In another life, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Imaad Wasif might have been a poet or a priest. He draws inspiration from beyond the veil, seeking connections and cosmic patters in the hopes of expressing the simplest but most profound message to his listeners: We are not alone. The urgency of that communication, and his need to convey it, give both his delicate guitar ballads and his fervent rock songs a ferocity and focus that resonates with every note.
Wasif goes far beyond the here and now in his music, but he is very much of this time. He is a rock musician who came of age in the Coachella Valley of the 1990s, during the days when the members of stoner rock bands like Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age incited drug-fueled musical decadence with their now-notorious generator parties. His musical sensibilities were birthed on the sound of hard rock bouncing through the vast desert night. At the same time, he discovered Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, giving him his first introduction to rock ‘n’ roll, and showing him a whole world of sonic possibilities beyond the traditional music on which his East Indian parents raised him. Studying at the alter of the guitar greats during the summer he turned 14, he locked himself in his bedroom with a ‘60s sunburst Teisco Del Ray guitar purchased at a garage sale and a determination to master Zeppelin’s “Bron-Yr-Aur,” and Hendrix’s live Monterey Pop version of “Killing Floor.” When he emerged, having grasped the song structures and riffs and improvised his own leads in the place of solos he couldn’t follow, he formed his first band and began playing out at the generator parties.
Moving away from these formative influences on his first musical outings, Wasif kept his sound stripped down in his revered indie rock outfits lowercase and alaska! During these early years, he also played live and in the studio with Lou Barlow’s Folk Implosion. In 2006, Kill Rock Stars released Wasif’s self-titled solo debut, an acoustic psych gem, which had a lean, hushed intensity. Around the same time, he was enlisted as a touring guitarist and opening act for Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
All of these varied influences finally began to reveal themselves in Wasif’s second solo album, “Strange Hexes,” which he recorded with his band Two Part Beast (Bobb Bruno and Adam Garcia) and self-released in March 2008. That album was the first to hint at the distinctive sound Wasif has ultimately crafted for himself; a blast of post-modern psychedelic rock that is at once potent and refined. The album, which will be re-released by Tee Pee Records in 2010, manages a feral yet delicate beauty on tracks like “Wanderlusting,” a melodious love song that builds to an intense climax with a spider web of guitar, and the lush ode to longing, “Oceanic.”
The theme of love in its many guises, both as redemption and call to arms, is one that Wasif returns to again and again in his songs. Its mythical quality becomes a springboard from which he explores the mysteries of life and the universe on his third album, “The Voidist.” Recorded with Two Part Beast, plus guests Dale Crover (Melvins) and Greg Burns (Red Sparowes), by Chad Bamford (Weezer) with additional recordings by Mathias Schneeberger (The Obsessed, Gutter Twins), the release is due from Tee Pee Records in October 2009. Album opener “Redeemer” is a mid-tempo rocker that seems to capture the very nature of amorous obsession with its hypnotic intensity, while “Fangs” is a rapturous statement of romantic purpose, and the darkly quixotic ballad “Another” ruminates on the nature of fidelity.
“The Voidist” is much more than just a rock record. At once regal and exuberant, its unique sonic tapestry is sprinkled with East Indian ragas, blues rock and something totally new that exists at the apex of these varied influences. It also bridges the full range of Wasif’s musicality, from gentle acoustic numbers like the lilting lullaby “Widow Wing” to the sprawling, fuzzed out rocker “Razorlike.” During the year that he was writing songs for “The Voidist,” he found himself drawn to spiritual tomes, which grapple with questions about existence similar to those he was exploring in his own life. “There’s a lot of people I talk to that come from a background where they felt like they were some sort of misfit, or some sort of alien, and not completely connected to others,” he says. “My music is like a passageway to that feeling. It is a way for me to understand my own self, but then also a desire to share with other people and show that I understand that feeling.”
Having gained a reputation for his intense live shows while opening for RTX, The Raconteurs, Neko Case, Arthur Lee’s Love and Sebadoh, Wasif has plans for an extensive tour in the fall of 2009. He can also be found playing guitar on “Little Shadow” from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ latest album, “It’s Blitz!” and Lou Barlow’s forthcoming solo album, “Goodnight Unknown.” His collaboration with Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bradford Cox of Deerhunter, and “Little” Jack Lawrence of The Raconteurs and Dead Weather on the score for the Spike Jonze-directed film adaptation of “Where The Wild Things Are” hits theaters in October.