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A New Language: Catching up with Omar Afzaal
By John Hubner
Fort Wayne Reader
If you've been a follower of music in the Fort Wayne music scene for the last 10 years, then chances are you know the name Omar Afzaal. If you don't know that name, then perhaps you know All Nite Skate, Castles, or House Of Bread? If you know none of these then where the hell have you been, pal? Omar has been an integral part in all of those bands. He left some seriously scorched earth in the Fort with his musical endeavors, and in 2013 he, his wife, and their dog packed up and moved to the Big Apple to scorch some East Coast ground. While out there he's seen some great shows, picked up a great job at Strand Book Store (google it), and has been hard at work making some new noise with new friends.
I recently caught up with Omar to talk about his new home, New York City, and his newest musical endeavor Language. The band just digitally released a new EP titled Remus. Here's our talk.
J. Hubner: It's great talking to you again. How's New York City treating you?
Omar Afzaal: It has been wonderful. It's a tough city that chews you up and spits you out everyday, but the opportunities and experiences it provides us with are completely worth it. I wouldn't have it any other way.
J. Hubner: So are you officially a New Yorker after two years?
Omar Afzaal: I wouldn't consider myself an official New Yorker. I'm sure I'd have to spend many more years here to feel like one.
J. Hubner: Besides family, what do you miss most about the Midwest?
Omar Afzaal: Friends and family are the things I most certainly miss most about Indiana. I also miss the big open green spaces in Fort Wayne. They're great places to just walk my dog and decompress. New York has wonderful parks, but they're still packed with people.
J. Hubner: What have you been working on musically since you've been on the East Coast?
Omar Afzaal: I've been recording stuff on my own, but those songs have kind of been all over the place with no real focus. It's a good way to flex some creative muscles in a low risk way. I'm not sure if I'm going to be releasing anything on my own for the foreseeable future. I'll just have to see if my writing takes any sort of natural focus, but lately I've felt much more inspired while collaborating with others. I have too many talented friends that I don't want to take for granted.
I also did some soundtrack work for a wonderful friend and film maker here in the city. He does a lot of unusual and experimental shorts. We're planning on working on more stuff in the very near future and I couldn't be more excited. Other than Language, I've also been playing as a duo in Sister Pact. It's mainly my friend Logan Sibrel's baby, but it has been a lot of fun writing, recording, and playing shows with him. He treats the band more like an art project and it's all the more interesting that way. We just released our first full length on cassette through Wiener Records.
J. Hubner: Let's talk about Language. How did this project come about?
Omar Afzaal: The brownstone that I live in is literally filled with friends and family. My wife and I are on one floor, her sister and her boyfriend, Charles Sloan, are on another, and Logan Sibrel (from Sister Pact) and his husband, Sean, are on the first floor. Logan, Charles, and I started playing music in different combinations as soon as I moved in two years ago. Logan and I slowly started to segue into his latest iteration of Sister Pact, while Charles and I started playing with other people in more "standard rock" veins.
Charles and I played with a few people and had a couple versions of the band while we met Wes Black through a Craigslist ad. He recently moved from Michigan and also had a background playing in some metal bands that had played a few shows in Fort Wayne. Destiny.
J. Hubner: It's truly a small world.
Omar Afzaal: Anyway, we clicked personally and musically and it has been a great experience.
J. Hubner: You just recently released an EP with Language called 'Remus' digitally. I'm loving it. Has a real jagged, post-punk vibe to it. Reminds me of early Sonic Youth and Wire. Who or what were you guys mining musically that influenced the direction this record took?
Omar Afzaal: The big post-punk bands have definitely been huge influences. You're spot-on with the Wire and early SY comparison. We've also been listening to a lot Gang of Four and some more contemporary stuff like Deerhoof, Don Cabellero, Protomartyr, and Women.
J. Hubner: Where was the EP recorded? You've always proven to be a pretty DIY kind of artist, so did you relinquish production duties to someone else this time?
Omar Afzaal: We recorded it with Colin Marston and Menegroth: The Thousand Caves. You can check out his resume on his website and quickly realize that he's contributed to some of the most important metal albums of the last decade or so. Phil Arbogast (All Nite Skate, House of Bread) recommended that we use him after I sent him some rough cuts of what Language was doing at the time. Colin Marston had mastered Phil's black metal album and he was super happy with how Marston worked. You should totally check out Phil's new project, Ecferus, by the way.
We were a bit hesitant because we're certainly not a metal band, but we didn't want to sound soft around the edges in the recording. Once we found out that Marston had worked with Oneida, all of our hesitations went away.
J. Hubner: What's the writing process like in Language? Is the writing duties equally split amongst the three of you?
Omar Afzaal: It's incredibly democratic. A lot of our songs come out of jams that we try to hone in on and narrow down to very tidy and specific parts. Other time, one of us might come to practice with a few ideas and we'll beat them into the ground and filter out any excess that doesn't need to be in the song. The main rule of thumb with our songwriting is: no filler. Often times, this results in the song being 1:30 and we're totally cool with that.
J. Hubner: How's the live shows? I know you guys have played a few so far. Will Language be playing more shows throughout the year?
Omar Afzaal: They've been fantastic. We've gotten great reception and there's no shortage of great bands and venues to set up good shows with good crowds here in the city. It has been very encouraging and we're really excited to finish out the year with plenty of shows.
J. Hubner: Are there plans to go back into the studio and record a full-length LP?
Omar Afzaal: Right now we're working on writing new songs to fill out our live set. If anything, we'll probably continue with the EP route. I would love to work with Marston again.
J. Hubner: Does the band rent a practice space?
Omar Afzaal: We do. It's very big and spacious. We share it with a couple of other bands, but it's cheap, especially for being in Williamsburg. An added bonus is being able to hear TV on The Radio and Bear In Heaven hash out new ideas, their rooms are in the same facility.
J. Hubner: Besides working with Language currently, do you have a quieter, more intimate set up at your apartment where you're working on solo stuff?
Omar Afzaal: Yup, just a small Vox, some weird pedals I don't use a lot and a couple guitars. I try to play and write whenever I can.
J. Hubner: What's the plan for the rest of 2015 and into 2016?
Omar Afzaal: More Language shows/recordings, more Sister Pacts shows/recordings and hopefully more weird projects!
Go to languagenyc.bandcamp.com/releases to check out the new EP Remus
You can hear Omar's other band Sister Pact at sisterpact.bandcamp.com/album/packed
And the short film he scored at vimeo.com/112394916