I probably didn't love nu-metal as much as used the idea of it to bond with people - though Deftones still has a strong resonance for me because they seemed to be the most post-punk and sonically interesting of the lot (maybe the emo quality of Chino's singing and words do something for me too?). I think the idea of "rocking out" back then was almost like a cop-out - like actually easy to do without thinking about it but now, "rocking out" for me is very much a cathartic release and an abstract process that feeds off my emotional state in that one moment. I think I'm comfortable with it these days because I'm aware of what it's purpose is and how I can convey it.
How has your approach to music evolved over the years, and what kind of things influenced this evolution?
"quiver" was a reaction to my artistic insecurities in a way - being known for improvising and electronic-aided sounds, I wanted to make an entirely organic album relied very little on electronic accents and was strongly moored on the song arrangements, letting each vocal, melody and instrument have it's own space to breath whilst being part of a greater whole.
Do your various musical and sound art projects inform each other to some degree, or are they separate entities?
Each project revolves around their own core idea so that never changes but I think the energy I bring to each of them is based on what I think they need from me or how I think my presence will enhance it. Sometimes that's to compliment what is happening already in a subtle and understated way, sometimes that's to hijack and create sonic disruptions that give a more caustic edge to proceedings. Thematically, I think a lot of the projects I lead are very much influenced by the notion of identity at the moment because that is where my mind is at and what I think needs to be presented in a public arena.
What can audiences expect from your live show?
I've got a tight trio together for the Perth shows with whom I'm playing most of "quiver" as well as a few older solo songs too. We're all slow grooves and in the pocket, with just the right amount of ambient noise, textural interplay and dirty pop moves.
Favourite gig you’ve played? Favourite gig you’ve been to?
The Canberra launches for my recent solo music has been sublime for a combination of reasons - venue, stage settings, audience reception - but I think I still have much fondness for the times I've travelled to Asia and played shows with Spartak and Agency. All those tours were very DIY, rough and tumble but the warmth from all the people we met and the experiences around the performances really do have a place in my heart still. I saw Low and Lambchop in the last few years and both had a great vibe and nuance to them live - music for the head but also for the soul.
Can you talk a little bit about your label hellosQuare? When was it created, why, how, what kind of artists do you work with?
hellosQuare started more than a decade ago when I was in high school to put out underground music I was fond of. It was easy with the CDR world that was around then but as time moved on, I also moved onto CD albums, LPs and tapes. There was no really remit as to what I put out - the influences were diverse so naturally, the releases were as well. I love the fact that I release abstract improvisation records by Candlesnuffer and Pollen Trio as well as the post-punk pub rock of first Hoodlum Shouts album, which was picked up by Poison City for an LP version. Label activities are much slower these days with the nature of the record industry but I still look to do the odd art edition to compliment a digital release, as we have done for recent albums by Reuben Ingall and Moving Paths.
Do you have any advice for anyone reading who might be embarking on starting a label of their own?
It's a long game - a seed of an idea might grow into something really nice so be patient, don't over do it and be ready for some hard times because when something great finally appears, you'll feel a million bucks about it :)
Tangents will be launching their new record New Bodies at Rosemount Hotel on July 22. Early Bird tickets available here