Tehran band Yellow Dogs formed in 2007, but the restrictions imposed upon them by the strict Islamic government meant that even their rehearsal room had to be built in secret. Two years ago, the band was featured in No One Knows About Persian Cats, a film that (illegally) documented the underground music scene in Tehran. The coverage encouraged unwanted attention from the authorities so, faced with a choice between disbanding and fleeing, they decided to move to the United States. In an extract from our interview in Oyster issue 92, guitarist and vocalist Obash talks about their experiences in Tehran and how their lives have changed since moving to New York.
The band have also VERY kindly offered a free download of their track 'Gastronomic Meal', especially for Oyster readers. Visit their Bandcamp to get it!
Ariane Halls: How did the band start?
Obash: Our bass player Koory and our guitar player Looloosh used to play in an Iranian band called Hypernova - they're in the US right now and they're really well known, among the Iranian community especially. When [the other members of] Hypernova left Iran, they [Koory and Looloosh] decided to create their own band. They found our drummer, Zina, and they made a practicing room on a rooftop in Tehran, like a cosy practicing room - really small, but still a cosy place. One day Koory, the bass player, called me and said, "Do you wanna join us and play with us?" and I said, "OK! That's perfect, that's awesome." That's how it began; I think it was the beginning of 2007. But back then it was just for fun, playing music to get out of the routine of everyday life.
Your practice room had to be built in secret. Is being in a band as dangerous as it's made out to be? Or are there so many laws that it's hard for the government to enforce them?
No, it's really dangerous. First of all, our space was in a really traditional neighbourhood, all the neighbours were really religious. If the neighbours called the cops, and the cops came and checked out the space and saw that we were playing this kind of music without permission, it was going to cause a lot of problems. For making any sort of art we have to get permission from the Ministry of Culture in Iran, so if you don't have that permission it means that, somehow, you're a criminal. That's why we tried to soundproof that place [the practice room].
Did you ever try to get permission from the Ministry to play your music?
No, because from the beginning, it was impossible for us to get permission. If we showed them the lyrics of some of the songs we'd maybe even get arrested, or they'd ban us from publishing any sort of art. We really, really decided to make our own music and not give a fuck about those authorities. We wanted to be different.
What was involved in the process of moving to the States?
We were invited to come to the US and perform in different festivals each year, like South by Southwest and CMJ [the College Music Journal Music Marathon], but we had passport issues. I had a passport, but the rest of the band couldn't get passports because they had to do their military service. In Iran all the boys have to do their military service and after that they are given passports that allow them to leave the country. So with a lot of help, we found a way to get passports without going through military service - maybe even by bribing the governmental people, because with money you can almost do anything in Tehran and Iran. But we've been through a lot of bullshit, and we struggled a lot for a whole year. Some of us got in trouble, but we finally found a way out. We wanted to come for CMJ 2009 but we couldn't make it on time, so we went to Turkey - we played a concert there, then went to the American Embassy and flew to New York, because we got the invitation for South by Southwest 2010.
What Western artists are big in Iran?
There is Tiesto and these kinds of people, Pink Floyd, Metallica. These people are big, like Chris de Burgh is big.
Chris de Burgh?
Yeah! He's big in Iran; really big in Iran. [Laughs]