We dive into a style of music today not often featured here on PEV – Flamenco. For folks like me in their upper 20’s up to folks in their mid-30’s, they may recognize Flamenco as the last name of the dancing guy on Mike Tyson’s Punchout (the one where you just had to throw right-left, right-left to the jaw to beat him). Sure, that game was awesome, but the musical stylings of Flamenco are intense. Luckily for us, we’re able to feature one of the best Flamenco guitar players in the world, Mehran. He explains the allure behind the style best: “Flamenco is so technical that one always wonders of how well he will perform on that day. Your hands behave differently every day. I think about the temperature of the room and receptiveness of the audience to the music. I think about what kind of ‘mood’ my hands are having today. I think about what my teachers always told me that Flamenco requires fire and you have it, but you have to learn to control that fire within you.”
Specifically, Mehran’s Flamenco is influenced by Jazz and Persian melodies, something you can hear best on his record, “The Angels of Persepolis”. Mehran tells a great story behind the work: “’The Angels of Persepolis’ was inspired by the green movement in Iran. I was touched by the bravery of the young men and women who fought their oppressive regime in a united and a chivalrous way. They did things and said things that were unthinkable in the 32 years of this government. They showed a remarkable amount of resiliency and courage. That to me was touching and I felt their pain. Once I feel something this inspiring, I start writing. For me music is very emotional so when I compose I feel like I am harvesting a feeling and emotion and putting it into music.” This intensity is likely best portrayed by Flamenco, and “The Angels of Persepolis” should be on your short list of albums to download. Learn more about Mehran at www.flamencoguitarplayer.com, and read on for all the answers to the XXQ’s.
PEV: How would you describe your sound and what do you feel makes you stand out over the others in your genre?
MEHRAN: My music is Flamenco under the influence of Jazz and Persian melodies. In this day and age most of the music that is stamped Flamenco and is produced outside of Spain is not really Flamenco. Guitarists using a pick on a nylon stringed guitar these days describe their music as “New Flamenco” and as nice as they may sound, yet it has nothing to do with Flamenco because they don’t follow Flamenco rhythms or technique. Lots of Flamenco music is in a 12 count rhythm and really that is one of the most important characteristics of Flamenco. I use this time signature along with others to create my music. I use all my fingers and not a pick to execute my technique. In the same time I try to use other instruments to complement the music. On the Angels of Persepolis I used more than 10 different instruments such as violin, flute, accordion, cello and etc to compose. I also incorporate Persian, jazz and classical music in my compositions to make it more personalized and leave my stamp on the music.
PEV: Calling Chicago home, what kind of music were you into growing up? Was anyone your main influence?
MEHRAN: Growing up I was very influenced by classical music as well as Rock and Blues. My guitar idols were Jimmy Page, David Gilmore, Steve vie, Joe Satriani as well as Paco de Lucia.
PEV: Having a unique background and lived all over the world, what has your culture and travels taught you about being a musician?
MEHRAN: I learned that music is a personal method to express ones feelings, emotions and ideas. There are no rights and wrongs and if it sounds good to the composer then it is good. Music is very tolerant of cultural differences and it can be influenced by things that are foreign to it. I personally think any genre can have influences of another. I realize that even very specific genre like Flamenco is still evolving and it grows by incorporating new ideas that may sometime be very distant and foreign to it. For example when Paco De Lucia brought the jazz influence into Flamenco in the 70’s and 80’s, it was not welcomed by the older generation of Flamencos at first. But as he experimented with it and mastered how to incorporate jazz in his music but yet keeping the Flamenco as the core, it became a sensation and he forever left his mark on Flamenco.
PEV: Do you remember the first time you thought to yourself – “I am really onto something!”?
MEHRAN: Yes, I used to take songs like Stairway to heaven or Hotel California and play them with Flamenco technique and say to myself, ” wow this sounds great like this”. Maybe I can create something similar. My recipe has always been to create great melodies that people can identify with and remember. Use dynamics to flavor the composition and harmonies that are always revolve around the core of the melody.
PEV: What can fans expect from a live Mehran show?
MEHRAN: It is hard to describe but for me every show is a different set up. One of the nice things about Flamenco guitar is that it not only can be presented as a solo instrument, but also as an accompany to a dancer or several different instruments. I can do a solo concert all by myself or I can bring an ensemble of 10 musicians to accompany me. Most of the time I perform with my quartet.
PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage?
MEHRAN: Flamenco is so technical that one always wonders of how well he will perform on that day. Your hands behave differently every day. I think about the temperature of the room and receptiveness of the audience to the music. I think about what kind of “mood” my hands are having today. I think about what my teachers always told me that Flamenco requires fire and you have it, but you have to learn to control that fire within you. You have to learn to show sparks and not the gushing flame all the time. That way you won’t wear out your audience. While I am performing most of the time I think about my tone and expression. I wonder if the audience can hear the sensitivity of the music and understand the delicacy. The most important thing is to have fun and if you are having fun performing, that radiates to the audience and they will have fun.
PEV: You also released a video for your music as well. How did you concept the idea for the videos?
MEHRAN: There really is no concept to the video. It is a romantic song called “The Little Song of Hope”. The video was created by a cinematographer friend of mine, Calro Serran. He brought in a couple of models he works with and gave them their roles and started to shoot. Really, I am just sitting there and playing my guitar and the ladies are kind of dancing to the music or walking around. It can be interpreted in many ways but it seems like that I have to make up my mind between the two girls. That was kind of hard to do so I picked the guitar and went my own way. It is almost like the story of my life. The guitar has been my best friend all my life.
PEV: What was the underlining inspiration for your music? Where do get your best ideas for songs?
MEHRAN: For me, something has to touch my heart and inspire me to write a song. I usually don’t use lyrics in my music and that is what makes it difficult to tell a story with just music. I pay a lot of attention to the mood of the song. I try to create the ambience that is appropriate to the meaning of the song. Tempo, instrumentation, tone, even the silence between the notes are important for me. All these are the tools that help you write and create a mood.
The Angels of Persepolis was inspired by the green movement in Iran. I was touched by the bravery of the young men and women who fought their oppressive regime in a united and a chivalrous way. They did things and said things that were unthinkable in the 32 years of this government. They showed a remarkable amount of resiliency and courage. That to me was touching and I felt their pain. Once I feel something this inspiring, I start writing. For me music is very emotional so when I compose I feel like I am harvesting a feeling and emotion and putting it into music. I know all of this sounds very abstract but I am getting better at being able to express myself with my music.
PEV: Tell us about your latest release, "The Angels of Persepolis”. What can fans expect from this work?
MEHRAN: Angels of Persepolis is a very dark album. It wants to tell you something evil is going on somewhere and we don’t know much about it. Even at its happiest sounding moments there are shades grey, and an underlying tones of despair, seclusion, fear, mistrust and a general feeling of unsettledness. I tried to create an uncomfortable atmosphere to get the attention of the listener. I want the listener to start questioning the intention. I had to use a lot of sound effects to enhance the mood I was trying to create.
With all this said the music a jazzy and modern Flamenco with Middle Eastern and Persian melodies that at times gets influenced by western classical music. Many have referred to it as progressive and even the term progressive Flamenco has been used to define it. The music is very intense and intentional however at its most complicated moments it has a lot of respect for the power of memorable melodies.
PEV: Do you ever find yourself getting writer’s block and if so, how do you get over that?
MEHRAN: Yes, more often that I would like. I could have writer’s block for weeks sometimes. No matter how often I pick up the guitar and play around nothing good comes out. I could have most of a song competed and just need a refrain or a bridge and it just won’t come out. That is when I get away from the song and get busy working on another idea. Eventually I come back to the song and if I get lucky I will find the passage I need. Right now I am working on 3 different songs and I am stuck on all three. I just keep leaving them and coming back to them to see if anything new will grow out of them. Sometimes I go to sleep thinking of a composition I am working on and the next day I wake up with a melody running in my head. Before I even grab the first cup of coffee I grab the guitar and try the melody. This has happened to me so many times.
PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Mehran?
MEHRAN: That I really would have liked to had grown up playing the violin.
PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a career for you?
MEHRAN: I think I realized that when I was in college. I could have a big exam coming up and I would miraculously find some window of time to play guitar. When I would start playing I could not stop and suddenly it is one in the morning and I remember the exam is tomorrow. I guess after so many times I started to realize that this is what I want to do.
PEV: What one word best describes Mehran?
PEV: How is life on the road for you in the music world? Best and worst parts?
MEHRAN: Most of my travels have been to study the guitar and not performing it. During my travels to Spain to study flamenco I have had so many great experiences. I think most of it was just taking in the culture and music. Some of the best times I had were when I find a great street guitarist and just watch him. Over there anybody who plays the Flamenco guitar is good at it. There is no medium ground.
I couldn’t say that this is the worst part but I remember on my first few trips there I would go to a popular dance studio just to see and maybe play for a class, it was so intimidating just to hang around. Every room I opened had 30 people dancing in unison and a few guitarists accompanying them. The rhythms were complicated and to play in those rhythms were just so foreign to my ears at first. All of this was so humbling and really gave me a perspective into the depth of this music.
PEV: Is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?
MEHRAN: I would love to go back to Iran and do a few concerts but at this time it is not possible. I would probably land in a prison for creating an album like Angels of Persepolis.
PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career? What’s it like when you get to play at your hometown?
MEHRAN: My friends and family are used to the idea of me playing the guitar for a living. I do admit at first most didn’t take me seriously and always thought that it was a hobby only. I just did a very important show here in Chicago that was a part of the Flamenco Festival and it was sold out. Among the audience were many of my friends and family members and for me that is so special and personal. In a way it makes me feel at home and not like I am among total strangers.
PEV: What can we find you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?
MEHRAN: painting, cooking, gardening, playing soccer and tennis.
PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?
MEHRAN: As far as Flamenco guitar is concerned I would keep my eye on players like Vicente Amigo, Nino Josele and Antonio Rey. They are the trend setters these days along with numerous other players.
PEV: If you weren’t playing music now what do you think you would be doing as your career?
MEHRAN: There was a time that I had a career in Neurophysiology and worked in a hospital. That was the time that I was practicing and learning Flamenco every chance I would get. If it was not for music becoming such an integral part of my life I would probably be doing the same work.
PEV: So, what is next for Mehran?
MEHRAN: I am developing the concept and writing the music for my next CD. I will take a few months focusing on this and release it after it is recorded. I will also be working on making a video or two for this collection.