An interview with Garden Quartet’s amazing frontwoman Galerah Pour
On Saturday, July 20, BEMAC is presenting the first ever Brisbane performance of the exquisite Melbourne group Garden Quartet live for an intimate performance in the Queensland Multicultural Centre.
We had a chat with their phenomenal frontwoman Galerah Pour to learn more about her and her unique group.
1.When did you start playing music?
I started playing music in 1991 when I was 6. Initially I really wanted to play the piano, but then changed my mind and picked up the violin instead. After a short while, my teacher noticed my natural affinity for strings and suggested I try the Kamancheh. Kamancheh is a traditional Persian instrument and at the time it was kind of dying out, there weren’t a lot of musicians presenting the instrument in popular culture and my teacher thought it would be good for me to take on. Known in English as a Persian spiked fiddle, Kamancheh is an ancestor of the violin, its played upright and rather than turning the bow you turn the instrument to play different strings. It’s been my main instrument ever since, though I also play Qheychak, another traditional Persian stringed instrument, and I studied singing as well.
In Iran I mainly practised Classical Persian music, though also was a member of the Tehran Vocal Ensemble that arranged and performed acapella renditions of all sorts of popular music.
2. Who are you top inspirations (musically)
Currently my biggest influences are Mohammad Reza Shajarian, Keyhan Kalhor, Dirty Three, Jocelyn Pook, Nick Cave and Ramesh.
I listen to lots of music and can usually find something inspiring in most things. Since arriving in Australia I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know experimental artists and exploring all the weird and wonderful music unique to Australia, it’s definitely had a massive influence on what I’m playing and I’m always curious to explore ways of combining what I was brought up doing with what I’m exposed to now. I think bringing cultures together creates a new sound, something that embraces the old yet fuses with the new, something reflective of this multicultural society and the broad range of influences that feed it.
3. Who is your favourite Australian artist / band?
I can’t list one, there’s too many!
I’ve just returned from Sydney where I saw Dirty Three perform at the Opera House, It was incredible, and I’ll definitely be heading to Dark Mofo in Hobart to see them again, such an inspiring band. I also really enjoy the other projects those musicians are involved in, Xylouris White, Mick Turner’s solo records, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, they can’t seem to put a foot wrong. I also got to see The Necks when they performed with Nick Cave and think they are amazing.
I’ve been a big Kate Miller-Heidke fan for years and am so proud of her representing Australia at this years Eurovision.
I absolutely adore the beautiful multi-instrumentalist Adam Simmons, and have had the opportunity to play with him a bunch, we really need to record something, Adam if you’re reading this, we really need to record something!
I saw Gotye perform his tribute to Jean Jacques Perrey and was blown away, instant fan.
I’ve also been listening to a lot of Fourteen Nights at Sea and The Boy Who Spoke Clouds, both having now winded things up, sadly, but they’ve both put out some amazing music that will be regulars in my play list for a long time.
4. What are your top 5 albums to listen to?
I’m not going to be able to keep this to just five. They change around all the time, but currently I would have to say;
Opium Moon – self titled (they won a grammy for this record)
Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree (so emotionally heavy yet so beautiful)
Kayhan Kalhor – I Will Not Stand Alone (he is the master)
Dirty Three – Ocean Songs (though everything they’ve done could be in this list)
Mathias Duplessy & The Violins of the World -Crazy Horse (such amazing energy)
Xylouris White – Mother (again, all their albums could be in this list).
I know that was six, it’s too hard to narrow it down!
5. Who would you compare Garden Quartet’s sound to?
This is such a difficult question. Garden isn’t setting out to sound like anyone, it’s more of a conceptual approach to the music. I was born and have lived most of my life in Iran, yet I am now an Australian citizen, and this creates a duality. When I put this group together I wanted to explore what it meant to be where you are from, but also where you are, to try and express musically what it means to be the sum of all your parts, rather than trying to fit into something prescribed.
That being said, bands are always compared to their contemporaries. I had one friend describe it as like Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds if you replaced Warren Ellis with Kayhan Kalhor and had a Persian version of Diamanda Galas fronting the group. That would be a pretty amazing group I think, and it’s very flattering to be mentioned in the same sentence as those artists, but really, at the end of the day, it’s up to the audience to decide what we sound like, some people will hear certain influences, other people will hear others, and they’re all correct.
Garden Quartet is not like anything I’ve heard before or have done myself. A four piece band that is half Persian born half Australian born, and yet, at the same time, it is neither Iranian or Australian. It’s simply a collaboration between four Australian musicians with varying backgrounds. I call it diasporic music, or contemporary Iranian-Australian music.
All our lyrics are sung in Farsi/Persian, we have two traditional Persian instruments; Kamancheh and Santur (Persian Hammered Dulcimer) and we mix that with Drum-Kit and Electric Guitar. Some might call it World Music to fit it in to a category, but I’m not a big fan of that term, it’s too ambiguous, it doesn’t really make sense.
6. When and how was Garden Quartet formed?
Garden was formed in 2016, in Melbourne, by myself and Brian O’Dwyer our drummer. We have had many collaborations and have explored a lot of different styles of music. We’re both big fans of improvising and most of the things we’d done together had heavily utilised free form playing. When we decided to pursue Garden we wanted to create something more composed, something that we could use to express a very specific idea, being identity in music. Brian had worked with Mike Gallichio (Guitar) previously and suggested he’d be able to bring a very supportive sensibility to the group, and I had worked with Arman Habibi (Santur/Vocals) mainly in more classical Persian settings. We knew that it would take some time to compose and figure out how to get the sound right so we really wanted to create a harmonious group where personalities would compliment, I think we’ve done that with this group of musicians, I’m really happy with what we’ve produced and I’m excited to keep writing.
7. On singing about Kevin Sheedy
Arman and I sing in Farsi, so for a non-Farsi speaker you’re relying on the sound more than anything else. We were putting one song together and rehearsing it with vocals when Brian and Mike suddenly started laughing, we asked them what was so funny and it turned out one of the lyrics sounded as if I was saying Kevin Sheedy. I had no idea who that was, and we thought of it as just a little in joke. But then, a few months later, we had some people filming our rehearsal for a documentary I was involved in, and one of the camera crew remarked that it was interesting that the song I was singing was about Kevin Sheedy. We had a good laugh and explained, but then I decided to change how that section was sung to make it stand out less, it’s still there, but not as noticeable. I suppose that’s just one of the interesting things about singing in another language, you never know what someone is going to pick up on.
8. Has Garden Quartet performed in Brisbane before?
No we haven’t, and we are super excited. We decided early on that we would try and get to as many major cities as possible to launch this album. I get asked by people in different states regularly when I’m going to play there, I’ve just never had the right opportunity come up for Brisbane before. This is a really special show for me because my sister lives in Brisbane, and she’s the reason I’m even in Australia. Originally I moved to Melbourne to live with her, but then she moved to Brisbane and started a Persian sauce business called Exotic Bazaar. I still get to see her heaps, but it’s going to be wonderful to get to play in her home town. I can’t wait! The support we’ve had from BEMAC has been incredible, I’m so humbled to be surrounded by such amazing people doing such amazing things. So get ready Brisbane, there’s a lot of love coming your way xx.