1. Third World Soldier [blog-approved MP3]
photo courtesy of: Amber Miller
photo courtesy of: April Brimer
2/26 - 50 Mason Social House, @ 8PM- San Francisco, CA
"Sometimes our most destructive moments and greatest tragedies end up becoming our triumphs," says Seattle, Washington-based pop-rocker Yusif!, leader of the outfit bearing his name as their moniker.
Yusif is discussing his debut, self-titled full-length, which will be nationally released October 9, 2012, a ten-track collection of songs that gravitate to lyrics about love, lost love, internal conflicts and struggles, and emotionally-charged anti-war anthems.
"I've seen war, I've seen hurt, I've seen death. I'm here to tell the truth, own up to my own selfishness and self-destruction, help people find the love I have found, and try to spread a positive, uplifting message before I die. All I want to do is create joy and inspire people; so many people have done that for me. I am committed that some day, in my lifetime, we can end war, too. People can live peacefully together," details Yusif, discussing the purpose and meaning of his album.
War is something Yusif has seen first hand, as are heartache and love, all leading to an album that is real and from-the-heart, an album Yusif had to live in and live with to create. The journey was long and the tales were often painful. But, the end result is a collection of songs that catapult from melodically-rich indie-folk storytelling to hook-laden pop-rock energy, all with a distinctive, yet memorable base (think Cat Stevens fronting Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, mixed in with a Seattle flare).
Born in Seattle and raised between Seattle and Kuwait, the Kuwaiti-American singer-songwriter lived in Kuwait during The Gulf War. At the age of four, he and his mother soon found themselves separated from his father.
"I was a little kid living in Kuwait during the Gulf War and had to be evacuated with my mom. Then twelve years later I was living in America during the War on Terror. It has been pretty intense to be part of both cultures, especially at a time when 9/11 and the Iraq War were happening and there was such a divide between the cultures," states Yusif.
"I think there still is a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication between the cultures, and I'm in a unique position to bring a Western perspective to the East and an Eastern perspective to the West, " he furthers. "I believe we can achieve the end of war in our lifetimes. It will just take a higher consciousness for us to achieve that."
The story begins with Yusif returning to Seattle after living abroad for ten years in an attempt to rediscover his musical roots and begin his career as a recording artist.
"My parents used to brew alcohol while I was in high school, and it was kind of a dark time in my life," he recalls. "I was really heavy into drugs back then and I would steal their rancid, disgusting homemade wine, which they had to brew at home and hide in the closet because in Kuwait booze is illegal."
He pauses for a minute and then continues.
"I'd steal it and we would go into the desert by campfires, smoking weed, playing songs, and trying to get in girls' pants. Playing songs was the only creative piece of that puzzle. The rest was complete and utter self-destruction and I knew I had to get out."
The simple fact is that Yusif just didn't adhere to the Kuwaiti ideals. More than once his dad caught him in his room, fornicating with girls, which lead to huge fights.
"It's very, very taboo in Kuwaiti society to have premarital sex," he informs. "It would be my dad's behind on the line if the girl's father found out. He would then want to attack my father - or something like that. It's a big deal. It's a very different culture. It's the girl's reputation and the girl's dad's reputation that gets tarnished, their family name is damaged. It's a very loving and family-oriented society, that actually values women in ways we don't in America. Culturally, your extended family is everything in Arabic culture. We value that a lot more there than we do here in the West. People here stress individualism and life is more communal over there."
The fights with his father furthered his unhappiness in Kuwait. The isolation he was feeling was growing deeper and stronger; he was outcast and bullied in high school because he was very different, with one foot in both cultures. At this point he convinced his parents to let him move back to Seattle and live with his grandparents.
However, despite the constant fights with his father, and his inability to fit into Kuwaiti society, Yusif is a family man to the core, and quickly points out that, "Even though they were hesitant about it at first, my parents have been so awesome and incredibly supportive of my music and ambitions as my career has started to move forward. It was very dramatic of me to do all the stuff I did, which caused us to fight. I'll take my blame for the stuff I did and the heartache and troubles I caused my parents. They really have been the most supportive people of me all my life. They helped me finance this record. This record wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for them, in so many ways. But, the fact remained, I had to get out of Kuwait, so I did. I've since realized my pain wasn't about Kuwait, it was about me."
Once back in Seattle, it didn't go well, as Yusif found himself more isolated, more depressed, and resorting to more drugs and alcohol for comfort. Unable to get into high school due to red tape, he soon found himself attending community college, with hardly a friend in the world. It was there he discovered grunge, Nirvana and Soundgarden. Songs like "Fell On Black Days" really spoke to him.
He would eventually earn his high school diploma from the American School of Kuwait and was accepted into John Hopkins University. Graduating from John Hopkins in 2008, he once again headed back to Seattle.
Packing everything he could fit into his hand-me-down '87 Honda Accord, he embarked on a solo cross-country trek from Baltimore, Maryland to Seattle. Once there, he quickly began playing the local open mic circuit, becoming a regular on the burgeoning folk-pop scene that spawned the likes of The Head and The Heart and Hey Marseilles.
"I played every open mic in the city, from Trabant to Conor Byrne, to Murphy's Pub, Blue Moon, Hopvine, you name it," remembers Yusif. "Sometimes I did two or three in a night, very often I did five or six a week. It was like my job, except I wasn't getting paid. I remember strumming my acoustic guitar so hard a couple times that I would lose half a fingernail and there would be bloodstains on the inside of my Martin after performances."
He still has this Martin, and used it on acoustic parts in the recording of the self-titled full-length.
Frequenting the open mics for six months, Yusif began building his chops once again, writing hundreds of songs, backed by the many life experiences he had had in Kuwait, and since leaving Kuwait.
Entering Orbit Audio with Joe Reineke as the engineer and co-producer, Yusif began working on a studio record, utilizing friends and studio musicians to make his record before he even had a band.
"I wanted to do it backwards," he laughs. "I wanted to do a studio record and then put a band together around it. I kind of had to."
Opening with "Third World Soldier," a harrowing tale of a mother losing her child in war, with images of battleships and a mother's love, desperation, and despair at the loss, what was originally written as a piano ballad became a gritty, rough-around-the-edges, and completely raw pop-rock song routed in folk fundamentals. Cutting through pretension, it delivers a bleak, yet anthemic anti-war message with nary a wasted guitar or melody.
"I wrote this song based on the experiences I went through living through the Gulf War. My mom and I were separated from my father for over a year after Saddam invaded Kuwait and my dad got stuck there. I was only four. We get to the states and the first thing my Grandma tells me is that I have a thick Arabic accent!"
While the album has plenty of anti-war and "all you need is love" solutions, the album isn't without it's heartbreak. Such is the case with "Underdog," a light pop-rock number about finding comfort and love with someone only to find out you're nothing more than a mere convenience to them.
"The song is about somebody that thinks that they have finally found a person to love who is a true friend, but finds out that that's not what's happening, that reality is very different from your perception of it sometimes."
The lost and lonely love song "My Heart Is Yours Forever" finds Yusif treading Tom Petty water with a rich, B3-laced Southern-influenced pop-rock song, while "Reach Out" is the album's heaviest, hardest hitting track, as Yusif struggles to find himself and his voice in the post-drug-induced world he's just created.
"I was looking for the answer to getting out of my drug habits and I found them by doing the album," he says of the full-length, and the lyrical content of "Reach Out."
"Take Your Love (And Go)" is a hooky, mid-tempo rock song loaded with hooks and melody, telling the tale of a man and woman in lust, constantly breaking up, and finally moving away from each other for the better.
Ending with "Only Fools Know Better," Yusif delves deep with a soul-searching love song detailing heartbreak, loss, moving on, and trying to find yourself, all delivered in a quirky ballad form - funked out, with it's heart on its sleeve.
Dubbed "masterfully underproduced" by co-producer Joe Reineke, the result of this ten-track debut is something that is raw, pretty, hopeful, anthemic, and "has a little magic it in." A lot of that magic comes from Yusif's unique storytelling and stance on life via his lyrics, especially "Cosmic Symphony," a song that sums up the album's underlying theme about spiritual growth and personal development.
"The song strives to cultivate a world consciousness of love and peace. That is ultimately the message I got out of recording this: get light, get bright, see the world, spread joy and peace, be who you are and be who you're about. Be outspoken and don't be afraid to piss somebody off because of it. I intend to tell the truth with my life," Yusif says with great pride. "People who tell the truth always get shot, historically. I came out of the sessions with a sort of mission to give back to a world that has given me so much. I was so grateful during the whole recording process. Most people in the world, especially in the third world, don't get the opportunity to even play an instrument, not to mention record music and dedicate their lives to making music. Most people are living not from paycheck to paycheck but from meal to meal. Six year olds die in war zones. We created this reality and we can create a more peaceful reality for the world. I am so lucky to be blessed to share my ideas with the world. That I'm in a position to give back is more or less a duty in my view. I owe it to all the wonderful people that have helped me along the way, to give back and help others. I really got over my selfishness in this album. Really, I just want a voice and a platform to be heard, to do some good in this world before I die. I'm going to die. I've accepted it, I learned to accept it during the recording process. So with that consciousness, it becomes less about surviving and more about contributing. How many spirits can I uplift before my last breath? How much joy can I create in people before I'm done on this planet? These are the questions that motivate my music and my life and give me the inspiration to pursue a career in music and songwriting. Telling the truth and making a difference. That's what my life's about now. This is who I am."
2/14/13 - Austin Bar and Grill ALL AGES - Everett, WA
2/14/13 - KSER 90.7 FM Live On-Air - Everett, WA
1/18/13 - Urban Coffee Lounge - Kirkland, WA
12/4/12 - The Central Saloon - Seattle, WA
12/2/12 - The Rogue Bar - Scottsdale, AZ
11/30/12 - Fiddler's Dream - Phoenix, AZ
11/28/12 - Austin Headhunter's Club - Austin, TX
11/27/12 - Kick Butt Coffee, Booze, & Music - Austin, TX
11/24/12 - Neutral Ground Coffee House - New Orleans, LA
11/18/12 - Tir Na Nog Irish Pub - Daytona Beach, FL
11/17/12 - Natura Coffee & Tea - Orlando, FL
11/16/12 - WPRK 91.5 FM Live On-Air - Winter Park, FL
11/14/12 - Terrapin Brewery - Athens, GA
11/13/12 - WQFS 90.9 FM Live On-Air - Greensboro, NC
11/12/12 - Local Lion Bar - Boone, NC
11/11/12 - Drifters Restaurant - Nashville, TN
11/10/12 - Ugly Mugs - Nashville, TN
11/09/12 - Ri'Chard's Louisiana Cafe - Nashville, TN
11/08/12 - Mary Jane's Cafe - Burnsville, NC
11/06/12 - The Good Stuff - Marshall, NC
11/04/12 - The Saloon - Charlotte, NC
11/03/12 - The Gin Mill - Charlotte, NC
11/02/12 - Broad Street Cafe - Durham, NC
10/29/12 - Green Vine Co-Op - Washington, DC
10/27/12 - Circa1212 - Philadelphia, PA
10/26/12 - Recoup Lounge - New York, NY
10/25/12 - Rider University Dining Hall, WRRC 107.7 The Bronc - Lawrenceville, NJ
10/22/12 - Goodbye Blue Monday - New York, NY
10/21/12 - Checkers & Trophies - Kent, OH
10/20/12 - Fearless Radio Live On-Air - Chicago, IL
10/20/12 - Grace Street Tap - Chicago, IL
10/18/12 - El Lenador - St. Louis, MO
10/17/12 - News Room - Kansas City, MO
10/16/12 - Jerry's Bait Shop - Lee's Summit, MO
10/13/12 - Kirby's Beer Store - Wichita, KS
10/12/12 - Ad Astra Books & Coffee House - Salina, KS
10/11/12 - Sunshine Studios Live - Colorado Springs, CO
10/10/12 - Carol's Cove II - Salt Lake City, UT
10/9/12 - Sockeye Grill & Brewery - Boise, ID
9/27/12 - Stantonova, w/ Clint Niosi, Jolliff, Evanoj - Portland, OR
9/5/12 - Imagine Coffee - Corvallis, OR
8/20/12 - The Alternative Cafe, w/ Sean Schiveley - Seaside, CA
8/19/12 - The Blue Beet, w/ Debbie Goodman - Newport Beach, CA
8/18/12 - TRiP - Santa Monica, CA
8/17/12 - Oldtowne Pub - Pasadena, CA
8/16/12 - Happy's Sports Grille - Chino, CA
8/15/12 - Cinema Bar, w/ James River Station - Culver City, CA
8/14/12 - Last Stage West - Atascadero, CA
8/12/12 - Apple Jack's Inn - La Honda, CA
8/11/12 - Pierce Ranch Vineyards, w/ Casey Frazier - Monterey, CA
8/10/12 - Abbey Tavern - San Francisco, CA
8/9/12 - Blackwater Cafe w/ Retrostatic, Eroszion - Stockton, CA
8/7/12 - Grant & Green Saloon, w/ South of Ramona, The Insufferables - SF, CA
8/6/12 - Centric @ CommRow - Reno, NV
8/5/12 - The Red Bud - Hayfork, CA
8/4/12 - Maxwell's Downtown Eatery, w/ Nate Huisen - Redding, CA
8/3/12 - Little Red Lion - Eureka, CA
8/2/12 - Mad River Brewing Company, w/ Asha Nan - Blue Lake, CA
7/21/12 - Enlighten Cafe - Seattle, WA
7/14/12 - Warp Pipes w/ The Cookie Sound, The Soapmakers - Portland, OR
6/24/12 - KYRS Radio (Live in-studio performance) - Spokane, WA
5/19/12 - Songwriters in Seattle @ SoulFood Books - Redmond, WA
5/12/12 - Skylark Cafe - Seattle, WA
4/6/12 - Blue Moon w/ Bandolier, Carousel, AR&Z - Seattle, WA
2/17/12 - The Rogue & Peasant w/ Pilot Lights, MGR - Seattle, WA
2/9/12 - Skylark Cafe & Club w/ The Do Wrongs, Sweetlix - Seattle, WA
12/12/11 - The Comet Tavern w/ Open Blue, Spyn Reset - Seattle, WA
10/6/11 - 88 Keys w/ Corson Swift - Seattle, WA
9/29/11 - Rendezvous w/ Pilot Lights, Megan McConnel - Seattle, WA
6/18/11 - J&M Cafe w/ Jerry Miller , Kit Nelson, Open Blue - Seattle, WA
5/12/11 - Piecora's Backroom w/ Bandolier
"Third World Soldier... comes from a personal perspective, from the viewpoint of someone actually affected by war."
- Huffington Post
"Yusif truly fits the definition of a hard-working indie act. Take a look at their calendar, it speaks for itself."
- Indie On The Move
"The album is evenly balanced between rocking pop numbers and heartfelt love songs... an instantly engaging and ecstatic debut album with compelling songs... he narrates his musical stories... Despite all the setbacks in his early life, Yusif has emerged from the other side, wiser, free-spirited and triumphant with this album, which richly deserves a wide audience to take it all in..."
"Yusif sings and plays with a strength and clarity unexpected for a first album. His lyrics are powerful and the guitar work on this album stays well suited to his vocals whether he's talking about the state of the world or pouring out his heart to a lover. I recommend checking out the album..."
-We Love Rock-n-Pop
"He turns tragedies of his past into very personable triumphs..."
-JP's Music Blog
"If Cat Stevens and The Traveling Wilburys had a love child, Yusif would be that musical offspring.... Socially relevant, yet danceable tunes make this a must-have album for your music collection."
"There's one thing you can't ignore about this guy - his voice. It's... unique. After I got over the initial introduction, I found his bold, nasaly projection to be quite refreshing. I can think of more than a handful of songwriters who also tote unusual voices. In world where the level of entry to becoming a musician becomes lower and lower (I'm referring to the accessibility to instruments and recording), using your unique voice at the forefront of your sound can actually be a huge advantage. Just think of Joanna Newsom, Tom Waits, John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats..."
-The Spec Blog
-Critical Sun Recordings
-Digital Tour Bus (Tour Tips)
Sarah grew up in the woods of North Carolina, living in beautiful tucked-away places, havens of 80's-hippies or quakers or people who were seeking something other than the mainstream excesses of Reagan or the remnants of southern racism. Her first musical memory is toddling along in a diaper along a trail while her Mama sang Blackbird. Fast forward a few years, she fell headlong in love with the Beatles via her father's record collection when she was 5, bawling when she was told of John Lennon's death. For many years she would only listen to music of the 60s and 70s, adding Donovan, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and the Grateful Dead to her favorites. For several years she avoided all music recorded after 1980 as well as she could… until the mid-90s when she fell head over heels for the blond tresses of Hanson, slowly growing to appreciate modern pop, then rock as well. She sang a lot, with her mother, in chorus and chapel choir (at boarding school), and at Camp Celo, where she went as a child, lived during the year, and worked for many years as a high school/college student. Then she got shy. She studied video production and decided that she was a "behind the camera" kind of person, quiet, invisible. But maintained a love of music throughout - as an avid listener and a peripheral participant. She dated a musician through much of college and learned to run sound at live shows. She also produced a television show for the student television station at the University of North Carolina that made music videos for local bands. She spent several years exploring the country, and herself, mostly in Alaska, Arizona, and Seattle, working as a waitress, bartender, restaurant manager, and eventually landing in a cubicle at a health insurance network. This time treated her well, as she settled into herself, developing deep and lasting friendships and a taste for discovering new places. In the summer of 2011, she met Yusif through a mutual friend, who thought her charity planning work could be a good platform for his band. The two hit it off, quickly becoming inseparable. She was in a course about learning to build teams and teamwork, and had lots of ideas about helping him. They played around with a few different business structures, having her as a coordinator and a manager for a while, eventually settling on having her join the band, when Yusif discovered her hidden talents. Sarah brings soft Joan Baez-esque vocals and lush rich harmonies to Yusif's unique singer/songwriter Cat Stevens-ish sound. She also brings a knack for spreadsheeting and a commitment to making things happen that have helped move Yusif to where the project is today - embarking on the act's third tour!