Lebanese alt-rock four-piece Mashrou’ Leila have found a huge following combining electro-pop and alt-rock anthems with political commentary on freedom, LGBT rights, race, religion and Arabic identity in the modern world. Spring 2019 will see the band head out on their biggest European tour to date, and we caught up with the band before their performance at Gorilla on 9th March.
// Hello Mashrou’ Leila! For those who may not be familiar with you, how would you describe yourself as an act?
Mashrou Leila is a four piece indie-pop band based in Beirut. We started out as a music collective at the Architecture and design department 10 years ago – so our approach to writing, recording, and creating the visuals and music videos for the band has been influenced by our time at design school. The diversity of our musical backgrounds have also brought multiple elements to the band’s sound over the years – groovy bass lines and beats, layers of synth and strings, topped with souful lyrics and big vocals.
// Is there anything you’re working on we should know about?
We’re releasing a special edition album called ‘The Beirut School’ that celebrates the 10 year anniversary of the band, with some of our favourite tracks from the previous 4 albums, plus 3 new tracks produced by Joe Goddard of Hot Chip. We recorded these new songs between sessions in Beirut at our studio and La Frette Studios in Paris, where we had previously recorded our 4th album Ibn El Leil. The new single ‘Cavalry’ has just come out and we’re working on an awesome music video to premiere at the start of the tour.
// What music have you all been listening to this week?
Hamed: Ella Fitzgerald
Carl: Claude Francois
Firas: Mica Levi, Nico Muhly, Aaron Copland
Haig: James Blake
// What is your favourite song to perform? Why?
Again, it’s very different for each of us. Whenever we release new music, we enjoy performing it on stage – so pretty stoked to be playing Cavalry and some of the new music in this upcoming European tour. Some older songs are always extra special to play though – like Marrikh – or Djinn – or Taxi… where the crowd’s interaction is a big part of the performance, and they always bring something new in every city.
// Dream band or artist to share a stage with?
Hamed: Florence Welch
Firas: Elton John
Haig: Arcade Fire
// It’s been a while since you’ve performed in Manchester, are there any sights you’re hoping to check out while you’re back here?
Last time we were in Manchester for a day – and as far as I remember, it didn’t stop raining, we only saw small parts of the Northern Quarter. Whenever we’re in a new city we try to see some art; so museums and art galleries are usually on top of the to do lists. Also looking forward to explore the culinary scene in Manchester – Firas usually makes a list of restaurants we should check out in every city – so, we’ll see.
// Do you have any tracks that are fairly challenging to play live? How do you address that?
Probably Marrikh – it’s a very emotional song about mental health, and self medication, with a very loopy synth, bass, and violins carrying the vocals. The song is very minimal and requires a lot of focus, so if anyone misses the click, the whole thing will crumble and fall apart… Happened once at a show while touring the US last fall – not sure how we managed to pull it off.
// And finally, what is the best purchase you ever made?
A silver 3D printed head mask of a hyena designed for our Ibn el Leil album cover – we used it for a photoshoot to promote our Barbican show a couple of years ago.
Mashrou’ Leila perform at Gorilla on Saturday 9th March 2019. Tickets are available here.. The album ‘Beirut School’ is released digitally on the 1st March 2019 on Shoop! Shoop! Records, with vinyl copies to follow.
Photo by Tarek Moukaddem.