I met Raam in 2007 when Hypernova first landed in the U.S. I profiled the band for NPR back then, because what's a better story than a rock band from the Islamic Republic of Iran, where it's illegal to rock?
It was time to check back with Hypernova, because an American record label has just released the band's debut album, and because the musicians now call Brooklyn home. Raam lives in Williamsburg, where it's practically a crime not to rock. Every other hipster walking to the subway looks like he or she is in a band.
Raam insisted we talk on top of a supertall, rusty water tower on the roof of his artist's loft.
"I'm doing the most dangerous interview that I've ever done before," Raam says. "How we're going to get back down is a mystery."
That seems to be Raam's modus operandi: Do first, think later.
Dancing Is Not A Crime
He formed a rock band in a country where you can literally get lashed for playing Western music, but he got sick of jamming in his Tehran basement. On a whim, Hypernova tried for the 2007 South by Southwest music festival and some real exposure. The musicians got in, but they didn't get their visas in time to make it. But with visas in hand, they seized the opportunity to get out of Iran and came to the U.S. anyway.
"You know, in the beginning, there was a lot of media attention around our story," Raam says. "There was this oriental element to it: 'Oh, look, here's this band from this theocratic state where we never imagined hearing this kind of rock 'n' roll.' To be honest, I felt like we didn't deserve a lot of that attention, because when we first came here, our music really sucked."
The four members of Hypernova had two years to work on their sound, and the result is their debut album, Through the Chaos.. "Viva La Resistance," in particular, is an ultrahyper, danceable song with a blunt message: "The boys, they're shouting and the girls, they are dancing, and it ain't no f- - - - - - crime!"
"Growing up in Iran, we were raised in this very Orwellian state, and were always afraid of the authorities," Raam says. "Kids were told to squeal on their parents, and you get to the point where you say, 'F- - - it! I don't care if I'm going to get lashed or thrown into jail. I'm going play my g- - - - - - guitar!"
Raam has encouraged other musicians from back home to escape a government that controls their art. And they have — he shares his messy Brooklyn loft with The Yellow Dogs, another band from Iran.
Beds are scattered on the floor, a bag of basmati rice hangs from the ceiling, and a gigantic half-finished bottle of Carlo Rossi collects dust on a shelf.
"I hardly have any money, but I've never been happier in my life than I am right now. Because if we go back home, we'd probably get arrested, and that won't do any good to anyone. But the fear of the landlord kicking you out is something parallel, too," Raam says, laughing.
Living In The Now
Raam says his favorite song on Through the Chaos is "Here and Now." He says that although it sounds trite, it's about trying to live in the present.
"A lot of Iranians — they feel proud that we used to rule the world or conquered the world 2,500 years ago," Raam says. "That was ages ago; what are you doing now to represent your country in a positive light? Your actions will speak much louder than words of history and times that have passed."
Hypernova is in the process of planning a U.S. tour to promote Through the Chaos and has recently added a fifth member, an American. But the group is months behind schedule, because three members were detained at the U.S.-Canada border on their way back to Brooklyn. Why? They have Iranian passports.
"I understand where it's all coming from," Raam says. "I understand that it's standard operating procedure. I just wish they would make it easier for artists. We're doing something positive to bridge this cultural divide through representing our nations. We're not the bad guys; we're the good guys."
But, Raam wryly adds, that's something you have to get used to when you're a rock band from the Axis of Evil.