PAINT :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Pedrum Siadatian has been on a tear in 2023, creating and releasing two albums that speak to his continued artistic stretching: Zuma 85, which finds Allah-Las, the California rock band he founded with his collaborators in 2008. exploring shambolic and rhythmically dynamic art rock; and Loss For Words, a mostly instrumental jammer by his solo project PAINT. Reviewing the record for AD, Jenn Kelly writes that it, “trades the stinging sweetness of garage pop for more open-ended instrumentals, nodding at krautrock, lounge music, dub and ambient electronics as it goes. The Allah-Las guitarist spent the pandemic hunkered over a Boss DR-5 rhythm composer, letting programmed tracks stand in for absent fellow musicians. He began thinking less in terms of songs, with their verse chorus constraints, and more about grooves, less about narrative and more about dream-shifting soundscapes. The result? A loose collection of moody bops that move but mostly do not speak.”

But it turns out Siadatian was willing to speak with us about it, so please enjoy discussion about kosmische sounds, musical production, and the perils of DIY. | j woodbury

Aquarium Drunkard: It’s been a busy year for you. Not only do you have the new PAINT album, Loss For Words, but you’ve got a new one with Allah-Las, Zuma 85. Do they feel connected to you at all? 

Pedrum Siadatian: I finished my record before we started working on the Las’ record. But I think there was some crossover in terms of approach and experimenting more.

AD: I pick up on some vibe overlap. With the PAINT record, I hear a lot of Rober Wyatt and Kevin Ayers influence, and textures that remind me of Michael Rother. Are you into him? 

Pedrum Siadatian: Oh yeah. I love Michael Rother. Every band he’s been a part of, really.

AD: Sometimes I can’t believe the streak of projects and albums he was part of in the ‘70s. But then it’s the same with his band mates, people like Klaus Dinger. All these guys playing together, creating this incredible and enduring sound.

Pedrum Siadatian: It seemed like a kind of incestuous music scene with the ‘70s kosmische—being featured on each other’s projects and all these little cameos and stuff.

AD: Brian Eno coined the term “scenius” to describe a kind of collective inspiration and genius within a group of musicians. With that golden era of kosmische, all those guys were sharing collaborative energy with each other, and all their bands morphed into other bands. Did the Las ever feel really connected to a broader “scene?” 

Pedrum Siadatian: No, not really. I feel like Allah-Las never really fit into a scene. I don’t feel like we rocked hard enough for the real garage rock purists, you know, and maybe we weren’t soft enough for some of the folk-rock people. It didn’t quite fit perfectly within either of those. Farmer Dave and The Beachwood Sparks crew—we gelled with those bands and those people. We didn’t really fit into the Burger Records thing or the Ty Segall garage rock thing, though they’re friends and all that. But right now in my life I feel like I’m closer to what you were mentioning in terms of being involved with different projects that share members. I feel like right now, for me, that’s kind of going on.

AD: Loss for Words was mostly you solo. Are you working on PAINT stuff with new people? 

Pedrum Siadatian: It’s different projects that share members. I have this project called THiQ with Jackson MacIntosh, who helped a lot with the Spiritual Vegas record. I just played a show with him, his solo project, just under his name. Josh de Costa played drums, and he plays in the live iteration of THiQ. I’m just excited to play music and have different outlets for the things I’m into. 

AD: Zuma 85 feels like a total new direction for Allah-Las, and this PAINT album also explores new territory. There are some lyrics, but it’s a lot of instrumental spaces. What do you like about working in that mode versus the more song-based format? 

Pedrum Siadatian: I just feel like it has less limitations. When you take the pop song format out of the picture, it just leaves all this room to try different things out without having to be concerned about how lyrics will fit into a piece of music. I like that, just using vocals—if they’re there—almost like an instrument where they come in and out and color the song a certain way or add a mood or a layer, the way an instrument would rather than just being the main focus of the song.

It was like a “eureka” thing that happened with this record because I was coming up with all these instrumental pieces with the thought that I would have to figure out how to put lyrics on them. Then I was like, actually, I don’t really need to. I could use lyrics or words or vocal textures where it makes sense to. Which is kind of analogous to starting to paint—which made me approach music differently.

AD: The zine that accompanies it is really great too. 

Pedrum Siadatian: It was fun to put together, but also very tedious. I had to figure out how to format it, because I print at home. I had to keep ordering ink, figure out how to print it to both sides, then all the folding, stapling. But it’s very satisfying to have it done. 

AD: Do you feel like tedium can be a benefit to creative projects? 

Pedrum Siadatian: I guess the more tedious it is, the more satisfying it is when it’s finished. No matter what you’re doing, what your occupation is, as long as it’s something that you’re actually interested in, you can tolerate the tedium much better. I knew that when it would be done I’d be very happy with it—and Adderall helped quite a bit.

AD: You worked with Jeremy Harris on both records—how did he play into the creative process? 

Pedrum Siadatian: There was an overlap in the sense that once we finished tracking all the Las stuff, I stayed an extra three or four days to mix the PAINT record. So it was like going from one thing straight into another. Everyone else left and went back to LA, and I stayed behind. It was great working with Jeremy. I haven’t heard from him in a while, but it was really fun. I tried to do like five songs a day. Ultimately, we did kind of a bad job mixing it because it ended up being really muddy. We really rushed it, and paid the price. 

AD: [Laughs] 

Pedrum Siadatian: It sounded fucked. When I took it to get mastered it almost got rejected by the mastering engineer. They’re like, “You need to remix this” and I’m like, “I can’t. I can’t do it!”

AD: I kind of like muddy records, but it didn’t think that per Loss for Words.

Pedrum Siadatian: It’s because the mastering fixed the horrible muddiness. Dave Cooley really did a great job. I recommend him. 

AD: I really like “Desolation Dub.” Have you ventured at all into remixing other people’s work? Or turned over PAINT to folks to remix? I feel like this album would really lend itself to that. 

Pedrum Siadatian: No, I haven’t really produced or mixed anyone else’s stuff. Not at all. I think I would need to train my ears more to do that. 

AD: Does producing yourself not seem as daunting? 

Pedrum Siadatian: I can record myself, I guess, but in terms of fine tuning, EQing, that kind of stuff that you do when mixing, I don’t know. I haven’t trained my ears for that. I don’t have the right gear, honestly. I don’t have the speakers that one would need to be able to really listen and get all that stuff dialed in.

Recording is one thing and mixing and mastering…it’s such an involved process. You write this stuff, you record it, and you’re like “Okay, great.” Then you have to mix it and by the time you’re mastering it, you never want to listen to it again because you’ve already heard it seemingly hundreds of times. So each step of the way feels more and more tedious, and then by the time it comes out you’re like a completely different person. The process from beginning to end is just so long.

AD: Are you usually working pretty far ahead too? When a record comes out, do you usually have a backlog of new recordings ready? 

Pedrum Siadatian: I feel like by the time a record comes out, I have other ideas, like voice memos and things that I’m excited about. The torture never stops.

AD: [Laughs] Allah-Las launched a label, Calico Discos, and now you’ve got your own label, Grape Street. How has the experience been doing things on a DIY level? Have you felt more freedom? 

Pedrum Siadatian: There’s more freedom in the sense that I could put it out when I want. ASAP, or whenever I wanted to. I didn’t have to wait based on other releases that the label was putting out, their timeline. I guess that’s the big one. It’s just full control, but with that comes having to do everything. It’s a catch-22 of sorts. I’m glad I did it. I mean, having to be the customer service, mail guy, going to the post office, registering all the songs with all the digital shit. It’s really a lot of work and it’s going to take a long time to recoup the costs because I don’t have a distributor—I’m just selling it through Bandcamp.

AD: You’re filling the orders yourself?

Pedrum Siadatian: Yeah, as they come in. I’ll try to print maybe 15 of the zines at a time. I’ll staple them, assemble them, and then wait for orders to come in. It’s a lot of work.

AD: Does that mirror your early days, in terms of getting your music out there on your own? 

Pedrum Siadatian: Allah-Las were lucky because we got signed for our first record. We never had to put out a record ourselves. Our first 45”, Nick Waterhouse put that out. We didn’t have to deal with it. We were blessed, in that sense.

AD: But it gives PAINT that much more of a personal feel. 

Pedrum Siadatian: I should be charging a hundred dollars a record, really, because it’s been so much. A thousand dollars each!

AD: Maybe that’s the trick. A $1,500 limited record. Put a piece of your hair in the zine. 

Pedrum Siadatian: My ear, you know, my toe. 

AD: Light dismemberment as promo stunt.

Pedrum Siadatian: Whatever it takes to sell the copies.

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