“Anyone creating art shouldn’t think too hard about the art they are creating,” Erhaan Ahmad says.
Earlier this year, we were treated to the encapsulation of life that is Erhaan Ahmad’s debut EP Deal With The Devil.
A six-track collection reflecting on the ebbs and flows of life, the project spans psych rock to dreamy electronica, as anchored by Ahmad’s poetic and incisive lyricism.
Now with a debut offering under his belt and a wealth of life experiences to recount, Ahmad stops by Happy Mag for an insightful chat about Deal With The Devil, growing up in Pakistan, and the “villain origin story” that kick started his musical career.
Scroll down for our full interview with Erhaan Ahmad, and listen to his new EP Deal With The Devil below.
HAPPY: What are you up to today?
ERHAAN: Woke up super late today because I played a game of Civilization VI until 3am last night. So now I’m a bit tired, having a coffee at my favourite cafe and enjoying the last sunny days of Berlin’s summer season.
HAPPY: Tell us about where you are from? What’s the scene like in your neck of the woods?
ERHAAN: I was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. It’s sort of a city that is inundated in dysfunction and chaos. But not in a bad way necessarily haha. Everything is possible there, but you have to learn the strength and resolve to take on a city so big and so diverse.
HAPPY: Describe an average day?
ERHAAN: Usually I’m up around 7am, have some tea and start to think about what I’ll get up to during the day. I’ll do a bit of stretching, maybe smoke a J, then either read or just start making music.
At the moment my full focus is exploration and discovering the next step in my sound. Trying to collab or gig with other musicians, or get inspiration for my writing from reading. These days I’m obsessed with the poetry or Rumi. I also just bought a Moog, so been lost in that for sure.
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HAPPY: What did you listen to growing up that fuelled your passion for music?
ERHAAN: Some of the earliest influences were through my parents and my dad in particular. He was always blasting Dire Straits.
I have a core memory of listening to Tunnel of Love in the car just before school, and even though we got to school my dad didn’t open the door, we just sat and finished the song before I left the car.
It was kind of logical that from there I went into the Blues rabbit hole, discovered my love for BB King, SRV, Jimi Hendrix, and Pink Floyd.
HAPPY: Your album beautifully captures the ebb and flow of life’s highs and lows. Can you share the inspiration behind weaving these intricate elements into your music?
ERHAAN: I really believe that to truly live is to truly feel the lows as well as the highs. Growing up in the place that I did, the duality of life was clear and present to us everyday.
People living luxuriously next to people dying of hunger. People with more cars than they need next to people with no shoes on their feet. To me this up and down is such a fundamental part of our life, it takes part in everything.
So much so that it makes you who you are. I feel if we understand this, the next time we are up we won’t be arrogant about it, and if we’re ever down we know it’s all just part of the experience.
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HAPPY: Growing up in the chaotic city of Karachi, Pakistan, how did the dissonance and commotion around you shape your perspective on life and music?
ERHAAN: Pretty much what I said to the previous question. I would also add that growing up in a chaotic and unsafe city also just makes you very streetwise, very sceptical of new people and new opportunities.
This can be a useful skill. I want to say though that people from my city are very crafty and ingenious. Because we sort of live without a system, everyone is able to improvise and think on their feet very well.
HAPPY: Your journey from Pakistan to the US, Ireland, and finally settling in Berlin is quite fascinating. How did these diverse experiences influence your musical style and storytelling?
I think it’s all about adding different cultural and linguistic sides to your personality. Anyone creating art shouldn’t think too hard about the art they are creating.
It is more important to have experiences like the ones I have been lucky enough to have, and really letting them change and shape you. All of that comes out in your art somehow.
If you grow what you produce grows, and for me the coolest form of growth came from learning languages and meeting different people.
HAPPY: “16.12.14” opens your album with profound introspection. Could you elaborate on the meaning behind the lyrics, particularly the line “states of bliss or states of death”?
ERHAAN: This is where it all began for me really. I think of it like my villain origin story. The song is about a terrorist attack that happened in Pakistan in 2014 (do go read about it on wikipedia).
In short, once 140 children were killed in cold blood by terrorists, the whole world changed for me. After that, in a very important way, nothing mattered to me anymore.
Rumi always says that to find out who we are we first have to destroy the foundation and dig down. I felt a little bit like this event did that for me.
HAPPY: “The Trees” beautifully pays homage to nature while juxtaposing it with the digital world. What message or feeling were you trying to convey with this track?
ERHAAN: This song is like a first-aid recommendation. It is me discovering that even though there is incredible amounts of pain in the world around me, there is an unmistakable beauty in the way that everything is working.
I think the machinery of nature has this calming effect, because it reminds us that we are also just a small part of that system. Its a place we all long to go to when we are tired, hopeless, or defeated.
HAPPY: Can you tell us about the creative collab for “Bumbling Bee,” featuring Louis Jullien?
ERHAAN: Super fun! This song was actually written about 2 years ago, and was originally just written on a guitar. Through the collaboration with my producer Usama Siddiq here in Berlin we started fleshing out the song and it took on a really cool jazzy feel. Once we had dropped the final vocals in, we just kept listening and saying…it needs a real piano. So we called Louis :)
HAPPY: Your album concludes with “Devil Deal,” raising questions about time and money. What reflections or insights do you hope listeners take away from this thought-provoking song?
ERHAAN: This one is a bit more straightforward I guess. I just couldn’t stop thinking about how I spent years selling the best hours and energy of my life to a company, working 10-12 hours a day for money that I didn’t have the time or the desire to spend. That’s a “Devil Deal”.
It is enticing because in the system we live in money is good, but I learned time is more valuable. I felt I would rather be poor and growing, than rich and stagnant, and I wanted to shout against the exploitation of peoples’ time that companies are engaged in.
HAPPY: Your album guides listeners through life’s journey, inspiring them to keep moving forward. Can you discuss the overarching message or theme that you wanted to convey through your music?
ERHAAN: I guess the point is that you need everything to grow and be a full person. Both darkness and light. I’ll give a shameless Rumi quote for this one, where he talks about all your thoughts and emotions as guests coming to your house.
“Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.”
HAPPY: What makes you happy?
ERHAAN: Honestly if I ever see kids playing around, and laughing or talking to each other, I become instantly happy.