Q&A with Taraneh Azar: Music, Identity and the Influence of Tumblr
Story: Erin Dickson
For reference: I followed Taraneh on Tumblr back in 2014 and remember listening to the music she released under her Fox Party name on my tiny banged up iPod. The internet is amazing and being able to reconnect and talk with someone who was, unknowingly, such an integral part of my teenage experience was incredibly special.
For Boston-based visual artist and musician Taraneh Azar, music is a form of identity. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Azar found community on the social media site, Tumblr, and began releasing her own music as a teenager. Released in 2020, her debut full-length album, Grab Bag, as well as her follow-up EP, Look Here!, are the result of over five years of growth and change, all while staying true to her younger self.
SEALED spoke with Azar about her music, inspirations and what plans she has for the future.
SEALED: Tell me about yourself! How did you get started making music?
Azar: I started taking piano lessons when I was about five years old and I hated it for so long. Now I look back very fondly at the fact that I had to learn piano because it really helped me a lot with both music in general but also in my daily life. I started taking guitar lessons when I was around 11 and it kind of just went from there. At one point I got to a place where I realized that I knew the foundations of guitar and piano so now I can kind of go from there. When I was around 15 years old, I stopped with the guitar lessons and I just started teaching myself and filling little holes and gaps that I felt existed.
Who are some of your inspirations?
When I was 12, I was going through one of the playlists on YouTube that people generate and I came across Elliott Smith and it was a devastating moment for me. I really got into Elliot Smith as well as Bright Eyes and Death Cab For Cutie and I just really loved the feeling that this devastating music gave me. It was very inspiring for me and when I was really young those influences definitely started creeping into my own work. Around 2013, I started getting really into Teen Suicide, who go by American Pleasure Club now. I went and I saw them when they were opening for Alex G and that was a really cool moment for me as well. Tumblr was a really big part of finding that. I started writing my own songs when I was 13 and that coincided very closely with the time I was spending on Tumblr. We were in this place where people were creating their own art and music. There’s this huge audience for content [on Tumblr] and I just so happened to be creating the content that a lot of people wanted to consume which was really cool.
What was the process like for you creating both the album and the EP? Was it different?
I had been releasing music under the name Fox Party, which was also the name of my Tumblr blog. I started recording stuff on cassette tapes and playing around with different mediums and switching from analog to digital. It was mostly just me playing around and coming up with a song in the morning and then releasing it at night and messaging all of my followers when it was released. I got to a place where I thought that if I actually devote time and attention past a one day impulse release that I can create something that’s actually really good by my own standards, as well as other people’s standards.
I went on Tumblr in 2015 and I made a post that said I was working on an album and it’s going to be out in six months and it’s going to be amazing. Eventually that five month time period that I had anticipated for this album to be recorded and released turned into five years.
My first album, Grab Bag, came out in June of 2020 and it has 13 songs. A lot of those songs I had written, or I had started writing, around 2014 and 2015 and, you know, life just happened and a lot of things started changing for me in 2015. I started the process of becoming someone who was coming into themselves and finding themselves and all the turbulence that comes with that. I started to devote my time to other things but [the album] was always something that I had in the back of my mind. The songs that I wrote in 2014 and 2015 kind of carried through with me up until 2020. When quarantine hit, I found myself with a lot of time to devote to recording my music. I recorded everything in my bedroom and I did all the production myself.
I had a lot of residual songs that I still had in my notes folder that I hadn’t released. So that’s when the EP came in. I wanted to bridge the space between all of these old songs that I still want the world to hear with this new direction that I’d like to move in as an artist and person in general.
Was it weird revisiting the stuff from so long ago, especially because you’ve changed? Were there moments that you just wanted to scrap everything and start over?
I feel like I have a lot of admiration for my younger self. The music I created so long ago was kind of amazing and it’s something that still resonates with me today. It’s kind of interesting just because I think I’ve come almost full circle as a person but now the circle is elevated. Over the course of five years I have had so many identities and so many interests and become so many people, which I think is a shared experience for most of us. We change and we grow and we kind of assume different identities along the way. I feel like I’ve gotten to a place that in some way parallels the person I was when I started writing these songs.
Are there any other songs that have a specific story that you want to tell?
I wrote “Stairs”, the opener for the EP, when I moved from New York to Boston in 2019, and it just felt really good to put down and create in terms of lyrics and melody and everything. “Next Week” is about going back to Cleveland and kind of existing in a space that I used to identify really closely with but am now, in many ways, an outsider of. I’ve moved around a lot over the course of the past five years so I feel like I’m always coming or going in one regard or another. I’m always reliving this experience over and over again, of being an insider, leaving, coming back, being an outsider and having to deal with that fallout. I wrote “Body” after I had a pretty intense surgery in March. It’s about feeling like an outsider in my own body, in the context of surgery, but also in the context of trauma and things that my friends have told me. It speaks on the ways that we interact with ourselves as we move through the world and how that kind of resonates. A lot of my songs are documenting ideas that aren’t necessarily lived experiences that I’ve had but, in one way or another, capture the essence of something I’ve experienced or that I want to convey.
Why did you decide to go by your name on this project instead of going with Fox Party?
I originally wanted to go by the name Blue LIght and I made the bandcamp for it in 2015. I’m Iranian and speak Farsi and my name, Taraneh, in Farsi actually means music or melody. That’s a cool cosmic coincidence that I felt like I needed to kind of embrace in a way. Maybe I will go by something else in the future, but I definitely like the opportunity to embrace this idea.
How does your visual art tie into the music you make, if it does at all?
It’s been cool just because I have a lot of different interests and I work a lot of mediums. There are so many different things that are equally important in my life and I don’t want to choose one.With mixed media and as a visual artist, I’m seeing a lot of ways in which I can combine all of my interests to fortify the ultimate message I’m trying to convey. I designed the album art for both of my albums and hope to continue doing that. I’m also a photographer and I work with a lot of sculpture also as well as drawing and painting and all of those great things. For a long time I thought that that was maybe a bad thing but now I’m realizing more and more that it’s actually very valuable that I have such a wide span of things that I enjoy doing and that I think I’m good at and that I like to embrace.
I know it’s hard to kind of plan for anything right now, but do you have any plans for stuff in the future? Releasing more music, playing live or anything like that?
I would love to play live as soon as possible but that’s contingent on the pandemic. I’ve kind of thought about live streaming but just because I haven’t played any physical venues, at least not recently, I feel like it would kind of do a disservice to my process of sharing music. I’m actually working on the next album. I’ve learned to never say what the timeframe is but hope it’s done soon.