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Tariq Anwar performs at Atomic Rooster. Photo: Scott Doubt Photography.

Talking Albums: Tariq Anwar

By John McDonald on May 14, 2020



When the world was “normal,” before our shared stay-at-home days, you would find Ottawa musician Tariq Anwar playing every Wednesday evening at Bank Street’s Atomic Rooster.

“The evening’s called On The Ledge. I’ve been doing it since February 2016,” he says. Now, every Friday evening, from the comfort of his home in Chinatown, Tariq hosts Off The Ledge: “The show where the listener can kick back and relax while I sing songs and play weird sounds.” There are Tom Waits tunes. Some Nirvana and Pearl Jam. There are covers of Johnny Cash’s versions of covers. And there’s “sun going down music” and “ambient noise-making.” And while Tariq is singing a Hip song or Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” the virtual attendees are busy chatting with him and others on the feed. There’s a definite sense of community.

At the end of the evening, when the music is done, Tariq will hang back to answer questions or pose his own: “What’s everyone watching? We need more Mr. Rogers.”

I asked Tariq if he felt he was growing as an artist with each passing year. He thought briefly. “That’s an interesting question. I don’t really think about it in terms of me being an artist, because I don’t generally think of myself as an artist per se. I feel every year that I’m growing in terms of learning. Not just how to do things, but what I want to do. That’s becoming more apparent as the years go by. It’s important that you’re always feeling that you’re growing. And it’s important to remember that it’s not always about big things. It’s the little things that are part of growth. It can be the subtle quiet things that result in change.”

Tariq answered our questions about isolation and the music he’s listening to. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Tariq Anwar:

“Isolation” is an interesting word. It conjures up certain images, of wild hair and untrimmed toenails. It’s a code of sorts for staying safe in uncertain times. But in many ways, I feel like I’ve led a life that is well-suited to the spirit of it.

Whether it’s writing a tune or working on a collaboration, I usually take on a somewhat myopic worldview when I’m working. That often happens to me but usually in much shorter spurts. A day here, a week there. A month can just dissolve into a maelstrom of sleepless nights and fitful mornings. Those intense stretches are often followed by a somewhat unproductive state where I feel like not much gets done beyond the usual day-to-day chores of life. It’s not really a different or extreme point of view when compared to other folks who create for a living, or anyone who has a job they love and/or excel at, or anyone who is a stay-at-home parent. These are just a few examples that come to mind.

I know many of my colleagues are dealing with the trauma of the pandemic in different ways. Some are evolving their craft to suit the new normal. And some have found it an impossible situation and are dealing with the guilt of not being able to work at a time that perversely seems well-suited to creation. It’s very difficult to reconcile the idea that we have nothing but time on our hands while at the same time dealing with the intense emotional turmoil of world events. Musicians are feeling the heaviness of it all as gigs are cancelled, tours postponed, albums and other collaborations paused. The uncertainty of the this life going forward is enough to cause major anxiety for anyone.

The truth is we NEED art. Now more than ever. We need new music and films and poems and paintings. We need silly YouTube videos about cooking gourmet Tater Tots and cartoons that make us laugh till we cry. We need photographs to mark the passing of history. The world needs this. I need this.

And I’ve had those sudden bursts of creation, the ones that utterly consume you. I’ve thought a lot about the importance of art. I’ve felt guilt for feeling utterly useless for not having the skills to combat a terrible disease. We have doctors, nurses, medical staff, grocery clerks, truck drivers, delivery people, construction workers, all putting their lives on the line every hour. I’m just a guy playing music in my apartment. What is my role in all this? How can I possibly think that what I do is a vital service when compared to the above?

The truth is we NEED art. Now more than ever. We need new music and films and poems and paintings. We need silly YouTube videos about cooking gourmet Tater Tots and cartoons that make us laugh till we cry. We need photographs to mark the passing of history. The world needs this. I need this.

Tariq Anwar performs at Atomic Rooster. Photo: Scott Doubt Photography.

My friend and colleague Jordan Craig and I have spent the last 12 months conceiving of and creating our own recording studio and music publishing house. We were just about to enter the next phase of that when the coronavirus reared its ugly head. We were fortunate in that we managed to record a multitude of compositions with many different Ottawa-area artists beforehand, enough work to keep us busy for months. We’ve figured out a rudimentary way of working remotely as a team. It’s not ideal, but then what is? In a way we were lucky, we didn’t have to put any major projects to put on hold because we’re so new. We can return to that life when it is safe to do so.

I hope that those of you out there that make stuff continue to put it out into the world. And to those of you that have felt completely stifled by this new normal, I hope you remember to not be so hard on yourselves. We’re being asked to do things to keep ourselves alive. That is more than enough responsibility to bear without heaping more guilt upon your backs. This will pass. Be kind to yourselves.

Now, what music has inspired me lately? And what have I been listening to? Well, I couldn’t pick just two. Sorry.

György Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre. I’ve recently started digging into Ligeti. I find his pieces have challenged the way I listen to music. His use of sonic textures, absurd theatrics, and brilliant musicianship is stunning.

Nick Cave, Push The Sky Away. Nick Cave never tells the same story twice.

Fiona Apple, Fetch The Bolt Cutters. It makes a strong case for only releasing one brilliant album a decade.

There’s Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock. It’s an album I never tire of. A constant source of inspiration.

And Neil Young. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. He set the standard.

And there’s Joni Mitchell, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. “Paprika Plains.” Nobody else could compose a song like that.

About György Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre

Le Grand Macabre, the only opera by Hungarian composer György Ligeti was premiered on 12 April 1978. Three arias from the opera were prepared in 1992 for concert performances under the title Mysteries of the Macabre.

About Nick Cave’s Push The Sky Away
Released in 2013, this is Nick Cave’s fifteenth studio album. Push the Sky Away was acclaimed by music critics. BBC Music called it “an LP as weighty, compelling and brilliant as The Bad Seeds have ever produced”. The Guardian described it as “funeral-paced songs and stripped-down music that calls to mind Leonard Cohen fronting James Blake minimalism”, while NME said it was a “majestic and desolate masterpiece”.

About Fiona Apple’s Fetch The Bolt Cutters

Much has been written about Fiona’s recently released fifth album. It has been deemed an instant classic by many critics and has received widespread acclaim. Pitchfork calls it “a wild symphony of the everyday, an unyielding masterpiece.” Reviews have compared the album to the works of Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Nina Simone, and Kate Bush.

About Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock
Formed in 1981, Talk Talk achieved early chart success with their synth-pop singles. In time, they pioneered what became known as post-rock. Laughing Stock was their fifth and final studio album. Pitchfork named it the eleventh best album of the 1990s, while Stylus Magazine named it the “greatest post-rock album.”

About Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Neil Young’s second solo album, released only four months after his first, marked the beginning of Young’s recording association with Crazy Horse. Four songs from the 1969 album became standards in Young’s performance repertoire: “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down by the River,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” and the title track. According to liner notes from his Decades album, all were written in a single day while Young had a 39.5 degree fever. Rolling Stone described Young’s voice as “perpetually mournful” and the record ”raw, rushed, energized.” While The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau wrote that “Young is a strange artist,” he also called this record haunting.

About Joni Mitchell’s Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter
Critics stated that Mitchell lost many of the Blue days followers with this 1977 double album. There were fans, however. Stereogum said that “Mitchell’s previous dalliances with jazz have bloomed into full-blown romance, and the result is a kind of aggregated post-jazz.” Rhino Insider wrote that “when it comes down to it, you can’t really criticize an artist for making the art that they want to make, which is precisely what Mitchell was doing.” They called it “arguably the purest, most Joni Mitchell album of her career.”

More from Tariq Anwar:

Off The Ledge livestreams
YouTube Channel
Save The Whales Studio