Playlist: Zohra Atash

Zohra Atash is the primary songwriter and vocalist for Azar Swan. She performed the same function as mastermind of her gothic chamber ensemble Religious to Damn as well as acted as a touring member of A Storm of Light during the Forgive Us Our Trespasses tour where she handled all live renditions of parts originally sung by Lydia Lunch and Jarboe. Azar Swan's debut album, Dance Before The War, was released on November 12th via Handmade Birds. The release is the first ever digital release for the label which is known for an eclectic, experimental roster that includes Circle of Ouroborus, Pinkish Black, Blut Aus Nord, and His Name Is Alive (whose Warren Defever incidentally mixed the first Religious to Damn 7" for M'Lady's Records, titled Falls Down Again.) Fresh off of a string of West Coast dates where they joined the stage with the likes of King Dude and Warm Hands, Azar Swan will be playing their record release party at 285 Kent in Brooklyn this Thursday, November 14th with Xeno & Oaklander, Eraas, and Soviet Soviet


1. Marianne Faithfull - Broken English
The sound of love and war, sex, drugs and God - the touchstones of all my favorite records. This is essentially a punk record in spirit, but sonically it's a strange mix of genres that came together because of one jagged, singular voice. A huge inspiration for Dance Before the War.

2. Maya Deren - The Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti 
I love Maya Deren's experimental surrealist dance films, which is how I found out about this documentary. My love of movement has always shaped my music. The essence of Dance Before the War is a fascination with fight or flight, and how movement is used as celebration of life. Afghans have a traditional war dance used before battles which is also performed at weddings. Dear friends of mine on the other side, from the west, showed me footage of themselves before missions, dancing on top of trucks uncertain they'd be alive to see the next day. This documentary is just another piece of inspiration for me.

3. American Horror Story  
I've been a fan since the first season. It's like horror melodrama, taking the best of horror tropes, and unveiling them like some insane telemundo. Hints of John Carpenter, Argento, Polanski, Romero... it's all there. The latest offering "Coven" is about a bunch of witches in New Orleans. One lady witch in particular has resurrection powers and lives by a swamp and is obsessed with Stevie Nicks. Sold.

4. Peter Gabriel - Security
I have gotten in more heated debates over Peter Gabriel than politics and God combined. The universe he assembled sonically from "Scratch" to "Security" is so vivid it's almost tangible. I like vacationing there. I also used it as a sort of blueprint for the first couple of Azar Swan records, which were sonically and thematically linked. Dance Before the War and the record we're currently working on tentatively entitled ...And Blow Us a Kiss may end up working as a two-act play.  

5. Vaura - The Missing 
I play in a band with Josh and Charlie, and I feel so lucky that I do this while still a mega-fan of their other works.  

6. Charles Dickens - Bleak House
I bought this as a Christmas present for a dear friend a few years back. He said to me, "Thank you?" It's a monster of a read, but God it's as relevant as it was the day it was written. A timeless classic that embraces darkness but doesn't romanticize it. Said friend finally finished the book four Christmases later and thanked me for the recommendation and for liking Dickens more than Bukowski.

7. Magritte 
The Lovers is my favorite painting. I get lost in his work. I told Shaun Durkan, who designs our visuals, that I wanted there to be movement and body parts but framed in a way that you couldn't quite make out what you were looking at. Something minimal that would take some time to reveal itself. I think he did a fantastic job with that.

8. Rahbani Brothers musicals for Fairuz 
Fairuz is one of the most famous singers in the middle east, loved by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Her voice is so rich and emotional, I listen to it when I want to feel a sense of calm and home. The Rahbani brothers wrote a slew of musicals starring Fairuz, Petra being one of my favorites. There's footage of "Ma Nam El Layl" on Youtube I highly recommend.

9. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
It occurred to me after watching this movie that I have a predilection for stories about girls no longer a child, not yet a woman, in the throes of some hyper-sexual fantasy-horror. Valerie and Her Week of WondersCarrie, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural are other great films that are examples of this. Perhaps it's because I remember my thirteenth year pretty vividly, and by a landslide it was the most traumatic yet pivotal year of my life.

10. Landays - Poetry Magazine volume 202, number 3
Poetry is a part of a cultural tradition that was for passed down to me. It is revered. My parents would deliver these life lessons through bits of poetry. It's something I used to take for granted. June's issue of Poetry Magazine is the first I'd ever heard of these particular landays, which is an oral couplet, a piece of a song sung by Pashtun women, most of whom are illiterate. They are dark, and dirty, and sinister, and angsty. In a lot of ways, when I feel like I don't know where I belong, I completely understand where I come from reading these.

You sold me to an old man, father.
May God destroy your home. I was your daughter.

Making love to an old man 
is like fucking a shriveled cornstalk blackened by mold.

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