I know I need to stick to music but I am freaking out that Japan is dumping radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. I know they have no other options but jeez! Sometimes I just want to lock myself in my basement with cans of food, water, and the soothing & relaxing CD by Mehran. Mehran thankfully is my guest today and he has created a timeless classic with his album ‘Angels Of Persepolis.’ Mehran is a flamenco guitarist of Iranian decent but he is now living in Chicago. Join us as Mehran talks about everything from moving to the US, Middle East peace, learning to play in Iran, and so much more.
Stoli: Where are we talking from today and why do you go by Mehran?
Mehran: First and foremost let me thank you for this interview for the Skope Magazine and it is such a pleasure to get your interest. I am here in Chicago. My first name is Mehran. It is a Persian name and I think it is exotic and different enough to just leave it alone as a one name. My last name is Jalili, in case you are curious to know.
Stoli: At what age did you pick up the flamenco guitar and learn to play?
Mehran: I started playing the guitar in my teens. At that time I was just studying it in general and later became interested in Rock and Blues. After a while I started to study classical guitar and by the time I was in my late 20’s I became interested in Flamenco. Since then and after so many trips to Spain to study this beautiful art form I have stuck to this discipline and you can say I have found my home.
Stoli: How much was music part of your life growing up in Iran?
Mehran: A lot. My uncle was a professional musician back in Iran and he had a lot of influence on me. He played the guitar and piano and I was very intrigued by this in an early age. At around 8 or 9 years of age I started to play the piano. Although I really wanted a guitar but at that time it wasn?t possible to get one of my own. Our house was always full of music specially when all my cousins would get together. They all played the keyboard and percussions. All this was prior to the Iran’s Islamic revolution and at that time you heard music everywhere. From traditional to modern, my family was always playing music. By the time I was 12 years old I was interested in western music and American pop. Now having a guitar was a very realistic goal. By the time I was 14 I left Iran and came to the US to live with the same uncle that was a guitarist.
Stoli: How much did your desire to play music play into your need to move to Chicago?
Mehran: None. I moved to Chicago due to certain unfortunate events that took place in my family and it was recognized that I should move to the US and live with my uncle. Although it worked out in a way that I initially studied the guitar with my uncle who was such a good and knowledgeable guitarist. Eventually when I reached an age to be on my own I decided to stay in Chicago for it’s diversity in music and ethnic richness.
Stoli: I love your song “Korean Soup.” What is the interpretation of that song and when did you write the music?
Mehran: Thank you, it is one of my favorites as well. I wrote the music a few years ago but I never finished it until I started to record “Angels of Persepolis”. I wanted to give it a Bossa Nova feel but in my own style. I wanted it to have a warm and flowing feel. I decided to have two separate sections connected by a long guitar solo. So really the song is the riff or the “hook” with a five minute guitar solo overlay that is smooth and calm and not too fiery. In a way trying to connect the solo by short passages that are very melodic. Once you listen to the whole eight minute song you don?t realize you just heard a five minute guitar solo. I was very specific for this solo even to the point that I used D’Addario strings to get that smooth and warm tone on my Flamenco guitar. I use these strings all the time but on that day I had another set on because I was experimenting with them, but I changed to D’Addario for this solo. The hard tension or the extra hard tension handles the flamenco attack very well.
This album is a dedication to the brave people of Iran who inspired me to create this work when they had an uprising against their tyrannical government. So in this song I decided to insert some sound effects that are relevant to what I was trying to say. The ticking and chiming of the clocks at the start of the song refers to time running out or time for change. The deep breathing in and out were my own. That implies impatience and disappointment. There are a couple of spots in the body of the song that I inserted the sounds of demonstrations in Iran.
Stoli: How long were you writing & recording your incredible album ‘Angels of Persepolis’?
Mehran: From start to finish it took exactly one year. I was writing the material as we were recording. I wanted to in a way create music that keeps the core of Flamenco together but has the versatility to experiment outside the Flamenco frame. I really wanted it to be progressive, maybe can be called progressive Flamenco. Hey, we have a new Genre.
Most of the writing were concurrent with the events in Iran and I drew lots of inspiration from the heroism displayed by the young people of Iran. Everyday so many youtube videos would reach the western world about the atrocities and persecution imposed on people. It was hard to avoid not wanting to do something about it. It made me dedicate my work to raising awareness about how unjustly people were being beaten, imprisoned and in many instances killed. It made me think about weather if I wanted to solely be an entertainer or be an artist who would transcend the simple title of entertainer and endeavor to enlighten or engender political or social change.
Stoli: If you were to bring on a vocalist to sing on one of your songs who would be ideal?
Mehran: If I had the luxury of choosing anybody it would be Rod Stewart. I love his choked up voice.
Stoli: What are some venues in Chicago where you like to perform and listen to live music?
Mehran: I like the Park West and the House of Blues. I also like the Old Town School of folk Music and the Green Mill here in Chicago. These are smaller to medium size arenas that are suitable for the type of music I play. I also like seeing other performances at these places.
Stoli: How does it feel when you hear of radio stations & media outlets playing & covering your music?
Mehran: I think everybody would agree that it feels great. I remember when I was in my 20’s I would get all the guitar magazines from guitar player to the vintage guitar magazine and read everything including the classified ads. I used to fantasize that one day I would be in these magazines. Well since the Angels Cd came out I have been featured in some of them and I tell you it is a surrealistic feeling as if it is not really happening. Really for me at this stage the goal of being recognized as a great guitarist is not as important and enjoyable as the journey that I am going through not knowing what tomorrow will bring. It is the process that is fun.
I think the first time Angels of Persepolis got its first radio spin was at the WLFM Chicago smooth jazz radio last summer. I knew around 7 pm one day they were going to play “Korean Soup”. I was told that by the station. I was teaching a group Flamenco class at the Old Town School. I had the radio turned on with low volume just so I would know when they would play it. As soon as they started playing it I ran downstairs with my students to the dance class where a friend of mine was teaching. Sure enough they had it on too. She later told me about my glowing face while the music was being played. Since then many other stations have been playing it. One of the most notable was the University of Puerto Rico which dedicated a whole hour on their Saturday morning show to the Cd, with an interview with me. I had given them a bunch of promotional copies and they were giving them away to their callers for donations to the station. Within minutes the CDs were gone. That happens to be the most popular and most listened to station on the island. When things like this occur it is so important to the artist to know that his work has a value and is appreciated. It is a fuel that keeps you going. It tells you that there are people who want to hear the rest of what you have to offer.
Stoli: How can the power of music help the people in the struggle against dictators and corrupt regimes in the Middle East?
Mehran: Music has a magical power of bringing and uniting people together. Every revolution has its songs and music that represents it. If people relate to it then it will live for a long time. My purpose was not to bring people together with my music, because that is impossible to do just with instrumental music, but really it was to raise awareness among people here in the western world. I think at this stage of the game that is a necessity. For example because of the outside activities of different Iranian Organizations and countless other international human rights organizations for so many years to bring violations of the human rights in Iran to the worlds attention, just today the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to establish an independent UN human rights monitor in Iran.
I know every time someone buys my Cd after listening to it, they want to know what is the story behind all the sound effects and snippets . That is when they refer to the liner notes in the Cd cover and read all my explanation and my intention. If they go back and listen again they can better understand the music. For example one of the songs “the Oblong Box” opens with motorcycles racing around and people running, meanwhile a drumbeat and a dark sounding drone is in the background. This refers to the way the Iranian regime chases people on bikes and hit people with chains and axes. Basically I was trying to tell you that there is something horrible going on somewhere we don?t know about.
There is one cover song on the Cd called “Yare Dabestani” which is a protest song written 45 years ago by a singer Masour Tehrani during the ruling of the Shah. At that time there were also lots of political activities against his regime. This song along with a few others became a symbol of protest and even to this day is being sung in the Universities and demonstrations and everybody still knows the words. It is now being used against the current regime.
Stoli: What is coming up for Mehran and where can we follow you online?
Mehran: A couple of weeks ago I did a very important show here in Chicago which was part of the Chicago annual Flamenco Festival. I was the only non Spaniard act and it was so well received. The show was sold out and more than 500 tickets were gone. I am not even sure if the place holds that many people. I am still recovering from all the rehearsals with my ensemble for this. Meanwhile I have started writing the music for my next concept Cd and hopefully in a few months it will be released.
I think for me the best way to stay in touch and current with my doings would be through facebook http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/profile.php?id=1269900116
and my web sites www.angelsofpersepolis.com
The CD is available on the web and iTunes as well as my web sites.