Don’t let his eccentricities fool you— Imaad Wasif is actually a swell guy
After perusing psychedelic folk-rocker Imaad Wasif’s MySpace page, I began to get a bit nervous about the upcoming interview. The bio is intense and bloated, full of wordy passages and descriptions like this one: “He/she inhabits both sexes and perspectives at all times, channeling romantics Baudelaire and Rimbaud by way of speed freak fags Bowie, Reed, Bolan and Iggy and seen through the eyes of surrealists Dalí and Buñuel.” Jeez.
Though the 32-year-old Wasif is not quite a household name, he certainly has an impressive résumé, serving as a touring guitarist and temporary member for both Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Folk Implosion while maintaining his own solo career.
So I braced myself for the rock star brush-off when he began our conversation with the disclaimer, “I hate to be rude, but … “
“… I may be going through a tunnel soon and could lose reception,” he finished in a drowsy and friendly tone. “If that happens, I’ll just call you right back.”
It turns out Wasif is incredibly personable and accommodating, and he quickly debunked any initial unsubstantiated worries.
The man also writes some seriously kick-ass music.
With a voice that falls somewhere between Jeff Buckley’s emotional falsetto and the warble of T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, Wasif’s musical approach seems rooted in the well-read, revivalist and somewhat mystical style embodied by artists like Devendra Banhart.
Wasif takes inspiration from literally anything and everything. He feverishly dashed off the names of obscure writers, painters, old French films, self-help books, Eastern thinkers and plenty of other references that flew right over my head. As he phrased it: “Things I get obsessed with that make me feel less like an alien.”
Wasif played in psychedelic rock band Alaska! and in Lowercase, a San Francisco-based indie-rock duo, before relocating to Los Angeles. He went it alone in 2006 with the release of his first solo record. Recorded in Nashville, the self-titled album represents a departure in style for Wasif, mostly comprising just acoustic guitar, vocals and some strings.
The solitary lifestyle eventually wore on him.
“Touring off that album, the factors of alienation and isolation in it were starting to really work against me,” he said. “It’s not my intention to be self-indulgent in that way. I want to share my music with people.”
The solution? Wasif pieced together a band called Two Part Beast with two of his best friends (Bobb Bruno on bass and keys; Adam Garcia on drums) for recording and touring duties. With a new lineup, Wasif released Strange Hexes, a heavier, more rock-oriented album, earlier this month.
Taking advantage of the freedom brought on by utilizing additional band members and instruments, Wasif displays a good deal of diversity on the disc’s 10 tracks. “Lesser Banshee” and “The Oracle” are heavy and jammy, with an emphasis on Wasif’s distorted guitar work, while prettier, more melodic tracks like “Oceanic” place the focus on the vocals and songwriting.
The entire record benefits from the minimalist production by Tom Biller, who worked with Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller on his first solo record and mixed and engineered soundtracks for films like I Heart Huckabees and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
This mix is something Wasif said the band consciously strived for.
“That’s how we sound,” Wasif said. “I never was really attracted to just slathering things with a bunch of extra layers.”
Aside from his own project, Wasif is a pretty hot commodity these days. He was handpicked by both Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O and Folk Implosion’s Lou Barlow to help with touring and recording. Wasif also is dabbling in film scores, just recently putting down guitar tracks for the upcoming Spike Jonze adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. Plus he recently completed his first book, Letters of a Suicide Profiteer, a collection of “aphorisms and fragments” that fall “somewhere between poetry and prose.”
“It’s explorations into the chaos, ideas and philosophy behind the ideas of love or whatever else intensely overtakes you,” he said. “I really tried to be a vessel and not necessarily understand it, but rather just let it come out of me.”
By the time our conversation ended, I was exhausted (in a good way) and felt as though a good chunk of Wasif’s infectious enthusiasm and obscure information had just blown past me like a whirlwind. And he even managed to avoid hitting that dreaded tunnel.