LOMM: First of all, welcome back with the new album ‘Mercurial’ guys! Can you give a little biographical and historical info for those who don’t know you; who is involved in the band, and how did you guys meet up?
Navid: Thank you! Iris Divine started in 2008 as a four piece, as the brainchild of me and my good friend Zink Hossain (who now fronts the excellent Shumaun). Zink and I were playing in separate bands at the time, but were introduced by a mutual friend, and as singer/ songwriter/ guitarists in the DC area with a metal background and shared South Asian roots, we had a surprising amount in common! Brian Dobbs has been our bass player from the beginning, and we are currently on our third drummer, Scott Manley. We began as a prog metal band heavily inspired by bands like Porcupine Tree and Fates Warning, and released a double EP called Convergence with that lineup. To my ears, though there were some cool moments, we were very much a band in development, a more transparent product of our influences still trying to find our own voice etc. In approximately 2012, Zink and our drummer at that time (Tanvir Tomal) decided to leave, and Brian and I recruited Kris Combs as our new drummer. To me, this three-piece configuration of Iris Divine is when we truly became “us”. As the main songwriter of the band, I began tuning to drop C, and allowing my instincts for heavier riffs, a groovier feel, and more diverse influences, to come out in a more natural way. That lineup released two very well received albums, Karma Sown (Sensory Records) and The Static And The Noise (independent), that put us on the map in some small way within the indie US prog metal community. A few years ago, Kris departed, and we recruited Scott to be our current drummer. I began working and reworking the Mercurial material during this transition, and here we are! Scott has really clicked with us personally and artistically, and he and I have some musical overlap that really comes through in our newer songs. Got to give a shout out to Brian here, for putting up with me and sticking with it through the years and lineup changes. He is a good dude, killer bassist, and valued musical partner who really gets my instincts after all this time 🙂
LOMM: We seem to have the covid years somewhat behind us now. Some countries are still in the middle of it of course, but overall we are finally moving forward somewhat. What were those years like for you and what impact did that have on your music?
Navid: As for everyone, it has been a challenging and stressful time, and hopefully things will continue to move in the right direction. The pandemic coincided with Scott joining the band, which was interesting. After he auditioned and joined, we jammed maybe just three times, and then didn’t see each other for over a year! I spent that time writing and refining song demos, so by the time we were able to get together again, the album was basically written and mapped out, but we had to learn to play it in preparation for drum tracking – this process began on Zoom/ Facetime, and then transitioned to the rehearsal space, so we could refine rhythm section parts and start to develop more chemistry by making noise in a room together.
LOMM: The new album Mercurial sounds like you in terms of the blending of sounds but also introduces some new ideas and groove to the mix. What does your genre means to you, why did you choose this it?
Navid: Thank you! I hope by this time we have developed a somewhat distinctive sound, so I appreciate that we sound like ‘us’. A cool thing about the progressive hard rock/ metal genre, broadly speaking, is that there is room for some experimentation and evolution. We have been able to explore different subtleties and facets of our sound and influences over three albums, the new one being no exception. It keeps things exciting to try to build off of our core identity and take it to different places, but still maintain our voice, so to speak. To my ears, our first album Karma Sown has a little more of a classic prog metal feel, with more of those types of influences, and keys and programming that also created that type of atmosphere. There were some ‘alternative’ or modern sounding parts, but they didn’t predominate. On The Static And The Noise, we started to lean more into other styles, and the pop, alternative and punk influences made for a more diverse record, along with some really strong melodies. Mercurial commits even more to an aggressive sound, and I felt even more free to not be constrained by the expectations of a ‘prog metal’ audience. On this record, we push it even further into post-hardcore and even slightly nu-metal territory at times, but that’s all counterbalanced by some still very prog metal moments, and even a 5 minute roller coaster of an instrumental. A few things that run through all of our albums are the integration of odd meters (sometimes in ways the listener might not even realize unless they try to count it out or play along), melodic vocal hooks, and lots of guitar riffs that have an alternative metal bent (since I am a rhythm guitarist at heart!).
LOMM: How did the initial musical and thematic elements on this album evolve? Was it a conscious process or did the music evolve like this naturally?
Navid: A previous version of the album was already basically written when Kris was still with us, but it didn’t feel focused enough. The lineup change re-energized us, and I ended up re-writing about 40% of it. It was during that process that the album began to take shape and cohesion – the most conscious thing was that I wanted an album that would be fun to play live. It is an energetic and uptempo record, and very much focused on being a power trio, with less emphasis on keys and programming, and more on aggressive riffs and bigger grooves. One of the reviews described it as having “bounce and swagger”, which I love!
LOMM: Who composed the songs primarily this time? What is your process like?
Navid: I composed the songs, and have been the main songwriter for all of our albums thus far, beginning with Karma Sown in 2015. My process always begins with the music, and more specifically, with guitar riffs and parts. When it’s going well, vocal melody ideas arise naturally out of those guitar parts, and I just try to figure out where the song is going, connecting parts and sections until I have an arrangement that feels complete. Lyrics are the last – but important – piece of the puzzle. I typically will generate ProTools demos in a fairly complete form, which allows me to put across my vision in the most efficient way possible. The drums are just guide tracks, and I don’t put bass on the demos at all really, which leaves a fairly open canvas for Brian and Scott to bring their own interpretation and musical personality to the basic framework. I value their input a great deal, and it is important to me that they are also enthusiastic about the material. The result of that whole process, with some tweaking and sometimes rewriting along the way, is what makes it ultimately sound like Iris Divine, and as with any effective band (and a trio in particular), we hope that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
LOMM: What bands do you draw your inspiration from?
Navid: Common ground for all three of us would be classic prog hard rock/ metal (Rush, Dream Theater etc.), which would be the inspiration for our odd-time passages and non-traditional song structures, but we all bring different elements into the mix. Brian has eclectic tastes (funk, etc.) and I love a lot of 90s metal and hardcore/ post-hardcore, as does Scott, so there are elements of everything from Alice In Chains to Quicksand to heavier vibes from bands like Pantera or Bush-era Anthrax. That particular combination of melodic vocals, downtuned alt metal riffing and some proggier sections is probably a good encapsulation of our sound.
LOMM: Could you tell us about the lyrics / themes /concepts you focus on or plan to focus on? How did the ideas come about, and how do they influence the writing process? Who is writing the lyrics?
Navid: I write the lyrics. I try to put a lot of effort into the lyrics, and sometimes it can be one of the most challenging parts of the writing process to find a lyric that is meaningful, has something catchy about it, and is “singable”. The mood of the music and any words or phrases I might stumble upon as I’m sketching out melody ideas, often form the catalyst for a lyrical direction. On Mercurial, the loose conceptual thread is about the highs and lows of our emotions, and how they can bring out the best or worst in us. There are more positive songs about self-empowerment and the transcendence of the creative process, and darker songs about insecurity, conflict, and control issues that can create divisions within the self and with others.
LOMM: When you look at the album and how it turned out, what aspects of it do you think you guys nailed, and what parts do you think you could improve upon?
Navid: I probably speak for most artists when I say that I am never 100% satisfied, and that little details can always get under my skin after the fact, be they about the mix, production, etc. Sometimes it can take even years for me to have enough objectivity to just enjoy something we’ve done, without getting hyperfocused on a detail haha. That said, I am very proud of all three of our albums, and this one is no exception. I think we nailed the aggressive and high energy feel, with a coherent group of songs that make a musical statement, and that the mix and production found the balance between modern and organic. It really does feel like a band when I listen back, and that’s exciting to me.
LOMM: How has the overall reception been so far?
Navid: Very positive! From those who have heard it so far, and most of the reviews, the feedback has been encouraging and gratifying. Lots of 9/10 or 4/5 type scores, and some very perceptive comments that tell me that the listener or reviewer is really taking the time to let the material sink in. Our songs aren’t overly long, but hopefully manage to say a lot in those few minutes; they reward repeated listens with new details, and that is the feedback we often receive. I really appreciate that we have been ‘allowed’ to evolve over the course of our albums, and that most of our listeners have been open to and supportive of this. There will always be those who don’t think we are ‘prog’ enough anymore, or whatever, but there are plenty of other bands out there that are more faithful to a traditional prog metal sound, and I’m proud that we have managed to have our own voice with the alternative, post-hardcore, and pop elements. The careful listener will catch the odd-meters and ‘proggier’ details woven into our music, which can have more going on than is apparent on a first listen.
LOMM: Have you ever been on tour with Iris Divine? And what was it like not to play live for so long?
Navid: We’ve done a handful of mini-tours (3-5 days), which were a blast, but nothing more extensive than that yet. I love to play live, so it has been missed, and I can’t wait to get back to it! Hearing and feeling a song come to life, whether in the studio or on stage, is a special kind of excitement.
LOMM: What do you see for your future? How is it looking?
Navid: Hopefully bright 🙂 Just trying to reach more people, create more fans, and further establish ourselves in the metal community.
LOMM: Which is more exciting? Being on the road or studio?
Navid: Both are exciting in their own way. The studio is where you really appreciate the full manifestation of the seed of a musical idea into a realized composition, which as a songwriter, is just amazing sometimes. And being onstage is about exchanging energy with an audience, ‘speaking’ through your voices and instruments, and playing out the ‘rockstar’ fantasies we all had as kids, even if on a very small scale!
LOMM: What’s more important to you? Catering to the audience or music for its own sake?
Navid: I think this is a grey area, honestly, and I am highly suspect of anyone who claims that they don’t care what anyone else thinks of their music. The fact is, as soon as you release music for public consumption, in any form, you are hoping that people like it, even if you deny that you care, or portray a “too cool to care” attitude about it. I create because I have to – it comes from inside of me, and very much is for its own sake. That said, in the process of creating, I do think about the listener, and hope that the listener will enjoy what I am working on! That isn’t “catering” per se, but it is considering it.
LOMM: When you look back your music career, what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
Navid: The songs, without a doubt. My main musical priority is Iris Divine, but I have also written songs in other projects and genres, some of which I’m very proud of as well. Nothing gratifies me more in this process, than when the composition and songwriting come together. Memorable riffs and hooks, thoughtful lyrics, and interesting musical ideas, all of which hopefully combine to make an emotional connection.
LOMM: Anything else you think your fans should know?
Navid: I (and I’ll speak for the band here as well) are deeply appreciative of anyone who would consider themselves a fan of Iris Divine. Whether it is through streaming, buying music or merch, spreading the word, coming to a show, etc., we would just like to thank you for giving this band life since 2008! If you are reading this and are unfamiliar with the band, please check out our new album Mercurial, and our other albums, on all major platforms, or pick up a copy from us or our label 🙂