Originally from Tehran, Hypernova have a sound reminiscent of Interpol, except less clinical and more organic. Having made the transition to the American music scene, they have come to symbolize Iranian rock in all of its furtive-yet-glamorous glory. The band is curretly on tour and lead singer Raam and lead guitarist Kodi recently chatted to Kirsty Evans about playing underground shows in Iran, moving to the U.S., and the future of Iranian music, which has experienced setbacks under the more conservative leadership of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Kirsty Evans: When did the band first get together?
Raam: We got together back in the year 2000. Me and Kami met each other at a military camp. We both loved rock and roll and wanted to start a band. He was one of the only kids I knew who actually listened to good music back then. One thing led to another and the rest of these guys joined the band, and 8 or 9 years later, here we are.
KE: As far as music, how much access did you have to foreign music growing up? Were you able to get CDs or to download music?
Raam: I remember there was a time when we still used to just get bootleg cassette tapes and collect them, and then later we got CDs. I miss those days actually – in the 90s, when we used to listen to CDs and we’d listen to whole albums. I don’t really listen to albums that much any more, I wish I did. And then the internet came along and it was a 56k modem and we were waiting hours and hours to download a song.
KE: So the government in Iran isn’t trying to block downloading?
Raam: Well, they do, but kids always find ways to go around that with proxies.
KE: How do your families feel about you guys taking this route as far as being involved in music?
Raam: All of our parents are so supportive and proud of what we’re doing. Our is very conservative, you’re raised to be a doctor or an engineer, and for us to sort of go against the tide and want to become rock stars was a bit difficult for a lot of people to understand, but our parents were very cool. We used to rehearse in our living room and my parents would be sitting there reading the newspaper and we’d be going crazy. They love what we do and they’re supporting us all the way.
KE: When you guys first got started where were you able to play? There aren’t really any actual venues in Iran, right?
Raam: Just underground parties in villas out of town.
KE: Parties in people’s houses?
Raam: Yeah, in basements, stuff like that. It was cool, because the adrenaline rush we’d have at those shows was something that was very unprecedented. It’s one of those things that we haven’t experienced so much in the States, because everything is legal over here, there’s no element of fear involved.
KE: So you had a local following in Iran?
KE: Are those people still following you now?
Raam: Yes, our hardcore supporters who helped us out. We feel we owe it all to them, all the kids back home in Iran who believed in us and helped us get this far.
KE: How did you end up deciding to move to the U.S., when and why?
Raam: There was no specific plan. We always dreamed of coming to the States, of course, and we got the chance to come perform at the SXSW festival. We had to go through the whole visa process and it got denied, and then we had to get a New York senator involved. By the time we got here we really didn’t have anything planned but that one festival. We didn’t know any people; we had a round trip ticket for two weeks that turned into two and a half years. How, I have no idea, one thing just led to another.
We just kept getting better and better and playing more and more shows. The story was very intriguing; we got a lot of press coverage when we first came here. There was so much hype about what we were doing. But I really think that for us it’s about the music first and then everything else. the music speaks for itself and we all really believe that. We believe in the music more than we believe in our story.
KE: How has it been adjusting to the very different music scene here? Do you feel like you’re finding your footing and figuring out where you fit in yet?
Raam: It’s very competitive and you have to work really hard, because there are so many good bands now in the States. The whole show has to become an art of its own and you really have to master that art. We live for this, there’s no better drug in the world than performing live.
KE: When you first got here obviously the media was focusing on the fact that you came from Iran. Do you feel like there’s a lot of pressure on you to represent the Iranian music scene or to try to interpret for Americans what’s going on in Iran? Are people asking you political questions?
Raam: Oh yeah obviously, like “what do you think about the nuclear situation.” I’m like, what the f*ck do you want me to say about it? Am I a nuclear scientist? As a citizen of Iran, I can say what my personal beliefs and opinions are about the subject, but when it comes to our music, we just want to represent our nation in a very positive light, because it gets a lot of bad rap in the media.
I didn’t decide where I came out on this planet. I don’t believe in boundaries. I feel the music is something that transcends all these barriers and that’s always been our motto, that rock and roll has no boundaries. So at the end of the day, hopefully, the more success we achieve, the more people become proud of us, the more hope it gives kids back home that they too can achieve what we’ve achieved. Dreams do come true, you know? If you really really believe it, as clichéd as that sounds.
KE: Do you keep in touch with any other bands back home? If you guys break through then it might open doors for other bands from Iran to follow.
Raam: It already has! There was a big documentary that won a prestigious prize at the Cannes Film Festival. I’ve gone to festivals with other kids from Iran to bring them over here to the States. I have so many people who contact me and I want to be part of a network for all these kids who need a voice. When we were growing up we always wanted someone else to help us out, but we never really got that chance.
KE: Do you feel like since you moved here you’ve encountering any sort of prejudice? Are there people who don’t want to take you seriously or listen to you because of where you come from?
Raam: Sometimes our reputation does precede our music, but if people come to our shows I think the music speaks for itself. We don’t want to tell people where we’re from when we’re on the stage and we’re performing. Obviously, when we first came over all the attention was about us being from Iran, but now I feel it’s much more beautiful when people first enjoy our music and they’re like wow, they’re f*cking good musicians, and then, wow, they’re actually from Iran.
KE: Since you’ve been helping to bring other bands over here – do you think that’s always going to be the way it has to be, that bands have to come over here, or do you think eventually there will be enough of a scene in Iran that they can stay there?
Raam: Well, the underground scene is huge in Iran.
KE: Do you ever see it breaking through to where it doesn’t have to be underground any more?
Raam: Iran is still a very traditional, conservative country, but the majority of the people there are under the age of 35, so as the younger generation grows up and newer generations come into society I think gradual reform will reach that point where music will become a bit more accessible and mainstream. But it’s not going to happen overnight, it just needs time.
KE: Do you think if that ever happened that you guys would move home or are you firmly settled now in the States?
Raam: Home is a tricky word, nowhere is really home for us.
KE: Where are you based now?
Raam: Well, we lived in LA for a while, and then we moved to New York. Now we live in Brooklyn but we’re always on the road. We’ve already had offers to go tour in Europe, Japan and Australia. we always want to be on the road. We’ve been living in the same suitcase we came to the States with two and a half years ago.
KE: So what are you up to right now? You have an album coming out, right?
Raam: Yeah, our debut album, we’ve been waiting a while to release it.
KE: But there’s already a lot of your stuff on YouTube – did you release some singles?
Raam: Yeah, we had a couple of singles, we also released an EP. We’re waiting to release our debut album. We’re anxious to get it out. Nowadays the industry is at a very fast pace, so we just want to make sure that we catch up and make the right decisions. Even though we have offers, at the end of the day we want to make sure that whatever decision we make is in the best interests of the band.
KE: Do you have a headlining tour planned for when it comes out?
Raam: It’s still in the grey. Hopefully within the next couple of months we’ll have a more clear vision of what exactly our plans are.
KE: To give everyone kind of a preview, what should we be expecting from this album? What kind of direction are you going in with it?
Raam: I think we’ve all just really grown as musicians; we’ve all just been working really really hard to make sure we reach this point where we’re respected as musicians. We’re never satisfied.
Kodi: We’re pretty strict when it comes to rehearsal. Usually when we talk about our first album that’s going to come out very soon we see it as a prologue to the Hypernova journey. “Through the Chaos” is basically about our lives in coming from Iran to here. It’s truly like a prologue in that it’s introducing you to who we are as human beings, and then hopefully the next album and other future albums will be just chapters in our lives and something totally different. Prologues are short and sweet and give you just a hint of what we’re about.
KE: Do you have any idea where you’re going with the new chapter yet? Do you feel like you’ve found your style and this is it or are you still changing?
Kodi: This is definitely not our style. I mean this is us now, but musicians evolve, you know? You don’t stick to a certain sound. We’re bringing electronic elements into our music and adding more stuff and making it more interesting not only for us as musicians but for people who are listening.
KE: Thinking long term, you’re sort of established here now – you’ve got your record deal, you’ve got your album coming out. Are you making long term plans? Where would you like to see yourselves being five years from now?
Raam: As cliché as it sounds, I want to be a big f*cking arena band. I want to be playing in front of hundreds of thousands of people. I want to play in all the cool big festivals around the world.
KE: What’s the biggest crowd you’ve played to so far?
Raam: Well, we played Pangea Day, that was broadcast to like five hundred million people. The audience was a couple of thousand though, maybe four thousand. We also did a tour with the Sisters of Mercy.
Kodi: We played with so many musicians and the problem with them was that when they were at practice they didn’t see long term huge goals. You gotta aim high and that’s how it is.
KE: Do you have anything planned for the release of the new album? Are you already confirmed to go to Europe or Asia?
Raam: Well we’re still working on visa issue, so as soon as that’s confirmed.
KE: So, you’re presenting yourselves to a group of readers most of whom have probably never heard of you before. How do you want to describe yourselves? How do you see yourselves and how do you want people to see you?
Raam: We’re just a bunch of crazy kids who had a dream. I really do hope that our story inspires others to pursue what they love and are passionate about, because there’s nothing more important in this life than pursuing your dreams.
Kodi: Our sound is very hard to describe. When I think about the music we play four words come to my mind – sex, fear, ecstasy and happiness, and little political messages. Music means joy and that’s what we’re trying to do.
KE: So ultimately even if you’re talking about dark subjects you’d rather leave people uplifted.
Kodi: There are too many bands talking about death and despair. We do have those kinds of topics that are in our lyrics but we like uplifting music. I listen to very dark, depressing music myself, but when it comes to our music it’s just about how to seduce your audience in any way you can.