Working with artists such as Lou Barlow, Lykke Li, and Karen O to name a few, Imaad Wasif has made a career out of lending his talents to other artists both in and out of the studio. On the surface, Wasif could be in high demand due to his ability to play just about any instrument in front of him. Or perhaps his knack for psychedelic artistry. Personally, I believe artists are drawn to his uncanny mysticism.

Somewhere between Thom Yorke and George Harrison, Imaad Wasif is the epitome of psychedelic art. His persona and musicianship feed one another in very interesting ways.

Aside from session and tour duties, Wasif has released music with bands lowercase and Alaska! But it’s his solo outings I find myself going back to. With each release, Wasif takes the listener on a different journey from astral projection to self-discovery and everywhere in between.

Ahead of the release of his latest solo album Great Eastern Sun on Nomad Eel Records and a tour with The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I had the opportunity to talk with Wasif. We discussed the inner workings of spiritual influence and why Great Eastern Sun was finished years ago but held back before the initial release.


Coop: Great Eastern Sun was originally recorded back in 2012? Why did you hold it back from being released?

Imaad Wasif: Initially, after I finished the record, I felt that the songs were too dark and revealed too much. I was so close to them that I couldn’t handle it, so I shelved the project. I’ve always inhabited my songs as a kind of twin shadow character; always knowing the escape routes. These songs are completely transparent, the most unguarded I’ve ever been on a recording. I did them mostly at home where I was completely free and within myself. Together, they are an unflinching portrait in a recursive mirror.

What has changed since then that made you want to release it now?

Distance and time. I was able to finally hear the songs again and what I heard wasn’t the darkness I originally heard. Now I hear someone trying to rise above it. It’s true the farther you get away from anything the more perspective you gain. But I realized I could never have closure if I didn’t put them out. I needed to move beyond.

 

You have a pretty impressive list of artist you’ve worked with over the years. Even members of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Best Coast make appearances on this album! How do you approach your solo projects compared to working with others?

My music is the essence of my being distilled into the vessel of song. I have no control over how or when that manifests, it just comes out when the time comes. That’s why some albums have this full psych-rock feel and others such as Great Eastern Sun have a very different austerity. I was exploring a lot of new sounds on this one and playing instruments I was unfamiliar with, also undertaking the recording and mixing myself. When I work with others and collaborate, usually that artist knows my feelings as I do theirs but I just try to be a conduit for the expression. To be invisible yet completely there.

When writing music, do you have to be in a particular mindset? Or is there always music in your head ready to be put to paper? 

It’s always in my head, and I write daily even if fragmentary or fleeting, but I’ve come to an understanding now with the muse so it doesn’t deceive me. There’ve been times where it tried to seduce me into thinking I’m ready. But that turned into a false expression, one that was guided rather than guiding. There has to be an unconscious letting go. Not knowing where you are going at the outset.

Is there is a battle-tested process you keep going back to?

Even if I sit in front of my typewriter with my guitar in hand (which I do), It might not come. Then the next day I start pushing the boulder up the hill again with the hopes that it’ll come back down and crush me. The song is a fantastic death, and every death a new birth in song.

As a guitarist myself, I’ve always been fascinated with your style of playing. It’s exotic yet accessible. Who or what are some of your biggest influences?

I consciously avoid my influences. If you don’t, you just end up walking the same path and ending up with a lesser incarnation. I’m more directed by the drones I hear in the silences and in dreams. The origin of any song comes from a note that resonates in increasing intensity until it overtakes me. The early major inspirations on my guitar style were the detunings of John Fahey which I discovered by mistake and then trying to re-interpret the sarod playing of Ali Akbar Khan. Page, Iommi, Spiders From Mars came a little later. Some of the dissonances probably came from Rites of Spring and then I found Neil Young’s ditch trilogy.

Amidst all the experimentation of Great Eastern Sun, I was surprised to hear a Kinks cover much less such a rare demo. Is there a reason why “There’s A New World Just Opening For Me” made it to the album?

I became obsessed with these Kinks demos I found and that song, in particular, captured the tone and the way I felt at the time I was recording Great Eastern Sun. The sound was completely raw and they were using detuned guitars and had these eastern vocal drones going throughout, The lyrics too felt like they were taken straight out of my book.

 

Now I know just what I’ve been doing wrong

Life seems empty, but it won’t last for long

I can’t go on this way

There’s a new world just opening for me

Been alive, but it could be lying down.

Just can’t tell when the devil’s on the prowl

I can’t pretend no more

There’s a new world just opening for me

Win the battle, but the victory brings you pain

You make confessions, but you do the same again

I won’t go on this way

There’s a new world just opening for me

Great Eastern Sun is being pressed on vinyl by Nomad Eel Records. I’ve been following that label for a while and they have some interesting releases. How did that come about?

Jed from Zig Zags introduced me to Damon from Nomad Eel. I sent him the record and he responded to the album immediately on a gut level. Which is all I could ever hope for in a listener.

You’re going back out on the road with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs right? It has to be a trip to go from your psychedelic solo work to something as straightforward as garage rock.

I’m out on the road with them right now, we are in the UK and just played All Points East Festival in London. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ world is a trip, playing to huge adulatory swarms. It’s such a contrast to my reality. Surreal in fact. I’m aware that it’s a rarified experience being asked to inhabit it with them. I’m there in a shamanic way in the band. I basically conjure spirits and harness energies while on stage. I’m playing on the songs that they can’t do as a three-piece, which are more dimensional; acoustic guitars, bass, keys. It’s not like I have acid coming out of my fingers, but my feeling is always inherently psychedelic no matter what I’m doing.

The mysticism of your art is aesthetically alluring. Is that intentional?

It’s not an intention. Its a pure expression coming from the inner awakened self, the being that I am striving to become in my existence. Music transmutes and elevates everything that I am.

 

Great Eastern Sun is available for download and vinyl pre-order at Nomad Eel Records.

Title photo by David Black.

Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.