The lauded indie-rock guitarist from bands like Lowercase, Alaska! and the New Folk Implosion spent the past several years honing his solo chops while touring in support of and as a second guitarist for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. During his solo stint, Wasif grew extremely introspective, even more so than his usual brooding self, and penned a new album.
“I put out a solo acoustic record in 2006 and than after that I had this idea of putting out Strange Hexes,” Wasif says. So he called up Los Angeles-based collaborators drummer Adam Garcia and bassist Bob Bruno. “It all feels very serendipitous in that I brought them these songs and we worked them out together. It really felt like exploring this sort of drone symphony that I’ve had going on in my head for many years and with this album I’ve gotten the closest yet too recording that sound—that constant hum in my head.”
Of course, for Wasif, music has always been much more than background clatter. Born of Muslim/Hindu parents, he was raised Southern California’s isolated Palm Desert with East Indian classical music as his personal soundtrack. After skipping a couple of grades early on in school, the outsider felt more like an alien in his own world, with music providing just enough of an escape. As a teenager punk and SST bands including Right of Spring and Dinosaur Jr. helped open up music’s potential for personal expression. Before that, Wasif always considered it far too untouchable.
“Early on, my voice and what exactly I was writing about and the ideas that I wanted to explore were definitely there,” says Wasif. “But I think I focused a little too heavily on darker subjects like a lot of the alienation and emotions I was feeling when I was younger. It was more of a self medication, a type of therapy.”
In a lot ways it still is, except not so damned solipsistic. As Wasif puts it, he really wants to be able to make music now to help people, to be a vessel of sorts. Recently he was asked to play a song at his mother-in-law’s funeral services and the resulting experience delivered a powerful punch—pure emotion surging through his entire being. He finally achieved a goal that he had been striving for quite some time—music became his lifeblood.
It’s that positive energy that Wasif is now hellbent on spreading—that love, if you will. He feels the negativity of the world and the troubled state that humanity has gotten itself mired in and he can’t help but be overwrought, trying to take it all on himself.
“I really want to be able to help people through difficult situations,” he explains. “There were times when that became an overwhelming factor in my life. Suddenly I realized I was creating out of that mode. It’s really scary when you realize that those negative impulses factor into you creating. In the end I want to make music something that is beautiful, something that can be positive and that explores those ideas.”
And again, during that trek with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Wasif really became aware of balancing certain personalities. Sure, like many of us, he strives to be a consistent and sincere person, but his emotions can also completely ravage his psyche. Admittedly, and rather loosely, he will even throw in the loaded term of schizophrenia.
“It’s like I become completely unaware of myself, almost like an out of body awareness,” says Wasif. “At the time of writing Strange Hexes it was kind of like a summation of all the emotion and love I feel. Music has such an amazing power that way—it uses me and I use it. I think there is a give and take there. I don’t imagine being alive without it.”
A slice of love and a bit of madness with a drone symphony creating a driving pulse? It all sounds like Wasif has indeed found his lifeblood after all.
IMAAD WASIF w/ RTX @ The Urban Lounge, 241 S. 500 East, Tuesday June 24, 10 p.m. 24Tix.com