WELCOME TO ASLAN MEDIA MUSIC!
Bringing you the latest sounds from the Mideast and its global Diaspora communities.
- Published on Monday, 16 July 2012 07:15
- Category: More About Music
What happens when you get folk rock legend Cat Stevens in a bar fight with post-punk band Joy Division? Besides a complete hypothetical — Cat-turned-Yusuf-Islam no longer drinks — somewhere out of the brawl is bound to spring a hybrid style of music that is both familiar and indefinable, in a space where “home” is bittersweet, haunted by memories that offer both comfort and the unknown.
Like an outsider looking in, singer-songwriter Kashif, known better to fans as Orphan Factory, encapsulates this space, and his music- “dark, lyrical and a little broken” –embodies what it means to embrace that space where you “try to hold on to some semblance of faith,” despite our inherent tendency to be “too wild and derelict to catch the offered light.”
Recognizing light in the swallowing gape of dark: this is the place from where Kashif writes. His new EP, The Waning Light of Fall, released last month, explores the despair and hope that surrounded his hometown in the panhandle of Idaho, through the stories of those he saw fade or disappear before he himself left for Los Angeles several years ago. Ethereal and ambient, it’s hard to describe what exactly you’re listening to musically. Too modern for folk, too subtle for rock, too nuanced for indie – and yet all three genres at the same time, as various elements from each comingle lyrically and melodically.
So how do you classify Kashif’s music? Two words comes to mind – indefinably familiar.
Several weeks ago, Aslan Media Arts, Culture and Music Editor Safa Samiezade’-Yazd got a chance to chat with Kashif about his new EP, his hometown in Idaho and what it meant to create music as an Indian-Pakistani Muslim outsider looking in both small town America and his own hybrid identity.
Aslan Media: What inspired you to create music and how long have you been doing it?
Kashif: [I’ve been doing it] I would say about four or five years. I began it with writing, first and foremost, like with poetry and literature- those were the first things I found a way out of myself and my surroundings. Poetry and literature kind of naturally lends to music. Writing and getting a few things published was cool, but not really that satisfying. Maybe because I wanted something a bit more immediate or cathartic, so I just picked up the guitar, trying to teach myself to play and whatnot, so that kind of led to the music.
AM: What’s the story behind the name Open Factory?
K: You know, it’s kind of funny- there’s an abandoned church on the outskirts of my hometown that I spent most of my adolescence and whatever adulthood going to. I would go there because there was a sense of refuge to it, like a way out of my old hometown and all the trappings that that entailed. At the time I was reading Charles Simic, and his memoir is called Orphan Factory, and so I referred to that abandoned church on the outskirts of my hometown as an orphan factory of sorts… The term has this inherent sense of isolation to it that’s maybe indicative of a part of who I am… Growing up in Idaho, no one ever said my name correctly… there was almost this self-reflexive self-consciousness about it… so I just went with it… it sort of served as a way to represent who I am artistically.
AM: How much does your hometown in Idaho play into your songwriting process?
K: I think it plays a significant amount, especially with this EP I put out. It’s all dedicated to my hometown and the people in it… I saw a lot of people in this small town just kind of disappear or fade. It also plays into… my experience of being an outsider, not by choice.
AM: Whom do you count as your influences for this EP?
K: Lyrically, I would say people like Sherwood Anderson and Richard Hugo- I wrote a lot of poetry, anything from Keats to Vallejo. Musically, Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel, older stuff- like I love older Springsteen- my all-time favorite album is Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, which is, I think, the gold standard for capturing the ongoing despair that exists with small towns. Also Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs: they have kind of the lo-fi feel that also feels really authentic at the same time.
AM: What sound were you specifically trying to achieve with the EP?
K: Sonically, I felt kind of restricted because I’m in a room in my home- the acoustics obviously could be better, but I kind of felt like I wanted to capture- there’s a lot of reverb and delay that I use on the EP because I wanted it to sound just a little ethereal. I’m a huge fan of Joy Division and New Order and a lot of the post-punk stuff, and so I wanted it to capture that ambiance.
AM: Can you go through each track and tell us the story behind it?
K: The first track, “Stealing Horses,” it’s my favorite track on the album and it’s my favorite track to play. There are a lot of Native American reservations around my hometown… in a lot of Native American traditions, you wouldn’t actually go to war with other tribes; they would just steal horses from one another, and that was a way to mitigate violence but still have a victory over your “enemy.” So [the song] is about a guy who’s on the down-and-out and goes to farms stealing horses and riding them around at night.
The second song is basically about me getting a little older, going back to my hometown, because someone really close to me was sick, and dealing with the idea that you can never really go home again, but you are back there, and every corner of your hometown represents the ghost of a memory. At the same time, you’re there because someone close to you is really sick or dying, and you have to come to grips with this idea of letting go.
The third song is dedicated to an old high school friend’s mom, who right after we graduated she took her own life. She was this really quiet Asian lady from Taiwan, up in the panhandle of Idaho, and she couldn’t speak a lick of English, but still raising her kids as best she could. She always looked cheery and put on a bright face, singing these quiet songs on the piano. So it’s about being younger and finding out that she took her own life, and it’s cataclysmic in recognizing just how alone someone really was… that sense of wanting to leave and not being able to.
The fourth song is for my neighbor growing up. They didn’t like us at all… we were one of two Indian-Pakistani families in a town of about 20,000. So growing up, the grandmother did not care for us at all, but as I got older I saw who she was- just a really sad old lady, probably just incredibly lonely and putting on this hard face to hide how small and abandoned she must feel.
The last song is… about my brother’s best friend growing up- his family could not be more of an All-American loving family… Just really, really great people- I remember the father picking me up and carrying me around when I was a little boy- but when I was about 16 or 17, the family started falling apart. The mother and father, who were high school sweethearts, got a divorce, and he ended up taking his own life by hanging himself in the garage. The song is obviously not just about that necessarily: the song is also about faith and God and about how often times, the idea of the Lord feels like a loader that you can’t turn off. I think that has a lot to do with it. One of my favorite songs is called “Mercy for the Greedy,” and it’s about doubting faith, losing faith or even the inability to have faith. There’s this great line in it: “Need is not quite belief.” It’s such a powerful line. So my song is told from the point-of-view of the father and the son, and then it’s also addressing the idea of the Father as in God.
AM: What were you looking forward to the most with this EP release?
K: It kind of feels like an exorcism of sorts, just releasing a part of yourself. I think with any artistic endeavor, you’re trying to give a beautiful shape to what you feel by just putting it out there and see what happens.
AM: What’s the one thing you want people to take away when listening to this EP?
K: I don’t know if I want them to take away from it, but I hope that they find some kind of beauty in it, however small, however indistinct, just some kind of small beauty. I don’t want it to be indicative of despair, but of this inherent tragic grandeur in life.
AM: Describe your sound in five words.
K: Dark, lyrical and a little broken.
AM: What song has been on constant replay on your iPod?
K: Blitzen Trapper’s “Love the Way You Walk Away.” It’s just a stellar, genius song.