Cyrus Shahrad (Hiatus) on his hauntingly beautiful bass-heavy sound, new single Iran Air and album, Parklands.
Cyrus Shahrad, the one-man machine behind Hiatus, talks to HUCK about his hauntingly beautiful bass-heavy sound, new single Iran Air and album, Parklands.
Cyrus Shahrad makes eloquent electronic music. As Hiatus, his hauntingly beautiful bass-heavy sound holds a rarely found emotional depth. Drawing on a decade of experience as a writer, including a stint as The Times’ correspondent in Tehran, layers of meaning reverberate throughout. Listen carefully and traces of his Iranian heritage are just audible, bubbling under the surface.
Hiatus’ first album, Ghost Notes (2010), was littered with samples from old Iranian records found gathering dust in Tehran. The new single, Iran Air, evokes the longing for, and seductive mystery of that other place that is barely known. The song resonates particularly for anyone of mixed heritage, as vocalist Shura (of English-Russian descent) acknowledges. The pair have collaborated on a number of tracks on the new album, Parklands, with Shura’s captivating voice forming the backbone of the record.
How did your sound evolve from Ghost Notes to the new album, Parklands?
Ghost Notes was really electronic, it was really sample-based. I didn’t have a studio. Everything I made, I made on my computer. So when it came to Parklands I wanted to make an album that was thematically tighter, that had elements running through it that were coherent, in terms of narrative. I wanted it to have a human element to it, which comes through in the presence of Shura’s vocals.
Her voice is incredible! How did you wind up collaborating?
I heard her voice at a gig in Highgate and I was mesmerised by it. I got hold of a couple of her vocals and put together a track called River. It was intended as a remix of a song of hers but she really liked it, and said: “Look, I’d really like to do more music with you.” I was so glad.
Where can I see you guys playing together?
We used to play live, but we don’t any more. I’ve always had a really bad reaction to laptop live music. I’m really into the idea of live music people on stage feeding off each other. That doesn’t happen with electronic equipment. People will always pre-bake their stuff. I felt like a fraud, so what I’m working on now is trying to keep an electronic element but to bring in a genuine live component.
Tell me a little bit about the video for Iran Air. Am I right in thinking that’s the first video you shot yourself?
I’d never even used a camera before so I set out thinking it would be a really simple idea. It involved a lot of leg work but it was a hugely satisfying process to put it together. Obviously, it’s ultimately a tribute to my father. I wanted it to express the feeling of living in a country that isn’t your home. You can become acclimatised to living somewhere like London but you’ll never completely let go of that other life that you lived.
Through the photographs I hope it expresses something about time and the people in those images. Every Iranian has this connection to Iran. The nature of Iran now is very different to the Iran those people left. They all have this nostalgia, they all understand. No one smiled. It’s a painful connection, I didn’t have to ask anyone to look a certain way.
What about your own links with Iran?
I’m half Iranian, my Mum’s English. I spent my first year and a half there, then the revolution happened and my family moved to the UK. We went back once in ’82 and then while we were there the war with Iraq kicked off. Saddam Hussein started bombing Tehran. After that my Dad washed his hands of it, assuming that we’d never go back.
But when I reached my twenties I felt like there was this whole part of my life that I knew nothing about, and I wanted so desperately to reconnect with it. So in 2005 I went back to work as a journalist, covering the elections for The Sunday Times. That was the most seminal, formative experience of my life. I started obsessing over Iranian music and sampling loads of my Dad’s old records which were still in the house I was staying in. Lots of those samples appear on Ghost Notes.
Would you ever want to live there again?
It’s wonderful but it’s such a difficult place to live, you know? Easier when you’re an adult. For kids, it’s tough. The natural urges and impulses that young people have… everything has to happen behind closed doors. There’s a whole closed-door culture which people have grown used to. Parties behind closed doors, drinks behind closed doors, dancing behind closed doors. And since the revolution, that’s just been the way that everything’s happened.
I’ve heard similar things with regard to drugs, opium especially?
For years in Iran, it was just accepted, but now there are all kind of drugs. I’ve heard that there’s a meth thing in Tehran, which is crazy. When I was there in 2005 there was a big rave culture growing up. I wanted to hitch a ride to one of these parties. Apparently they took place up by the Caspian sea. There are all these old villas, pleasure palaces that were built by the Shah. Loads of wealthy Iranians still own houses over there. Kids would get together in convoys of cars and go there to take loads of ecstasy and listen to rave music. At the same time there were all these warning posters in Tehran of ecstasy pills with skulls on them. I just remember thinking it was insane.