Leila Abdul-Rauf


Interview by Miriam C.

Californian multi-instrumentalist Leila Abdul-Rauf is one of the rare and exceptional artists who really put no boundaries to her creativity and she prefers to express with her true soul instead of words. In occasion of her new solo album “Diminution” (read the review here), I got the chance to interview her and deeply inquiry about the spiritual meaning behind it and how her other musical projects are still developing.

Hi Leila, I’m really honored to host you here at Femme Metal Webzine, how life is treating you today?

Thank you. Life has its ups and downs, but that is life, in its full dynamic beauty.

Before to examine in detail your latest effort “Diminution”, I’d like to focus more on your career and in particular, how and when everything is started? And personally, which is the first memory that is straightly attached to music?

My earliest musical memory is probably an unconscious one that began in the womb, and likely with my mother’s beautiful singing voice. As long as I’ve been alive, there has always been music playing at home, live or recorded. I began playing – more like tinkering with – piano at age 6, and went on to learn flute and trumpet in my elementary school bands and orchestras. I participated in school choirs but never even sang in my own bands until my 20s. The guitar, which I taught myself beginning at age 13 is my main instrument, where I’ve achieved more technical skill than the other instruments I play. Most of this progress wasn’t made until my mid to late 20s during the formation of my previous metal band Saros, a band that rehearsed tirelessly three times a week in its initial years.

Now delving into “Diminution” which was released digitally on 13th April 2018 and is slated to be released on LP via Cloister Recordings and Black Horizons and on CD via Malignant Records on 11 May. What sort of recollections you have about its early creative process?

The creative process is more or less the same for all of my solo albums. I begin with 2 or 3 primary pieces that are usually more thought out and composed, and I call these the “mother” tracks. From there, I create new pieces, either by subtracting layers and adding new ones or manipulating instruments to sound like other instruments (e.g. making a piano sound like a drum or a guitar like a flute). This process helps to give my albums a continuous thread and flow throughout.

From the title album “Diminution”, I got the picture that in a certain way, artistically speaking, we’re at the point of no return. What’s the overall feeling/sensation that pervades in your third full-length?

Yes, in many ways, humanity is at the point of no return, and at the point of reaching its end really, on a planet that can’t keep up with modern levels of consumption. We’ll see things in our lifetime we thought would be in the much more distant future. When writing “Diminution”, I got the collective sense that everyone around me involved in any kind of creative endeavor was experiencing significantly diminishing returns for their efforts, especially within the past few years. If you make an album and no one listens to it, does it make a sound?

The title album “Diminution” can also be interpreted as a general and artistic disruption. Probably you don’t share my same vision but if you do, in your opinion, which is the solution to this cultural wasteland?

I welcome everybody’s own interpretations of my work, regardless of whether they match my original intentions. If it’s making you feel something, then you are personally connecting to it and I’ve done my job as an artist. I’m not sure if the disruption was my intent with this album, however, I do believe there is a cultural void that is a direct result and cumulative effect of 150+ years of modern capitalism to which the only solution would be to dismantle it completely.

Both musically and stylistically, if “Diminution” gets compared to your previous effort “Insomnia”, what are the main features that differ from your second album?

“Diminution” has more improvisational moments and live instruments than the previous two albums, so it feels more spontaneous to me. Each track is unique and separate, as opposed to all blending into each other like they did on “Insomnia”. “Insomnia” was more of a self-explanatory concept album, whereas the songs that make-up “Diminution” relate more loosely to each other in that they express an overall feeling or an obscure combination of feelings.

You’re really well-known to be part of several and eminent bands such as Hammers of Misfortune, Vastum, and Cardinal Wyrm (read their review here). What really pick my curiosity is how do manage to efficiently separate your solo project material while, hypothetically speaking, you are working on something else for one of the bands that I’ve previously mentioned?

This is a no-brainer, considering that none of my projects have anything to do with each other musically. I can’t think of anything more boring – for me, anyway – than playing one genre of music, ad nauseam. I need to work in multiple genres to keep learning and growing, and to be perpetually inspired and creatively alive. I often get asked, “how do you have time for all of them?” and my answer is always “because most of the time at least half of them aren’t doing anything!”. So, often a band will record an album then do a tour or a few shows, then go on hiatus for about a year. I would go crazy if I went on a complete music hiatus for that long. Also, if you’re involved in only one genre, you often get stuck in your thinking and beliefs about how to write a song, how to record it, or how it should be performed live. Working across genres opens up new possibilities and opportunities for working in a myriad of ways: there isn’t only one particular method of accomplishing everything.

Connecting to the previous question, do we have to consider your solo project as a sort of sacred space where to deal with your personal state of mind or simply it’s the comprehensive outcome of a greater plan?

You don’t have to consider it to be either. I don’t have a great plan other than survival, making music that speaks to me, working on improving myself as a person, and enjoying the ride here and there. I try to live in the present moment as much as I can, considering the Hayward fault that runs through the East Bay in California may give way at any second and crush all of us here.

Instead of speaking about your bands’ Hammers of Misfortune, Vastum and Cardinal Wyrm, which kind of updates you can provide us with?

Hammers played two killer shows with Coven earlier this year in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Vastum is very slowly writing a new album, whereas Cardinal Wyrm is very quick and more than halfway through writing album number 4, which will be recorded at Earhammer Studios in late August. This will be my first album co-writing with Cardinal Wyrm as their full-time bass player.

On a further note, musically speaking, which are your next plans?

There are many! I have a new atmospheric duo with Nathan of Cardinal Wyrm, called Fyrhtu. We have our live debut on May 26 at Independent Brewing Company in Oakland (part of a new monthly series of experimental shows), followed by a performance that will be part of Grimposium’s Landscape of Hate project at the Concordia University Summer Institute in Montreal, June 22. A collaboration between Fyrhtu and David Brenner‘s Gridfailure project will be released soon. My other main collaborative project, Ionophore, has a new album coming out on Malignant Records this summer which will be followed by our first live performances in 5 years with our original lineup, in the Bay Area and also the Chillits Festival in the Northern CA Woods on September 14. I also plan to do a few solo shows in Scandinavia in early October, following the “Diminution” record release show on September 1 at The Terminal Space in Oakland.

We’re almost at the end and with this please be free to say hi to your fans and our readers. Thank you so much for this interview!

Thanks for having me. Hi, all.


Photos by Allan I.Young & Nathan A.Verrril


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