Iris Divine – Cutting Through the Static

Friday, 15th September 2017

Dead Rhetoric: Do you find your love of 80’s pop music filters in subconsciously to many of your hooks or melodies – just put through a heavier context?

Rashid: 100%. At the end of the day, more than anything I am a songwriting junkie. It doesn’t matter what the genre is to a certain extent, when I hear a good song I’m inspired by that. It could be Taylor Swift, it could be Fleetwood Mac, it could be The Cars – I could go on and on. There are a million good songs, and they are from all kinds of different genres. A fairly good example is the song “Islands in the Stream” – which is done by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, but written by one of the Bee Gees. It’s a phenomenal song, you can be a fan of whatever kind of music but when I hear that song, it’s a well-constructed pop song. It’s got cool modulations in it, it takes you to interesting places, it’s catchy and emotional. When I hear songs like that in the pop vein, I hear the use of melody and find that you can still be catchy and a little bit sophisticated. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, you can have both. “Head Over Heels” from Tears for Fears is another great example.

Dead Rhetoric: Considering the membership is spread out between Colorado and Virginia, does focus and time management become key factors in getting a lot accomplished separately so that when you come together, you aren’t falling far behind with your workload?

Rashid: That’s actually huge. Kris and I, we do a lot of things jointly. Working on drums, keys, those kinds of things- and he is really helpful on those kinds of things. When you are working in a long-distance type of situation, communication is really critical, and it’s very easy for lines to get crossed. Let’s say I’ve written a song, and the song has a certain feel with a certain intent. If I send it to him, I need to make sure that I convey to him the vision I’m going for, and he needs to also convey to me what he’s hearing on the other end. When that doesn’t happen well, that can be very frustrating because I’m speaking one language and he’s sort of speaking another. Really strong communication is important, so that what we are doing artistically becomes synergistic, instead of us working towards two different goals. There were definitely a couple of songs on this new album where we had to really get on the same page as to where we wanted the song to go. I’m hearing the part as being really aggressive, and he’s hearing the part as being really laid back- we had to figure it out together how it fits into the contour of the song. And that’s where as a songwriter I try to think about the bigger picture.

Again another thing I think metal and progressive bands are sometimes guilty of is killer parts but not necessarily killer songs. It takes a certain discipline as a songwriter to say this is a killer part, but if it doesn’t fit with the context of the song as a whole, I have to sit and think about making the part into something more cohesive.

Dead Rhetoric: You also participate in an Iron Maiden tribute band, Eyes of the Nile – tackling a mixture of Di’Anno and Dickinson-led material, including surprises like “Prowler”, “Invaders”, and “Flash of the Blade”. How long has this been going, and does this give you a new-found respect for the discography of these veterans? What’s your favorite Iron Maiden-related memory in terms of song, album, or live show?

Rashid: Eyes of the Nile started about two years ago. There’s a back story, which I’ll fill in. Towards the end of the recording of Karma Sown, I began to notice some changes in my voice. I wasn’t feeling right, it felt like there was something in my throat, even vocally I didn’t feel as strong as I had before. I thought it was maybe allergies or laryngitis. A couple of months went by, and it didn’t get any better- it actually started to get worse. I was having a lot of difficulty singing, and even my talking voice had changed a little bit. I went to see an ENT (ears, nose and throat doctor), and that was a good thing. He heard me talk, and he scoped me- we found a polyp. There was a hemorrhagic polyp on my vocal cord. That led to a prolonged period of vocal rest, and voice therapy where I worked with a professional to figure out where I had been putting excess strain on my voice due to the lack of technique.

I’m extremely grateful and thankful after many months of doing that, the conservative therapy worked really well and surgery was not required, to the point where the polyp resolved itself. My singing voice was stronger after the polyp than it was before the polyp. I think because I figured out some of the things I was doing wrong. Coming out of that I wanted to do some of these things to start stretching myself vocally and have fun with it. Being a huge Iron Maiden fan, I always had this idea in the back of my head to do a metal tribute. It seemed the right time to put it together- I found some guys locally and we’ve been doing this since 2015. I couldn’t be happier with how things are going- the musicians are fantastic, the shows have been great.

From the standpoint of Iron Maiden memories, I can answer that without even hesitating. The first time I heard the title track to The Number of the Beast was a very pivotal, life changing moment for me. It pulled me in to my love for heavy metal. I must have been nine or ten years old, and as soon as the intro came on, it was scary to me. I went from being scared to being intrigued. Once the song was over, I was completely blown away. To this day, that song has a really special, emotional connection to me- and it’s still one of my favorite songs to perform.

Dead Rhetoric: What challenges or obstacles do you see a band at your level facing – and how do you overcome them?

Rashid: For a band at our level, the challenge is gaining more traction. We are self-releasing, so it’s not like we have some sort of machine behind us or label supporting us to open doors. The challenges and obstacles are getting to that next level, there are a lot of bands competing to get on support slots and build up their audiences. Music is very saturated now, and there are a lot of bands at this level looking to move in a similar direction. We want to find more opportunities to play higher profile shows, and spread the word about what we are doing to hope that people catch on. It takes some combination of hard work and luck, and trying to find ways to connect with an audience. It’s compounded by the distance issues with Kris not being in the area, I don’t think that’s the main issue though. We want to get people’s attention through the media, online outlets, etc. – and we are thinking about those things now with this new album.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the things you would like Iris Divine to accomplish over the next three to five years as a group? Are you realistic about the work/life/music balance that occurs as you attain a deeper following for the band?

Rashid: Like I mentioned, we would like to get more opportunities to play higher profile live shows, or maybe some sort of support tour in some kind of capacity. That is the biggest goal, we are all huge fans of going out to play shows for people. Any sort of opportunity to do that for an extended period of time, supporting a larger band, that’s a top priority for us. A second priority is to just keep spreading the word- Karma Sown was very well received critically, and the people that got it, connected to it. People still play the album to this day, and I think we just need to find a way to connect more to those people. Even if we are categorized as progressive metal, to my ears we don’t sound like a lot of the other progressive metal bands. We bring some different influences to the table, and it takes some people a bit to get in touch with what we are going for. Over the next three to five years, I want to expand the audience of people that can connect with our distinctive take on progressive metal, heavy rock type of music.

As far as the work/life balance, I guess it’s an issue for all of us. The modern reality is, it’s not such a binary world anymore. Either you are a very casual, weekend warrior, or you devote your entire life to music. I feel like when we were growing up, it felt more like that way- there were bands that did this just for fun, or bands that quit their jobs and went on the road for years. I think nowadays, I’ve seen all kinds of different models. You can balance work/life in different ways, and I’ve been impressed. It just takes a lot of attention and being strategic, making sure to know what needs to happen on the promotional and artistic side to keep things moving forward.

Dead Rhetoric: Opening for acts like Orphaned Land, Periphery, and Fates Warning among others – what takeaways do you have from those shows, and do you feel like you are consistently learning and refining your art and performances after taking in the performances of these diverse acts?

Rashid: I think that’s absolutely true. When you open for bands- Orphaned Land is really a great live band, Haken was a great band, Fates Warning is a great live band. When you see bands like that, you are reminded of what it is to be at the next level. When you play local shows with local bands, you feel pretty good about your performance, and when you’ve been around for a while like our band has, regionally I think we have a lot to offer. But when you hear a band that’s been doing it for a longer time at a higher level, it’s a reminder of where you have to go. Haken is a great example of that, I thought we played a good show when we opened for them- and then they came out and were unbelievable. The harmony vocals, the musicianship was so great, it’s really nice to play shows like that because it reminds you of where you have to go, and what you want to aspire to. There’s an iterative process of trying to play shows with quality bands, incorporate things you learn into your next performance, and then hopefully the cycle continues to keep you moving forward.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the metal landscape today? Have your views changed or shifted from the early days of Iris Divine to now?

Rashid: Yes, I’d say so. I’ll say this- it takes a lot for me nowadays to be excited about a newer metal band. Metal as a genre has never been better, there’s so much happening artistically and crossing over of genres. On the other hand, it’s harder to find those gems for whom songwriting is very memorable. I’m always on the lookout for bands that have a replay value. You may be impressed with a release once or twice, but they don’t necessarily have something that pulls me back in. When I find one that does, I get really excited about it. I don’t think this is much different from the early days of Iris Divine- metal has been evolving and will continue to evolve. Some people look at ‘the good old days’ and music isn’t what it used to be. I don’t take that approach, I think there are bands that are coming out now that are amazing, the same way that bands ten years ago were amazing. The older I get, the more emphasis on songwriting gets placed.

Dead Rhetoric: What does the rest of the year and early 2018 look like for Iris Divine?

Rashid: The rest of 2017- which is only about a quarter of it left- we are hoping for good press for the album. We will do some live shows, but our sights are set on doing some sort of touring in early next year, maybe by the spring. I’d love to be do some sort of touring, or some mini-tours. We need to get back out there and do some shows out of the region, the north and the south. In terms of the promotional piece, we have a video out- and we will release other songs, maybe a lyric video.

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