Movies - Acrassicauda: Heavy Metal Hardship In Baghdad The Iraqi heavy-metal band Acrassicauda had problems playing their music under Saddam Hussein, but they didn't get death threats until after the American invasion. Two band members — and the filmmaker who made a documentary about them — talk with Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

Acrassicauda: Heavy Metal Hardship In Baghdad

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Baghdad wasn't the easiest place to keep a heavy metal band together - not exactly the preferred music of the Saddam Hussein regime. But for the musicians we're about to meet, things got a lot worse after the US invasion and the insurgency started, and so did the death threats from Islamist insurgents. Even wearing a Metallica t-shirt could put your life at risk. The documentary "Heavy Metal in Baghdad" is about one of the first and one of the few bands to perform heavy metal in Baghdad. The group is called Acrassicauda, which is Latin for black scorpion. The movie was shot in 2005 and six in Baghdad. It also follows the musicians after they crossed the border into Syria when the death threats became too much for them.

"Heavy Metal in Baghdad" will premiere on the Sundance Channel Thursday night. My guests are two members of the band: drummer Marwan Riyadh and lead singer and rhythm guitarist Faisal al-Talal. Also with us is the co-director and producer of the documentary, Suroosh Alvi, who co-founded Vice Magazine Publishing. After making the film, he helped relocate the members of the band to the US. Before we hear the band's story, let's hear what they sound like. This is "Underworld," from a demo they made in Syria.

(Soundbite of song, "Underworld")

Mr. FAISAL TALAL (Lead Singer, Acrassicauda): (Singing) Out of darkness, (unintelligible). Raise the women from their magic spell. (unintelligible)

GROSS: That's music from the Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda. And welcome, Marwan Riyadh, Faisal Talal and Suroosh Alvi. Tell us what first got you interested in heavy metal music, which there probably wasn't a whole lot of in Baghdad. Faisal, you want to start?

Mr. TALAL: Yeah, sure. We basically loved foreign music. So heavy metal was a road to us to explain more of our feelings, explode that kind of rage inside of us and try to find its way, dig its way, you know?

But that wasn't enough for us as fans or listeners, only. So - but basically, we turned our horses to more educational and more training as a band, tried to feel this music more and more.

GROSS: Marwan, was it hard to find heavy metal records in Baghdad? I'm sure there weren't a lot of, like - or maybe there were, like, record shops that had big heavy metal and death metal sections in it.

Mr. MARWAN RIYADH (Drummer, Acrassicauda): Well, we don't want to, like, you know, be like a bad influence or something. But there was, like, a lot of bootlegs. And that was good stuff, cheap stuff.

GROSS: And did the bootlegs have the covers on them and everything?

Mr. RIYADH: Well, sometimes, no. You don't get lucky, like, with a cover. So what we used to do, just like write the stuff down on paper and just like put, with a tape.

Like, we didn't have CDs. We had the tapes, cassettes. And - or somebody, like, will travel outside Iraq and come back with, like, you know, a collection of stuff, like you know, heavy metal rock 'n' roll, like Dio and Black Sabbath and stuff like that. And we'll just copy them, and this is the way that we just trade between each other.

So it was kind of hard. It was kind of also, like, fun, the whole process of -it was epidemic, like you know, just like spread around, and everybody will get to hear it. And sometimes by the time that you get the tape, you can't really like hear, like listen to a good quality. So it will be just like…

(Soundbite of hissing)

Mr. RIYADH: But it's still good. You still can head-bang to it.

GROSS: Well, let me ask you to talk about a song that you recorded after you left Iraq and lived in Syria briefly, and you were able to make a demo record in Syria. And one of the songs you made was called "Massacre."

It starts out in Arabic. Would you explain what's being said at the beginning of this recording?

Mr. RIYADH: Well, what had been said is like a lot of innocent people getting killed, rivers turning to blood, since like, you know, we had like two rivers in Iraq and stuff. And it's kind of - it has nothing to do - just like about the images that we have to live daily in our lives.

You know, sometimes something bad happens in your life that you can't just get over it. You know, you'll dream about it. You'll think about it the whole time, you know? So we're just trying to get this off our backs, but hopefully, like, if we do that, these songs, mostly like a tribute for the people who just, like, you know, got killed or whatever in the war.

So we're seeing, like, you know, basically, like, you know, these innocent children, innocent people, elders and seniors, like who got killed. And some people, like a lot of people got killed in vain, you know?

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear the song "Massacre." So this is the Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda, and there's a documentary about the band called "Heavy Metal in Baghdad" that premiers on the Sundance Chanel Thursday.

(Soundbite of song, "Massacre")

Mr. TALAL: (Singing in foreign language)

GROSS: That's the song "Massacre" by the Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda, and the members of the band are now living in the United States. Two of the members are my guests, Marwan Riyadh, who's the drummer, and Faisal Talal, who's the rhythm guitarist and singer. Also with us is one of the two filmmakers, Suroosh Alvi.

And Suroosh Alvi's documentary about the band, "Heavy Metal in Baghdad," premiers Thursday on the Sundance Channel.

Let's talk about what it was like to play heavy metal in Baghdad before the American invasion. Let's start with the Saddam Hussein era. Did the government disapprove of heavy metal music? Did you have to play it underground?

Mr. TALAL: This is Faisal. Basically, the government didn't disapprove anything back in the time. Most of the rumors come ahead from all the friends and the people who surround us because we had to (unintelligible) from our friends to translate all the lyrics that we used to sing, just in case, and be prepared that somebody would ask us or tell us that what the hell that we were writing about or describe that the music that you're expressing…

Mr. SUROOSH ALVI (Co-director, "Heavy Metal in Baghdad"): I think I'm going to jump in here and…

Mr. TALAL: Go ahead.

GROSS: This is Suroosh, the filmmaker. Yeah, go ahead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TALAL: Suroosh.

Mr. ALVI: Who has nothing to do with the, you know, writing or playing the metal in Baghdad. But they wrote a song called "Youth of Iraq" that they don't like talking about. I'm going to force them to talk about it.

Mr. TALAL: Dude, dude.

GROSS: Oh, oh, I was going to ask you about this. You know, this is a song that you - it's explained in the movie that when you do the concert under Saddam Hussein, you had to do a tribute to Saddam, a musical tribute to Saddam. So you did one, and that's in the movie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIYADH: Yeah, it was an opening for a concert. Thanks, Suroosh. Yeah.

Mr. ALVI: It's their dirty little secret. They don't like talking about it, but it's in the movie, so…

Mr. TALAL: You're evil. You know that.

GROSS: Just to make it more evil, let me quote one of the lines from the song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIYADH: Yeah, sure. Be my guest.

GROSS: All right, okay. And this is about fighting the evil forces. And the line is we're following our leader, Saddam Hussein. We'll make them fall. We'll drive them insane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIYADH: Yippee.

Mr. ALVI: I love that song.

GROSS: Did you write that just for this concert so that you could have your shout-out to Saddam Hussein, or did you change the lyric of a pre-existing song?

Mr. RIYADH: No, no. Actually, like the whole thing is, like, just like Faisal said before. It's just like sort of like our friends, who like had bands before, like had played gigs were kind of like intimidated by the situation down there. So we were kind of frightened because it's the first concert. So they told us, like, you know, maybe we should take precautions and just, like you know, write something to the government.

Some of us, like, you know, approved. Some of us disapproved the whole thing. But I guess this song came to be, and we played it twice in two concerts. Then we quit playing it.

I guess it's much more like, you know, in order, like you know, to play your music, you've got to do some stuff that probably - you need to be flexible. You need to go with the flow, which is not good all the time, but we had to do it. And…

GROSS: No, I understand. And it is catchy.

Mr. RIYADH: Plus, like it's, you know, plus - yeah. I don't know. I mean, like the guy who wrote this song is not, like, no longer in the band now, but - like, the lyrics. But what I'm saying is like sometimes it means a lot for us to play our music. And you know, like for the last, like you know, years, like you know, we've been doing whatever.

GROSS: Well, since there's a scene of you performing it in the film about you, "Heavy Metal in Baghdad," why don't we listen to an excerpt of that performance of your tribute to Saddam Hussein? And what's the song called again?

Mr. RIYADH: "Youth of Iraq."

GROSS: "Youth of Iraq." Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay. Here it is, and this is the band Acrassicauda.

(Soundbite of song, "Youth of Iraq")

Mr. TALAL: (Singing) (unintelligible)

GROSS: That's the band Acrassicauda. They're an Iraqi heavy metal band that managed to get out of Iraq, and the band members are now living in the United States. My guests are two members of the band, Marwan Riyadh and Faisal Talal. My third guest, Suroosh Alvi, is the co-director of a documentary about the band. The film is called "Heavy Metal in Baghdad," and it premiers on the Sundance Channel Thursday night.

So we were talking a little bit about playing in a heavy metal band while Saddam Hussein was in power. Let's talk about what it was like after the American invasion, when there was a civil war, and a lot of the insurgents were ultra-religious Muslims, many of whom, like, didn't even like music, let along heavy metal music.

So, and Americans were really hated by - or maybe I should say are really hated by a lot of Iraqis, and heavy metal is associated with American bands and with American popular culture.

So did all of that, did the religious fundamentalism and the hatred of America affect your ability to play heavy metal music, or even to wear your favorite t-shirts?

Mr. RIYADH: Yeah, of course. Yeah, totally. I mean, it became - it was already, like, dangerous, like forbidden, like, to play such kind of music. I wouldn't say forbidden, but it was just like too eccentric, you know.

But, of course, after the invasion, it became a matter of life and death, and is it even really worth it? Is it even worth it that you're playing music and you're threatening - you're jeopardizing your life and your family, too, with that, you know?

GROSS: Well, why was it so dangerous? I mean, I know it was dangerous to just to be outside, no matter who you were. But why was it particularly dangerous?

Mr. RIYADH: Well, it's - first, we're singing, like, in English, you know. So they considered that, like, Americanized. Second, it's rock and roll, so that's also Americanized, you know? Third, it's like, you know, the way that we dress, the way that they can see us coming back and forth from the practice space. And, you know, obviously, we wouldn't, like, you know, we weren't like going to practice space wearing (unintelligible) or something, or turbans, you know.

So it was kind of like, you know, we were kind of distinguished, but in a bad way. So that's the thing. So we received the threats, and saying that we're Americanized.

GROSS: Well, how would the threats be delivered? Like would someone tell you we're going to kill you if you're going to kill you if you keep playing your music? I mean, how…

Mr. RIYADH: Well, you know, we found them hanging on the store walls, like, you know, the front door for the…

Mr. TALAL: The practice space.

Mr. RIYADH: Yeah, practice space. We found them there, and it was like pieces of papers and, you know, written and just hang there. So…

GROSS: So here you are, trying not to call attention to yourselves when Suroosh shows up to make a documentary about you. And suddenly, there's cameras following you around. Suroosh, were you worried when you went to Iraq to make the movie that you would endanger the band?

Mr. ALVI: Well, when we first went, our original idea was that we wanted to spend a day in the life with these guys and see what it was like from breakfast to evening to playing a concert. And as soon as we got there, we realized just how impossible that idea was, and we weren't following the guys around Baghdad.

It was just far too dangerous for them to be seen with us. So we were forced to meet at locations that, Firas would choose, and it was all completely on the DL. And we're never seen in public together.

GROSS: And Suroosh, you're Canadian. You live in New York, but you're of Pakistani descent. So you don't necessarily look Canadian or American, and until you open your mouth, you could pass, maybe, as Iraqi or from the region. Did that help you, do you think, in getting around?

Ms. ALVI: I think so. I think it did a little bit. And Eddie, my co-director, he's, you know, Italian-Canadian, and he can pass as Iraqi, as well. And that's the thing that Faisal and Firas were saying when we were there. They were like you guys look Iraqi. You just have to start walking like Iraqi guys. Just walk like you've never been more tired in your entire life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TALAL: Yeah, except for the flak jackets that you were wearing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ALVI: Well, we practiced in the hotel room because we were starting to go sir crazy. We were in there for a week and being told we couldn't walk around in public. So Eddie and I were determined to go walk around in public.

So, you know, Firas and Faisal kind of put us into training, and they said okay, pull your shirt out. Like, you know, put some dirt on your pants. Wear flip-flops and just drag your feet as you walk. Stare at the ground.

Mr. TALAL: Cigarettes in on hand.

Mr. ALVI: Yeah, smoke a lot of cigarettes, and then you'll be fine. So that was our, you know, camouflage.

GROSS: We'll talk more about playing heavy metal music in Baghdad and about making the documentary "Heavy Metal in Baghdad," after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are two members of the Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda: drummer Marwan Riyadh and lead singer and rhythm guitarist Faisal al-Talal. Also wish us is Suroosh Alvi, the co-director of a documentary about the band called "Heavy Metal in Baghdad." It will be shown Thursday on the Sundance Channel.

Suroosh, you and your co-director helped organized a concert for the band at the Al-Fanar Hotel in Iraq. So there's scenes of this concert in the movie, and the audience - I mean, it's a relatively small audience because it's, what, like in the ballroom of the hotel or something.

Mr. ALVI: Yeah.

GROSS: But people are so into it, and everybody's kind of, you know, like doing the head-banging thing and making this, you know, kind of like falling on each other, and I mean, doing the devil horns. They're so into it. But from what I could see, there wasn't one female in the audience.

So I was wondering, is it because the music didn't appeal to women, or is it because women just couldn't go out then? Or, I mean, like, what accounts for the fact that there were no females?

Mr. RIYADH: It was too dangerous for them.

GROSS: Too dangerous?

Mr. RIYADH: Yeah. Basically, the whole tradition wasn't, like, so acceptable for a woman to walk alone in the street or having boyfriends or something, just like no so liberated. And I daresay that going to a dangerous spot that we performed in that night, which is, basically, it's near to the Sheraton and Palestine Hotel, which has been surrounded by concrete blocks and Americans all over the place and the whole security guards.

So they check the whole Iraqi IDs and search the whole T-shirts, candy machines and all that stuff. So an Iraqi woman wouldn't bother to go through all that process just to see heavy metal.

I mean, yes, they do exist, a lot of listeners. I mean, I got - for now, I mean, I'm having a lot of messages on MySpace or Facebook or whatever, they just - just expressing their feeling that they wish to come at these concerts, but they couldn't. And they wish they could have seen us before.

So at this point, I feel glad about it, you know? Just like all these years, I was imagining there's no scene of metal to women, you know? But now, just like everyone's started coming up, and now it's really growing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It's funny because, you know, certainly in the United States, so many musicians say they became musicians because they thought they thought they would be more appealing to girls if they were in a band.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RIYADH: Yeah, sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll.

GROSS: No, exactly, exactly. And, of course, here you are in Iraq, where, like, girls can't even show up to the concerts. So it's not going to be very helpful in that area.

Mr. RIYADH: It's more like, you know, bomb and war and rock 'n' roll for us.

GROSS: Yeah, no exactly, exactly. You said for you, it was of war, bombs and rock and roll. In this concert that we've been talking about, there's a power outage. There was a mortar that goes off, like, next door or something. So…

Mr. TALAL: Yeah, yeah.


Mr. RIYADH: That's part of the scene, actually, just like fireworks, you know? So it's much easier to do such stuff in Iraq.

GROSS: You did kind of get used to it in a way, didn't you? I mean, you seem kind of like unfazed by it in the movie.

Mr. RIYADH: No, I guess it's all going to be overrated if we say like we got used to it. No, you can get used to such stuff. Like bombs? I don't think nobody can get used to it. But you just, like you know, it's part of basic, human survival, I guess. You had to survive, you know? So you have to go, like, wake up every day, and you have to go to work every day. You know, you can't starve. So you can't get used to it. But you can deal with it, I guess.

GROSS: Marwan Riyadh and Faisal al-Talal of the Iraqi metal band, Acrassicauda. We'll be back in the second half of the show with Suroosh Alvi, who made a documentary about them that will be shown on the Sundance Channel Thursday. It's called "Heavy Metal in Baghdad." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're talking about what it was like to be in a heavy metal band in Baghdad. My guests are two members of the Iraqi metal band Acrassicauda, drummer Marwan Riyadh and lead singer and rhythm guitarist Faisal al-Talal. The band is the subject of the documentary "Heavy Metal in Baghdad," which will be shown on the Sundance Channel, Thursday. Also with us is the film's co-director, Alvi Suroosh. After the insurgency started, the band started getting death threats from Islamic extremists.

So eventually you and the other members of the band decided to do your best to get out of Iraq. Two members went first, the other two followed. Can you tell us why you wanted to leave and how difficult it was to get out? You went to Syria first.

Mr. TALAL: Let me just rephrase this before…

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. TALAL: The general idea of us leaving Iraq is not like because we wanted that so desperately. I mean, most of people could miss it or misunderstand it, but we've been forced to leave. And leaving all this behind was so hard. It was so depressing for us. We wanted to do something for the band, and for me, I mean, at my time, when I wanted to leave, I had already two members of my band had already left to Syria.

GROSS: How long were you in Syria and how long were you in Turkey?

Mr. TALAL: Well, a year and a half and a year and half, I guess like three years overall. I can't be exact, but I guess it's overall like three years -together.

GROSS: Did you feel like freedom in either of the places? Or were you in such difficult positions that you still didn't really feel…

Mr. TALAL: You need to understand, we were refugees. So it's life like just -it's a hard life multiplied like in ten times, I guess, like - because a lot of bureaucratic stuff that you need to go through, paper work, just to legalize your situation and just to, you know, a lot of people got the (unintelligible) like, you know, to born in their countries and walk tall and stuff. For us it was - even that was kind of hard. So we had to go like through down streets and alleys just to avoid like being in like misunderstanding situation or get caught by the police, because sometimes we're illegal in these places because the paperwork wasn't done.

Mr. RIYADH: Well, I guess the general idea wouldn't - I mean, things were really getting harder and harder. And we were out of time, out of money. So we had to do what we had to do.

GROSS: And what did you have to do because you were out of money?

Mr. TALAL: We made "Heavy Metal in Baghdad." We said yes to whatever Suroosh…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You hadn't said yes before that?

Mr. TALAL: No.

Mr. ALVI: Not in our Baghdad, you know.

Mr. ALVI: I think it took sometime to gain the trust of these guys as well and the whole, you know, process of making the film. But once the film was out and premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, that's when the Syrian government was getting fed up with, you know, the number of Iraqis that were coming in, were threatening to kick Iraqis back in to - to Iraq. And at that time the guys were receiving threats from inside of Iraq when they were living in Syria. So because of the footage that we'd shot and put on our Web site, on, I'm not sure if that makes sense, but what happened was we had kind of outed these guys. They were living their lives as refugees in Syria and all of a sudden they're getting threats for their music from inside of Iraq, people saying, you know, come back home, we'll take care of you; meet us on this corner at this time in this city. So the guys are contacting us saying: Syrian government's about to kick us back home and going back home is really bad idea; what can we do?

Mr. RIYADH: Situation was unstable too.

Mr. ALVI: Yeah. So that's when we started raising money and…

GROSS: Raising money to get them out of Syria?

Mr. TALAL: To get them out of Syria and get them to Turkey. Turkey was the one country that you could fly to as an Iraqi without a visa and they would accept you. That was the one border that was kind of open at that time. And even that had a window that was going to close. So we - we hustled and, you know, raised awareness, and the metal community donated…

Mr. RIYADH: It was the craziest thing ever.

Mr. ALVI: Yeah, donated, you know, whatever - 25 grand or something like that. And with that we got them tickets and some cash in their pockets when they landed.

GROSS: That's great. So there's like metal community around the world.

Mr. ALVI: For sure.

GROSS: That's really great. Suroosh, when you decided to make this documentary about this Iraqi heavy metal band, did you have any idea that suddenly you'd feel responsible for their lives, that their lives would be endangered, in part because of the movie. And it would be on your head in a way, yeah. Go ahead.

Mr. ALVI: Absolutely not.

Mr. TALAL: Oh yeah, keep talking, keep talking.

Mr. ALVI: Terry, had I known, I never would've made the movie. I mean come on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ALVI: No, you know, it was just - we were just chasing the story, and it just kept going and it was something that started off as the story in the magazine and then became a short form…

Mr. TALAL: Epidemic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ALVI: Yeah. Webisodes on the Web site, and then it turned into a feature. And then once, you know, the credits rolled at the end of the film, the story kept going, and that wasn't something that we had expected or bargained for, that it would have repercussions like that. And so that's why we stayed involved. And at that point we'd also developed a relationship with these guys and were friends and just wanted, you know, they asked for help, so…

Mr. TALAL: A lot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ALVI: We have to say that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So Turkey isn't the end of the story. Suroosh, you helped get them -with contributions from the heavy metal community you helped get them into Turkey. But now you guys are living in The United States. Was Turkey a problem eventually too?

Mr. RIYADH: No, we need - we needed a place, okay. We couldn't stay like in exile forever. We couldn't stay like in stable forever. We couldn't like walk and we're carrying like the forms of refugees like three or four papers around, you know. You need to understand this because refugee being - refugee is not a status. It's just like, you know, form. You know, it's part of a process, you know? And that's why it was just like, you know, it wasn't the destination. So we had to go to someplace where we can perform our music, where we can play our music, it didn't matter where. Just like, you know, we had to find a solution.

I remember we applied like with help from the boys, we applied to the Canadian embassy twice, got rejected. And the German because like embassy, where they were premiering "Heavy Metal in Baghdad," the movie, and they helped a lot with just the papers. I guess it was a problem with our paperwork. Then it just happens that we got to the States and then, you know, and it took awhile. We came to here like separately, you know, like individual, like separately, till like I just got here like month and a half ago.

GROSS: Oh, no, I didn't realize that.

Mr. ALVI: Yeah, the level of bureaucracy as an outsider looking in, seeing what these guys had to go through in Turkey, was totally insane. We've actually filmed something called "Heavy Metal in Istanbul," which was not just keep pushing, you know, movies that I make about these guys, but it was - kind of covered the - their story in Istanbul. But we filmed the entire process with the UNHCR that they had to go through…

GROSS: That's the UN Commission - High Commission on Refugees.

Mr. ALVI: Yes, in Ankara in the capital of Turkey. And we interviewed the people at the UNHCR there, and they were saying, you know, the psychological impact that this amount of bureaucracy has on refugees, it really takes its toll. And you know, the system on some level doesn't make sense. They - even once they became, you know, official refugees in Turkey, they weren't allowed to work legally and then were forced to resettle in these satellite cities all over Turkey.

So the band was then broken up and they're all living in four different cities inside of Turkey and they have to check in with the local police stations every week for, you know, X number of months until they can be granted exit visas out of the country.

Mr. TALAL: Yeah, until they finish the process.

Mr. ALVI: Because Turkey doesn't want Iraqis to stay there indefinitely. It was kind of like a temporary station. They want to resettle the refugees in another country. And so that's why, you know, we got…

Mr. TALAL: Population.

Mr. ALVI: …we got the IRC involved, who were the International Rescue Committee, they're an NGO based here in New York, who got behind their cases and helped expedite everything and got them re-settled…

GROSS: In the United States?

Mr. ALVI: …over the last couple of months, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. So you're all living in New Jersey now.

Mr. ALVI: No.

Mr. TALAL: No, we're were still separated. Some in New York, some in Michigan, some in New Jersey. Also scattered again.

GROSS: Oh, I didn't realize that. So one member of your band is in Michigan?

Mr. TALAL: Yeah, for now. I mean like just because we can't afford like, you know, I mean the crisis of the economy a little bit affecting us.

GROSS: So you finally made - so you made it to America, but you can't play together right now because you're not together.

Mr. TALAL: Yeah, we made it here to hustle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So what you're doing to make a living and to pay your rent?

Mr. TALAL: Work in different jobs, waiting tables and whatever, you know, overtime jobs. But you know, you need to understand the main reason for us is the music to be here, working with the boys on finding something and solutions. But everything has taken like, you know, a while, you know, finding instruments, finding practice space…

GROSS: Finding instruments. Did you not have your instruments when you came?

Mr. TALAL: We had to sell them all so we can afford like, you know, whatever, tickets, pocket, like money for pockets and stuff. So we had to sell our instruments.

GROSS: Do you have them back yet? I mean do you have new instruments yet?

Mr. TALAL: I didn't earn money yet to have them back, you know. No.

GROSS: Not yet.

Mr. ALVI: Some of the, you know, companies out there like Fender Guitars have been really supportive in the past. And Yamaha just gave a bass to - to Faraz and, you know, James Hetfield gave his guitar to Faisal.

GROSS: This is James Hetfield of Metallica, and if you want to see him giving the guitar to Faisal, just go on YouTube. Because it's on there. It's a really - it's a really sweet moment.

Mr. TALAL: Yeah. For those who doesn't - still concerning about the whole situation, I'm still in coma, okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TALAL: I'm still in coma okay, yes.

GROSS: We'll talk more with two members of the Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda, and with the co-director of a documentary about them, after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are two members of the Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda, drummer Marwan Riyadh and lead singer and rhythm guitarist Faisal al-Talal. Also with us is Suroosh Alvi, the co director of a documentary about the band called "Heavy Metal in Baghdad." It will be shown Thursday on the Sundance Channel. The band members recently moved to the United States.

So have you been to any heavy metal concerts in the United States? I know you can't afford food, but have you managed to get into any concerts?

Mr. TALAL: Look, we can't afford tickets, but, you know (unintelligible) is helping, kind of like giving us like mooching…

GROSS: Right.

Mr. TALAL: …tickets and, you know…

GROSS: So tell me something about the experience of being in a heavy metal concert in the United States compared to what you were used to.

Mr. TALAL: It's great seeing the amount of people. And - and the whole benches are full and people standing and people going through the mosh pits and the stuff. I mean, you don't see that every day like for us, you know? And it's great seeing like a big community of - of metalheads and metal fans and standing on that solid ground and the bands performing. And it was a great show. I mean like it was - it was kind of like an epiphany for for us, to see all this stuff. And just to remind us about what we kind of miss the most, which is music and performing on stage. I mean like we had 600 people on stage and we were like, you know, yeah, we had 600 people on stage, and yeah, whatever, you know?

And now like I just go to underground concerts and there's like like, you know, thousands like of people and watching like an underground band. So it's great. I mean like we're kind of being optimistic considering the music, trying to work hard just to catch up, because it's been the last two years, I mean, like we didn't really, you know, continue with our own music because we had to handle all the paperwork and, just like we said, the bureaucracy stuff.

GROSS: So I'm sure you would love to be in that position of being on stage in America with thousands of fans in the audience.

Mr. TALAL: Oh yeah - oh yeah, definitely, all over the globe.

Mr. RIYADH: It's like when I was trying to talk to the guy and tell them just like, guys, seriously, for the first time we're - I guess we're fit in whole society. I mean the whole - the whole guys was metalheads and headbangers and all these hot chicks around you. So just like was really, really interesting to see all that, you know, just like, yes, I want this.

GROSS: But here's the thing. Like now you finally fit into this large community of fellow heavy metal fans and musicians. But you're still the outsider because now you're an Iraqi in this American community, so like you're finally with your people, but they're not quite your people.

Mr. TALAL: See, to be honest, it doesn't matter. For these people like, you know, music does matter. Paperwork and - that says like where you're from and stuff, I mean like we speak the same language. We speak the language of the music, you know? So it sound kind of like cheesy or cliché, but this the way it is.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. TALAL: We went to this festival in Atlanta. And there was like 31 bands performing. And we're like surprised to see how much people knew about us and knew about the movie, but they knew about us and they were like, you know, really delighted and would like, you know, wide open arms, saying like, you know, we want to take to take photos with you guys. Are you playing today? So I don't think it does matter - borders and frontiers and stuff doesn't matter. It doesn't make sense in the music like world, you know?

GROSS: Let me ask you this. It seems to me you are in a kind of funny position where on the one hand you have this like documentary about you being this Iraqi band that plays heavy metal, and the documentary is about to be on Sundance, Thursday night. It's played film festivals. It's gotten good reviews. So I mean you have - you have, in some ways, you know, you're kind of semi-famous, or semi-semi-famous, or semi-almost-famous. But at the same time it's like your…

Mr. TALAL: We need to find a category.

GROSS: Yeah, you need to find a category. At the same time you're almost semi-homeless. I mean, you know, you're - you just got to the United States, you have no money.

Mr. TALAL: Paradox.

GROSS: Yeah. So you're - you're living in kind of both worlds at the same time. You don't even have instruments yet, you know? That's how little money you have. So it must be a really awkward, kind of ridiculous time for you.

Mr. TALAL: It is. I mean like lot of times we just like, you know, you don't know if you have to laugh or cry or - because, yeah, I mean like we go and we saw ourselves and there's like hundreds of Web sites and then talking about the bands and, you know, whatever and talking about the documentary and being just like you said, the whole like buzz about the movie. And on the other hand, you know, I didn't like, you know, I've been like couch surfing for six months now. So that's the thing, so yeah, we're living this kind of like living paradox like, you know, are we famous, are we not, are we homeless, are we musicians, are we musicians, are we refugees?

GROSS: I'm interested in how you feel about America now. Here is what I'm thinking. You know, the American government decided it wanted to, you know, bring democracy to Baghdad and ended up bringing civil war to Iraq. And you became victims of that. You had to flee the country because of it. So that might go in the negative column for you, for America, and part of the reason why you had to flea was because you are playing a music that came out of America, heavy metal, and America was so hated in Iraq then that you were threatened, and now you're living in America.

At the same time you're broke. It was hard to get in here. It's not like America invited you to come. I mean you had a - it was really hard for you to get in.

Mr. TALAL: I already feel better when you say like the whole story, you know, you are like reminding me of this, and it feels good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So - but how did you feel about America now? I mean like what are your thoughts about the country?

Mr. TALAL: It's not easy - it's not easy as it seems. It's a lot more complicated. If you want to like, just like, you know, in one program or show, like trying to describe, like, two nations' policies and political views, and you know, you can't do that. First like we're musicians. And second - I guess what happens in some - a lot of points was monstrous and you can't justify it, you know? But also we can't justify like the First World War, like the second one or like, you know, all over, I can't justify the Gulf War or trying to analyze it or explain it because, you know - we had our had music. But I would say like, you know, killing living souls and stuff, that's wrong, you know? And this is against everything, and we had to go through that and we had to live through that, and I guess we got lucky in way, you know, if you look at it.

Lot of people got killed in these wars and lot of people just, you know, had to live with a lot of like, you know, living like the daily sorrow of missing someone or, you know, part of their families.

Mr. RIYADH: Even here - even here, a lot of families lost their own kids and sons and daughters in the army, I mean over, just like - it isn't fare, you know, both societies have been destroyed.

Mr. TALAL: That's what we're saying. Like we can't justify war. I mean like if you expect like two musicians just to come and talk about war, like, you know, I wouldn't like drag myself to that, but I would say it's monstrous, it's hideous. And we don't want to sound hippies, but you know, wish there was peace on Earth, but I don't think this is possible.

GROSS: Well, Marwan and Faisal, I want to wish you good luck with your lives and with your music.

Mr. TALAL: Thank you.

GROSS: And Suroosh, congratulations on the movie and thank you for talking with us. It's been a pleasure to talk with the three of you. Thank you very much.

Mr. ALVI: Thank you.

GROSS: Marwan Riyadh and Faisal Talal are members of the Iraqi metal band Acrassicauda. Suroosh Alvi is the co-director of a documentary about the band called "Heavy Metal in Baghdad". It will be shown on the Sundance Channel Thursday.

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