Interview: Sharam on Looking to the Past to Find Your Future
written by Ariana Assaf
Meet Sharam, native Iranian DJ and producer of house-inspired music. In 2002, Sharam won a Grammy for his remix of Dido’s “Thank You”, made with Dubfire when the two worked together as Deep Dish. Now, Sharam seems to have arrived at the pinnacle of perfecting his own unique sound, by returning to his early influences. His album “Retroactive” drops this Friday, and we had the chance to ask him some questions about his inspiration, the trajectory of his career, and how the music that has played such an active role in his life has evolved over time. Catch him on tour through August, read on to see what he has to say, and check our Instagram for your chance tickets to win tickets to his show in Detroit on Friday!
FS: Tell me about your start as a professional musician. Why did you decide to make a career out of music, and who or what inspired you to do so?
Sharam: It wasn’t a calculated move. Listening to music was a hobby for me. In Iran post revolution you didn’t have access to a lot music so I would find music through underground channels. TRUE underground because music – specially the western kind was illegal in Iran after the revolution. So I would rent these tapes of music videos on Betamax from underground rental places and figure out a way to record them onto cassette tapes and play them at house parties or sell them to other kids. I was always fascinated with being able to transfer music between or mix them together through primitive devices that I had access to at the time. When I moved to US I continued on with that curiosity and then found out there is a thing called a mixer that made the mixing so much easier and turntables that you could change the speed of music that enabled to mix music together in a seamless fashion if you timed right. I was hooked and that’s how I became a DJ. Soon after I felt like I could make records and do it a bit differently than what was out there and that led to setting up a producing team with Ali Dubfire as Deep Dish. So once we did that, we started to make some noise and were soon were able to quit our day jobs and do music and dj full time and never looked back.
FS: Anousheh has appeared on a lot of your tracks and will appear in the new album. How long have the two of you known each other, and how did the collaboration come about?
Sharam: She’s like a musical muse for me. I love the way she writes and her voice is just magical. I’ve never seen anyone sing better than her in the studio. I call her one take Anousheh because she usually nails everything on first take. Any subsequent takes are usually just back up.
I discovered her on a public access channel by chance. She was in this local band called Stella’s Muse I think. I was so taken with her voice I decided to make it a point to find her. In 2004 when I first discovered her there was no social media or google as we know it to find people fast. So it took about a year and a chance encounter with a local radio programmer who happened to have her information. The icing on the cake was that we found out she was half Iranian. It was just crazy that I found her. We used her on Deep Dish’s Flashdance and Say Hello and another song. When I did my first album I continued on working with her and since we’ve done about 5 or 6 songs together and on this album I have her on 4 tracks.
FS: Why did you and Dubfire start working together less frequently as Deep Dish?
Sharam: By 2005 we had achieved a lot together – far more than we could have imagined. What people had forgotten was that we were actually two distinctly different djs and producers and we just happened to do it together but we were capable of doing it solo. We had our own styles. So we planned to do more solo stuff and hone our personal skills as DJs and Producers. So it was an inevitable move. We recently did some shows together again and have worked on an album that we need to get back to and finish probably later this year. We’ve just been super busy with our own things.
FS: Your last album was released in 2009, and (correct me if I’m wrong) this album is comprised of works you’ve created since then. Why wait six years to put it all together and release it?
Sharam: Well, that is not entirely true. Since the last album I released a series of EPs called Mach EP series – I did 3 of them and released a few records here and there after that. I’m more comfortable releasing records under a concept. Even though I didn’t release a lot of music compared to my peers I kept producing and was waiting for them all to make sense under one concept. Retroactive gave me that concept. I probably have two albums worth of material that didn’t make this album, and I’m already putting a plan together to finish some of them and add some new ideas and release another album in about a year. I’m not gonna wait too long releasing another album because in this day and age, people’s attention span is too short and I have too many ideas brewing in my head to wait around that long.
FS: It sounds like a major focus of your new album is to look back in time. What exactly would you say you’re looking at, or for?
Sharam: It wasn’t a conscious decision originally, although the seeds were probably there subconsciously and it took me actually finishing the tracks one by one to arrive at that conclusion. During the process of making a record I almost always refer back to something I loved (or love) and use it as an inspiration point and through that process I realized that there is a thread to all the tracks I was choosing to have on the album, and that was the history of my influences. I had one leg in the past and one leg in the future.
FS: In other interviews, you mentioned that you’re looking to return to what inspired you in the past and “go back to your roots.” How would you define your roots?
Sharam: My roots are in House and Techno and Disco, not the US disco but the Italian disco or Hi NRG they used to call it, to be exact. It’s a sound that Giorgio Moroder created in the late 70s that was all through synthesizers. So to sum it up my roots are in synthesizers and samples. I like to create tracks that sound unique and unlike anything else that might be out there. I also don’t like to follow trends. So when everyone is going right I’m making a left and vice a versa.
FS: Continuing with that idea, how do you feel about the ways in which the dance music scene has changed since you began your career? Do you find it more difficult to find inspiration in the kinds of sounds being produced now?
Sharam: Music goes through these ‘trend’ periods. Someone does something unique and cool that works and then in comes the copycats followed by the inevitable back lash. We’ve seen it throughout the years with Chicago and NY House, Acid House, Deep House, Progressive House, Techno, then Minimal techno and now with EDM and its off shoots. Through all that, people still make amazing records that break through – or sometimes they don’t breakthrough but that’s the beauty of the underground. You can always find great music if you really want to spend the time and look for it. I enjoy that process and through those records I find my inspiration as a DJ and producer. And I tend to combine that inspiration with what’s already in my head from my early influences and that’s how you end up with an album like Retroactive. :o)