When critics begin chatting up the merits of Dissolver, the long-awaited third album by elusive New York band Iran, it was a given that it would likely be compared more than once to TV on the Radio’s unanimously heralded Dear Science. For one, the record was produced by Dave Sitek, and accordingly shares many of the same sonic earmarks as that album. Then there’s the case of guitarist Kyp Malone, who along with Aaron Aites, founded Iran long before TVOTR was even a thought. Call it built-in hype, but Dissolver is an album that deserves the praise, even if it means having Aites answer the occasional off-topic question about a band that’s not even his own.
All comparisons aside, though, given it’s been six years since his last album, The Moon Boys, Aites will also be challenged with the fact that there aren’t many people around that are familiar with his past works. Even if they were, it might be difficult to convince anyone that this is the same band. In stark contrast to The Moon Boys’ lulling bedroom-pop caked in grating noise and avant sounds, Dissolver is a hi-fi smorgasbord of buoyant indie anthems celebrating the days when bands like Archers of Loaf, Sebadoh, and Pavement were kings. Songs like “Buddy” and the near-epic “Airport ‘99” are splayed out in widescreen, ditching the four-track for studio sheen and densely layered textures.
It’s also a deeply personal record, with loud and clear lyrics detailing the hills and valleys Aites had to cross to achieve such a triumph. Perhaps to the dismay of his small legion of Moon Boys devotees, Aite’s six-year pause was not the result of reclusive tendencies or stunted genius; it was instead caused by the busy life of an over-achiever. According to Aites, there was at least another album of material accumulated in that time, in addition to a record he and Malone distributed to a select group of friends somewhere in the middle.
But as I discovered talking with Aites by phone recently, this is a new era, and 2009 will see the re-release of Iran’s first two albums, a compilation of odds and ends—and if that’s not enough—Aites is about to make his debut as director when his documentary chronicling Norwegian Black Metal, Until the Light Takes Us, makes the art-house rounds.
I guess the first question you’re likely being asked is why it took six years for a new Iran album to surface.
Aaron Aites: I have a million excuses, so are you ready? First, is that there was another record. It was something that Kyp and I recorded by ourselves, and we had 50 vinyl copies made and just gave it to our friends. It does kind of bridge the gap between The Moon Boys and the new one. That record was not hi-fi, but the songs definitely take on a bigger meaning like they do on the new album. Actually, I don’t really think there’s that much difference between The Moon Boys and Dissolver.
I was also in the middle of directing of a movie, and that can drain a lot of your time. I spent two years in Norway making this movie and that was my life during that time. But the biggest reason it took so long was because I got really sick. I was in bed for a full year and then had to have major surgery. Put that all together and you can understand why there was a delay. The good news is I’m healthy now, and I’ve got a new record that I’m very excited about.
In that time, The Moon Boys has taken on an almost cult-like status. I was wondering what you thought of that perception of that record?
AA: I’m not sure that I’m really aware of that. I do know that people seem to hold this stigma that I’m very mysterious. I’m not a mysterious guy in the slightest. I go out to lots of shows.
Do you think that it is a record that takes some time to crack?
AA: Yes and no. I love noisy music. Kyp and I were big fans of Siltbreeze back in the day. Bands like the Dead C, Shadow Ring, Harry Pussy were the bands that made the kind of music we wanted to make. The Moon Boys was me just trying to make a record that I liked to the extent that I like songs that sort of trail off into the ether. I like songs that are always changing direction. We definitely weren’t making a record that we thought would be hard to listen to.
When it came time to record Dissolver, what made you decide to record it so clean and in a studio?
AA: First of all, I think of it as more layered than clean. After we did The Moon Boys we had already made a decision to go into a studio to do the next one because the things that I was writing were often times too complex for me to play and we were running out of tracks. We took home-recording as far we could go and in the studio we were able to add that extra track without ruining the quality. It was really about the opportunity of adding all of those layers that you hear.
In many ways, Dissolver is the reverse of that record, because I can still hear some of the atonal pieces bubbling underneath. Is that the intention?
AA: It is kind of the reverse. For me, without sounding too much like a goober, the record is a concept album. It was written with a story to it, a lot like those ‘70s records. That was something I’ve always wanted to do: make a concept album, but not have it sound like the ‘70s. I wanted it to have that same kind of spirit, that’s why there are experiments all over it. Like on the last track, Kyp and I recorded 50 tracks of our vocals. And at the same time, all of these songs can kind of hang together.
From the lyrics I can tell there was a story involved. It sounds like a lot has been going on in your life in the last six years. To me your words are either self-deprecating (as on “Buddy” and “Airport ‘99”) or somewhat vindictive (as on “Evil Summer”). Can you pinpoint what forced this dichotomy?
AA: There’s always a degree of autobiography, so a lot of the record is about me, but you can’t really avoid that. When I got home from making the movie, after spending two years in Norway, trying to slip back into my old life was a difficult process. It’s that schism between how you see yourself and how you see the world around you. Once you return, after being away and longing for some of those comforts of home, you realize that they aren’t exactly as they seemed when you were longing for them. Does that make any sense?
Is that the concept then, the fact that it was hard for you to identify and become grounded to one particular place? I hear that in the lyrics of “Airport 99.”
AA: Airports are really weird places because when you go in them you walk into this role where you can be anyone. It’s almost like a purgatory. You put your life on hold and you suddenly become the guy in the baseball hat or the suit. You check your identity and then enter this whole netherworld, especially on the plane. When you walk out, you get your identity back. That’s exactly what informed that track.
What’s just as interesting, at least to me, is the chance to see your movie. Did your travels in Norway and experience interviewing Norwegian death metal bands have any influence on the new album or in any music you’re working on now?
AA: The music? No. I would say that there’s nothing remotely metal on the album. But the process and experience of living in a foreign country for two years definitely had an influence. How it affected my life really went into the songs. Having to remake my identity to fit the role of the director certainly had an influence on me.
Will it take another six years to get another Iran album or do you have a framework for what it will sound like already?
AA: Definitely not. There will be one very soon, sooner than you’d probably even expect. Within this year I’d say.