“ASSAD is not a political experience to me. I’m not trying to make a change in the way people think about the Muslim world with my music, I’m just trying to do something that makes me happy and that I am genuinely in love with.”
Some take solo projects as a chance to do things they probably couldn’t convince their bandmates to do with them, like Aaron Freeman splitting off from Ween to record the poems of Rod McKuen, while others jump at the opportunity to press their worst excesses upon people who should know better (here’s looking at you, Tommy Lee).
However, for Ben Andrews – best known as a third of the relentlessly inventive post-everything trio My Disco – producing hypnotic drone music as ASSAD comes from a far deeper conviction.
“ASSAD is a project I started a year or so ago in order to try and fulfill my lifelong and growing obsession with the Middle East, Arabic culture and Islam,” he explains. “I have been interested in Islamic ideas, culture and music for years, and I think Islam is the most perfect archetype there is for a religion.”
The name for Andrews’ solo conjurings derives from Muhammad Asad, a pretty singular figure in 20th century history. Often described as a bridge-builder between the Middle East and the West, Asad was born Leopold Weiss before converting to Islam, rising to be an advisor to Saudi kings and Pakistani governments, as well as an extremely learned scholar and translator of the Qu’ran.
In terms of exploring the sounds of Islam, Andrews is following in his footsteps, singling out the music of Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, as well as crediting the more delicate textures of Indonesia with changing up his approach. “The sounds concentrate on deep bass and Arabic samples, but even then I’m slowly moving away from that into subtle beats and exploring Bahasa Indonesia as my sample base. It’s ever changing, which is true with the majority of my musical projects.”
As such, ASSAD is literally a world removed from the minimal, kinetic aggression of My Disco, though one constant endures: “my hatred of stage lights.” Describing the experience as “dark yoga for the mind,” ASSAD aims to be “meditative in nature; its engagement with the audience is less visceral than the full-on rock type experience of a loud band playing live.”
Andrews’ work might seem like an outlier in the context of what seems to be a nadir in relations between Australia and the Arabic world, but protest isn’t what he has in mind. Having travelled the world extensively and spent much of his childhood in Bahrain, Andrews is a global citizen, and his music stems from that view.
“ASSAD is not a political experience to me,” he explains. “I’m not trying to make a change in the way people think about the Muslim world with my music, I’m just trying to do something that makes me happy and that I am genuinely in love with.”
While My Disco haven’t gone anywhere in the interim – they’ll be recording a new album next month, set to be released mid next year – ASSAD is going from strength to strength in the meantime, with Andrews now touring Australia and release an LP on HelloSquare come 2015, all while settling down in Jakarta to explore the sounds of South East Asia. It sounds as though his pilgrimage is just starting.