How old were you when you started playing piano?
Really young. Four or five? I went to a friend’s birthday party and the kid had a piano. I remember my Mum turning up and I was playing Three Blind Mice, and the mother of this kid was like ‘Yeah he’s been doing that since he got here’. So my Mum was like ‘OK, he’s obviously some kind of piano prodigy’. I had lessons, but I was completely incapable of reading music. I tried for a while, but I’ve played by ear ever since. It’s always been a huge release for me.
Did you grow up with music around you?
Well I grew up with a lot of Iranian music in the house. When my Dad came to the UK, all the Iranian music he had was on these old tapes. We listened to them loads, particularly when we were driving. He’d put on one of these old scratchy cassettes. And I loved – still do in fact – that over time they’d get so warped, speed up, slow down. There’s this beautiful old distortion, like you can hear the history of the music as an artefact. Breathing, with all this dust in it. I loved that. So when I started sampling stuff it seemed like a natural thing to do, to go back and play off that as a nostalgic influence. But western music not so much, although I was obsessed with film music. I used to record music from the television and the soundtracks of films through a phono lead to a tape. I was very into doing that.
Were you in bands when you were younger?
Not really. Only when I went to Uni and met Matt Falloon, who I formed a band with and have played music with ever since. Playing music got me through Uni really. I DJed a lot, got really into drum and bass, clubbing and raving. And played piano in what was then Holy Smoke before it became Smoke Feathers. So performing music became a huge part of my life while at University.
When did Hiatus come about?
Pretty much straight after Uni. I moved to London, and a friend of mine sent me a copy of Reason, which is a programme I still use. That was it. I sat in Parklands, the building in Peckham Rye I lived in for years, and rattled off three EPs over the space of a year. Four tracks on each one, burning CDs, handwriting the titles and mailing them to friends. It was Hiatus from day one. No idea why really.
So what are you working on now?
I’m working on another record now which is fun but kind of terrifying at the same time. With my second album, Parklands, I felt like I was setting out and making ‘An Album’. Which I hadn’t with the first one. That was just a collection of stuff I’d accumulated over the years that I decided to put out. Whereas with this third record I’m doing now, I’m building it up with live bass, strings and drums, me playing piano. So it feels quite daunting.
Why have you gone for the different approach?
I’ve kind of got to the point where I feel like I’ve allowed myself to get caught up in a lot of hype cycles, the whole stuff surrounding scenes and all that. Electronic music for me has always had a huge appeal, but I find a lot of it doesn’t have much staying power or longevity. There are a lot of hugely exciting post-techno records that are playing with the form and caught up in very specific scenes, but I wonder if we’ll come back to any of it. I definitely feel like that about my own music, particularly the last album I did. Is it too of its time? Will people still listen to it in five years time?
How are you trying to do that?
Well, the stuff that I love listening to the most hasn’t really changed since I was a kid. I love soundtrack music, ambient music, a lot of Iranian music, stripped back melancholic Middle Eastern stuff. What I want to do is make the music that I think the kid in me would recognise and would understand. And there’s a risk that it might alienate a few people, but to be honest I would rather do that and make a record that I feel satisfies that part of me.
How do you balance that with trying to make a living?
To be honest I haven’t ever come close to making a living from making music as Hiatus. I’m doing stuff now for publishing companies, writing music for television and ad spots. I’m doing stuff under the name Shenidan, which pays the bills. It’s early days and sometimes it can be daunting. But I’d like to think that I could make an album as Hiatus that would garner me enough attention to not have to do that any more. But I honestly don’t believe that would happen if I made another Parklands. The only way something like that could happen is if I make a record that is so uniquely me, that really harnesses the music that is trying to get out but has been smothered so far. I mean, I’m not going to abandon the electronic music process – it’s the only way I know how to make music. But I am going to use live musicians and I am going to write songs. We’ll see what happens. I have my moments of crippling self doubt. But I don’t want to carry on running to stand still with music.
Sounds like you’re striving for creative honesty more than anything. Like Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence idea. That a ‘weak’ artist can never leave their influences behind, while a ‘strong’ artist must, in the end, transcend them to create something unique.
Well, sounds like a nailed on summary of how I feel about this stuff. Have I always been this thoughtful about it? Ha ha. I’ve always been this thoughtful about everything. It’s why I’ve often had trouble finishing so much stuff. Wondering why I’m doing it, whether it’s writing or music. But then I have also been caught up in the excitement of making the stuff that I’ve done up to now, the joy of the creativity involved and that feeling it gives you. But it’s like anything, that recedes the more you do it. And with making music, that part is actually a tiny part of the process. Maybe a few hours of composing and writing, followed by endless months of mixing. And like a lot of producers I do suffer from a form of OCD. I think I’ve got it worse than a lot of people, I spent thousands of pounds mastering and remastering my last two album. There are tracks I got mastered five or six times, literally turning a snare up by one decibel or something between masters. It was a nightmare. Then again, there are parts of me that feel if it isn’t an extremely painful process, it isn’t a good piece of music.