Payvand: When did you start playing?
Sepehr: Actually, we both started playing music quite young, I started
in the 10th grade and Shahin began playing the guitar in the 7th
grade. Neither of us is classically trained. Shahin's main instrument
was the electric guitar and mine was the acoustic guitar. When we came
to the United States for college, Shahin moved to Washington
D.C. after a brief stay in San Jose, Calif., to study business and
international finance at the American University.
There he formed two bands, "Amsterdam" and later "Feast or Famine,"
which did quite well in the Washington music scene. Amsterdam
performed with Marshall Crenshaw and Spyro Gyra in concert in 1982.
Feast or Famine broke up in 1989 and Shahin and I started
collaborating on a few projects that included a song for Barbara
Bush's literacy campaign called "Reading, My Friend," and a song for
Earth Day 1990.
We decided to create a 10-song compilation as a hobby and, to make a
long story short, one thing led to another and the compilation
eventually became "One Thousand and One Nights" which as our debut
album we considered a success since it went to number 6 on the
Billboard Top Ten New Age charts.
The idea behind the style of the music was to write compositions that
had no lyrics with Shahin's guitar the single voice that sings the
melody for the listener. We felt this would allow the listener to
decide where they wanted the song to take them.
Payvand: Who or what was the source of your motivation?
Sepehr: The love of music and the desire to share it with others.
Payvand: What attracted you to new age music? What other music have
you experimented with?
Sepehr: Even though, our music label, Higher Octave Music, (now
affiliated with Virgin Records), initially started out as a "New Age"
record label with the likes of Ottmar Leibert and Cusco, I prefer to
define our style of music as "contemporary instrumental" with definite
roots in rock and pop instead of "New Age". Our label's direction has
even changed now with our new label mates being the likes of famous
rock and rollers Neil Schon of the group "Journey", Jon Anderson of
the group "Yes" and Craig Chaquico of the group "Jefferson
Starship". In reality, the term "new age" does not really describe any
Shahin: You could even call it something like "contemporary world
dance" because we try to use different rhythms such as reggae, samba,
mambo in addition to the conventional rock and pop themes. You could
say the melodies blend various influences of Persian and Spanish music
as well as blues and jazz.
Payvand: How did you find each other? Shahin and Sepehr sounds very
good together! Did the name have anything to do with it? Are these your
Sepehr: We met as high school friends in Tehran at Iran Zamin (Tehran
Payvand: What's your most pleasant experience on your music journey?
Shahin: The most pleasant experience is two best friends travelling on this journey
together with the same vision of where we want to go.
Payvand: How about your worst experience?
To be very honest, (knock on wood), there really have not been any bad
experiences so far. It may just be our philosophy of trying to see
every event, no matter how uncomfortable it may be at the time, as an
experience to learn from to make oneself more prepared for future
challenges (i.e., turn it into a positive).
Payvand: Working your way through the crowds, you probably had to deal
with rejections at times. How hard was this for you and how did
you deal with it?
Sepehr: By "crowds" if you mean our audience when we perform, I must say we
again have been lucky that there have been no rejections, and actually
that is one big reason we enjoy performing live, we get to see the
people that appreciate our music in person and we have always
appreciated their support. With regards to record companies when we
were unsigned, yes we did receive rejections, but that was just part
of the process. Since Shahin and I have been friends for so long, we
have been through a lot together so the initial rejections prior to our
signing with Higher Octave Music were taken very lightheartedly.
Besides, a lot of times the marketing people in these companies don't
have an idea of what can or cannot become popular. We received a
rejection from one company and 3 months later after being signed to
Higher Octave our debut album "One Thousand and One Nights" was at #6
on the Billboard Music charts. We believed in our music and knew in
our hearts that sooner or later someone in one of the record companies
will also believe that if the music gets exposure it will become
popular. Higher Octave believed in us and they are now benefiting
from their decision.
Payvand: Do you ever imagine going your own separate paths, perhaps
during periods of system overload :-)
We already work on separate projects when we have the time, but we
both have so much freedom in our joint efforts of Shahin & Sepehr
projects that we truly never have felt the "system overload" you
mention. It also may be a function of the many years of friendship
and respect we have for each others talents. In music and art, the
synergistic effect of two people collaborating usually is greater than
each individual alone.
Payvand: What message have you been trying to send with your music? Have
you been successful?
Shahin: The interesting aspect of instrumental music (no lyrics) is that the
message is whatever the listener wants it to be. There are no words
or lyrics to tell the listener what the song is about, each person can
have their own interpretation of what each song means. It's a more
personal experience for the listener.
Payvand: Why did you call your previous album Aria?
Sepehr: For two reasons. One, is the obvious reason of being Persian
and proud of our heritage . The other of course is the musical term
"aria" which means an elaborate melody for a single voice, with
accompaniment, such as in an opera. The single voice in our music
being Shahin's guitar and the accompaniment being my contribution to
Payvand: What's the motivation behind or distinct character of your new CD,
As we mention in our foreword to the CD, it has been two years since
the release of our last album, "Aria". Much of this time was spent
reinterpreting our approach to songwriting. We made a conscious
decision to go back to our roots, which for us meant performing our
music with just two acoustic guitars, in a style that is better known
today as "unplugged". This organic grassroots approach gave way to a
live sound which with the help of our band members and their diverse
cultural and musical backgrounds, formed the essence of our new
album. The influences brought to the project by everyone involved
consists of various cultures and genres, which makes for a melange of
international styles, hence the title... "World Cafe". We consider
this setting to be ideal for a universal dialogue spoken in the
language of music. We want to welcome the listener to take part in
this dialogue, and to travel to far away places, as well as, the ever
elusive journey within.
Payvand: What's next? Any music video in the works?
Shahin: Yes, we actually just returned from New York where we finished
shooting the video for the song "Wild World" (our instrumental
interpretation of the famous Cat Stevens 70's hit from his classic
"Tea for the Tillerman" album). We were excited about working with
the director who has worked with the likes of Sarah McLaughlin and
Blues Travellers, among others.
Payvand: Where should we expect to see your video? VH1? MTV?
The label will be submitting the video to VH1 and MTV but the
competition for airplay on such channels is so fierce that they very
well may not play it more than a few times, especially that ours is
instrumental music and those stations tend to air videos with singing.
However, you will probably see it on PBS-type (public broadcast)
stations across the U.S.
Payvand: Have you benefited from Iranian music? Have you experimented with
blending that music with the music of the west or other cultures?
Certainly, as children growing up in Iran we were influenced by
Persian music through osmosis, and therefore the influence is more of
a subconscious one, especially in Shahin's intricate guitar melodies
on songs such as "Golestan Interlude" from our album "e", or "Persia"
from our album "One Thousand and One Nights".
Payvand: You are well-known among Iranians abroad. How about the the people
in Iran. Do you have any information on your CD sales and your
popularity in Iran?
We know that our music is played quite frequently and actually we have
received bootleg (illegally reproduced) copies of our music from our
friends in Iran. It is really hysterical that on the bootleg copies it
says that" any unauthorized use of this recording will be prosecuted
to the extent of the law under international copyright laws". In terms
of popularity in Iran, we appeared on a satellite TV program broadcast
to the Middle East, and of course Iran, and we were taking requests
from callers and answering their questions. We were amazed to see the
calls we received from cities as diverse as Kermanshah, Ahvaz,
Mashhad, Isfahan, etc. with people knowing of our music. Actually,
the song "Call from Kashan" on "World Cafe" was written for one such
caller from Kashan.
Payvand: What did the caller from Kashan ask?
He was listening to a song from "Aria" called "Road to Shiraz" and
asked if we have written one for Shiraz, please write one for his
beautiful city, and so we did.
Payvand: Have you ever been to Kashan? If yes, what do you remember
Yes, actually I have. I remember "Hamam-Fin" which was a historical
site where Amir Kabir,the famous Persian Prime minister died. In
addition, I remember the wonderful carpets.
Payvand: Would you consider doing a concert tour in Iran? Has anyone ever
approached you about this?
Yes, we are actually looking into it. Since our music is instrumental
and is being played in Iran on TV and radio programs quite frequently,
it wouldn't be considered unacceptable to have a concert in Iran. We
are pursuing the idea with some U.S. public television stations to
film such a concert and having it air on Public Television here in the
U.S. Our tour manager for our 3 California shows (Sacramento, San
Francisco, and Los Angeles in July) was the producer for the
"Yanni-Live at Acropolis" show and has much experience in producing
such a show overseas. We are so busy, however, that this project
probably won't begin until sometime late next year.
Payvand: What's your favorite piece of music or your favorite musician?
Sepehr: My singer/songwriter influence was Cat Stevens. I think his
albums "Catch Bull at Four" and "Foreigner" were truly fantastic. My
group influence was Jethro Tull, my favorite album being "Living in
the Past" whose title is symbolic of our philosophy of how not to live
life. As a famous Persian poet once said, "Az dee ke gozasht, hych
azoo yad makon."
Shahin: Eric Clapton for his guitar-playing prowess, and Sting as a
songwriter. A group that I enjoy very much is R.E.M.
Payvand: How about your favorite Iranian musicians and singers?
I remember loving to listen to Pari Zanganeh's folkloric songs, and
also many years ago to the singer/songwriter Shusha.
Payvand: How is your work and practice schedule? Has this ever caused
stress in your family life?
Of course it can get very hectic sometimes but the rewards far
outweigh the stress.
Payvand: What exactly are these rewards?
The reward is being able to do what we truly enjoy for a living, playing our
music. This is a blessing and we feel very lucky to be able to do this.
Payvand: As immigrant artists, have you ever faced a "glass ceiling?"
I think the pronunciation of our names (Shahin & Sepehr) may have
initially given a few DJ's on the radio stations that play our music
problems, but the beauty of it all is in the fact that the
universality of art and music shatters the "glass ceiling" (if there
is even one). We feel blessed and thank God for the success we have
experienced on the radio charts, Billboard charts, and from the awards
that we have received from the U.S. Recording industry for our work.
Payvand: Are you a happy Iranian immigrant? A happy artist? A happy
father? Anything missing?
As long as one is healthy and has a great family and friends (which we
both do), how can you not be happy.
Payvand: Let me ask you the standard interview question :-) Where do you see
yourselves 5 years from now?
Hopefully, still writing music and performing concerts, and having
succeeded in developing ourselves spiritually. We always remind
ourselves that there needs to be such a balance.
Payvand: If you were to send a message to the Iranians abroad, what
would you say?
Nothing is impossible.