Artist Interviews

Q&A: Religious To Damn

By | Published on Thursday 10 March 2011

Religious To Damn

At the heart of ‘gypsy rock’ ensemble Religious To Damn is visionary Afghan-American vocalist Zohra Atash, who dreamt up the band during early live performances with the brilliant Tamaryn and Dirty Projectors’ Emily Cheeger. The project subsequently gained momentum under the mentorship of Grinderman’s Jim Sclavunos, who lent some percussive flair to 2009 single ‘Falls Down Again’, released by way of M’Lady’s Records.

Flanked by new members Josh Strawn and Charlie Schmidt, Atash then finished work on a full-length album, ‘Glass Prayer’. Mixed by Brandon Curtis of the Secret Machines and peppered with guest vocals from the aforementioned Tamaryn, the LP was released a matter of days ago to instantaneous critical acclaim for its elegant interweaving of rushy shoegaze backing with Zohra’s fragile, eastern-influenced vocal touch.

We caught up with the lady herself as she basks in the glory of ‘Glass Prayer’ being named Rough Trade’s Album Of The Week, posing our Same Six Questions for her deliberation.

Q1 How did you start out making music?
I was pretty lucky to have grown up in a house brimming with amazing records and instruments – guitars, mandolins, harmoniums, tablas, keyboards. I started writing when I was pretty young… you know, like one part at a time.

Q2 What inspired your latest album?
I wanted to make a really beautiful, transportive, dark, and moody record, where attention to songcraft was as important as creating an interesting soundscape.

Q3 What process do you go through creating a track?
A piece of music will come to me in my head, rather spontaneously. Sometimes in mid-conversation. I’m very precious about the process. I immediately hum the idea into my dictaphone that I carry around with me everywhere, and then I jot down in my notebook details about the metering, tempo, mood, etc. Later, I work it on a keyboard or guitar for hours until I get that intense, overwhelming feeling that it’s worth keeping – the music has to prove itself to me. If it doesn’t, I throw it out.

My father’s a scientist and musician, so I suppose that’s how I developed such a balanced left and right brain approach to songwriting.

Q4 Which artists influence your work?

There are so many… Cranes, Black Sabbath, Kate Bush, Nick Cave, Swans, Roxy Music, Lush, Pink Floyd, Fairuz, Cocteau Twins, Fleetwood Mac, Hawkwind, the Stones, Sinead O’Connor, Townes Van Zandt, early Polanski, John Carpenter…

Q5 What would you say to someone experiencing your music for the first time?
Play at loud volume.

Q6 What are you ambitions for your latest album, and for the future?
To play for as many people as possible before we start recording the next record later this summer. I can’t wait to come to England, I’ve always wanted to play there.