Photo Credit: Ben Trivett
Singer Rahill Jamalifard, guitarist Lenny Lynch, bassist Erin Campbell and drummer Karen Isabel are Habibi, a young, Brooklyn-based quartet. With songwriting aimed at remaining personal and "unaffected," they play simple, lightly-harmonized garage lullabies. Although they only have a few songs out and a pair of short videos from a performance at Brooklyn's Knitting Factory available online, the all-girl group has its focus on 2012: a single on France's Born Bad Records and a trip to South by Southwest are among the plans for the New Year.
Recently I got a chance to speak via email with Jamalifard, and she talked about Habibi's beginnings and aspirations, writing process and the influence of Middle Eastern folklore on the band's music. After the exchange, you can see where Habibi will be in relation to you over the next two months, as the foursome is hitting the road on its way to SXSW.
You and Lenny are from Detroit originally. When did you make the move to Brooklyn?
Lenny came out here years before me, about six years ago, and I moved out here three years ago.
The band name, Habibi, translates as "my love" in Arabic, right? Outside of your Persian ancestry and Lenny's love of Middle Eastern culture, how does "my love" work its way into your music?
Well, the music is certainly full of adoration and endearment. My lyrics often reference a 'she,' our Habibi heroine, who sort of embodies a triumphing and bold, yet sweet and enchanting mystical lady. As females we all identify and very much adore her character. Also a few of the songs are laments of past flames and you know, very current ones, ha ha.
How did everyone in the band meet? What were you doing before Habibi?
When I first moved here I was working as a stylist and dating a guy at the time who played in a band from Jersey. Fashion was sort of a drag so with his help I started focusing on music, through him I met Karen, our drummer, and Erin, our bass player. Since I first met Karen, her and I were always talking about collaborating musically. Erin was already doing her thing with her old band, so we never really got around to talks of jamming. I met Lenny last summer and we instantly started playing music together, so once we had a few songs figured out, I hit up Karen to see if she still had interest in playing drums. She was into it, and Erin's previous band had recently broken up, so she was down and ready to play too.
Having formed last spring, what's touring been like for you guys? What's the farthest you've gone from Brooklyn? Where would you like to play?
We have only have been on one very small tour, that I kind of haphazardly threw together this past fall. It turned out to be really fun and quite an experience. We played Detroit, Nashville and Ann Arbor, we were supposed to play Cleveland, but we opted out and spent an extra day in Nashville. It was my first time in Nashville and I think we all felt really at home there, we were also hanging out with our friends band, Human Eye from Detroit, and those boys showed us a really good time. Honestly, I really would just like to play all across America, I'm pretty curious about the south, I've never really gone out there, and I haven't been to the west coast since I was a teen.
The Habibi page on Panache, the band's booking website, describes your lyrics as "mystical." As the primary songwriter, what sort of mystical things inspire you? Are you into astrology, folklore or anything of that nature?
Yea, I'm really into Middle Eastern folklore as is Lenaya. I've read a lot of classical Persian folktales, and grew up hearing many similar stories. Lenaya knows a great deal of Middle Eastern folklore as well as old Biblical fables and tales that have the similar mystical element. All of the stories are fully of very esoteric concepts creatures. I am largely influenced by the ancient Persian religion, Zoroastrianism. I reference King Solomon, and the magic that surrounded him in one of our songs. It's funny, in Iran people are still very connected, and if not believe at least appreciate thse old tales, and I guess, sort of like them, I feel drawn to the subtle truths behind the stories. Also, our lyrics reference gypsies, as we're really drawn to the people and their culture, my lineage traces back to a Persian tribe that still migrates along the south of Iran, and it is all very fascinating to me.
What's the overall writing process like with the band? Do melodies and lyrics come out of jamming together or is it more controlled than that?
Typically, I will be doing things at random, sometimes sleeping, showering, walking to the subway, and an unknown melody will enter my mind. I'll spend the day playing it over in my head, expanding on it, writing the lyrics to it, and then I get together with Lenny and together we make a full song. Lenny really adds dimensions to my ideas, it's really nice having someone who understands and shares the same vision as you in terms of creating music, I've really come to appreciate that process. Lenaya writes songs on her own, or sometimes we collaborate together, bringing music she wrote to lyrics I've written. We have on occassion jammed out songs, Erin and I worked out my personal favorite song, while everyone else was running late to practice. And the newer songs that we have started playing Karen, Erin and I have sort of drafted out by jamming.
With only a handful of Habibi songs out there, what are plans looking like for 2012? Can we expect a full-on album this year?
Yes! We have so many songs, ideas and concepts in the works. Lenny has been in Portland the past month and is hopefully going to be back this coming month. Once she gets back we are gunna focus fully on recording, so that we can get more out there. We are also going to be touring down to SXSW in March, and are really excited to bring our music to new places and audiences. We have a single coming out with the Fernch label, Born Bad Records, and we are talking with a few other labels who want to collaborate with us. So, stay tuned!
When I first tried searching for Habibi, I wound up listening to a completely different band with the same name for a couple of days. Whoops. So before other people make my mistake, would you mind telling us where we can find your music?
Ha, yeah I guess 'Habibi' is sort of a ubiquitous word. Maybe we should it six I's, like habiiibiii! Ha, I'm kidding. Well you can check out our music here at http://soundcloud.com/radiorahill, and for show updates the Panache website, http://www.panacherock.com/ , under our band name, Habibi.
I really like "Sunsets." Is it hard to write a simple song? Do you feel at all that artists tend to overcomplicate their music? Does prizing technical efficiency, for instance, obscure the emotional communication of a song in your eyes?
Thank you, I'm glad you dig it. I write very, very simple songs, not only because it's all I know, but I also very much appreciate minimal, simple music. For me it comes naturally, but Lenny's style is much more dimensional, she adds the necessary bridges and transitions. I do feel that sometimes overly complicated music comes across more as an artist's desperate attempt to capture a few too many things, in the process losing its meaning and any emotional value. Where as with simple songs, they feel so much stronger because they stand practically bare on their own, and aren't falling over from too much unnecessarily added weight. I think that answers your question.
What do you see Habibi becoming over the next few years?
Well, in my heart of hearts I hope it becomes my livelihood. It certainly is what I love doing most, and I think all the girls would agree to that. I want Habibi to bring something new and refreshing to the forefront of music today. I feel like so much of the music out there right now is a watered down resuly of a homogenized Internet age; I want out music to remain unaffected and personal, and to really connect and provoke listeners emotionally. I'd like us to have at least one album, and singles that fully showcase our creativity and diversity in terms of musical genres and classifications. Oh, and a van!
Thanks for talking, Rahill. Have you got anything else going on, anything else you'd like to mention?
Just to look out for our upcoming single on Born Bad Records! Thanks so much for the kind words! Be good!
Stream Habibi's three-song single below and buy it at Born Bad Records.