Kavus Torabi Interview 2009
Kavus Torabi: “I can never finish things”
Next August will see the release of Kavus Torabi’s project Knifeworld, the album Buried Alone: Tales Of Crushing Defeat will be preceded by a single called Pissed up and brake fluid.
Torabi has plenty of project work on his CV; The Monsoon Bassoon, Authority, Guapo, Admirals Hard, Die Laughing, North Sea Radio Orchestra, Miss Helsinki, Hatchjaw and Bassett, Cardiacs and now Knifeworld. I took the opportunity to do an interview with him and talk about his new project, his childhood, how he became part of Cardiacs and the future of Cardiacs.
“The LSD album will come out eventually, believe me.”
A bit about your childhood Kavus, you were born in Iran, when did you come to the U.K. ? Did you ever visit Iran again ?
Well, I was born in Iran, but we moved to the UK when I was 18 months old and here we remained. The original plan was to move back when my Dad made a bit of money, but the Islamic revolution kicked off so that was the end of that. I’ve never been back although most of my family is over there, many of whom I’ve never met. If I went back now I’d have to do two years national service which is, as you can imagine, not particularly appealing.
What kind of music did you listen to when you were a kid ?
There was never any music around the house really, my parents just weren’t particularly into it. My Mum had three maybe four albums, that was it. I was crazy about the music on TV shows. Particularly C.H.I.P.S. I invented a strange form of notation and ‘scored’ the theme tune in great detail on one of those bits of card a school shirt might be pinned to if you bought it new. I kept this under my pillow to consult everytime I forgot how it went. I was always coming up with songs. We got a piano when I was about seven years old and I remember being far more interested in making tunes up than actually learning anything by anyone else. No-one really picked up on that and I had no idea that you could be a composer or a musician, it’s just what I did. My cousin Arash came over from Iran to grow up with us in 1979 and we became very close. Pop music arrived in our house a year later. That changed everything. It was seeing The Stray Cats perform Runaway Boys on Saturday morning television that did it for me. A light turned on in my head when I saw Brian Setzer. I thought, “That’s who I want to be”. I started playing the guitar almost immediately after that, again just coming up with stuff that, in my head, sounded like The Stray Cats. I didn’t learn chords for about a year. Chords were for squares. My mum knew between two and four chords which she tried to teach me, I thought “If she knows chords then they’re not for me”. That’s probably the starting point to the peculiar style I have now.
I was crazy about The Stray Cats for about two years, I sort of went from one musical obsession to another like a rock serial monogomist. I finally landed at Cardiacs in 1988 when I was sixteen. A Little Man And A House had just come out and a friend lent it to me. Before I’d even got to side two I realised this was the best band I’d ever heard.
Tell me about Knifeworld and your forthcoming album Buried Alone: Tales of Crushing Defeat. How did this project start to happen ? The album will be released in August, are you excited ? How does the album sound ?
Knifeworld is something I started ages ago, my problem is I can never finish things. I had this idea that I wanted to make this big, dense, sprawling psychedelic thing and I kept working on it then it would seem too gargantuan a task to finish so I’d stop for a while. It would remain there going “you can’t finish me, can you fucker?”. Finally I bought a load of kit and just got the hell on with it. I’m very excited about it. I wanted to do something completely on my own terms and I wanted to create a project that, from here on in, whatever I write I can put out as Knifeworld. With the first album Buried Alone I feel as If I’ve mapped out the territory a bit.
The next record will be much more of a group-based thing though. If you know my stuff then you’ll recognise the sound instantly. It’s a lot bigger sounding than The Monsoon Bassoon and the instrumentation is much more varied. There’s a lot going on in there, you know, a lot of layers of sound.
“I already have most of the next album written.”
How is working with Khyam Allami, how did you meet him ?
Khyam was the drummer in a band called Ursa that played a lot with The Monsoons, I always loved his drumming- he plays a bit like Dominic Luckman, arms above the head and really twats them. I asked him if he was up for doing Knifeworld and he was. He’s amazing and so committed to the thing. He gets his head around tricky rhythms very quickly which is essential for anyone who plays my stuff. Also he’s an Iraqi so we’re like brothers of the Middle East or something.
How does the creative process take place ? How do you write your music, in the studio ? Is it a group effort or do you write most of the music ?
There’s no one way really, sometimes the tunes come to you full formed, arrangements and everything other times I start with a basic idea and build it up from there. For most of my adult life I wrote with Dan Chudley and we developed a very specific style which I suppose still informs everything I do, but now I have The Cop’s Dream, which is my studio, I find it a lot easier to work and write alone. As soon as I’d finished mixing Buried Alone a massive amount of new songs came pissing out of me. Finishing that album was like a purge. In fact I already have most of the next album written.
Is there life outside music ?
If there is I haven’t seen much of it. I can’t do a great deal else. I never paid any attention at school because I thought “I’m not going to need to know that”. From seeing Brian Setzer on TV this is all I ever wanted to do. I did entertain the idea of becoming a comic book artist as a back-up plan in my teens but that didn’t last long.
Do you play Guitar Hero ?
How many guitars do you own ? What kind of guitars ?
Not that many, really. I still have my Westone semi which I used throughout The Monsoon Bassoon and for the first three Cardiacs gigs I did at the Garage, but shortly after joining Cardiacs I got that Gretsch White Falcon. I’d wanted one since I was a kid. It’s the first ‘proper’ guitar I’ve ever owned. I have a broken Squire Telecaster that I was given and never had fixed and a knackered 12 string acoustic that’s all over the Knifeworld album, but that’s about it. Not like Tim, he’s got fucking loads of guitars.
Would an unplugged Cardiacs cd be a good idea ?
I don’t think so, anyway what is Sea Nymphs if not Cardiacs Unplugged? Sort of.
Will you still work with Guapo ?
Of course. I’m the guitarist. We’ll be starting a new album very soon, then we’re playing in France as part of the most stellar line up I can imagine in September.
It’s the Rock In Opposition festival and as well as Magma, who we played with before as part of the same festival a couple of years ago, on the bill are some of my favourite ever bands like The Muffins, who I’ve been a fan of for years, Univers Zero and Koenji Hyakkei. Three bands I never thought I’d get to see let alone play with. Guapo will be performing three shows . One each day, so we feel really privileged to be considered part of the whole thing.
You’ve been with Cardiacs for 6 years but apart from the Garage concerts cd’s and the Ditzy Scene single there’s no studio cd with you. Do you regret that ?
Of course I do . Although there’s that LSD album that I’m all over. It will come out eventually, believe me, but right now with the way things are, that’s the last thing on our minds.
How did you become part of Cardiacs ? When did you first hear of them ? Did you listen to any of their music ?
As I said I heard them at sixteen and that was that. Richard Larcombe and I met Tim for the first time at Bic and Bill’s last show in Oxford. When I moved to London shortly after I’d see him at gigs and say hi. Then he started turning up at The Monsoon Bassoon shows which was really scary at the time. I’d heard they needed a guitar tech from Captain Jon and Tim rang me up. That was for the Chumbawamba tour. I think after the first couple of days being away Tim and I became best friends, so it was sort of inevitable that when Jon couldn’t do those gigs I’d replace him.
How would you describe a Cardiacs fan ?
The thing about Cardiacs fans, and I’m talking as much about myself here, is that they are completely into the band. There’s no half measures. Once the music gets you then nothing else will do. That’s something you really feel when playing gigs. It’s amazing to play to an audience that you know Cardiacs is their absolute favourite band, all of them. Everyone I’ve met since being in the band has been lovely and I felt welcomed from the moment I joined. I suppose having been in The Monsoon Bassoon, who many of the fans knew, and being part of the whole family helped. It’s a very special band that has very special fans.
I was at the 2007 Cardiacs gig and the night after at the NSRO performance where were quite a lot of Cardiacs fans as well. Isn’t it amazing that on one night people go absolutely bananas at the Cardiacs gig and the day after sit quietly enjoying a chamber orchestra ? How do you explain that ?
It’s not that strange. I think it’s very easy to break music down into genres based on the instrumentation and approach rather than what the tunes sound like. NSRO and Cardiacs have a very similar vibe although one is a loud rock group and the other is a chamber ensemble. What was hard for me, playing that gig, was that it was right in the middle of the 2007 Cardiacs tour and Mel and I had to sing this serene stuff in the choir after a week of the Cardiacs version of rock n’ roll. My voice was fucked.
Kavus, as you know we have quite some fans who are member of our forum which is part of the Cardiacs Museum. They have some questions for you.
Schlep wants to know: how are any of you Cardiacs making rent these days? Perhaps better not to ask – but, is there a chance of the shop at cardiacs.com ever opening again?
I’m doing a lot of playing, as well as Guapo I’m playing guitar in Chrome Hoof at the moment and guitar and cuatro in The Mediaeval Baebes. That sort of keeps the wolf from the door. I think the shop is going to be re-opening very soon.
Schlep: It was fantastic to hear Gong’s “Glorious OM Riff” dropped into the middle of “The Breakfast Line” last tour; how did that come about?
Well Tim and I are the big Gong fans in the group, but would you believe it- it was Jim’s idea. It was really nice to “Cardiac-up” what is essentially the greatest riff ever written.
Schlep: Whatever happened to Hatchjaw and Bassett?
Like I said, I’m rubbish at finishing stuff. I’ve got about twenty minutes of music recorded without singing which is like half an album. Dan and I just never finished it. Now I have my own label Believers Roast I can clear out my archives and hopefully finish and put this stuff out. It’s really beautiful, some really nice tunes in there.
Are you going to release other bands stuff as well on your label, or just your own ?
The idea behind setting up Believers Roast was to have a label to release my music and eventually consolidate a lot of things that I’ve been involved in. I have a hard drive full of tunes, some completed and some half finished. I don’t know who buys CDs or records anymore, so in terms of what format they take I’ll have to judge the response to Buried Alone. I don’t plan on releasing anything that I haven’t had anything to do with at this stage. Running a label is a ball-ache enough when you’re only responsible to yourself. I’d like to re-release The Monsoon Bassoon album I Dig Your Voodoo, which is no longer available, plus another album of B-sides, rareties and unreleased stuff, we did a lot of songs with Tim that never came out. Plus I have that Hatchjaw And Bassett stuff, Authority and Miss Helsinki recordings. I co-wrote, played on and produced an album with Spider Stacy from The Pogues a few years ago and that never saw the light of day, I might see if he’s up for me putting that out, it’s really good, quite different from anything either of us had done before. We’ll just have to see how it goes. I’m currently producing, playing on and arranging an album by Tom Clues. It’s a lot of fun. He writes these really maudlin, confessional and gritty folk tunes, he came to my studio and layed down his acoustic guitar and voice and then let me get on with it. I’ve added layers and layers of crazy psychedelia, funny instruments and really expansive arrangements to it and the end result is really unique, I feel. We’ve been working on it a while and it’s not finished yet, our schedules just seem to clash a lot, but it’s a beauty. What he chooses to do with it when it’s done is up to him, but I’ve told him that I’d love to put it out.
Meenie: I’d like to ask where he and Jim purchased their shiny shoes as i have been coveting them from afar.
Kingsland High Road in Dalston. I bought my pair and when Jim saw them he wanted some too, so I went back and bought his. Tim absolutely hated them. I can’t guarantee you’ll still be able to get the same design, but you’ll find something similar. There’s loads of shops up there that sell them.
Psparky27: What hair products would you recomend for a full bodied feel !
Hmm, Dax Wax red? I’m not really a product-ist unless I have it short. It’s so thick that it just takes care of itself, really.
Funex: If you had to choose for only ONE of Knife World’s Buried Alone and Cardiacs’ LSD to come out, and the other must remain unheard forever, which would you choose and WHY?
Well it seems fate answered that one rather cruelly. I’m immensely proud of the work I did on LSD I had a lot of involvement with arranging and writing melodies, plus I think it might be the best guitar playing I’ve ever done.It’s such a great sounding album, although I haven’t heard what we did for about a year.
It’s a real ‘buzz’ to collaborate with your favourite songwriter. Knifeworld of course is a much more personal triumph. Don’t make me decide, man.
People want to know what happened to Authority and Admiral’s Hard
Authority’s passing was particularly sad, we only had a short life and circumstances dictated that Dan Chudley had to move back to the South West. It’s been heartbreaking for me not doing music with him anymore, I wanted us to record an album before he left but it never happened. It’s a real shame because I was immensely proud of the songs we had written I think a few of them far eclipsed anything we’d written in The Monsoon Bassoon. As for Admirals Hard, that was such fun to do. It was effectively a bunch of Janners living in London and playing psychedelic sea-shanties. Same reason, really people moved away and it became impractical.
How do you see the future of Cardiacs now with Tim’s illness ? When will we get an update on Tim ?
It’s hard to say. As you probably know Tim does not want the details of his condition made public. I’m sure there will be an official announcement soon. I appreciate how hard and frustrating it is when you don’t get any news or updates, but unfortunately that’s just the way it is. It’s been a really stressful year for everyone around him and I know he is grateful for your concern and kind thoughts.
Is there anything you’d like to leave the fans with? Parting words?
Thanks for the questions, it’s been fun. Now for Christ’s sake buy my record.