Haale: Fields of clover and tantric sex
Today marks the beginning of Nowruz, Persian New Year. While the Iranian-American parents of Brooklyn-born songwriter Haale are putting out traditional decorations like hyacinths and goldfish, the singer has already celebrated by releasing a new CD this week on her own label, Channel A Music.
The album, her first full-length effort, is one of the most memorable albums of the young year -- whether you're talking Western year or Persian. Haale's tour in support of the release brings her to the Cedar Cultural Center in two weeks.
Musically, the psychedelic trance rock of "No Ceiling" incorporates Sufi music into swirling American guitar sounds. Lyrically, it draws on the works of mystical poets Rumi, Hafiz and Attar. Like the two five-song EPs she put out in 2007, the singing is a mixture of English and Persian.
This offers the listener different entry points. When the lyrics are in English, you can relate to the words -- Haale holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry. When they're in Persian, non-speakers of that language can get lost in the sound and multi-layered rhythms that owe as much to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix as they do to any type of world music.
"No Ceiling" uses the skills of producer Matt Kilmer on percussion, resulting in a fuller and more textured sound. The result is a deeply sensual release, powered by the groove and Haale's smoky, honey-thick voice.
"If there's a good groove, there's a lot you can access there," she says. "As a poet, you're speaking through your senses." We spoke with her by phone on Wednesday.
City Pages: Your new record, “No Ceiling,” just came out on March 18. I'm interested in what you think the differences are between your first two EPs and the full-length album.
Haale: We did about 90 shows in 2007, and we got to play the songs that were on the EP, and we got to compose some songs while we were on the road. So basically "No Ceiling" came out of our first year of touring, and the sound got a chance to settle, I think, and mature a bit. I think "No Ceiling" as an album has a cohesiveness, though I think every song is quite different, like a little city on its own.
The EPs came out really in a period of exploration. I was trying different things. We probably recorded about 20 songs and the other ten we never released -- I'll probably release them at some point. But I wanted to just give a little taste of what we were up to.
CP: You have an MFA in poetry. How does that background inform your music?
H: A lot of times songs start with the lyrics for me. The lyrics are really my anchor in the song, and I love poetry. I love to read poetry. Poetry is something that you know you can meet it at any point in your life and it has meaning. It has enough ambiguity and dimension to intrigue me after repeated readings or listenings, so I really respect what you can do with language and I try on my own to do something interesting with it. It's very important to me. When I listen to music, I'm always listening for the lyrics.
CP: Lyrically, you draw on a lot of Sufi poetry.
H:. For the Persian songs, yeah. These are Sufi inspired poems with mystical themes and nature-based themes and themes of unity and transformation. And I am also very influenced by poets writing English, like Allen Ginsberg and H.D. and Muriel Rukeyser, and then poets like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell as well. So I am definitely coming from a background of a lot of poetry swirling in my head.
[The Sufi poems are] mostly speaking about love and unity and transforming the self. Getting through emotions like anger and fear. This what the mystics are often talking about. And finding peace. So I would say it's very very pragmatic, secular, and beautiful themes that run through the poetry.
CP: Did you grow up listening to Sufi music?
H: I definitely heard the music as I grew up but it was just kind of like wallpaper -- like always in the background and I didn’t really pay much attention to it. I mostly felt like an American kid, and I was listening to American music, and then there was a certain point in my life when I got older and I was like, "Wow, I've got this heritage behind me." I always had dreams of singing in Persian. Once I started doing that it seemed natural, and I said "Well, what if I try and bring the languages together ..."
I wanted to somehow bring it together which is just a more honest way of me expressing myself. When I was just singing in English it wasn't really the full picture.
CP: What's the experience of performing live like for you? Are you trying to engender a particular emotive response from the audience? Or are you just hoping they'll come and enjoy the music?
H: I guess I can't really say I want anything out of the audience. I hope people dig it, and feel it. I like sometimes hearing people's responses. I've heard a very, very wide variety of things. A lot of times people note that there's a hypnotic trance thing happening, that they sort of get swept away and have a kind of tranced-out experience.
One woman once came up to me and said she had a flashback of one of the most beautiful moments in her life when we were playing -- of her child when she was about 3 years old falling backwards in a field of clover and laughing hysterically. And she hadn't remembered that moment for like 10 years.
And then another couple said to me, "I hope you take this as a compliment, but we practice tantric sex and we do it to your CDs." And I said, “Awesome.” Another woman said to me, "you know, I watch your shows, it makes me want to go out and have sex."
There is an aspect of something being released in people that seems positive, and an embracing of life, I think.