Emerging from the ashes of previous incarnation Religious to Damn, ZorahAtash and Joshua Strawn have spent the last year creating a compelling new sound and image as Azar Swan. Their recently released full length album “Dance Before the War,” available from Handmade Birds Records, presents a technically modern sound that at times pays homage to the 90’s goth rock canon. Zohra’s dark, glamorous queen bee persona gives a dramatic visual focus to her cinematic lyrics and sensual vocal delivery. In what can only be seen as the perfect complimentary scenario, Josh takes on the role of songwriting partner, record producer (creative as well as technical), live show bassist and coordinator of the music’s rich percussive element. All of that can be heard in the albums very first track “Lusty,” which is propelled by finely programmed layers of rim-clicking percussion. Zohra’s lyrics make the statement that “we hunger. We get lusty for victory.” Additional levels of deep, descending bass synthesizer buzzes and metal-on-metal clanging touch on 80’s era first wave experimental percussive synth minimalists. “Amrika” also drives predominantly on percussive elements, multi-layered voices and measured, sparse keyboards (which approximate the sound of orchestra strings) while introducing beats that reference both afrobeat and a more middle eastern flair. “White Violet” successfully straddles the line between dance friendly fare and Siouxsie Sioux goth cool. Plans are already in the works for their next record to be out by summer 2014 on Zoo Music. An east and west coast tour concludes 2013 with Europe planned for early summer 2014.
Do you feel that lyrically strong songs like album opener “Lusty” require more space between the background instrumentation, in order to present the story being told?
A:Zohra: I love Erik Satie because there's this beautiful space within the compositions. It's not cavernous and cold, I can see it as this twinkly piece of mesh over a flood of light. It's a hard thing to create, but sometimes I get it right.
I also realized how important it is for me to let my voice tell the story, not just through words either. And to accomplish that you need to make it the star of the show. I can't be fighting a guitar line or whatever. Like I say, it's nice having a lot of colors at your disposal, but if you use them all, what you have is murky pond water.
2. Q: Even though your sound might be generically classified as chilly synth pop, there are elements of afrobeat and middle eastern rhythms within it. Would you also like to be known for having a world beat association?
A: Josh: Usually the stock answer is: we don't want to be classified, that's for other people to do if they want. And that's a cliche for a good reason, I don't know any good musicians who make music and have in mind what box they want to be put in. That being said, I think genres like world music and world beat sort of draw attention to the wrong place. What we are more than anything is a contemporary amalgam of influences. Everyone knows Miami Sound Machine incorporated aspects of latin music but we just think of it as pop. Dead Can Dance incorporates elements and instruments from all sorts of different cultures, it's thought of as gothic. The Knife use steel drum sounds, it doesn't mean they are calypso.
Zohra: No. I don't see things that way. Using sounds that aren't endemically "western" comes only from a place of not giving a shit where anything comes from. If I like a sound, I'm going to use it.
3. Q: Album title track “Dance Before The War” features arguably the most passionate vocal performance on the record. It seems the name Kate Bush is mentioned in almost every feature on you. Is she as much of an influence and role model as assumed? Or is it simply a coincidental occurrence of having a similar vocal timbre?
A: Zohra: The truth is nobody noticed the artists I do rip off because of the endless fascination with Kate Bush vs anyone with tits and a range. The ultimate red herring, thanks Kate. In all seriousness, Kate Bush is in my heart and very present in my musical DNA along with scores of other amazing men and women. I think a lot of folks could really use a widening of their women in music lexicons.
4. Q: Could you envision a big name dance producer like Armin van Buuren or Skrillex applying their formidable (if somewhat predictable) touch to one of your tracks via a remix? Would you be OK with that kind of input?
A: Josh: There are all sorts of bigger name dance, pop, and hip hop producers I'd be honored and happy to work with or have remix our stuff. I'm not personally a fan of either of those mentioned but that's just because I haven't really heard much of their stuff, but I love Mike Dean, Clams Casino, Future, Kanye West, Mike Will, Emile Haynie, Stargate. I think maybe in the realm you're talking about I could go as far as maybe Calvin Harris.
5. Q: There are elements on the album that share similarities with 80’s and 90’s goth rockers like The Cure, Bauhaus and New Order. At what point in the sound design process do you decide choose the sonic direction of the song?
A: Zohra: I bring songs to Josh in different stage of formation, usually with ideas of sonic qualities that we use as the backbone. The essence of the work is there from the onset, the tracks aren't built from melody lines I write, I come with riffs and raw beats etc, Josh helps fill in the colors and dynamics.
Josh: It varies from song to song. It's often a combination of the initial vision Zohra has for the song while she's writing the demos, then I'll then start making suggestions, trying to walk the line between maintaining her vision but maybe adding some things from my imagination that she might not think of.
6. Is the name Azar Swan an anagram of sorts, of the both of your names?
A: Zohra: Yes! One of the myriad of reasons I chose the name.
Josh: Good band names should continually re-reveal themselves to you. This one has been good for that.