A backstage chat is a rare journalistic privilege nowadays, where skype calls and interviews via mail are the norm. Savouring that beautiful dressing room tension, on April 8 I sat with the three members of BowLand – Saeed, Lei Low and Pejman – as they prepared to make their live debut at BUH Circolo Culturale Urbano in the framework of Florence’s Middle East Now Festival. There was something magical in their faces and words, a glow that clearly reverberates all throughout the 11 trip-hop tinged tracks of their debut album “Floating Trip”, out today, April 21 2017, on all digital platforms. This mind-blowing record is the result of over two years of experimentation and many years of friendship, a bond so strong that it brought them all the way from Iran to Florence.
Michelle Davis: So let’s go back to the origins of BowLand. Give us a bit of backstory.
Pejman Fa: We have different musical backgrounds. I wanted to collaborate with Saeed, given his experimental approach and past as a deejay. I teach the didgeridoo and play ethnic instruments, so I was curious to see how we could combine our different styles.
Lei Low: Pejman and I came to Florence five years ago – I went to animation school. Saeed has been here for 11 years. Creating a band wasn’t really in our plans, I had never actually sang before… but listening to some of Saeed and Pejman’s experiments I was compelled to record my voice on one of their instrumental tunes with an ipad.
Saeed Aman: I still remember the day in which Lei Low sent us her first file – it was May 7 2015. We were blown away – none of us had any idea she could sing like that! I have known Pejman since elementary school, although we didn’t become close until high school. Lei Low came into the picture shortly after but we quickly became best friends. I moved to Florence to study architecture and they joined me, but it was only after graduation that we seriously began thinking of forming a band.
In retrospect, I think that us making music together actually makes a lot of sense. In a city like Teheran, you spend a lot of time in the car and we would listen to music together, so we already shared a passion and a taste in music. Our main common ground is represented by bands like Radiohead, Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead, Bjork… I grew up with The Beatles and Pink Floyd, whose music actually drew me to the guitar.
PF: We were both Metallica fans!
LL: I loved Avril Lavigne as a kid – I had her posters in my room!
MD: So did I! Which adolescent girl of the time didn’t? She gave us our first taste of female punk! Back to BowLand, does your name have a specific meaning? Lei Low, tell us about the imagery that you have created for the cover of BowLand’s debut album “Floating Trip”.
SA: BowLand means “high” or “loud” in persian, but we were mostly looking for a word that would sound good also in English.
LL: As an illustrator, I wanted to add a strong visual narrative to the project. For me BowLand is also a bit of an imaginary place, represented by the surreal, floating hills on the artwork of the album. Immersed in water or on a boat lost at sea, we wade towards them – it symbolises the way we actually came in contact with our music, in total awe of something that we knew nothing of before. BowLand is a story that we can create and develop in time.
MD: Would you say that BowLand perhaps is a synonym for Florence, an unknown land that has slowly become familiar to you? Has this city inspired you somehow?
SA: Yes, especially the food! No, seriously, I would say that Florence has enriched us spiritually but not musically. There isn’t a big scene for this kind of genre here. Sure, we have been to many inspiring concerts here but they were mostly bands from abroad, nothing “indigenous”.
PF: I wouldn’t say that BowLand is Florence, it’s more abstract. Perhaps it could be seen as the world of music. We love Florence, and although sometimes we miss our home we are tied to this city. This place has somehow become our lover. Here we can meet up very easily, thanks to the Florence’s human-friendly dimension. In a big city perhaps it would have been more problematic.
LL: There is something strongly emotional about living here. You are hooked, like a story that you want to listen to until the end.
MD: Florence has a big expat scene, and as The Florentine we are particularly acquainted with the English-speaking community. Is there a big Persian community? Would you say that it’s hard to connect with groups of different nationalities?
SA: Indeed, there is a big Persian community in Florence. We have many friends here but there is a certain amount of marginalisation. I believe that the Italian culture and history are very intense – so intense that it’s hard to adapt and maintain your own cultural background. In a city like London, or other big metropolis, it’s easier for different traditions and cultures to collide and mix without giving up their identity. In Florence especially, the weight of history is so massive that it’s really hard for “imported” cultures to thrive and unite. Somehow, you either “convert” to being a Florentine or you stay an outsider.
MD: Perhaps music, even your music, can become an instrument to bridge this divide, awaken an international consciousness.
SA: Yes, especially when it comes to the new generations of Florentines, who are very curious and open when it comes to music and other cultures.
MD: According to your press release, “Floating Trip” is completely home-made. Tell us about the creative process behind it.
PF: Yes, we wrote and recorded it in Saeed’s home. In 11 years he has collected so much stuff, and by stuff I don’t mean instruments but potential sound-objects such as balloons, trinkets, improvised percussions – so we let our imagination run wild, experimenting, mixing, adding and removing. It was a two-year-long process – even our friends in Iran are quite impatient to hear the result!
SA: We also found inspiration for the words between the four walls of my room. For example Boof, our only song in Persian, takes its name and lyrics from a Persian book that Pejman picked up and leafed through from one of my shelves. It was very random yet deeply inspirational.
LL: It was truly a step-by-step process. We already knew each other quite well but still had to discover our musical personalities. What made it more real and urgent was our victory of Toscana100Band – winning was the final push that made the album release possible. In any kind of art if you follow your own rules, you can’t go wrong. Our music finds its roots in our relationship, which is our driving force.
SA: We fight, we argue, but we are like brothers and sister. There is a secret safety in being so close and creating something together.