Smartypants ex-Lowercase, Alaska!, New Folk Implosion player and Yeah Yeah Yeahs touring guitarist Imaad Wasif is set to self-release his second solo album, Strange Hexes with his new backing band, Two Part Beast, on 3/18. In anticipation, we got our hands on an acoustic demo of one of the new tracks, “Oceanic.” (You an hear the electric version streaming at Imaad’s site.) We dig both, but are especially fans of the quiet take’s spare instrumentation, the way it offers a streamlined counterbalance to “Oceanic”‘s boatload of words. Speaking of which, we asked Wasif to explain the song’s meaning, among other things.
What’s the story behind the lyrics?
The lyrics came out of me in a downpour, one continuous stream. There is no definitive story behind them. The imagery is illusory, a self-portrayal, a plea buried in a cryptic confessional biography — but that is only partially significant to the song’s meaning. I consider the words to be inextricable from the moments and the movements of the music. With poetic structure I tend to write within abstract modes, because that is what is most natural and it opens the door into the surreal subconscious mind … In the real world mostly I feel that words fail true emotions, but here within these fragments, are the gems of truth. It’s more important to me to capture the pure feeling, and with “Oceanic” it is a universal one, the pangs of love. This song is the crux of Strange Hexes. Meet the high priestess, the perfect expression of duality. I am her, she is me. Sick to my guts with loneliness and pining but also euphorically blissed out in this love … The night I wrote it I was looking out on the Tokyo skyline from the top of a tower and was swept away by the beauty of all the lights. I was overwhelmed, I was floating in an ocean of light, between the stars and the city. When I went back to my hotel room I sat down and picked up the guitar, and automatically started detuning it, looking for the key that I was hearing. I stopped when the drone became complete and then my hands began shaping the chords.
How would you describe the electric “Oceanic”? It’s still quite downcast.
It sounds oceanic. The song is in a drop g modal tuning so there is a sinister drone that is always swaying in it but through amps and with Two Part Beast, the song sounds split wide open, churning, visceral, loose, eerie, and turbulent. There is an inescapable tension that builds into an explosion, and then calm sets in. As in a storm, as in an orgasm.
Why the two versions?
I felt the need to also release the song in its most simple, direct form, because I wanted people to understand where “Oceanic” came from. I have a deep attachment to this acoustic version and I wanted to share it. It says more than I ever could.
All the songs on Strange Hexes were created this way, with with my tamboura and my acoustic guitar. I wrote them when I was out on tour for my last album and was spending a lot of time by myself, wandering, searching. When I got back to LA, I recorded versions as I had been performing them on the road, with the intention of them being demos. I knew that I didn’t want to make another acoustic record yet and that’s why I got Two Part Beast together. It is necessary for me to exist in extremes.