MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
This week, an Iranian indie rock band made history. Hypernova is the first Iranian band to emerge from the underground rock scene in Tehran. It's signed to an American record label, and released an album in the U.S. NPR's Shereen Meraji spoke with Hypernova's frontman, Raam, about the new release.
SHEREEN MERAJI: I met Raam in 2007, when Hypernova first landed in the U.S. I profiled them for NPR, because what doesn't scream story more than a rock band from the Islamic Republic of Iran, where it's illegal to rock?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
HYPERNOVA: (Singing) Living life in the heart of Iran. We had a dream of becoming one...
MERAJI: He insisted we talk on top of a super tall, rusty water tower on the roof of his artists' loft.
RAAM: I'm doing probably the most dangerous interview I've ever done before. How we're going to get back down is still a mystery.
MERAJI: 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 didn't get their visas in time to make South by Southwest. But they came to the U.S. anyway.
RAAM: You know, in the beginning, there was a lot of media attention around our story. There was this exotic, oriental element to it - where, oh, wow, look at this, this underground band from this theocratic state, where we never even imagined of hearing this kind of rock and roll. To be honest, I felt that we didn't deserve a lot of the attention 'cause when we first came here, our music really sucked.
MERAJI: The four members of Hypernova had two years to work on their sound. Their debut album, "Through the Chaos," is the result of that effort. The second track, say it, Raam...
RAAM: "Viva La Resistance."
MERAJI: ...is an ultra-hyper, danceable song with a blunt message
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VIVA LA RESISTANCE")
HYPERNOVA: (Singing) The boys, they are shouting and the girls, they are dancing 'cause it ain't no (bleep) crime.
RAAM: Growing up in Iran, where we were raised in this very Orwellian state and we're always afraid of the authorities, and kids were told to squeal on their parents. And you know, you reach a point where you're just like (bleep) it. I don't care if I'm going to get lashed or thrown into jail. I'm going play my goddamn guitar.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VIVA LA RESISTANCE")
HYPERNOVA: (Singing) Your theocratic, neo-fascist ideology is only getting in the way of my biology. Your rock says no, but my body wants more. Oh, Lord, won't you help me out? I've lost control...
MERAJI: 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.
RAAM: I hardly have any money, but I've never been happier in my life, either. Because if we go back home, we'll 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.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE AND NOW")
HYPERNOVA: (Singing) I'm at the mercy of the waves, where they rouse is where I'll stay. Time will let me down. You are here and now...
MERAJI: Raam's favorite song on Hypernova's debut is this one, called "Here and Now." He says although it sounds cliche, it's about trying to live in the present.
RAAM: A lot of Iranians, they feel too proud that we used to rule the world and conquered the world 2,500 years ago. I'm like, yeah, but that was like, ages ago. What are you doing now to represent your country, you know, in a positive light? You know, your actions will speak much louder than words of history and, you know, times that have passed.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MERAJI: Hypernova is in the process of planning a U.S. tour to promote "Through the Chaos." The band recently added a fifth member, an American, but they're months behind schedule. Three members were detained at the U.S.-Canada border on their way back to Brooklyn because they have Iranian passports.
RAAM: I understand like, you know, where it's all coming from. I understand it's like, standard operating procedure. And I just wish that there was a way that they could like, make it easier for like, artists. We're doing actually something positive in terms of bridging this sort of cultural divide between our representing nations. We're not the bad guys; we're the good guys.
MERAJI: But, adds Raam, that's something you have to get used to when you're a rock band from the Axis of Evil.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MERAJI: Shereen Meraji, NPR News.
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