Photo credit: Soraya Rashid
I should preface this post by saying that sometimes inspiration is found in the corners. When I came across a split 7" for the Oklahoma 90s band Chainsaw Kittens, I have to admit, that I thought I was ordering a single by the band Free Kitten (the project of Kim Gordon and Julie Kafritz of Pussy Galore).
In exploring my new purchase, I realized that the 7" B-side was a split with artist Soraya, who now also uses the name, Soraya Soul (link here). I briefly remembered nearly seeing her perform at a show in Detroit. My interest peaked, I took to the internet. I not only found Soraya the artist and painter, but I found a music-familiar, as well. Soraya grew up in Toronto, Ontario in Canada (only four hours away for a kid who also grew up in Ontario, in Windsor). Her music is a cross between indie-rock and psychedelic experimental pop.
So new wave! Sooo punk rock! So young! Soraya and Gillian.
(Soraya Rashid (L) and Gillian Riberio (R), personal photo).
Soraya Rashid, her full name, is a guitarist and songwriter who has been performing since she was a young adult. She became entrenched in a truly important time in the Toronto music and arts scene which birthed prolific queer women punk groups like The Fifth Column, as well as alternative rock and indie acts like Cowboy Junkies, Change of Heart, mixed art and film directors like Canada's Bruce MacDonald (Hard Core Logo, Roadkill, Highway 61, The Tracey Fragments, Alan Zweig's "Vinyl," and more), as well as the band that Bruce MacDonald based his movie "Roadkill" on, A Neon Rome, (whom Soraya also played with), and later acts like Peaches. In the late 80s and early 1990s, Toronto, similar to other cities around the country, was going through a different type of musical revolution at this time, and a more informal DIY-spirited Canadian independent music in the Queen Street West scene was growing and taking shape.
Here is my conversation with the independent Canadian musician and painter, Soraya Rashid.
You can also listen to Soraya's Spotify playlist here:
Carly: Tell us about the name Soraya: do you prefer the single name for your projects, or are you using a different name now?
Soraya: I was in a trademark dispute over the name with another artist on Island Records but it was after I had already released my 7-inch single [on Echostatic/Spacebaby Records]. The other Soraya (it was also her first name), seemed to appear out of nowhere and she was a Latin crossover artist from Columbia, and also signed to Island Records.
At that time, I had a bit of a 'buzz' and I was being courted by a few major labels. The name dispute caused confusion and setbacks for my musical career, but in the end, the label settled with us, and I gave up using my name “Soraya“ on its own (as a performer).
I go by Soraya Soul or my full name Soraya Rashid.
Carly: When did you start playing music in earnest and what was the catalyst that brought you to creating music?
Soraya: I studied a bit of violin and piano growing up.
In art school, I was interested in performance art and sound, and since I was hanging out in the Toronto music scene, I ended up being asked to be a backup vocalist/dancer (and, play a mean tambourine, haha) in a fun (Beastie Boy-esque) band fronted by Joel Wasson who later replaced the drummer for 5th Column.
Bernard Maiezza and Crocky Teasdale of A Neon Rome were also in the band.
It was meant to be a one-off thing but it was such a hit at Elvis Monday (which at the time was at the now-defunct Silver Dollar Room), it was such a dive but it was packed that night and we ended up playing and doing a little tour together for the next two years.
I taught myself a few chords on acoustic guitar that a friend gave me and started playing open mics around town. I could hardly play but people seemed to like my voice and what I was doing and it just felt right (like I found my calling).
About a year after the band dissolved I was in NYC and ended up staying there. I met a lot of interesting people from New York and also who had just moved there (like myself) from all over the country, globally actually, doing interesting things; performance, music, and art.
I played some small gigs, started putting bills together, using a 'gorilla advertising-style' for booking local acts that I knew, and I would put myself on the bill, as well. Eventually, I got a band out of that with Algis Kizys, Eric Hubel, Norman Westerberg, and Vinny Signorelli on drums--these musicians were all members of the NY no-wave band Swans.
Vinny was busy with the Unsane and touring a lot so we went through a lot of other drummers Micheal Belinsky (pre-Sadies) and George Berz (pre-J Mascis and the Fog, Dinosaur Jr.) to name a few. I thought we should create a band name but the guys thought we should just continue to use my name “Soraya,” so we did.
Carly: I was researching your music online, and it took me some time to confirm you were the artist I was searching for. I found your music on a split 7" with the Oklahoma band Chainsaw Kittens. What can you tell us about this particular release and the label behind it (Echostatic/Space Baby) and how your project became involved.
Soraya: Janet Ridgeway who used to own a rock club in Atlanta called, The Echo Lounge, was a partner in Space Baby/ Echostatic records. She heard my demo and asked me to be part of their split single project. They chose the song from two separate recordings that I did around that same time. The first track, "Schizophrenic Sky," was from a visit to Toronto where I recorded with friends Ian Blurton (Change of Heart, Blurtonia), John Borra (A Neon Rome), and Bernard Maiezza (A Neon Rome, Change of Heart, Cookie Duster), and the other recording, "Fields of Blue," was completed in Brooklyn at Swans member Martin Bisi's studio with Algis Kizys (Swans, Pigface), Eric Hubel (Foetus, John Myer's Blastula, Big Fat Love, Of Cabbages and Kings, etc) and Ted Parsons (Prong, Of Cabbages and Kings). The single itself reached Top 20 lists, and was played on radio stations across Europe, receiving lots of reviews in various independent music magazines (for example, Magnet).
A couple of years later I had a demo deal with Interscope/Nothing records and 'nothing' became of that [edit. pun intended]. When they decided against releasing the record, I was pretty devastated and at that point sick of the 'music biz.' I went through a bunch of personal stuff, and ended up on a long break from the music industry and worked on getting what they call 'a real job,' it was NYC and it's a tough place.
Carly: Your songs from this release, and your 2019 album 'Soraya Soul,' was recorded from sessions with Toronto, Ontario's Ian Blurton (I am most familiar with Ian for his work in bands like Change of Heart and Blurtonia, but I know he's played with lots of others). What was it like recording with Ian, and who else played on these sessions with you?
Soraya: Ian and I go way back. He dated one of my best friends in high school, he was a few years our senior, and when I moved out of my parents' place, I lived next door to him and Bernard Maiezza. Working with Ian is great, not only does he really know his stuff and is super-talented, but he's funny, easy to work with, and totally gets what I am trying to do. He's always been supportive of my work. And I have always looked up to Ian (he used to make me mixed tapes and he introduced me to a lot of cool music back in the day).
This latest 11 track release was recorded at Bernard Maiezza studio. We worked remotely at first since I was still in NYC at the time.
I sent him the songs and a description of my vision for each song and he got the crew back together again: Ian Blurton (Change of Heart, C'Mon, Blurtonia), Neil Exall (The Mercurymen), and Crocky Teasdale (A Neon Rome).
I came to Toronto for a month to record that album (Soraya Rashid) after many years on hiatus from the music biz. The songs were all written after a major breakup in mind, and how I was trying to find my way back... and figuring out how to put the pieces back together in my life. You could say that it was... a capsule of a certain period in my life. It was a 'labor of love' with friends and I'm proud of that record.
Carly: What can you tell me about playing in the music scene in the late '80s and early '90s in Toronto? You played Elvis Mondays and with A Neon Rome folks. What was that scene like? Were bands like Fifth Column a part of that scene?
Soraya: It was a rock 'n' roll school of life, a creative time meeting like-minded kids into playing music and hanging out. There was a real sense of community and the scene was pretty incestuous with everyone playing music with each other in different bands. I was new on the scene, a few years younger, and mostly looked up to these guys. There weren't a lot of girls in the scene at that time, but the ones that were played with the guys. I never really thought about it much, we all just hung out as friends and played music.
Carly: What were your music career and influences like at that time, and how did it end up evolving or devolving?
Soraya: One thing just led to another, I'd write a handful of songs, play some shows, record them, shop them around and start over again. I was inspired by my peers, the music of the times, and of course famous icons new and old. Since I learned on an acoustic guitar I started listening to classics to learn from like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan but when I played people would say I sound like a female Syd Barrett or Leonard Cohen so I would listen to there work and so on and so forth. I really wasn't trying to sound like anyone and coming from a painting and more experimental art background I had a more punk approach like just do it and see what happens. It was very raw and I still have that approach. I just have more experience now and I try to think things through more.
Carly: Have your influences changed and do you think that is reflected in your music now?
Soraya: Well, sure influences are always changing. On my last album, I was really inspired by 70s progressive rock/folk.
Back in the 90s, I was influenced by lo-fi sounding artists like PJ Harvey, Dinosaur Jr, and Beck, the sound that was going on at the time. For my next record, I would like to incorporate some Miami-style sounds (Miami was where I lived for 5 years more recently). I was very affected by that experience. I also feel that my songs are always really personal, and I've tried writing political songs before but never recorded one yet so that is also something I have in mind....and also, a less “rock-” oriented sound. I have definitely been reliving the 80s music, lately, so there may be some 80s sounds going on for that next one, haha! I'm working my way through the decades...
Carly: You mentioned in a previous conversation that you would be releasing new material. Is this newly recorded material, archived sessions, or are you still in the process of creating? What can you tell us about your work now and who you recorded with?
Soraya: I have a few songs ready to record but because of COVID it's giving me time to work and focus on the arrangements and I am experimenting with beats and sounds (at home), and I put together a bare-bones home recording set up, as well. I'm very excited about releasing my new songs (the ones that are ready to go)! I was going to go into a studio with some musician friends but that's not happening anytime soon, so, I'm writing and working on new songs these days and feeling really into it right now.
Carly: Have current World events informed your ability to create and has your writing or recording process changed your material or outlook as an artist?
Soraya: Yes, for sure it has stirred a new desire to create and do something. It suddenly seems more urgent, and also, what else is there to turn to in such troubling times (in the least) for any artist. I was beginning to question the point of even putting anything out there, (like) does anyone even give a shit anyway? But, COVID-19's situation makes us realize how temporary everything is and what's important in life, and, music in its essence expresses that.
It's an incredible time we are living in (frightening and unpredictable) but on the flip side, we can appreciate how beautifully deep and intoxicating life is and how precious it is. As far as the process, well, we can't play live now and God knows when (if ever) so we need to embrace technology and use the internet to reach people! It's been pretty much that way for years now, but now we have no choice, we just need to find new and creative ways to work connect and collaborate and in the end because music needs an audience.
You can purchase Soraya's split with Chainsaw Kittens in the shop, below: