It was during the languid month of August 2016 when I first encountered the joyous sounds of Pallett. With my record collection featuring an abundance of retro Persian artists, such as Dariush, Sattar et al, I thought it time to revisit the contemporary music scene, having given up on most Persian rock and pop, post-1990, and sticking to classical. What a delight it was to discover a band of Tehrani’s, whose infectious and eccentric ditties brought a huge smile to my face.
Pallett, consisting of Omid Nemati (vocal) Dariush Azar (double bass) Hessam Mohammadianpour (percussion), Rouzbeh Esfandarmaz (clarinet) and Mahyar Tahmasbi (cello), are five friends who have an unadulterated passion for music. This is quite obvious in their set-up, if you listen to any of their songs, you can hear, not just Persian sounds, but a wealth of influences.
It wasn’t too long before the Pallett boys had found their way into my daily listening routine. By 2017, my intrigue and fascination had got the better of me, so I embarked upon a quest to talk to the band. Eventually, I had the pleasure of speaking with Rouzbeh Esfandarmaz, a clarinet player who has evolved in his style, along with the rest of the band.
This Band of Brothers
Despite the many miles between us, Rouzbeh took my questions as if they were those asked by a trusted friend. He was eloquent and honest, revealing the inner-most secrets of he and his friend’s musical journey.
When I first explored your back catalogue, I could hear many musical influences weaved throughout, like a tapestry. Iranian of course, Georgian maybe? Some Greek and Gypsy? It was this unique amalgamation of every musical genre I’ve ever loved. It’s such an overused question to ask musicians, but what are your influences?
When it comes to Influences, I think the main concept of our band is that we are five different people with five different backgrounds, and we are true to those backgrounds. What we do when we are composing music is we simply sit around and throw ideas at each other. As there is no single composer or single arranger, its all like a workshop.
For us, composing a song takes sometimes two days or two months, it’s very time-consuming, as you can imagine. You’re absolutely right, there is a lot of Greek, Gypsy, Georgian influences in the second album, along with rock and of course, minimalist, classical and Persian etc. Basically, it’s everything we have ever listened to. You see, at the heart of Pallett, our influences are just music itself and everything we have loved throughout our lives.
I want to take a different angle and, instead of asking about your first or current album, I must ask about ‘Tehran, Smile!’. What is the story behind this album?
The story behind ‘Tehran, Smile! is that we were in the process of recording our first album, and one day in the winter (we had quite rough winters because of pollution in Tehran, currently it’s getting better, but still quite harsh) we were all about to rehearse, and most of us were moaning about the pollution and all that it does to us, then one of us said it was like the city is dying, and if you see the city from a distant, you will notice this intense black cloud, which gives a very ominous feeling.
We started talking and brainstorming, it wasn’t like we were looking for an idea because we already had everything for that, it was just that someone said we should to go up in the mountains and shout to the city “Hey Tehran! Don’t die, try to smile!”
The actual story is about immigration, about living in Tehran, how little we know about our beloved city. At its heart it’s a story about our generation, which is a generation that started to love Tehran, rather than putting labels on it. We really state loving the city for what it is; However we are also a generation who is losing our friends because of immigration, friends started moving abroad, to Canada, Europe, the US etc, so we have a very big community around the world.
It’s all of these concepts that are in ‘Tehran, Smile! The city is raising these children, it’s giving them love and everything good, yet they are still leaving, and the ones that stay are somehow separated form their beloved friends and family. So, the story is about all this, it’s a tribute to Tehran and to our generation.
The boys perennial passion for musical exploration has seen them cover a melody by the late Afghan musician Ahmad Zahir. Pallett has taken Zahir’s ‘Leyli Jan’ a song of melancholy bathed in seduction and transformed it into a jubilant anthem.
I feel an air of nostalgia when I listen to your work, which injects into your songs a particular kind of joy. Would you say that nostalgia is something you have purposefully worked in or is it all in my head?
About the nostalgia, yes, we definitely use it with purpose, because it is a very big part of our lives, we are the generation that started with just black and white tv, yet now, in the midst of our lives, we have everything, we have seen the progess of technology. We experience a lot of things in fast motion, so nostalgia is a big part of our life, it’s also a very big thing for the generation after us and before us.
If anything could make a song more meaningful and touching for our audience we will use it, but it’s not like we have to use nostalgia, if sometimes with an idea or song that we feel we can use this, we will; However, we have a touch of nostalgia in about 30 to 40 percent of our songs, it’s nothing we saw as necessary, it’s an organic process, if it’s good we will use it if not we won’t.
There’s some raw and emotional lyrics in many of your songs, from the sweet and lilting to the rousing and celebratory. What’s your process, as a group, in regards to writing the songs?
Most of the lyrics in the second album are from Omid, it’s just as I said about the name ‘Tehran, Smile!’, we start talking about it and in this process we just brainstorm. Some concepts, emotions or even pictures would arise, not just when it comes to lyrics but the music itself, and Omid will do the rest with the lyrics. He’ll read it to us and if it’s a thumbs up from everyone we will use it. The process of making the first album, well, it was a work in-progress for nearly 6 years, none of the songs in that are similar to each other, we drew inspiration from a lot of modern poets and old ones.
Now let’s go back to the beginning, the album ‘Mr. Violet’ is so accomplished; it showed your talents off superbly. Tell me the story behind it.
The story behind ‘Mr Violet’, well, it’s a very simple but amazing one, I think anyway. The thing about Pallett is that we were friends long before starting the band, I became friends with Omid about 10 years ago, we met at some party and after that he came to one of the theatre’s where I was playing music. At the same time, I was hanging out with Mahyar, we have been friends for more than 15 years, we met when we started university. I was with Dariush at the arts university of Tehran, we were just friends who knew each other.
About 13 years ago we were all thinking differently from what they had taught us at our respective universities, we all had differing tastes, so we loved our traditional folk music, rock music, electronic music, one of my personal favourites is heavy metal for example. So, we somehow wanted to steer away from placing ourselves in one specific genre.
I think it was 8 years ago that we had a call from Mahak, which is a hospital for children with cancer, and it was for us to play at a charity event. I was doing lots of stuff before this with Omid, and he told me “lets do something different and good this time”. So, I called up Mahyar and Hessam, and we practiced for about 5 days, which is when we completed half of ‘Mr Violet’, when we performed it, we got a really great reaction and as we so enjoyed the creative process we decided to just begin working on Pallett, we just loved the idea of creating new and bold music.
I think it was just this combination of good players, good thinkers and good people, who were friends and knew what we wanted to achieve. The outcome of that was and is amazing.
If there is something, anything you wish for a listener to take away from hearing one of your songs, what is it?
We are trying our best to give our listeners something new, something that makes the best of their time and maybe point them to some things they overlook or don’t pay attention to, because with everything that the modern world has given us, the things we are overlooking is getting bigger and bigger, growing greater by the minute, so we tell them something about Tehran or themselves or living in general.
We want to tell them just to settle down for a second, and look around, see the grey city of Tehran as thing of beauty. Somehow this happened for Tehran in recent years, we started loving it like the New Yorker’s did their city, that’s what we want our listeners to take a way, give them some comfort and a touch of something they missed.
Below is a recording of Rouzbeh’s full response.