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Interview with Abed Hathout, lead guitarist for Palestinian metal pioneers Khalas

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(This interview is special, namely because Khalas and I go back to when this blog started. I wanted to review one of the band’s albums when I was first getting this blog going and we have kept in touch ever since. Abed is a funny and heartfelt musician who I am glad to know as a human being. We were going to release this interview sooner, but the recent turmoil in Gaza left us in agreement to wait for the time being. Now is the time to read this wonderful exchange. Khalas is a band for any rock lover, and their love of music shows in everything they do. Enjoy reading.-Derek)

Derek Kortepeter: So you guys have an extremely unique sound, blending classical Arab tonality, rhythm and otherwise with heavy metal riffs, drum beats, and bass lines. What caused you guys to pursue this particular style?

Abed Hathout: We all came from music families and classical Arabic music took a huge part in our childhood. But when you become a teenager you start looking for something else, to rebel, and this is how we got into metal. But eventually with the years you grow up and get back to the roots and it came very natural to us to blend those two genres that we love the most.

 

DK: How did you guys all meet and form the band?

AH: We all came from the same city, and being a metalhead in our city was not a common thing. So every on the rock scene knew each other and we were friends before even thinking about forming Khalas. We wanted to listen to Arabic metal and couldn’t find any so we decided to create what we wanted to listen to.

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DK: What would you say is your song-writing process, and how do you all contribute creatively to the songs?

AH: Mainly me or our former singer Bassam would come with an idea and we would play it to the other guys, and then each one bring a little bit of himself to the song. We never say no to any idea thrown in the air before we try it first, no matter how ridiculous it sounds to some of us. We always play first then we decide if it works or not.

 

DK: What musical influences impacted you all as musicians?

AH: Each one comes from different place musically. Some of us are more into classical rock, some more into heavy metal and hard rock stuff from Ozzy to Cradle of Filth etc. But we are all influenced by Arabic music, something that we all brought from home.

 

DK: I know personally as a rock/metal musician things can be difficult in terms of finding an audience, so how has your local music scene responded to your music?

AH: The biggest problem we had is that back in 1998 there was no Arabic rock scene around us whatsoever, so besides forming a band we had to build a scene from scratch. People were not used to going to rock concerts and did not know how to react, so I remember in our early shows people used to sit or stand and watch. But later on dancing and head banging became unseparated part of our shows, not to mention the lake of a proper sound systems and concert venues.

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DK: I’m curious, namely because I am an ethnomusicologist that plays the oud, if any of you are classically trained in traditional Near Eastern instruments (darabuka, santur etc.)?

AH: Fadel is a professional darabuka player, and I used to fool around with the oud, but lately I have added quarter tones (semitones) to my guitar. I have been digging more and more in the Arabic maqamat and mixing it in my riffs.

 

DK: Can you talk about the tour you did with the Israeli band Orphaned Land, like the overall experience?

AH: For us it was a dream that came true, being on a tour bus, waking every morning in a different city. Playing every night for a different crowd for almost a month was not easy but it was a lot of fun, and being able to share that with the great guys of Orphaned Land was a really amazing and enlightening experience.

 

DK: What would you say the main message is behind your music?

AH: Sex drugs and rock’n’roll, just kidding (laughs) , actually I would say it’s the proof that Arabic grooves and sounds and lyrics can go hand in hand with heavy metal riffs and sound natural. What we actually do is take the western rock, process it through our Middle Eastern filters and through back to west again. And as I said it works perfectly and proves that music is a universal language, and the best proof for that is the reaction of the crowd in our Europe shows where most of them don’t understand the lyrics (since we only sing in Arabic), and yet they dance and enjoy and welcome us with love.

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DK: Your album Arabic Rock Orchestra (which I reviewed on my blog) was released some time ago and it is awesome. How has the reaction been to the album?

AH:It was amazing and much better than we expected, and we are getting a great feedback on that album, even from non-Arabic speakers. It’s a great proof that when the groove is right, it works no matter in what language you sing.

 

DK: What can we expect from Khalas in the future? Any projects on the horizon?

AH: We are writing new material for our next album, and after winning the Metal Hammer’s “Best Global Band” award with Orphaned Land, we are working on a song together and hopefully it would be released soon.

 

DK: Anything else you would like to say before we close this interview?

AH: Sex, Shisha, and Rock’n’roll. (smiles)

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Khalas’s new album can be found at:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/arabic-rock-orchestra/id738659867

Khalas can be found at:

https://www.facebook.com/Khalasband

http://www.youtube.com/khalasband

https://myspace.com/khalasband

http://www.khalas.net/

https://twitter.com/khalasband

Interview with Tom Thacker. Gob frontman, Sum 41 guitarist, and all-around awesome dude.

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(Hey guys. Today is truly a wonderful day at MixolydianBlog as I get to show you an interview I did with Tom Thacker. Tom is the lead singer and guitarist for the Canadian punk band Gob, a band that I have loved for many years. Tom has also had gigs playing guitar as a member of Sum 41 and many other amazing bands. He is a punk musician with a unique voice and a unique songwriting ability. I had so much fun doing this, enjoy -Derek)

Derek Kortepeter: So your last release as a band with Gob was in 2007 with Muertos Vivos, can you talk about all the stuff that has been happening musically with you since then?

Tom: (Laughs) yeah, it’s been a little while, sorry about the wait! Since 2007 I’ve been pretty busy musically. Right around the time Muertos Vivos was finished I started playing guitar with Sum 41, so from then until 2013 I was touring back to back between both bands constantly. Touring slowed a bit in 2010, which allowed both bands to start making records. The Sum record Screaming Bloody Murder came out in 2011 and Sum hit the road again, in between tours I worked on the Gob record. Aside from that I played on and co-wrote a few tracks the Rain City Rockers record. I produced a few tracks and co-wrote one on Steven Fairweather (Gob’s bassist) new solo record. I also played guitar with the Offspring for a couple shows.

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DK: Can you discuss the process of writing your newest album (Apt. 13) as well as the recording process?

Tom: I write all the time so I had a bunch of songs at the end of 2009. I brought maybe 30 demos to the band, a really random bunch of songs, I honestly wasn’t sure if we had a record because all the songs seemed so different to me. But we listened to all the demos, put it to a vote and it all just kind of fell into place. We didn’t even rehearse; we started recording them right away.

We weren’t signed to a label at the time and we didn’t have a manager we just had a bunch of songs we loved and we knew how we wanted them to sound, so we produced the record ourselves. I produced/engineered and Theo mixed/engineered, we kind of shared duties. We recorded the drums and piano in a studio in Vancouver (The Armoury). Steven’s parents were out of town so we set up a makeshift studio in their basement and recorded the guitars/bass and some of the vocals. We got about half done there but it was taking too long – aka, Steven’s parents came home (laughs), so I had to finish the vocals/guitar overdubs/keyboards by myself in my apartment in NYC. The mixing was done at our friend’s studio in Surrey BC- Richardson Sound.

Mixing took quite a while, Theo and I were living in different cities, he was mixing the record but I had pretty specific ideas of how I wanted it to sound so there was a lot of sending files back and forth.

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DK: Gob’s music has covered so many different topics throughout the years, from relationships to socio-political issues such as war. What are some of the themes covered in Apt. 13?

Tom: The lyrics on Apt 13 are mainly personal mainly centered on themes of anxiety. I think I was going through a transitional period in my life the last few years, It was a pretty chaotic time and I was trying to let go of my angst or something and trying to be, I don’t know, normal. Anyway, now I’m back on track, fully embracing my angst (laughs).

DK: How would you say Apt. 13 compares against your past records stylistically etc.?

Tom: Every single one of our records is a reaction to the previous one. You’ll hear elements of the song writing that are similar in all our records but we try to keep it fresh every time and give our fans something new to hear.

DK: Can you talk about “Radio Hell,” what it is about, and why you guys chose it to be your first single from Apt. 13?

Tom: Radio Hell is about resigning yourself to the fact that you live and die for music. Nothing will stop you from making music. That and the desire to change the contemporary musical landscape. There’s a lot of bullshit music out there.

We chose a few songs that stood out to us early on and let our record label make the final decision for the first single. I figured we could let them choose the song that everyone will eventually get sick of (laughs).

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DK: Being in the punk scene for so long you have seen many different styles emerge. How do you feel about the current state of punk?

Tom: I honestly only really pay attention to music I like so I would say the current state of punk is great.

DK: Going off of that previous question, the music industry has changed so much in recent years (in my personal opinion for the worst). How do you personally feel about the industry and the direction it is heading in?

Tom: I think the music industry has changed for the better, it’s more transparent now, you can see the major players manufacturing artists in real time on TV and at the same time you see independent artists coming up on their own. It’s pretty apparent what is real and what is manufactured. For those of us that want the real thing, it’s easy to decide.

Plus, with the accessibility of social media it takes the power from the industry and puts it into the hands of the artist. You can market your record online basically for free. It also encourages the DIY spirit. We come from a DIY background and we’ve basically returned to it after being on every type of label big and small. It makes sense to DIY, and the rewards are greater.

DK: Comparing to when Gob started and where you guys are now, how have you changed musically or otherwise?

Tom: I think we’re basically the same, but we put a little more care into our records and live shows and I can grow a thicker beard.

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DK: Can we expect a tour promoting Apt. 13? If so will you do shows only in Canada or maybe come to the USA and other countries as well?

Tom: We are touring across Canada in Oct-Nov 2014. International tours will follow!

DK: Is there anything else you would like to say before we close this interview?

Tom: Thanks for doing this! Follow us at- www.gobband.com

 

 

 

Derek Kortepeter-“Flooded Dream”

My electronic music, like every other genre I write in, is intended to be different. I like to think that, in spite of all my influences, there is my voice somewhere in these works. A different voice. A voice that not everyone is going to like (this part I have discovered to be very true HAHA). Sometimes I get really lucky when I write music that everything just comes together. In the case of this song, things slowly but surely came together as night turned into morning. In any case, here it is.

New punk song: Derek Kortepeter “For the Fall”

This is a pop-punk song where I sing lead vox, play all guitar parts, and also play the drum parts (i.e. I do everything). Pop-punk is how I’m categorizing it as it is closer to a lighter, melodic sound of that genre over hardcore punk. The lyrics, however, are far from pop. I imagined humanity as on the brink of dystopia and ruin. In a way we are. We always are. The lyrics are a call to back away from the edge and fix the mess we’ve made.

(Verse)
Bright lights burning
City is turning
All I can see
Is what this is now
(Pre-Chorus)
The faces are cracked
The jokes have run thin
Broken glass and wasted gin
(Chorus)
There’s the blood inside us
All around us
Drowning our
Lies and fears out
Nothing could, Prepare us
For the fall
(Verse)
All the talk has become
Cheap, The weapons are
Free, the hope is gone
Where do we run?
(Bridge)
So hold on
It’s going down
WE’RE ALL GOING DOWN!
(Chorus)
There’s the blood inside us
All around us
Drowning our
Lies and fears out
Nothing could, Prepare us
For the fall
(Outro)
Don’t hold on
Hold on
Hold on
To what we’ve become
Don’t hold on
Hold on
Hold on
To what we’ve become

RIP Throb

The rock world has lost one of its pioneers. Let the notes carry your soul Robert Young, indeed your light shines on.

The Day That Time Froze

As an American, no day stands out in my mind quite like today. The memories and footage seem to set themselves on an infinite loop.

The explosions.

The billows of smoke, fire, and ash.

The slowly weakening cries for help.

Today in 2001 the very fires of hell came to earth on what seemed to everyone like a normal day. September 11th was a day that people went to work, went to the park, played music in the street, and ultimately lived life as normal.

What soon came was the furthest from normal.

We can never wash our minds of that day, nor should we ever. The loss of life, innocent and beautiful life, was something that should have never occurred. What further compounded the tragedy was how that day became a tool for seemingly everyone’s agenda.

Politicians.

Bigots.

Conspiracy theorists.

Everyone.

Somewhere along the way the very people who spent their final moments deciding if they should try to escape or just wait for the end became forgotten. I saw my close childhood friends and their families (of Arab descent) get continuously treated like dirt (via strangers blaming them for an act that was not theirs). I saw people become paranoid about things that did not warrant concern. I saw the world, from governments to regular citizens, change for the worse. There was a sense of oneness for a millisecond, but that oneness was replaced by hate and rage…ignorance and brainwashing…propaganda and violations of basic human rights.

Ultimately, the significance of the lives lost became lost.

I do this every anniversary of 9/11 so that the memory of those who perished may always live on. They met their end in the most violent of ways, how we could forget is truly baffling. I wrote this song for choir and orchestra on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 to comfort the mourning, to give light to the dark, and to honor the sacred lives taken from us that day. It may not bring the child their parent back, the lover their beloved back, the sibling their brother or sister back…but it at the very least is my offering in honor of them. The pain does not heal, the tears do not dry, but hopefully it honors those who left, and those who yearn for them. If my song does anything I hope that it speaks a humble prayer filled with love for all affected by this day.

“I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind, I feel free now”

 

Album Review: U2’s “Songs of Innocence”

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Anyone who knows me knows that U2 has had a massive impact on my life. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without their music, their ethos, and their persona. Like my mom who introduced me to the band, I know that they have an ability to write the songs of a life. My life’s soundtrack can be filled with U2 songs, from the anguished and lost soul crying out in Achtung Baby and Pop to the dystopian fantasies of Zooropa and the soaring heights of The Unforgettable Fire.

U2 has had many incarnations, each with their distinctive musical traits. I personally have always been partial to the experimental side of U2 found in their 90’s era albums like Achtung Baby and Zooropa, but I truly love it all.

Songs of Innocence took multiple (enjoyable) listens to digest how I viewed it in the scope of U2’s sonic contributions. Even more so the liner notes unlocked the deep emotions that went into the album. This is the most overtly personal I have ever seen the band. Their lives have always been intertwined with their music, but in Songs of Innocence the band’s lives ARE the songs. Bono himself said this of the album:

“We wanted to make a very personal album. Let’s try to figure out why we wanted to be in a band, the relationships around the band, our friendships, our lovers, our family. The whole album is first journeys — first journeys geographically, spiritually, sexually. And that’s hard. But we went there.”

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Whereas the other albums have multiple topics (social, personal, political etc.), the personal journey of a life well-lived is the point of Songs of Innocence. From the first time U2 heard the Ramones to Bono watching his mother die as a young boy to the band’s pilgrimage to Los Angeles (my ever so beautiful hometown)… Songs of Innocence is a moving, uplifting, jamming, bleeding, broken, and spiritual collection of songs that take you inside the head of the band.

The feel of the album, from instrumentation to overall song structure, makes Songs of Innocence seem like it is one part the direction of All That You Can’t Leave Behind, one part the direction of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and the rest is a new area. Gone is the massive amount of multi-faceted musical experimentation (which admittedly I dearly love). In its place is a raw, stripped-down album that makes you realize why the album took so long to make (a paradoxical statement I know…but allow me to explain).

The openness of Songs of Innocence is hard to achieve. There are no frills; it is just 4 guys in a room making music. The album does not feel heavily processed, but really like an exploration into what the guys sought out to make when they first started. While I was expecting a push further in the direction of No Line on the Horizon, this pure storytelling, anthemic rock album proves that Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. do not need numerous layers of instruments and electronic sound samples to create art.

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Will Songs of Innocence go down as groundbreaking? I doubt it. The thing is, however, this album is not intended to be a magnum opus. The folk approach of telling a story is really what Songs of Innocence is all about. This album is a reflection on life, the band’s life. It is a window into their collective minds, and as a life-long fan it is a raw honesty I can truly appreciate. This is a U2 that is saying “come into our hearts, whether or not you understand what you hear, we are going to say exactly what we want to.”

Guys, welcome back.

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