Musiqa Mustaqilla’s ongoing series on „In Conversation With“ continues with an interview between Musiqa Mustaqilla’s editor and Cairo-based band Living too Late.
Credits for the Photo: Bashar Galal (Scenenoise), Edited by Hashem El Saifi
When you are listening to Cairo-based band Living Too Late, you would not think that this band is from Egypt. The band was originally formed back in 2013. In January 2018 they have released their newest EP called Shake Old Laws which is in contrast to their previous work a step up in complexity and production. Living Too Late are Omar Foda (Guitar, bass, Vocals), Hashem El Saifi (Guitar, Bass, Vocals), Hazem El Shamy (Drums) and Elle K River (Vocals). The Songs on Shake Old Laws are in English written by Elle K River. The music is somewhere between a hopeful melancholy sound, starting out with a minimalistic soundscape which grows over time. They discussed the history of Living Too Late and the new EP Shake Old Laws.
MM: What is your music background and did you grow up in a musical family?
Hashem El Saifi: I started playing guitar when I was about 15 but I didn’t start writing songs until a few years back. My family is very musical, my grandfather is an Egyptian composer, Mohamed Abdel Wahab (1907-1991), but only he in my family pursued a musical career.
Hazem El Shamy: I started playing the piano when I was 8, then learned the guitar at 12. A few years ago I walked in on my friend’s studio session and I was messing around on the drums. Now I only play the guitar at home but prefer playing drums in a band. Both my parents enjoy playing music but as a hobby.
Omar Foda: I grew up listening to a lot of 60’s music, bands like The Rolling Stones and The Kinks were always playing in my father’s study. My mother was really into Johnny Cash and had one cassette of his early work constantly playing in the car. I’d say my roots got cemented later in life as a teenager though in punk and post punk music. My all time favorite is Lou Reed or The Velvet Underground rather. Their sound made me want to pick up the guitar, start a band and write music. I like their simplicity and raw energy which I also find in post punk music, in bands like Talking Heads and The Cure’s earlier work on albums like “17 seconds”.
MM: What kind of music are you influenced of – and since you are singing in English – how important are Arabic music/bands for you?
Hashem: We all come from different musical backgrounds and we listen to different music, but the sound we have in common is a mixture of lo-fi pop, noise and some electronic aspects. If anyone listens to our music without knowing our background, they would never guess that we’re a band from Egypt, so I guess Arabic bands don’t have much of a musical influence on us.
MM: Could you explain the process behind „Shake Old Laws“? In what terms was it different to write, record and produce it compared with „Songs from A Cuckoo’s Nest“ or your self-titled EP from 2013?
Omar: We had been on a bit of a hiatus before we started working on Shake Old Laws. Around that time I met Elle and we shared a similar taste and love for music. We would make each other playlists and spend a lot of time listening to music together. We started a DJ duo called Lip Service which only lasted one gig! But one day Elle came to me and said she had some lyrics for a song idea she wanted to share and maybe play together. So, one song idea turned into eight in a few weeks.
We took these ideas to the studio with the rest of the band and continued the writing process together, which was very different this time. Usually the process would be Hashem and I writing songs together, taking them to the studio to the rest of the band who wouldn’t have much input or room to create as everything was pretty much set structure wise etc.
This time a lot of the songs were written at the studio so everyone had a say and input in the songwriting process. Elle wrote all the lyrics on the EP, everything else was done through everyone’s input.
We recorded the songs at Epic 101 studios which was a first timer for us; everything we had released before were home recordings. The only constant was the production; Nader Ahmed has produced all of our EP’s including Shake Old Laws.
Elle K River: Shake Old Laws – the phrase itself – was inspired by Jiddu Krishnamurti(1895-1986), born in Madanapalle, India and his Freedom From The Known. That is, in essence: „You have more capacity, more drive, greater intensity and vitality. If you do not feel this, then you have not thrown [shaken] off the burden, you have not discarded the dead weight of authority.“
Overall, lyrically speaking, Shake Old Laws consists of surreal and sinister political allegories from the perturbed imagination of an adversarial journalist
[Elle]. For a case in point: „Father of a gun leads daughter nature; play along the game will survive us.“ And another: „Imagine the anchored rows; with each rotation, more struggle means less.“
MM: When you are recording a track in contrast of playing live, what kind of equipment are you using and is it nowadays much more easy to get the equipment you need or what difficulties are you facing in this regard?
Hashem: With all the hardware available today the process is much easier. The recording process started off being very simple. It was all based on bedroom recordings. As mentioned before “Shake Old Laws” was the first EP we recorded at an actual studio (vocals, guitars, and bass). We use Ableton to record our songs and we try to keep things as simple as possible. The only instruments used on the software are drums and keys. We usually only face difficulties when we’re playing live, the soundcheck is usually hard to get right.
MM: Why do you choose to use primarily English? Could you think of doing songs in your own language too?
Hashem: My Arabic in writing and singing is not that good. The language brings some kind of character out that I don’t like. I sound like a 90’s Egyptian pop singer.
Hazem: Growing up here in Egypt, we were exposed to a lot of foreign media. We are three Egyptians in the band and we all grew up listening to music in English, also our education was basically in English.
Omar: Unfortunately most people who can afford it, go to international schools in Cairo where Arabic is secondary. A lot of us grew up with either English or French or German as our first language and Arabic as our second. So it’s not like I’m deciding to write in English and favoring it over Arabic; I think in English so that’s what comes out more naturally to me.
MM: Do you have side-projects besides Living Too Late?
Hashem: I have a side project called “Saifi”. It’s the music that I write on my own. It’s more on the softer side and a bit more noisy than what we do as a band.
Omar: I’ve started working on a solo project as well but it’s still in the works.
MM: In terms of your next step – how does Shake old Laws work as a stepping stone for maybe recording a whole album – or do you prefer to release EPs on a regular basis? There has been quite a few successful crowdfunding campaigns such as Youssra El Hawary did with her debut album, or Mashrou’ Leila, El-Morabba3, and others. Could be this a possibility for Living Too Late as well?
Omar: I find that releasing EPs is the way to go these days. People don’t have the patience to sit through a whole album. I feel like the listening experience has changed drastically over the last 15 years or so. Everything is so fast and available; a click away, so people have become impatient and move on to the next thing. I think this applies more to bands like us; unsigned, humble following etc. I’m sure when Ariel Pink releases an album, there are more than a few people out there who sit through the entire experience, although definitely less than when people used to go to a store, buy an album, come home, examine the whole thing inside out, physically remove it from the cover and play it. We haven’t really explored crowd-funding options but yeah, definitely something to look into.
MM: Looking back between your first EP in 2013 – and now your new EP in 2018, how much do you think has Living too Late’s music style changed?
Omar: I think our approach has changed over the years more than anything.
We started out as more of a noise driven experimental band with no constructed songs but soon felt the need to structure things more. Our first EP was almost like a solo project where I had written all the songs and most of the instrumentation. On “Cuckoo’s Nest” Hashem and I wrote everything together. “Shake Old Laws” was a collaborative effort between Elle and everyone in the band.
So I like to think of “Living Too Late” as a project that will keep shifting and changing in its approach with making music.
Living too Late’s Facebook Page
Living too Late’s Soundcloud Page