TEHRAN (Iranart) - Singer and musician Farshid Arabi says Persian rock and heavy metal need radio and TV airtime to start and grow.
Not many people know that some celebrity rockers in Iran have learned their craft from Farshid Arabi and in his music classes. The lead singer known as the father of Persian heavy metal tells Honaronline that it took five years to win permission for his first album release from authorities. Since then he has released just a handful of albums. His last album, Silent Death, has been an instant hit among fans, a reason why his live concerts are sold out, always.
When you started, not many rock bands bothered to get permission from the Culture Ministry to perform at live concerts. Why did you stick to the rules and regulations?
Farshid Arabi: I always wanted to release my album through the official channel. This way I could keep my style intact and consistent. Some friends tried to force me to go underground but I resisted. This is because I thought Persian rock music would soon be playing on radio and TV. This never happened due to some political developments.
The situation has changed over the past four years, particularly after President Rouhani was sworn-in as the 11th president. Rouhani’s new government could be doing more to open up space for the music industry. Before him, many rock bands left the country and were gradually forced out of business. Rouhani has once again taken office. It’s a good sign that this positive development will continue apace – even though we are yet to perform on radio or TV.
You released your debut album 15 years ago. You have only published four albums ever since. Why such a long gap between the albums?
Arabi: I never release an album if I have nothing to say. Besides, I don’t make music for market. I arranged 19 tracks for the last album but never published all of them. I only chose 9 tracks for Silent Death. I have put my life into this and have no other medium to feel energized, even a little bit, other than holding concerts.
You have been working with songwriter Abbas Roshanzadeh for many years now. Why do you always use his lyrics in the music?
Arabi: We never insist that we shouldn’t use lyrics from other songwriters. I have used lyrics from singer Ali Momenian for the song Night Stricken in the last album. The day I arranged the music for this track I was feeling down. You see, I only make music when I’m feeling down. I’m also proud of working with Mohammad Meftahi. Together we are a package. That’s what makes our last album different.
Mohammad Meftahi (Songwriter): Each one of Roshanzadeh’s lyrics tell a story. He has an extended view on things. He sees things thoroughly. He never talks about things from his own point of view. He does poetry through the eyes of others. And that’s what makes his work different. His lyrics speak for all of us.
Many rock bands have come and gone. What is the secret of your success of never breaking up?
Mohammad Nik (Bass Guitarist): I worked with many groups. I’m proud of working with Arabi now. I don’t feel the same way about the previous groups. They disappeared overnight and were never in fact solid rock bands. Just a bunch of kids getting together and playing musical instruments. They never had a leader like Arabi to take care of them. He knows his job and we all owe the success of the band to his hard work.
Nima Navapour (Drummer): We started when we had no money and everything was all about love for music. Me and Arabi share a similar vision. If this wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t have been where we are now. We first played music to energize ourselves. After that we thought about our fans as well. We distanced ourselves from gossip. It’s the only thing that could easily break up a band.
Are there any other rock bands with the same level of quality? Can we tell the difference between a professional and an unprofessional band?
Arabi: They are everywhere, even in the cinema industry. This is the reality and you can’t do anything about it. I call them newcomers. You can count the number of rock fans to the tune of 1500 in Iran. They know each other well through the Instagram. Most are students and cannot afford going to live concerts. The only way out of this vicious circle is for us to play on radio and television.
Navapour: Media outlets and investors could help us promote rock. In the absence of financial support for professional bands things could easily get difficult and fall apart. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a professional and an unprofessional band. Live performances have become more frequent in Tehran and other big cities. However, concerts and album releases have to undergo scrutiny from the culture ministry before they are given the green light.
Arabi: Governments also play a part here. They cross out the ones that should stay and worship the ones that are not up to the mark. They silenced us just when we were doing so well. Such restrictions spawned a thriving underground music scene, whereby Iranians relied on dealers in pirated music to listen to their favorite artists. Our generation went underground but kept their heads high. We were in love with the music and stood our ground. We are still standing and going strong.
Your next album. Do your fans have to wait another five or six years to hear it?
Arabi: I don’t know what comes next. The right circumstances should be in place to make that happen. I also need that feeling down mood to compose the music. I don’t want to act like an old man. If possible, I would make the next album, if not, then be it.
Abbas Roshanzadeh (Songwriter): Not just one reason could be behind our delay in releasing an album. I wrote a song and after seven months it found its way to Arabi’s album. Often it takes five years for them to get there. This is why gap years exist between our albums. Getting the proper permission from the Culture Ministry is also a long process. All these things work together to delay our album releases.
What needs to be done to prevent rock bands from going commercialized?
Arabi: When the roads are closed, people shout many slogans. We have to wait and see till that road opens; after that we can see what Arabi will do. I might also get into the business of music. This hasn’t happened yet as I don’t play for money. Rock bands in other parts of the world have commercialized themselves – just like their counterparts in Iran. They grow their hair long and put on weird costumes just to stand out from the crowd. This is what is trending here, which is not helpful to the music at all.
Nik: We cannot say with confidence that a good music shouldn’t make money. The business of music needs to stay afloat and to be heard you need money and advertisement. More advertisement means more fans and more financial support. Absence of finance disheartens our musicians and they are forced to call it a day.
Arabi: I couldn’t agree more. All music bands need money to play. Else it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to stay in the game. My only argument is that we should never be under the illusion that one day we could become the next Farhad Mehrad.
You are a progressive rock band. You are known as the father of Persian heavy metal. Is this important for you?
Arabi: I don’t like to be called the father of… A master is someone over the age of 70 with some 2,000 students. There are no graduates in art. I see myself as a progressive rocker.
Live performances have become more frequent these days. Any plans for live concerts?
Arabi: After the month of Moharram and Safar we will be having live concerts for our new album Silent Death. But we need to advertise that in advance. We will have new band members and will practice together for a few months before that. We will perform either in autumn or winter.