Atlas Kept His Gripes To Himself and Did His Job: Heavy Minnesota Music – Interview: Ali Jaafar (Another Heaven, Diie)
Toxic society, a global pandemic, labor revolutions, and the melting ice caps can’t even stop Minneapolis from creating. If anything, Minnesota seems to deal with the “heaviness” pretty fucking well. Like our spiritual cousins Washington, New York, and (for some reason) Florida & California, Minnesota translates darkness fluidly into something beautiful.
Of our many purveyors of the Heavy, few have been as prolific as Ali Jaafar, songwriter and main-brain behind Ecstatic Studios. As a part of Another Heaven, Jaafar and his mates marry the serene with the substantial to create a tuneful, yet solid brick wall of sound. Diie mine the same sonic ore, but their touch is more esoteric – transcendental, even. Both projects have released new full length albums this autumn, so I thought it pertinent to catch up with Jaffar and get into his latest productions.
Besides players what distinguishes Another Heaven and Diie to you, the constant factor?
Well, both bands write everything collectively so it kinda ends up being a mix of everyone’s musicianship and personalities. I think that might surprise some folks (because they see me as the “frontperson” or whatever) but it really is true.
In Another Heaven, most songs start as a demo that someone wrote – but we all write demos. We also just randomly jam, too, which is how some parts are written. Like, take “Rain” for example: that started as a riff that Cole wrote like ten years ago, but the whole back end is based on a jam that we did a couple years ago. Then I added lyrics and vocals later, which Cole and I arranged together. The final piece was Emily’s guest vocals – which tie it all together – and getting the right sound on the “LET’S GO” part because we needed that.
Diie is even weirder; it’s kind of just total chaos that we sculpt into pieces of music. Like, it might be multiple jams in the same key that we fuse together and eventually get sounding like a song.On this latest record, there were a lot of last minute changes and sometimes just deleting entire takes/instruments. It’s weird, you never know when a guitar is going to turn into a synth or vice versa. There’s also some sick clarinet in there.
Are Another Heaven telling an extended narrative with IV: Heaven Sent or is each release a respective look at the band in the given time?
We get this question alot, actually, and I don’t really have a great answer for it. I don’t think that we ever set out to tell a very concrete or specific “story” with our albums but the themes always tend to cohere around a couple different topics and we sequence the albums in a dynamic way so it sort of feels like you’re going on a little adventure as you listen.
I think that the two big themes that pop up on all of our records are Climate Change/Ecological Destruction and Socio-Political Inequality. It’s been really terrifying to see how both things have escalated so rapidly in the last few years, especially in America. That’s what I wrote the lyrics for “Arab Stardust,” “Erased,” “Catacombs,” “Just Another Day,” etc., about. There are also other lyrics that Cole wrote that cover these same things, like on “The Light.”
Obviously, this shit is all personal as well – so we end up writing about our own specific experiences. Like, yeah, there’s a song called “Arab Stardust” and multiple songs about how I couldn’t go outside after getting the holes in my retinas lazer-welded shut. I have no idea if that answers the question
I’ve noticed “loud“ music these days is usually quite compressed and thin when put to record. What are (some of) your secrets for getting these big, beautiful sounds.
Not over-compressing, not filtering out low-end, actually recording at high volumes (and with big amps), not blowing it out in mastering, etc.
I think it also helps that we always think of these releases as vinyl-first, so everything has to be dynamic and have some breathing room. The vinyl version is always the best and I recommend that everyone who likes our music hear it in that format at some point. We actually do a separate mix and master for vinyl every time, so it’s a bit of a treat to hear it that way.
I hear a lot of the past in AH’ and Diie’s sound as much as the present and future. What are…let’s say TWO acts most people would never guess have influenced your projects?
I’d have to say (roughly) 90s R&B and electronic music, which is what got me into making my own music and really focusing on production and how music is made. Sade and Roni Size had more of an impact on me than anything when I was kid. Also Sade’s vocals are insane, so it gives me something to practice towards/aspire to – even though I just found a tape copy of “Diamond Life” three days ago that says on the cover that it’s pronounced “Shar-Day” which has thrown my whole life into turmoil. Full-on “Berenstain” existential spiraling over that one.
How do you decide where to share the message of Diie? Do you focus on eyes and ears, or are there other factors to consider?
Well, Diie is an underground krautrock/experimental band that focuses on making audio. We were cold-called a few years ago by a non-denominational spiritual organization called Diiemetrics (who, it turns out, found us by happenstance due to the similarities in the names) and asked to make music that they could use in spiritual healing exercises.
Since then, we’ve made a few records for them under contract. They have final say on the visuals and visual design side of things, but we have pretty free reign musically. They are kinda picky about lyrics, though, and send me lots of packets of reading and reference materials in the mail. They also use very old gear for layout and video editing, which is kind of a pain.
We also definitely should not have signed that contract, as it goes for like 6 records and we’re only halfway through that. I thought they maybe all died in a 2020 incident that happened at a ranch up north, but someone keeps emailing us and asking for the next record so… yeah, we’ll see. They are apparently working on a documentary about their organization? I don’t know, we haven’t filmed our parts yet but they sent me some footage to color correct and it’s weird. It’s all very weird.
A question really just for me – will we see another GodJr album?
There were 2 years between the first EP and the first LP. Then there were 6 years between the first LP and the second EP. So, if the pattern continues, the second LP should be out 18 years after the last release. So, yes, the second God Jr. LP will be released in 2039.
Diie had a formal release of their latest commission, Diiemetrics Totale (MPLS LTD), a while ago at the Green Room, but you (yes, YOU) can pick up physical copies of Diiemetrics Totale AND IV: Heaven Sent at Mortimer’s this Friday, October 6th. Madison, Wisconsin’s The Cult of Lip will be releasing their latest full length Marsha (1085081 Records DK). Follow this here link for time and details (probs gonna have a proper show announcement, pending): https://facebook.com/events/s/cult-of-lip-marsha-lp-release-/1384244595459444/
Adam Johnson lives in Minneapolis with his wife, cats, and guitars.