I didn't pick up on Mahavatar the first few times I played their debut record. I must have been in a coma because after a few spins, this has become my new favorite CD. The band is five-piece from NYC that combines crunchy guitar foundations for their heavy but melodic songs. Grabbing your face and commanding your attention is the amazing vocals of band founder Lizza Hasan who uses her whole range of vocals, from growling to gorgeous vocal lines. Without a doubt, I haven't been this excited about a record in a while. I spoke to Lizza this week to find out what the band was all about. Here's what she had to me:
antiMUSIC: The band has such a unique sound, how did you go about determining or shaping your sound?
Lizza Hasan: I think a lot of that is because we were completely from different countries; Poland, America, Jamaica, Israel. I think we all came with this extra edge, it comes from other influences…my parents are (were) really into the Arabic sound. My father is an amazing singer and he sings, like an Egyptian and all kinds of old kinda sounding music. I think I was very influenced by that. And right now Shahar, my guitar player, he used to work with all kinds of reggae, even jazzy kind of things. And my guitar player, Karla, she's from Jamaica. She's a metal, metal goddess. She listens to black metal that has a lot of classical stuff. But she's influenced by a million other things. It's really weird...I think the answer to that is we're so open-minded as far as music goes. We weren't trying to attack a certain kind of genre. We like the hard-edged music. We like the metal music, but we were totally open to whatever's honest, you know? I love classical music. I like crazy drum African stuff that makes me feel so happy. And of course we grew on rock so the whole thing is like a melting pot. But basically the answer is open mind and influences...it's what's honest. If I hear something and it touches my soul then I guess I'm a little influenced by it, you know?
antiMUSIC: Are you in tune with the respective cultural backgrounds that are present in your music or does it just creep in there without you consciously knowing it?
Lizza Hasan: Sometimes it just creeps in. Sometimes I change the direction and I go, "Hey I like this. Let's go more in this direction." It's very spontaneous. The writing process in Mahavatar has been so spontaneous and confusing because we don't really know how to speak music. And now we have Shahar, Szymon and Eran, the new drummer...they know how to speak music. But between me and Karla it's more like: "Oh this thing, that thing, I like that thing." (laughs) So yeah, I think it's very spontaneous for a song-writing process. And sometimes it creeps out in those other influences. And sometimes it's more deliberate because we like that certain direction. And then attack it a little more.
antiMUSIC: How did you and Karla come together and how did everybody else get involved?
Lizza Hasan: I formed Mahavatar before I met Karla and then I told one of the former members of KMFDM I was looking for a guitar player. He says; "Look I know this girl, she's a badass. You want to meet her?" So we met in New York in one of the bars and we had a conversation and we really liked the direction of each other's mind and then she listened to some of the stuff I was doing. And I listened to some of the stuff she was doing and we agreed to just like be writing together. And we started this and then we had a drummer and a bass player and we just got going.
antiMUSIC: How did the record come together, how long did it take and what are some of the cuts that you really feel define it?
Lizza Hasan: This album… (laughs) it's been a long time. We released a demo in 2000 with I think four songs, and maybe two of these songs made this album. And then 2003 or something like this, we released another, not like officially released, but like through our website and stuff, another five songs. And two or three songs made the album. It's been a process because we were kinda broke most of the time, and a lot of changes in musicians, and stuff like that. I think for me, I can only speak for myself, "The Time Has Come" is very Mahavatar…for me. It's not a fast tune or anything like that, but it contains a lot of the outside influences and the message. I love "Cult". "Cult" definitely is one of my favourites. "By the Numbers" is my personal favourite. I think the band members, they don't feel as strongly about this song as I do, but it speaks about holocaust for the Africa people; the native American people; for the Jewish people; Latin people - I mean we've all been through holocaust, and all the native American people… I think for me it's the most political song, and I have a personal, I love political subjects, it goes to my heart. But I'm not talking about attacking anybody. I'm just trying to look for a new solution for humanity in general. So I think that song is dynamic. "By the Numbers" is probably by a long shot my favourite, right now. But just for the record, any song that we work on is my favourite song for awhile (laughs). But "Open Your Minds" is a great tune. Karla is pretty much responsible for that awesome riff. I like the album, because like you said, in the beginning when you listen to it it's rather confusing and unless you have an open mind you may be just put it aside and say, I don't know about this, it doesn't have any distinct sound. And once you hear it, three, four times then it haunts you, it gets you in, and it reveals more of the message, the emotional message that was there. It's very honest.
antiMUSIC: Considering production credits is given to the band, how did you decide to resolve conflicts when they arose during recording? Did anybody have more weight than another?
Lizza Hasan: No, for this album since me and Karla were kinda the co-founders of this album, we made a lot of the decisions as far as the production. And as soon as the new members came in then we recorded two more songs with them. No…everybody has input. We are totally about collaboration. And the sound of the album was already pre-existing, so I don't think any of the new members had any resistance. It was just; go with the flow and Michael Barile at Purple Light Studios, really helped with the sound. He was very…he did Candiria, 40 Below Summer, E.Town Concrete. He's very well equipped as far as guitar sound and we were very, very grateful to have gone there. The place is a dump, but as far as, basically, you know, we didn't just want to go to a studio that's all beautiful and stuff. We went to shop around but they don't have that much experience with sound. And I prefer to work in a place that's not as aesthetically pleasing but at least get the best out of the speakers. And I'm really grateful that he was part of the production of the sound. But in general it was Karla and I for this particular album. Next album it's going to be total collaboration with everybody.
antiMUSIC: Your own vocal style is at once both Karyn Crisis and Angela Gossow but you do so much more than they do. There's a lot more clean vocals than they utilize. Are you careful to change up your presentation so you don't get lumped into the same category as them?
Lizza Hasan: Thank you. Yeah, absolutely. I consider myself a vocalist and I consider myself somebody who wants to learn every possible motherf**king thing in sound, in vocals. I mean vocals is not just growling. I love that projection, therefore I do it. But singing is an extremely liberating thing for me and the more I hear all kinds of music out there, I love to learn and project my vocals melodically. I love melody. I'm like totally into melody and I'm going to do a lot more singing. You know I want to do all kinds of singing. Definitelty.
antiMUSIC: Most people emulate people they look up to or use what they do as a basis to create their own sound. How did you get into extreme music and was there anybody that helped fuel your passion?
Lizza Hasan: Basically I was listening to all kinds of music since, really a young age. Then I had a boyfriend who was into metal. He was a guitar player. He introduced me to that world. And at the time I was a drummer. That's where I found my passion. I played drums for like five years … I'm still a drummer because once a drummer always a drummer. But that boyfriend, he introduced me and I took it so quickly. Within a few weeks I had all the underground music, and I've been listening to it really late at night through headphones and I refused to have any other influence, so no matter what I heard through my day, I would just listen to that at night so it would be the last thing I was listening to. So this whole-hearted thing came easily to me because I was going through a lot as a child and I guess it liberated a lot of the anger and stuff. And it gave me a way to channel that, you know? Basically I was turned on to this by a friend and it was a love story. Then I was a woman, I was like, "How am I going to sing like that, you know? I was already thinking about Queen, Zeppelin and Janis Joplin and stuff like this. I asked this one amazing musician, but I want to sing like that, and he's like, 'With your voice, you can do whatever you want." And that was the first time that anyone told me it was possible for me to do that. You know, Crisis and the other bands you mentioned that (are) female fronted, I didn't know about them. And at the time they started I had already started doing this thing so. (laughs.)
antiMUSIC: The record is great. Are you guys mainly studio freaks or are you also in your element live?
Lizza Hasan: Live is our element. Studio is work. (laughs) Trust me, studio work between 1 and 10, is five. I like it. Don't get me wrong. I like it. It's nice to get into the song. But live is our total element. If you like our album, you would love us live. I am not worried about it for a minute because we are such a live animal. We are totally a live animal. The more we play, the more the element shines. It's so much better than the album. So much better. Because we're all like crazy, and we're all about the moment. So the moment makes it so much more emotional, so much more real and enchanting. Oh my god, if you love the album, tell everybody if they love the album, they gotta come and see us live. The whole energy that we…we are totally with the audience. I've never seen metal causing people to go in this trance. People come to us and say, "I don't know but I was going into this kinda trance." It's not like a mosh pit. It's more like a trance-y kinda feeling. It's really, really weird, Morley. But again we are a live entity by a long shot. Our label head, when he came to see us live. Suddenly he realised what he had on his hands. And he had this album for quite a while and he loved the album, but once he saw us live, he got into high gear, you know?
antiMUSIC: Was there any directions or songs on the record that you wanted to try but did not have the time or did not feel comfortable playing this time, that we might see on future recordings?
Lizza Hasan: Yes, of course. I think we are going to, I don't want to speak for the whole band --- I speak for myself---but I think we are going to concentrate a little more on attack songs we like. More like strong messages. But we're just going to continue what Mahavatar's doing. We're going to go in the room and somebody has an idea and we just like make it happen. And before we know it the song is ready and we listen to it. Basically we want to keep being honest, We want to keep being aggressive. We want to talk about stuff, you know, we feel needs to change. And we have a few songs that didn't make the album that we can concentrate on and maybe incorporate in the next album.
antiMUSIC: Considering 3 of the five of the band is from Israel, what effect does the current situation in your home country have on your musical perspectives, if any?
Lizza Hasan: Shahar, my guitar player, I asked him, I said, "What do you think of the war?" He gave me this look, and I (said) "ok". And I feel the same. We're both very worried. Eran is a really new addition to the band so we're still working on like the social thing with him. So I think he's so busy, I hadn't even had a conversation about that. I think it affects us. Because we're sad about that. We're here in America because we wanted to run away from that ridiculous sadness. What is it going to take? Another species to attack humanity so that we can run to each other and say I don't care what color, religion or what you are, I just want to be nice to you and make everything better? I think that's what's going to happen because I don't see any other solution. And you know, yeah, my guitar player and I are very sad. And to be honest we started writing some new material and I feel there's some influence on that. I just really want to stay away from pointing fingers or anything like this. I just want to concentrate on a solution. So when we write, we write more about what we think that would make the world better. I don't like to separate Israel's from the native Americans' suffering. Or the Latin people, do you know what I mean? I look at all of this as human suffering that could be prevented if we would be a little nicer to each other. And more like, what my guitar player Shahar says: "Don't fight the differences. Celebrate the difference." We have to celebrate our differences. When you go to Jordan and have food you never had before, you should celebrate that. Rather than be scared of it and introverted and close yourself from it and then hate it because you don't know what to with that void. We can talk about it forever but we only have 15 minutes.
antiMUSIC: What is on tap for the rest of the year for the band?
Lizza Hasan: As soon as possible. We're planning some tours. Right now we're looking for appropriate tours for us. And something that's going to be in our budget. We going to let you know as soon as we have dates. There's a few things that we're looking at now, and you know this industry. Until you're on the bus or on stage, don't believe the hype. Basically we're waiting to crystallize a tour definitely. I'm sure definitely the end of this year, definitely the top of 2007, we're going to be out.
We're going to do showcases. We're going to go to LA, Chicago and a couple of other places. We're going to do the International Peace Day here in NY, September, 21. Then we're going to do local stuff. Of course, concentrate on writing the next album. And on September 7, we're doing a show. It's Medusa Fest in CBGB's in the next month. And Time Out magazine is coming. They loved the album, so they are coming to do an article on the live show, and pictures and stuff like. So basically we just like are taking it a day at a time and trying to book good shows and basically we're waiting on a serious tour. Because we definitely think that's we need to really push the album.
antiMUSIC: Anything else you want to tell me about the band or the record I didn't ask?
Lizza Hasan: I'd like to shout out to all the people who are helping us, like my guitar player's wife is always pushing us. She's a pain in the neck sometimes but she is…when she says to do something it always turns out right. The label, People in the label. Frank from the label is extremely...he comes with us just to regular shows. He's extremely supportive. The whole label family is very good. Just want to thank all the fans out there. All the people that stuck with us for so long. I want them to feel a part of this. Without them it wouldn't be real. It would not ever crystallize in reality. I just want to say thank you and I love everybody. And thank you so very much for doing this interview Morley!
Morley Seaver and antiMUSIC thank Lizza for making time for this interview.