Angels Of Persepolis
(Mehran Music)


Flamenco guitar is turning out to be one of the most vital music art forms of the new millennium. Hugely popular for centuries, the time honored guitar tradition is finding a wealth of new and gifted guitarists to carry the sound into the future and you can count guitarist Mehran among the new ones to keep an eye on. Of Persian descent, Mehran Jalili is based in Chicago and, after years of playing rock and blues guitar, he steps into the artist spotlight with his 2010 CD, Angels Of Persepolis. The world was watching the tragic events in Iran in 2009 and despite a near victory by the people there, the brutal dictator continues to maintain his stranglehold on the Iranian people while doing a pretty good job at scaring the rest of us. Mehran knows this full well and as he clearly states on the CD packaging, this CD is dedicated to those people who fought against these oppressive leaders. After hearing the depth and heartfelt emotions running throughout Mehran’s instrumental masterpiece you get the feeling that there’s so much more going on in Iran then what meets the ear. Although Mehran’s CD is primarily acoustic guitar-based instrumental Flamenco flavored music, there’s a number of other genres in play here including New Age, World Beat inspired jazz fusion, instrumental rock and even neoclassical, making it a very well rounded guitar based release. A number of players assist Mehran on a variety of instruments including piano, cello, electronic drums as well as several instruments from his native Iran. As you can see from several interviews with Mehran, while growing up he was greatly influenced by rock giants like Page, Vai, Satriani and Gilmour, yet as you can hear from his CD, Mehran’s love of flamenco guitar transcends rock and jazz, proving just how the guitar recognizes no borders and speaks the international language of music.

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Musical Background

I have been playing guitar for over 30 years. I started when I was 14 years old. But my love affair with music started around 8 or 9 years of age. I really liked the piano and keyboards. There was always one sitting around all my relative’s houses. I had a friend who was taking formal lessons and I would go to his house observing the lessons sometimes and then when the teacher would leave we sit around playing funny Persian music. I had such affinity for playing that I ear trained myself and would play stuff I would make up and then fit them into actual songs. I had a couple of cousins in Tehran that were actually being formally trained on classical piano and I would listen to them and then I would play what they played. This was so entertaining to them.

In the same time I had an uncle who was a professional guitarist in Iran and since I was 6 years old I was always intrigued by all the equipment he had in my grand mothers house. I was always hovering around his room and when he wasn’t home I would play with all the equipment in there. This was his band rehearsal room. The drums were always covered by a sheet. One time I left the sheets off and he found out that I was hanging around his stuff. This with the fact that I would always watch and listen when he practiced his guitar, made him realize that I wanted to play an instrument and was interested in music. So, he would sometimes take me to clubs where he performed. I remember once in a while he would play something that sounded very Spanish. I always wanted to be able to play like that. So Flamenco was always in the back of my mind as I was growing up. He moved to the states when I was 10 and then I was sent here to live with him at age 14. As soon as I came here I saw Jimmy Page play and that was the first time I was seeing Led Zeppelin. I remember just watching and barely breathing. I couldn’t believe how much soul he put into his playing. Every note he would play matched the impression on his face. It felt like he didn’t care too much about being perfect but what he cared about was to be playful and take chances and express and express and express. I had found my instrument. At that moment I thought the guitar was the coolest thing in the world. So that is where it all started. I started to study the guitar with my uncle. I wanted to play rock and roll but he was set on teaching me to read music and play from sheet music. That went on for a while mean while in high school I had already become interested in Pink Floyd, AC/DC, The Who and all kind of rock bands. By the time I was 18 I moved out on my own and went to college and that is when I started to play the guitar the way I wanted, rock and roll. However, every so often the Flamenco thing would wake up and I would try to learn it on my own which is impossible. Flamenco is so different. Someone has to teach you the technique and they are so different from regular guitar playing. In 1980 I came across the album Nights in San Francisco with Al DiMeola, John Mc Laughlin and Paco De Lucia. That really placed the seed of doubt in my head that I was playing the wrong music. At that time I was in and out of several rock bands and finally found my home in a band called No Romeo. It was a great band and a very serious band. All members were pros and there were big dreams and hard work. We got showcased by Elektra records in LA in ‘92 and when we came back with no solid offer or contract that is when I decided that I am going to quit everything and go to law school (of all things). I quit the band and got admitted to one of the schools in Chicago but still had a lot of doubt, I just didn’t feel right not perusing my musical and guitar dreams. Well one night, just before I start my first year Law School, I saw a Flamenco guitarist playing a show. My jaw just dropped with all the sounds he was getting out of a simple nylon stringed guitar. I was trying to tap my foot to his rhythm and I could not understand the timing. I just knew it was something I had never seen before. This was a moment of truth for me. I went home that night and I could not sleep. All I was thinking was that if someday I become an attorney and see another guy play like this guy, I will become bitter, resentful and jealous. So, in the following morning I called the school and asked them to give my seat away. In a few weeks I packed up and went to Spain. This is when I started to study Flamenco extensively. For the next 10 years I kept going back to Spain once or twice a year for a month or two to study with different maestros in Madrid and Sevilla. It was one thing to study in a private class setting, but it is of a different level when you spend a lot of time with them even when they are playing amongst themselves till 6 am. That is when you should pay attention and learn. That is when you pick up the “Aire”. All the secret little things they do but they don’t teach.

At first it was very difficult. Teachers in Spain don’t let you get away with anything. They make you practice so much and the next day if you don’t have something they were showing you down, they won’t teach you anything new. You keep repeating until you get it. I found myself practicing 12 hour days often. Since my beginning with Flamenco I was so interested on the modern aspect of Flamenco but without learning the traditional style you would not have a good solid base. For a long time I was studying both. There was an incredible amount of stuff to learn. Little by little I even gave up my social life and would stay home practicing for years. My inspiration at the time and even now was a guitarist out of Cordoba, Vicente Amigo. He plays with so much heart and what they call “aire”, it means soul. To me guitarists that come out of Cordoba have a different edge to their playing. Players like Jose Antonio Rodriguez and Manuel Silverio are also from Cordoba and I have developed an affinity for their sound. Even though most of the people I studied with were from Madrid and Sevilla, I really never did find my way down to Cordoba.

I gotta say, Flamenco is like a drug, once you start liking it and taking it seriously, you are deep in it and stuck for the rest of your life. It just grabs you from the back collar. As far as guitar playing I have always been a astute student of the guitar. I was always into the technicality of it and was always studying it at a very deep level. Using the right technique and having an immense general knowledge of it for me was a must even when I was playing metal and rock. Once I got into Flamenco I realized how much I lacked and how awful I was technically. The main goal was to train my right hand. I practiced so much until I developed severe carpal tunnel in the right hand and required surgery. It went well luckily and I have no deficits from surgery itself but I am dealing with so many other issues in my hands. I can say in the past 30 years of playing I have never missed a day of practicing unless I was on vacation.

New CD

The name of the CD is Angels Of Persepolis. It took a year to record and it was recorded at JGM studio in Chicago which is run by engineer friend of mine, Lito Manlucu. He nagged me for several years to record a CD and I would tell him I am not ready yet. Finally in January of ‘09 I felt it was time. At first I wanted to start recording some material I had been writing for a while but had never finished. So, I started with that and my plan was to give it a light concept such as something cultural or maybe romantic or nostalgic. But then the election in Iran occurred and people there started to demonstrate. Naturally I found myself gravitating to these events and I would spend hours glued to you tube or the news to find out what was happening. What I saw was amazing in the same time depressing. It was amazing because the people were so united and they would demonstrate peacefully with one voice. But in the same time it was disheartening to see what the Islamic republic was doing to its own people. They would shoot at people sometimes at point blank range. They would send their hooligan thug Basij forces on motorcycles to hit people with chains and axes. Although all media there including the internet and telephone were shut down or heavily controlled, people would document these crimes on their cell phones and digital cameras and upload them to different sites for the rest of the world to see because all foreign journalists were prohibited to record or publish anything outside of Iran. The few months that this went on really affected what I was writing for the CD. The music that was coming out had this dark side to it and I knew where it was coming from. I was affected! This is when the album concept started to gel. I thought to myself that as an artist I have to dedicate my work to this cause. These people are my people and I was literally feeling their pain. I felt ashamed of myself being here with all the conveniences we all have and watching the struggle of millions of people. By now I had recorded half the album and the rest just came so easily.

I wanted to create an all instrumental Flamenco/jazz CD with an Eastern and Persian tinge to it that featured the guitar. I would best describe my playing here as personal music under the influence of Flamenco. Personal music because it was music I was writing and I did not want to completely follow the format of a typical Flamenco album. It was important for it to be mostly Flamenco but I wanted to give myself the freedom to stray off. I used Flamenco technique on all the guitar tracks, therefore a pick was not used and all of the playing you hear is done by fingers. I have to stress that I have a very deep respect for Flamenco and I never have the intention of insulting this beautiful art form by saying that my whole CD is purely Flamenco. There are lots of guitarists here in the states that cut an album and call it Flamenco whereas they have nothing to do with Flamenco. My intention was to lighten up the Flamenco a bit and make it a little more understanding to the untrained ear. After all we are here in the US and not in Spain.

Because I wanted to create a different feel for each song I used many different talents. For “Pasargad” I wanted a heavy and uplifting percussion. I brought in a very talented Syrian Doumbek player that makes you feel the skin he is beating on. Then I brought in my dear friend and old band mate from No Romeo days, drummer Jamey Hannon. They should call him Jamey Cannon. I needed that good heavy rocky rhythm on this song and for that there is no one around better than Jamey. He is now part of my group and we have reunited which is sentimentally very valuable for me. For piano I brought in my cousin Aram Jalili. We are very close and can play together very comfortably. I like his instinct and determination to learn. Rocky Yera on flute textured “Korean soup” perfectly and exactly how I had envisioned it. I hope to be working with him again soon. Victor Garcia on the trumpet was a gem to work with, well versed in jazz and just a downright nice guy. He can really play the horn as you can hear his solo on “Pasargad.” Manoela Wunder on violin and Alyson Berger on the cello really made the album for me. Manoela has an incredible imagination and I learned that by working with her through endless rehearsals to perfect the pieces. The feeling she put in “Yare Dabestani” during the recording is hard to match.

Alyson Berger was the first person I started to work with in preparation of this CD. Once I heard what came out on the title track and the “Silent Garden” I was so encouraged to complete the CD. What I heard from her was priceless. She wrote her accompaniment parts herself. Juliano Milo on the accordion is a legend in Chicago and it was so easy to work with him. You can hear the conversation between the guitar and accordion on “the little song of hope”. Louie Marini on upright and electric bass was involved on a few of the songs. Lou is a prominent bass player in the Chicago jazz scene and a member of my group now. Greg Wyser Pratt has an impeccable rhythm and he brought the jazz out in “Korean Soup”. No wonder he moved to San Francisco to play with some of the jazz greats there. Time Lozano on the Cajon and hand claps is another legend in the world of Flamenco. He is actually famous as a dancer in that circuit. Kassandra Kokoshis on doumbak, jimbe and Cajon, was great to work with. I have worked with her on live performances on many occasions and she is another good friend. Arturo Martinez is a very close friend with a vast knowledge of Flamenco and a great guitarist. He helped me with most of the hand claps. Maya Tatiana is one of my best friends and actually one who really introduced me to Flamenco in Spain. She is a fantastic dancer whom I have worked with for the past 13 years and I owe a lot of my learning's to her. She too helped me with the hand claps. I will say this, without the talents of the above individuals, and I mean each and every one of them, Angels Of Persepolis would not sound like the way it does. I spent so much time hand picking the right person for the right instrument to collaborate on this album.

Sound Effects Used On Angels Of Persepolis

I do have something else I would like to share and that is the explanation of all the sound effects used and the meaning behind them...

I wanted to make an album that tells you of something going on somewhere that we don’t all know about. Something horrible like how the Islamic government of Iran is treating it’s people. But I also wanted to portray the people as the kind of people who are not going to be easily defeated and suppressed. Even though not all songs are named to represent the movement in Iran. All and all I wanted to create a dark and uncomfortable scenario. So the listener could hear me. Being it an instrumental album, I had to use sound effects, some excerpts and footages from the actual demonstrations in Iran and all the writings in the text of the Cd cover.

“Pasargad”- A dark drone underneath Churchill uplifting speech to rally people.

“The Silent Garden Of Divinity” - Heartbeat, drone, sounds pretty dark and uneasy, suddenly you are in a garden with birds chirping, this is the double standard of the regime of Iran.

“Korean Soup” - Clocks ticking means it is time for change, your time is up. The inhale and loud exhale represents impatience and disappointment of the people.

“Angels of Persepolis” - Angelic sounds in the beginning with 3 strikes of the bell. 3 points to the 3 common and encouraged practices declared by Zoroastrian religion. Good deeds, good speak and good thoughts. Zoroastrian religion is an old Persian religion that is still in practice today in Iran. That is the religion Persians had before the Persian empire was attacked by Islam about a 1000 years ago.

“Ahriman” - A scary sounding whirlwind leads into the song. Ahriman is “evil” in Zoroastrian religion.

“Mind’s eye” - There are innocent children laughing with an evil sounding beast laughing with them. More symbolic of good people trustingly in the hands of evil.

“The Oblong Box” - Motorcycle sounds and people running with drumbeat in the background. During the demonstrations in Iran the hired hooligans drove motorcycles into the crowd swirling chains and axes at the demonstrations.

“The Little Song Of Hope” - No sound effects. This could be a radio song so I added no sound effects. The meaning is apparent in name.

“Yare Dabestani” - Actual footage from students demonstrating in a University in Iran, singing “Yare Dabestani” which is a protest song.

“Rooftop Poem” - Telephone operators telling of down system and then typing sounds and the words “uploading”. During the recent movement in Iran the internet, telephone, newspaper and the media was either shut down or heavily monitored.

People were scared into going in their homes and not come out for any protest so they decided to demonstrate on the roof of their houses. In Iran the roofs are flat and you can go up by stairs and sometimes if the weather is good Iranians like to bring mattresses up there and sleep in open air. Very old practice. This lady was on the roof of her house and came up with a short poetic expression. When I first heard it I found it a necessity to make the world hear her.

Favorite Guitars

My favorite electric guitar that I have had since my youth is a cherry sunburst 1979 Gibson Les Paul double cutaway. I played this guitar everyday when I was into rock. It has a great tone and is easy to play high chords on due to it being double cutaway. I also have a Strat body Jackson guitar and a Charvel with Seymour Duncan pickups. Back in the day I would run rack mounted effect processors into a double stacked Marshall amps which were modified with extra tubes. I had a great sound but was never happy with it so I was always struggling to get the perfect sound.

Nowadays that I play Flamenco I have two handmade guitars from Spain. On Angels Of Persepolis I only used one of them. It was a 1997 Jose Romero. He has a shop in Madrid and I bought it on that year. It has been my main guitar since. It has a spruce top and is made of cypress. It is a “Negra”, meaning the body is dark hence a deeper and more classical sounding as opposed to a “rubio” that is more bright and very typical of Flamenco. Professional Flamenco guitarists always use handmade guitars by luthiers mostly in Spain. Jose Romero has a great name in Spain and his guitars are used by greats like Paco DeLucia and Tomatito. I have another Flamenco guitar made by Juan Lopez Aguilarte. This was made in Granada, Spain and it is completely “rubio” and hence it has a very bright sound. Because I wanted the mood of the album to be dark I used the Romero guitar. This guitar is very dear to me because I have played it every day and my hands are so used to it now. The only problem is that it was built in a rainy season in Madrid and Chicago weather is causing it to crack every so often regardless of how much humidity I expose it to.

The great thing about being a Flamenco guitarist is that you don’t really need a complicated sound system. I usually put a mic in front of the guitar or one long neck mic inside the sound hole and go into a PA. All I require is perhaps a moderate amount of reverb. The natural sound of a good Flamenco guitar should not get processed and you would not want to turn it electric. I use D’Addario strings and the gauge I use is hard or extra hard tension which is suitable for flamenco due to its tightness and brightness.

Musical Influences

I have always been a fan of instrumental guitar albums. I remember paying lots of attention to guitarists like Tony McAlpine, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Gary Moore, Eric Johnson, Santana (his instrumental ballads) and learning to play my favorite songs and learning to express like them. You would know somewhere on the album he is going to make that guitar really cry. I guess it was the crying that I liked because those were the songs I would learn first. Well, with the crying comes the feelings and emotions and that is what they were delivering, their emotion. That to me is very important, to be able to touch your soul with a little bend of a string in the right spot. Again, what they call “Aire”.

In general I am influenced by anybody that plays the guitar and plays it well. I don’t care if it is Flamenco, jazz or Hawaiian music. As long as it evokes an emotion in me I am influenced by that. You can learn from watching or listening to anybody. There is always something to be learned from another player, even if he or she is not that good. There is something hidden there that you have to take note of.

When I like a guitarist, I buy all his music, even stuff he has done with others. I do that to observe his progression. I start comparing his first album to the next and see what he did different and why. I start learning his licks and see if there is anything that is natural for me. I really have to feel the progression of a player that I like. In a way I am a total neurotic. I did that with Jimmy Page and David Gilmour, and later with Vai and Satriani. Now that I have been playing Flamenco I am always doing that with Vicente Amigo and Paco De Lucia. Vicente is one player who has influenced me so immensely. Again, it is all about inspiration. If music inspires you as a musician you would want to find out all the technicalities behind it. There was a time that I wanted to know every chord and every guitar passage that he played. I have seen him at many shows and I have always sat directly in front of him at full attention. He has an amazing technique yet he too breaks a lot of the rules. When I watch him play I don’t see any normal G or A chords. They are all suspended and augmented, jazzed up spreading over 5 or 6 frets. Another fantastic Flamenco guitarist today is “Chiquelo”. He has a very correct and traditional technique but plays super modern, yet keeping the integrity of the origin which is Flamenco together.

As far as most influential album, I have to mention The Wall by Pink Floyd. It really absorbed me. The production and material were phenomenal. Another one would be Vicente Amigo - De mi Corazon al aire. That is his first album and to me his best. You can tell the material had simmered for a while. It was not put together or written in a hurry. 17 years has past I am still listening to it. It still sounds fresh and has so much feel in it. Passion And Warfare by Steve Vai was my bible for a long time. I learned a lot from that album. All 4 Led Zeppelin I-IV were more heavy influence.

Upcoming Plans

Since Angels Of Persepolis I have done other session works in studio and even recorded another new song. This was done for a short film created by a friend of mine in New York, “Soheil Tavakoli” on Iran and its current socio political status. The song is a remake of another Persian song with heavy political innuendoes. It is called “Saramad Zemestan”, it means the winter is over. This film has been sent in to participate in Tiberon Film Festival in San Francisco by Soheil. Other than this I have been busy writing new material for my next CD. I don’t have a timeline set for this yet and I am going at my own pace. I am also trying to develop the concept for this which is still in the works. Meanwhile I have been busy rehearsing new material with my group and will pilot some shows in Chicago to see how it goes.

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