The Yellow Dogs
03 August 2009
Hey guys, it’s good to meet you. Firstly then, how’s it going for you out there in Iran at the moment, in the wake of the recent election scandal?
Like the majority of Iranians, the election results surprised us, the fraud was shocking and unpredictable, but the afterwards protests and parades made us proud of our people and ashamed of our government. One day Iran will taste freedom and democracy but it takes time, the election scandal was just a start. At the moment we are travelling around, and recording our new tracks, so we are pretty busy and we don't have a lot of time for being politically active.
For those first encountering The Yellow Dogs, how would you describe the style of music that you play, and who would you say are your main influences?
Our music is our own style of indie rock, with dance music elements, also alternative, experimental, psychedelic and even folk music elements, it’s a weird combination but that makes every song different from the others. Our main influences are; Joy Division, MGMT, Kings of Leon, Foals, Modest Mouse, Interpol, Arctic Monkeys, The Rapture, Moving Units, The Coral, Fleet Foxes, Cold War Kids ........... .
Does your band’s name have a particular cultural or political significance?
Well, there is a slang in our language that says, "The yellow dog is brother of jackal." We used to call each other yellow dog for a while then we realized that it will be a perfect name for our band. After a while we understood that The Yellow Dogs are also the people who always vote for democrats and they are from the left wing, and since our fans are all from the left wing of society, The Yellow Dogs suits us perfectly.
In Iran, playing rock music is a crime in itself, making the scene ‘underground’ in every sense of the word; how have you functioned as a band while facing such adversities? Has it been very difficult to build up your fan-base?
The government tried to make a terrible vision of underground bands and rock music by showing a program (documentary) on the national T.V which was called "Shock". They tried to make the society think that we drink our own blood ,that we rape little girls ,and we have ruined our mind and bodies by using drugs such as heroin ,crack and ...that we have sold our souls to Satan himself(that we are Satanists), which is not true at all, but a lot of people believe what they say by seeing those images on T.V; like Marilyn Manson live acts, or seeing some black metal bands’ attitudes or interviews with some junkies instead of a real rock musician. Imagine a simple villager in a small village in the middle of the mountains who sees that program, 90% of the time he believes what he sees and hears. For example if they get you during one of your concerts your crime will be worshiping Satan, and the punishment is unpredictable.
Let me tell you a story of one of my friends, he has dreadlocks and tattoos, in the street people used to come to him and tell him not to worship Satan. So playing this kind of music in a society with a background image like this about rock music is social suicide. It's like swimming up a waterfall. Fortunately, the majority of people who live in big cities such as Tehran don't believe in government stories. In Tehran you can find a lot of young and old people that listen to rock music, they have gatherings, they change music's, they play music together ,they hang out in cafes and parks talking about music and the majority of our fans are from these people.
It wasn't difficult at all for us to build up our fan base because we are one of the only bands that play indie rock here in Iran which is a popular genre these days around the globe and one of the only bands who don't give a damn about authorities and have enough balls to be an active band in this situation.
Can you pinpoint any particular highlights of your career so far or conversely any moments when the band’s existence has seemed in real doubt?
The underground concert that we had with our friends Free Keys was the first time that we played in front of an audience of more than 15 people and it was total success. Bahman Ghobadi, (an award winning Iranian director) made a film about Iranian underground music scene which called "Nobody knows about Persian Cat's"; we played one of our tracks called "New Century" in our cozy doghouse (our practicing room) in that film. The film won an award in Festival de Cannes 2009 in section of "Un Certain Regard", at that moment we realized that a lot of international artists and a lot of art lovers have seen us playing.
We haven't had any period of time in our career that The Yellow Dogs’ existence was in doubt, because playing and making music is our only hobby here in Iran and we are not gonna lose that ,no matter what people say; we do this for ourselves ,but it doesn't mean that we didn't have a period of bad time's ,like when we missed SXSW 2009 because of passport problems.((In Iran all the boys have to do their military services, after that they can get a passport ,at SXSW 2009 Looloosh (our guitarist) and Koory (our bassist) didn't have their passports)).
What would you say is the main driving force behind the band, be it social, musical, political or a combination of all?
Definitely the driving force is love of music, even social and political problems can't stop this love from growing, but we can't say they didn't influence us at all.
A number of your songs feature politicized and controversial lyrical topics, at times striking out against the evils of western capitalism, industrial greed, and your country’s oppressive regime. How have your fans and fellow bands reacted to this, and have your lyrics ever got you into trouble with the ‘authorities?’
I don't know really about the reaction of our fans or other bands to our lyrical topics, maybe I should ask them, but I think those lyrics which are about freedom, our hopes and dreams, have a deeper effect and they carry more impression and they are much more sensible for those who live like us. Fortunately our lyrics have never got us into trouble until now, because we don't really think about going over-ground here, so we try to cross the authorities not face them.
You’ve garnered a considerable degree of interest from the western musical world of late, with a show booked for next year’s prestigious South By Southwest festival in the US; where would you like to take your music in the future, is breaking onto the world stage a real priority for you?
Of course, finding this chance to play our music in front of a crowd is our dream, it's one of the most magical moments in a musician’s life, we have dedicated our lives to this, and I'm sure if we finally step up onto an international stage, we can prove that we are not another crappy band, we have our own story and our own style.
As I said before our dream is travelling around the world by playing our music, knowing different cultures and people, but it's a big dream and to reach that you have to try your best. First we have to find a right platform, and for a band like us, this platform has to be a country with a strong indie music scene. Our first choice is U.S and Canada because we have some friends out there and by watching the other bands experiences it's a good platform, but our biggest goal is European countries, if we could find a better platform in Europe, there will be no hesitation.
Two of your members previously played in Hypernova, a fellow Iranian band who have gone on to find success in America... Does their progression to the US music scene give you hope for The Yellow Dogs’ future development?
As I mentioned above, it is. Hypernova is a good example. They are one of the only Iranian bands who have gone this far, and their progression gives us the courage to try, and because of our close friendship we know that they are gonna help us in our way to success (as they did before too).
Many western underground music communities pride themselves on their DIY (Do it yourself) attitude to gigging, recording and promotion, something which I imagine is very strong in the Iranian scene. Have you worked closely with any other bands in particular, and can you recommend some additional upcoming Iranian bands which we should be checking out over in the west?
You know ,when you want to be a musician in Iran, who doesn't care about what are the government norms and red lines for music, DIY will be the first rule that you can't resist and even while you are doing it all by yourself there are the other forces like authorities and laws that don't want you to reach your goals, so they will throw stones on your path. You have to have an eye on these stones.
2 years ago (in the summer of 2006) our band and our close friends Free Keys, which is a mind bending prog-rock trio, we decided to turn their whole garage/basement into a sound-proof location for throwing concerts. Where? In the middle of Tehran. We worked hard together for about two months, we sound proofed the whole place (just for security),we made our stage all by our hands, with the help of our friends we decorated the whole place, with flags, paintings, graffiti’s, and also we found a genius light-man with equipment which he had made on his own. The result was 2 mind blowing concerts, 300 people attending, with each night 2 sets, 1 for each band. The atmosphere and energy was unbelievable because for 90 percent of the audience that was their first experience of a real rock concert, with enough space to dance and jump, light shows. No cops showed up during the concerts, because we did care a lot about the security of our live shows.
You see we couldn't do that all alone, here underground bands and musicians support and help each other, because the government and the Iranian mainstream music scene don't give a damn about us, so you just have to turn to your friends. You should check out Free Keys too, the avant-garde music scene that we have built together in Tehran, is legendary. A true example of DIY.www.myspace.com/freekeysmusic. Another example is our own practicing room, a tiny room on the rooftop of an apartment near the mountains with a view over Tehran. Even for recording it is much better to follow D.I.Y, because if you want to go to a studio it will cost you a lot and 99% of the time the result is not good at all.
Thinking about The Yellow Dogs in the long term, what impression would you ideally like to leave on the world of music? Apart from playing SXSW 2010, can you tell us your plans for the near future, or does the band exist on more of a month-to-month basis?
As I said before, The Yellow Dogs for me myself is the true example of love for music. No matter where are you from, no matter who's your daddy and mommy, no matter what is your character, we’ve got a thing in common and it's music. These days the world is getting smaller because of different reasons(Internet, T.V ...),you can find the latest songs of bands like Kings Of Leon, MGMT, Animal Collective, White Lies or .... On the MP3 player of a kid in London, New York, Tehran, Istanbul, Beijing, Paris, Sydney and..... All that we want to do is to prove that if you love something from the deepest layers of your heart and you want to reach that badly, no one, no government, no law can stop you from doing that.
The Yellow Dogs existence is dependent on ourselves ,if we give up, a sticker with LOSER written on it will stick in the back of our minds, then the depression will come, like a lot of Iranian bands, but it's not gonna happen .I'm sure that we will find our way.