August 2008

Time Spy, in reality Ryan Shah, is a rarity among electronica artists in that he is an actual musician, helping to destroy the negative stereotype that those in the genre can’t actually play their instruments. His album, Vol. 1, has been receiving its share of spins in the office with its tripped-out beats and mood-rotating atmospherics.

Julian Wilson: Time Spy is an intriguing name for your project. Does it have any significance to you or the music?

Ryan Shah: I’ve always felt that I would have liked to have been a secret agent or something along those lines if I hadn’t been a musician.  I used to dress in all black and run around my neighborhood late at night when I was as young as 10-years-old, hiding in shadows, spying on people through their windows, etc.  Just for fun, you know.  But being a drummer, I guess I feel that my music is rhythmically kind of like the vibe of a spy.  A good spy is never seen but sometimes his presence can be felt.  In my tracks, there’s a lot of subtle rhythmic things that aren’t always heard consciously but are picked up subconsciously by the listener.

Wilson: You’re different among most electronica artists in that you’ve had experience playing in “real” bands, namely rock and jazz acts. Of the three musical styles, which one has given you the most artistic freedom?

Shah: This is a difficult question but I guess I have to say being an ‘electronica artist’ since I am the one in total control of the entire creation.  ‘Artistic freedom’ is a questionable term though because I have
felt quite ‘free’ in one or two bands I have been in.  I think as long as an artist is challenged he is ‘free’ because he can grow. In music, stagnation is a prison.  And bands can provide that challenge (freedom) if
the other musicians are as skilled and courageous.  All said and done, though, being an electronica artist is probably the most freedom I have felt because of the absence of social politics.

Wilson: How did you become interested in electronic music?

Shah: The first track of electronic music I heard must have been Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit.”  Also, to me, hip-hop is a type of electronic music, and I’ve been into hip-hop since the days of Public Enemy and De La Soul.  In the late ’90s I heard some tracks by Artifacts B.C. while at a friend’s place in NYC.  I have been influenced by the compilations on the Quango label Brazilified and Lush Life; Jazzanova’s CD In Between; the compilation Brazilectro; the programming on Bebel Gilberto’s CDs.  And my biggest influenceas of this last year is Zero 7. Around 2002, I somehow got a demo copy of Fruity Loops and wrote some of the stuff on my CD Vol. 1 using it without a MIDI keyboard, just plugging notes with the mouse.

Wilson: Besides Time Spy, what else are you involved in?

Shah: I perform classical Indian music on tabla, accompanying a vocalist in Calcutta, India named Siddharth Chaudhuri.  I also play drums in a blues/rock/folk band called Humigalous Rex when I am here in states.  And I also play tabla with my drum set teacher Jeff Sipe. In my spare time, I practice martial arts like Aikido and Muay Thai Boran. I also study yoga and meditation.  I love movies as well.

Wilson: How do you feel Time Spy differentiates itself from other electronica projects?

Shah: Well, as far as lounge music goes, it doesn’t utilize any style or genre blatantly like say Brazilian or jazz or even Indian music but those elements are there. I don’t think anyone can really say that it’s “Funk
Lounge” or “Jazz Lounge” or “Brazilian” or even “Indian,” etc. I have a huge listening experience.  I was operating my folk’s stereo when I was 4 years old and have been listening to anything I could get my ears on since then.


You might peg New Hampshire-based musician Deborah Wyndham as a jazz pianist at first; after all, her album Tenderly radiates with the soulfulness of jazz. However, there is a crystalline elegance to her playing that more than suggests the spectre of classical music. If the idea of listening to another album of piano covers bores you to tears, you might want to hear Wyndham’s work to see it done well.

Julian Wilson: How long have you been playing the piano?

Wyndham: On and off for about 20 years, professionally for eight. As a teen I didn’t play much at all and almost forgot how to play once. Thankfully that didn’t happen, but I was barely hanging on by one thin thread called “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”

Wilson: What were the compositions that you learned first?

Wyndham: Some kind of march, I can’t remember, but my teacher didn’t mess around and soon had me playing Bach.

WIlson: What is the jazz scene like in New Hampshire?

Wyndham: What jazz scene? (Laughs.) Well, Boston is where you’d go for live music if you’re in New Hampshire, and I think they do a pretty good job there. I recently saw some big names and of course there is a lot of popular music schools in the area.

Wilson: What other genres of music do you listen to?

Wyndham: Currently, I listen to mostly mellow stuff like ’70s soft rock. I like ethereal pop/rock music, European bands, and jazz fusion, but mostly older stuff, not much past 1985. I’ve listened to very little jazz and like listening to silence since I play so much.

Wilson: Are you considering diving into other styles?

Wyndham: Yes, even though I don’t play classical music and therefore fall more into the jazz category, I actually don’t consider myself a jazz pianist as in what jazz pianists are considered nowadays. My style has more of a classical sound, though, encompassing many styles including contemporary, jazz, and jazz-influenced modern classical (the best way to describe my own compositions).

Boise, Idaho’s IQEQ is a musician’s band, a wildly adventuresome group that, to unenlightened ears, may seem as if they’re veering out of control. However, it takes discipline and a clear vision to map their tangled web of scrappy, tripped-out rhythms and mind-warping jams.

Julian Wilson: I have a hard time pinpointing IQEQ’s style because there seems to be a multitude of diverse musical influences at play in each track. On the surface, the band seems to be a collision between the sleek prog-rock of Steely Dan and the avant-garage energy of the Mars Volta. Would you find that to be an accurate description? How did you guys arrive creatively at this point?

Nate Paradis [drummer, vocalist, noise-machinist]: Yeah, that’s accurate enough. I suppose we came upon this sound mostly by letting things happen naturally and not canceling ideas because they didn’t fit into a specific idea of how we wanted our band to sound. We never sat down and made lists of things we wanted to do or things we did want to do. If it’s fun to play and says something musically or lyrically we don’t question it. We’ll just work with it until it feels right. I think because all four of us simply love so many different types of music we really have no control over that schizophrenia. We wouldn’t have it any other way though. While there is something to be said for a band having an easily marketable sound or identity, we’ve always tried to keep it interesting and fun for ourselves, foremost. Even if a tune originates from one or two members, when you stick us all in a room to work something out we’ve all usually been fortunate enough to put pieces of our individual selves into it most of the time.
Wilson: What does IQEQ stand for?

Paradis: I Quit Expecting Quiet. If Questioned, Exit Quickly, I Quietly Escaped Quarantine, the list goes on. It began as something that phonetically sounded nice and we decided early on to leave it open ended, just like our music and our musical path.

Wilson: IQEQ are pretty hook-oriented for a group so devoted to progressive rock, which is more often known for its complex musicianship than catchy tunes. How do you strike that balance?

Paradis:  By listening to the Beatles and the Mars Volta simultaneously every single day. Even music nerds like to hum along once in a while.

Wilson: I hear the manic inspiration of Frank Zappa on a couple of tracks. Was he a hero to you guys? What effect did he have on IQEQ in terms of ideas?

Paradis: I personally can only listen to about 1 1/2 minutes of Zappa at a time. Tom and Dan are music scholars that can probably appreciate it more but even still, they come from more of a jazz background so I think that particular part of our makeup comes from a different place than Zappa. Bitches Brew had more of an impact on their musical personalities and in turn the band’s. I like the idea of Zappa more than his music itself.

Wilson: How has IQEQ been received in live performance?

Paradis: In our time together we’ve gotten it all from silence to screams, especially on some of our supporting dates when people were really there to see the headliner. Bar crowds wanna dance; they generally don’t take surprises well. But after awhile we caught the ears of a few adventurous souls who were down for the ride. They got to know the songs and us so between january of 2005 and now, our fans have come to expect something exciting. Not to boast, but to illustrate the point, the LOCO/MOTIVE record release show confirmed that for us when we pulled the biggest draw of a local band at that venue. Our crowd was huge and nearly as excited to be there as we were; plus, we’re charming as fuck so we’ve got a grip of close friends that love to show up and throw down with us anytime.

Julie Nesrallah will stun you with her soaring operatic voice; her singing is ethereal, dramatic, and transcendent. Even untrained ears will be hard to resist the emotional pull of this magnificent mezzo-soprano.

Julian Wilson: You don’t look like an opera singer or a classical musician at all. There seems to be a sort of stuffiness when it comes to the look of artists who work within those genres. Have you faced any criticism from peers because of your stylish appearance?

Julie Nesrallah: I have not received any criticism from peers whatsoever and I love the fact that I look very contrary to what people expect from an opera singer. I intend to continue to smash pre-conceived notions of what is it to be an opera singer in this day and age. Besides, the face of opera is changing. It’s becoming sexier, more hip and very “red carpet” in an attempt to win new audiences.

Wilson: How did you become interested in classical music and opera? What triggered this passion?

Nesrallah: From a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a performer. When I was 10, my parents bought me a piano. The guy who delivered it sat down to play, and I went totally berserk. That’s when I knew I had to learn how to do that, too, and my classical flame was ignited. I started off as a pianist, but I sang in the school choir and was given lead singing roles in school productions, and eventually the singing took over. When I was 12, I was in the children’s chorus of my first professional opera, and after that I started private voice lessons. I never knew anything else existed. Becoming a classical musician was an obvious and natural evolution that took over my life. I completed two degrees in music, was launched into the professional world right out of university, and the rest is history. Although some of my family members are very musical, I was the only one who pursued it as a career. It wasn’t like I grew up in an upper-class household with a butler, and Haydn and Mozart playing in the background during tea time. I had a normal childhood; I was a regular kid who happened to have a big, strong voice and couldn’t live without singing. And classical singing (as opposed to musical theatre or pop) is not only what turned me on the most, but it was the thing I did best.

Wilson: Opera and classical music are generally considered by kids to be boring and something that only old people would listen to. How do we get a younger generation with very short attention spans into this music?

Nesrallah: The last thing in the world I would call opera is boring. The whole event is a feast for the senses: it’s opulent, decadent, fantastic, incredible, it spans the range of human emotion and experience — on and off stage! And what people don’t realize about opera is that most of the big hits (Carmen, The Marriage of Figaro, La Bohème, Tosca, La Traviata) are truly compelling human dramas, and that the characters being portrayed in those dramas are portraits of regular people trying to make their way in the world. That’s why these stories and this art form have endured for so long: they are about you and me and everything in between. Opera is a super-human expression of the most elemental human experiences.

When you are able to successfully engage people, you are not boring them. The trick is knowing how get them hooked, and the only way to do that is to have someone present this music to them in a way that they can relate and respond to. For me, opera and rock & roll aren’t so different in terms what they provide as musical nourishment to the listener, and I enjoy conveying this idea to people. I am absolutely convinced that I would be able to turn people on to this genre given the right platform. It has been my lifelong mission to try and break down those barriers by approaching it in a very down-to-Earth way, in a way that people don’t usually expect from a classical musician.

Wilson: Do you consider yourself a rebel?

Nesrallah: If being a rebel means maintaining a very pure sense of self, regardless of what is expected of you, regardless of what the rest of the gang is doing and regardless of what you might lose in the process, then my answer is yes. I always did exactly what my intincts screamed loudest for me to do, for better or for worse. I have never taken the safe path in life or on stage. One Canadian reviewer and critic called me “opera’s wild child,” and I have to admit I loved it.  Look at it this way, I am a Canadian opera singer answering questions for an American hipster indie site, and I think that speaks volumes.

Wilson: You’re based in Canada. Is there a real appreciation for this kind of music over there?

Nesrallah: There is a real appreciation for this kind of music in Canada and in the United States. There are hundreds of opera companies all over North America, and the market is flooded with opera singers. What opera needs is a bigger fan base in an effort to help keep opera alive and vital and forward moving. I know that there are thousands of innocent and unsuspecting rockers out there just waiting to be bitten by the opera bug, and I look forward to trying to infect them all. It is so worth it and such an interesting and unique genre. All people need to do is give it a chance.