Looking back at a profound body of work by way of the introspective musician.
Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):
On August 9th, Imaad Wasif released So Long Mr. Fear — a moving composition that tells a soothing tale of realization built from years of longing for understanding, comfort, and identity in a changing world. Wasif, whose work spans multiple solo full-lengths, numerous instrumental contributions, and recording/ touring responsibilities with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, repurposes ongoing traumas to establish a fruitful contemporary identity that leaves behind the weight of yesteryear. From beginning to end, the power of So Long Mr. Fear is ever so present with lyricism that tugs on heartstrings as elegant instrumentation swoons listeners away. It's a patient listen, one that is best experienced in solace, alone with one's thoughts as you develop an understanding that fits your own narrative.
We dive into the album's creation with Imaad Wasif:
Your sixth album, 'So Long Mr. Fear', is in active circulation now and seeing as it came about as a byproduct of your life experiences and emotional investment, can you talk about the feeling of detachment you feel from release it? Is it still as insular a record as when you were developing it?
Imaad: The birthing of it into the world is something that is both fraught with a certain amount of pain and a certain amount of release. It really is an amazing thing to hear feedback, especially a positive resonance, with the songs and with the record in the way that it has been coming back to me. The record came from such intense place in me that it's really hard to let go of it. It's the first record that I have felt this way about in my life. Records are a regenerative process for me and with this record in particular, I don't know, it feels like it has kind of wrapped its clutches around me. There's this thread of positivity through it and it carries a lot of hope, which is what I may be grappling onto and having a difficult time letting go.
In the last month, a lot of new songs have been coming to me all of a sudden after a period of feeling bereft and lost. Anytime you put out a record, it's like you feel lost in some ways, you know?
Definitely, especially after having poured so much of yourself into one particular composition. Would you say then that the process of letting it go was freeing to you as a musician and as a person?
Imaad: It's definitely freeing. The pain that I'm experiencing is that a lot of it revolves around me coming to terms with what I view as my more internal side. I'm trying to turn all of that inside out.
You do just that by turning your vulnerability to invincibility in a way. You're taking the crippling nature of fear and turning it into something else by embracing it and using it as a conduit for your own artistic expression, which of course serves as a healing mechanism. Is there perhaps a learning lesson in doing so? Is there something you're now realizing as a person and as a musician?
Imaad: Yeah, it taught me that I needed to trust my instincts, not live in a state of denial, and explore further into that. I get stuck in this sort of comparative process where I start qualifying my music against other songwriters and all these archetypes that exist in my mind. I'm really trying eliminate those thing because I've sort of suffered in their shadows throughout my life.
The interesting thing about this record is that it was written during the lockdown. I started laying out ideas and demoing them out, and then realized that everything I wanted to hear on a record was actually there. For me, it's all about capturing emotion through the sound. My sound is my emotion and it's been a very difficult process to try and get to that point of understanding in my life. I self recorded the majority of this record; a lot of the master tapes were done in a very intimate space on my own, at my house, and at whatever time I was feeling it. I would then share the songs with with Bob Bruno (producer) for his contributions. It was all a really beautiful process. We've both talked about it as being like, this thing that totally saved our lives during that time of total fucking isolation.
There's just so much in it. The title track, 'So Long Mr. Fear', provided a complete catharsis for me; I struggled with that song. The rawness of it, the actual message of it, and the insertion of myself into it not as a songwriter but as a character was all very confrontational. There's a whole multi dimensional aspect of the record and I will say that I'm a fucking narcissist. I'm trying to get out of that and I'm trying to understand empathy so that I can provide that to myself. I'm trying to rid myself of this songwriter plague of sorts and become an empathetic being through my music. The perspectives that I'm portraying on the record are coming from a place of heartache, yearning, and sadness while also searching for joy and redemption. There's a universality to it that I was striving for, and in that universality, part of me was wanting to get some kind of sanity because I really did feel insane and I felt like the world felt insane. It still kind of does, so this record is a grounding thing for me, more than a record ever has been in my life.
Hearing you talk about it so passionately says so much about this record's entire development. There's a lot you don't see at the surface, even in the symbolic cover photograph. Speaking of this visual side, what informed its creation?
Imaad: The darkness of it is really first and foremost when answering this. I wanted people to look into it and that's kind of why it's presented in the way it is. You have to look at it for a second to actually gather the information there, which is also suggestive of the record and the darker themes presented.
Regarding the Tilaka, I've been wearing that in my performances. It's a spiritual devotion and recognition of the sacred power of music that I do believe is what carries me. That's what I seek and what I want to experience. I want people who hear my music to have this be the gateway and have it be a part of them, for them. I've struggled with this feeling of discrimination my entire life and have somehow become numb to it. We live in a different time now, but I don't feel that it's evolved beyond semantics. I don't get a real sense that things have completely changed. Growing up as an Indian in the desert brought a sort of a misfit quality and being from a household that had completely different cultures also created a huge schism that I've just struggled with my entire life.
In cult anatomy, there's an idea that we choose our birth parents at the moment of conception. With that, we are choosing an entire set of ideas and you're gathering traumas, you're gathering everything. That is what you actually came to this planet to do; that is your purpose. In some ways, I've followed this concept. I can remember from the time I was five having these ideas of God as a concept, not as a thing or a being. That choice was done so that I can avoid suppressing my heritage in the white world that I grew up in, which was distinct to my Hindu and Muslim household. The conflict between these two was completely tearing me apart because my parents were both extremely divided in that way. That was a constant thing that I felt that I had to do, so the album cover and this record is a big fuck you to this division. I need to let all those things go because they became part of my being, but I now realize that all we have is the present. Now that I know what I want and don't want, I can strive towards those things.
Basically, there's a lot behind this record cover. I personally feel that it captured me as a person at that point and time. I can listen to it and still feel the place that I was at when I recorded it.
That's powerful. You retook the trauma built from your childhood, the fear consuming your life and embraced it to form something new out of it in healing. Now that you've had time to reflect and learn from it all, what has 'So Long Mr. Fear' taught you about yourself as a musician as you hit this high point in your discography? What role did camaraderie play in it, if any? You of course toured with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and have worked with countless talents over the years.
Imaad: The uniqueness of the circumstance at the time of the record, which took place during isolation, didn't allow for much of that camaraderie to happen. I'm always writing and I carry songs around with me on tour, but seeing as there was no touring happening, all of this came out of mind travel. It's a different sort of traveling of course and because things got really fucking weird for a while, I just allowed myself to explore that. The camaraderie part was really just with Bob, who immediately understood what I was going for. I've had this relationship with him for a long time, so even though it was a bit strange with not having seen him throughout the pandemic, we just went back and forth with it and made it happen.
My relationships in music have contributed to a wealth of perspectives. All of those things stay with me all the time and help me be multi dimensional being when composing. I'm stepping into different realities all the time, different timelines. I suppose that's what creates this feeling of being lost sometimes. It's a little frightening. It's actually helpful for me to talk to you because I feel your feel that you're pulling me back into this learning experience,. into this visibility. I tend disappear in order to absorb things because to be invisible is to be able to fill voids and take things in without care of the external world. I feel like that's the best place to create from really. I have a whole new body of songs that have already started to come out and I really feel a sense of relief. I also feel happiness in being grateful that I can still channel my emotions in this way.
So Long Mr. Fear is available now via Sonic Ritual (Listen).