Yellow Dogs are a 4-piece post-punk band from Iran who are not legally allowed to play in their home country. As it turns out, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance deems their music unfit for their conservative society, and the band will be arrested if they go home. If you would, I’d like you to re-read and think about that for a moment. It’s cool… The post will still be here when you’re done.
Entertainment and cultural integration do not always go hand in hand. In light of recent events involving Pussy Riot, citizens of “free” nations, ones that allow artistic expression with (minimal) political backlash, owe a debt of gratitude to musicians and artists who quite literally risk their freedom in an attempt to spread their message. I’d like to think that a group of friends coming together to create music would be a joyous experience for the members and their fans. Perhaps one day this will be the case worldwide, but I’m not counting on it. Luckily, Yellow Dogs have found asylum and a welcome home in Brooklyn, NY to further their artistic expressions.
For now, regardless of any personal grudges you may have with your home country, be happy you do not live under the guise of an overtly oppressive regime bent on controlling their citizens through force (unless, of course, you do.) Prior to their anxiously awaited performance alongside Iranian street artists Icy and Sot during the MADE IN IRAN Exhibition happening at OpenHouse in NYC from August 23-25th, I was able to speak with lead singer/guitarist Obaash about their experiences at home and abroad, their difficult journey as a band, and what brought them together under such difficult circumstances.
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! Introduce the members in the group… Who is everyone, what do they play, and how old is everybody?
O- I’m Obaash. I’m 23 and play lead singer and guitar. Looloosh is 26 and plays lead guitars and synth, Koory is 25 and bass and keyboards, and Arash is 27 and plays drums.
G- Right on. So Yellow Dogs have been a band since 2006… Can you tell us about how everyone met and why you first decided to form your group?
O- Looloosh and Koory left the band that they were in when they were 16 back in Iran and decided to start their own band with their own rules (none) and passion (a lot of). I was recruited from another band and Arash (Looloosh’s brother), who recently joined Yellow Dogs, was one of the founders of the Free Keys band. In Iran, the rock/band scene was very small so we all know what everyone was up to and helped each other out because we had nothing else to do and no other way to grow as musicians.
G- Yea I can imagine that rock music isn’t the most accessible form of music in Iran. Now, Yellow Dogs are not legally able to perform in your own home country, and will be incarcerated if you re-enter, if I am not mistaken. Tell me a bit about where you are from and the personal hardships you had to endure as citizens. How were you able to practice under such tight social restraints?
O- Correct, in Iran you have to get approval from the Ministry of Culture to record/perform/release any type of music. We knew that they wouldn’t approve us as it was danceable, and we wrote about all sorts of things the government is against (sex, drugs, people’s shitty habits, etc.) We made our own secret practice space on our former drummer’s rooftop and teamed up with our friends, Free Keys band, and built a venue in their basement in which we had 2 crazy shows (our only ones in Iran.) Looking back on it, it was a very stupid idea but we didn’t think or care at the time and are so happy that we did it, because those stupid ideas and dreams are what got us here. We always say we should be careful what we dream about because they seem to come true. Problem is that we are a little crazy 😉
G- It takes a little bit of crazy to be a musician in the first place, so no problems there. Performing in Iran under such circumstances certainly took a ton of balls… Kudos to you guys!
Anyways, Do you consider Yellow Dogs to be a political band? Can you tell us a bit about your tunes? Where did you find the inspiration to write your new material?
O- No. We actually try to stay away from politics as much as we can, but because where we are from and the fact we are considered “illegal,” and therefore rebellious, we are somewhat are considered a political band. But honestly, we just want to make music we like and travel around the world to play in front of people who will like it, just like any other band/kids from anywhere else in the world.
Inspiration comes from our daily lives and the things we are exposed to. We feel that we are developing as musicians and are taking advantage of this great opportunity of being here. Living in Brooklyn has been great; as we are surrounded with all the things and people we want to be around.
G- Right on. I really like your attitude towards your craft, and that actually leads into the next question I have for you… How has your life changed since relocating to the U.S., and how do you feel about our current state of political affairs, the presidential race, and the music scene you now call home scene?
O- Life in Brooklyn is great and love that we get to play at so many cool/different venues and also get to check out all of our favorite bands that are touring.
Politics (all over the world) sucked before we left, they still do now and will probably suck forever.
G- (laughing) That they do, my friend. That they do. Now, do you believe Iran will ever be accepting of your group, and do your families support your endeavors as musicians? In the event Yellow Dogs disband in the future and you attempt to return home, do you fear any political repercussions as individual citizens?
O- Our families have been our number 1 fans from day one. They knew that the life in Iran and studying to become an engineer or doctor was not for us. They had their doubts, but never acted on it and were always supportive. We will most likely never go back to Iran, no matter what. It’s both dangerous for us to go back to Iran and we also feel that besides our families and friends, Iranians will never truly understand us.
G- Damn… If more musicians were as true to their art as Yellow Dogs are, we wouldn’t have to deal with all the Pop garbage that predominates our popular music industry, and more parents should be as encouraging of their children’s artist endeavors as yours have been… I salute them!
Let’s talk about your output for a moment… Do you currently have, or are you working on, any releases right now? When will you be heading back to the studio or on the road? Do you have anything currently in the works?
O- We recently released our 2nd EP and are already working on some new songs. We are constantly playing shows in Brooklyn and the East Coast, but are also setting up a few shows in the West Coast…We can’t wait to do a real nationwide tour supporting a headliner! We also have the opportunity to play with our friends, The Black Lips, on a small Middle East tour this fall, so hopefully everything with our visas will get worked out in time and we will get to go. It will be great because we will play Turkey as well, and we’ll get to see our families for the 1st time in 3 years
G- Awesome, and I hope everything goes smoothly! So, how has you reception been in the states, and what should your fans, both old and new, expect of the performances when you guys get onstage?
O- People have been great and seem to like us. We love the look on their face when they first hear our music and then find out we are from Iran… They just don’t expect it.
G- Well, music transcends geographic boundaries, and if it sounds good, it doesn’t matter where you’re from… People will get into it! So, how about telling us about the craziest or most memorable show that you have played to date? Where was it and what was it like?
O- One of the craziest/strangest shows was in L.A. at Filter’s Culture Collide Festival where a (drunk) man came up on stage who at first tried singing with me, but then ripped my guitar sting and started fighting. But still, nothing can compare to the shows we did in Iran, as any minute our lives and everyone there could have changed (for the worse) if authorities caught us.
G- Man, the worst thing that ever happened to me playing music was a noise violation. I’m so glad you guys made it out of Iran and into a supportive environment for your music… please keep it up! To finish up here, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
O- Go for it, have fun with it, and if you learn anything, make sure to tell us 😉
Seriously… Go check these guys out. They deserve a shot.