YOU KNOW HOW SOMETIMES you come across music (or books or art or whatever) that seems dead-on perfect for what you need at that very specific moment? Sometimes your needs are so narrow—and so needy—that nothing else will suffice and everything you take in seems like pinpricks to the eyes and landmines blowing your balls off. That's been me these past couple days. Nothing is really jiving with my inner clockworks. Then comes Ilyas Ahmed, and man, am I in love with his music. It's mostly solo voice and guitar—mellow picked builds, chanting and breathy sighs—but then the big, stately harmonium drones come on. Tracks stretch past the 30-minute mark. Psychedelia is given time to branch out, vein off in different directions, and get in deep with the tranced-out raga vibe. I have three Ilyas CDs, and I want more. I'm going to get more.
MERCURY: What was it that brought you to Portland?
ILYAS AHMED: When I lived in Seattle I visited Portland once and after that I thought, "Boy, am I living in the wrong city." I always thought everyone in Seattle was kind of mean, and still kind of do think that, though I still have friends there. I moved here because it was cheap, and my ex-girlfriend got a job here. I was contacted by Pete [Swanson] of the Yellow Swans and Zach [Reno] from Ghosting pretty soon after getting here, Pete first acted as my tour guide though the city then become a good friend, and Zach set me up with my first show with the Swans, Ghosting, and Valet.
I read an interview where you talked about one of my favorite books, JK Huysmans' Against Nature. What place does literature take in your daily life, and in your music—as far as lyric-writing goes?
I read pretty constantly because books, along with records, become good friends that stay with you your whole life, and are things that can provide a new perspective at looking at the world outside. I guess spending a lot of time alone factors into that. Books and visual art can be total escapism at times, and other times something clicks that makes me think of something musically, like some kind of structural thing. As far as lyrics go I find myself going back to John Ashberry, Jane Bowles, and the Sufi poets a lot... don't know if that shows though.
Another CD-R on the Yellow Swans label, then a new full-length LP/CD on Time-Lag Records called The Vertigo of Dawn which should be out by winter, then Digitalis is going to reissue my first CD-R Between Two Skies as a proper CD, then I think Time-Lag is going to do a CD/LP reissue of Century of Moonlight, and I'm recording a few new things that will surface early next year on CD... that's it, I think.