SCV interview with Ilyas Ahmed
Sound Colour Vibration Interview
w/ Ilyas Ahmed
Conducted by Pouya G. Asadi and Erik Otis
Ilyas Ahmed, a name not familiar to many but basically a legend for others. This man has been making music for the past half decade and then some; whether it was releasing records through personal hand-made CD-R’s, or through labels such as Immune Recordings, Digitalis, Time-Lag, and even Root Strata. I myself had gotten into his first several records thanks to a recommendation from my colleague on this site, and found myself completely immersed in his entire discography.
What struck out to me was the organic qualities and dynamics brought forth from simultaneous acoustic guitar tracking on top of electric. It brought many feelings of nostalgia but most importantly, a sense of truth and yearning. I’ve learned a lot about myself and the qualities of life that make me happy through these recordings of Ilyas, as one can not help but to enter a trance of self-actualization when the play button is pressed. We recently reached out to Ilyas and he was so gracious and giving with all the questions we asked of him, the man is a true believer of punctuality. We all look forward to his new records coming out this summer and hope you enjoy this read. -Pouya G. Asadi
Before we dive into the new split and other various questions, we wanted to ask about your current progress on, if any, new albums being planned for release this year, film scores or any other related field of interests in the growth of your music output publicly?
I have a new record called With Endless Fire that’s going to come out this summer on Immune.
Were there any new influences that you gathered from around you for this new record, With Endless Fire?
There’s new influences all the time though I don’t know how much they directly influenced the new record. When I started making it I had a bunch of things written dating from a fairly rough period emotionally & while I was working on it there were some changes in my personal life , so I would imagine that affected the shape of the record. I remember listening to things I was really into when I was younger, kind of reinvestigating some of the early influences, like the Velvet Underground’s third record. I also remember listening a lot to Fraction’s Moonblood, Kim Jung Mi’s Now, and a lot of Mingus while I was working on it, and reading some things by Mina Loy and Katherine Mansfield. I think I also used pick more than I have in the past.
Did you record in any foreign countries on With Endless Fire?
Were these songs on the new record ones that you created quickly, or each song had its unique ‘growth period?’
Can we also expect the Visitor album to release around this autumn?
That should be out out this summer as far as I know.
You recently released a split with Steve Gunn through Immune Records who recently put out the beautiful LP version of your Between Two Skies and Towards The Night self release in 2005. This is the first I have seen of any split releases with you included. What were some of the deciding factors that brought forth the release of this split?
Erik who runs Immune suggested it and Steve is a friend of mine so it was kind of a no brainer. Steve is an underrated killer of the steel 6 string.
Can we expect more incredible collaborations on With Endless Fire from Grouper, or perhaps even Steve Gunn?
Nope, it’s all just me.
When and where was the song Ignored from this split recorded at?
It was recorded in my bedroom around the beginning of 2011.
Your guitar tones and vocal tones always have a really raw and unique feel to them. What type of guitars have you been using for your last few recordings and what type of mic (or possibly amp configurations) do you use for your vocals?
Well, for the split it was a 12 string that I’ve always used, and have been using more and more over playing a 6 string. I tend to go for first or second takes and use analog tape. I’ve always thought that what’s in your head affects the sound of the music more than gear you’re using. Having said that, I would like be able to borrow a few of Neil Young’s guitars for awhile.
When you sit down to write a piece of music, are there multiple stages in your writing process? Or is it more of a once-through and a song is written?
Both, neither,sometimes, never.
Having been born in Pakistan and raised in New Jersey, how much influence did you have at home growing up to the type of cultural and the societal influences given from your household and the city you grew in?
New Jersey was the best and worst place to grow up in the world. Like anywhere else I suppose. There’s cultural influences come from all and any angles if one is open to it.
Do you ever write music while you travel? If so are there any specific albums that have the essence of other countries that you’ve visited in the past?
I think about music/sound all the time so I suppose I do. It’s not really for me to say if any of my records capture the essence of any other country, though that’s a nice thought.
Ilyas, can you tell us a little about your endeavors with Grouper and the new duo you’ve formed called Visitor?
Liz is one of my best friends and playing music together is a natural extension of that friendship. We’ve both felt our musics come from a really similar place so working & playing together is free & natural & it’s something we’ve been working on more and more.
I was really happy to show some of your latest artworks in our online art gallery as I really love the art you create. I know you have been creating your own art for awhile for releases and various other reasons, what brought you to showing in the recent gallery that you did?
Thanks very much. I’ve always made visual art and used to paint way more. I’d been working on music exclusively more over the past 5 or 6 years, but increasingly began working on collage work more and more and over the past year or so probably just as much as music, so it was time to make it more public I suppose.
I was wondering if you could share with all of us some of your favorite new bands and/or artists?
I’m a bit out of the loop about new stuff but newish things I love are Golden Retriever, Ekin Fil, Metal Mountains, Endless Boogie , Prisma
I have found that when certain books and film expand my horizon in crucial moments of my life, it sparks and pushes my creative side into overdrive. Do books and film give you this affect and if yes what are some that come to mind?
Same here. I read a lot and try to watch a lot of movies. I finally recently read Bolano’s 2666 which blew my mind, so good, made me rethink how to make records in a way. Just saw Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God on the big screen for the first time which was killer. Really looking to see Terrence Malick’s new one.
Have you had a chance to see “The Tree of Life” by Terrence Malick?
Hopefully I’m going to go see it today.
Are there any specific painters or sculptors that have had some sort of influence on your music?
Hmmm…I don’t know if I can think of specifics although I remember I was looking a lot at a book of Cy Twombly’s book of works of paper when I was making Between Two Skies and I think about visual art in general a lot when working on music & vice versa. I’m a huge fan of Philp Guston, Richard Diebenkorn, Uta Barth, Rita Ackermann, Shahzia Sikander,Raymond Pettibon, Lucas Samaras…there’s tons of people I love.
Have you bought any new “toys/pedals” or equipment for your future solo works and/or for Visitor’s music?
Do you plan on utilizing the works of different world instruments in your future recordings, such as the ocean harp?
What is the most unique instrument that you’ve played on?
A tuba or a pile of dirt.
In the past you’ve said that some of your albums were created for your friends that you thought would have wanted to hear? Do you still follow this unique and beautiful regiment?
Yes, and I’m glad you like the approach.
Thanks for your time Ilyas, we look forward to this new album coming forth and everyhing else you have planned for public release.