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20 Questions: Barzin

Photo: Sara Collaton

This Canadian songsmith writes gorgeous music that is simultaneously lush and intimate, but that doesn't mean he still has some choice words about Frank Zappa, Rob Ford, and so much more.


To Live Alone in That Long Summer

Label: Monotreme
US Release Date: 2014-02-24

If anything, Barzin Hosseini is a bit unassuming.

You see him, he's very quiet about his ambitions, but you find out that his long-running musical project, simply called Barzin, has been putting out music for more than a decade now (having formed all the way back in 1995), and also learn of how this Canadian has produced records for the likes of Memoryhouse -- all on top of releasing his own book of poetry -- and this quiet character slowly comes into focus.

Yet if Barzin stands for anything, it's assuredly for quality music, and his lush, lavish fourth album To Live Alone in That Long Summer manages to simultaneously sound sonically expansive even as it possesses the emotional intimacy of a home-recorded acoustic ballad. His production skills are very much in top form here, and songs like the tremolo lament "Lazy Summer" and the affecting "Stealing Beauty" only help further Barzin's unique aesthetic.

Now, of course, Barzin tackles on the unique challenge that is PopMatters' 20 Questions, here revealing an affinity for the radio DJ from Northern Exposure, sage advice learned from Frank Zappa lyrics, and has some choice yet reasonable words for his town's mayor, Rob Ford ...

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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

It's been a long time since a book or a film has brought me to tears. So I don't think I have anything recent for you, but I do remember coming across the film Terms of Endearment one night while I was flipping through the channels. What a film, what a performance by Debra Winger, and Jack Nicholson. It's hard not to be moved by the story and by the performances in that film.

2. The fictional character most like you?

When I was a teenager, I loved watching the T.V. show Northern Exposure. I especially liked the character of Chris, the town disc jockey. My 17-year-old self loved listening to his on-air philosophical musings. I am not really sure if I am like him, but I have gravitated towards all the things that he seemed to be interested in. Like him I still read any books I can find on art, religion, philosophy, etc ...

3. The greatest album, ever?

Well, I am just going to take the easy way out and go with "The White Album" by the Beatles.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

I grew up watching both of them, but I would have to say Star Wars left a deeper mark on my young mind. I remember owning Star Wars action figures, but didn't own a single figurine from Star Trek. I guess that settles it then.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Reading has always been the thing I turn to when I want to get out of my habitual way of thinking. It never fails to get the wheels turning. I also love to listen to recorded lectures by notable thinkers. I am also an avid listener of the CBC (the Canadian version of NPR). And there are certain shows, which I listen to regularly; show such as Writers and Company, Ideas, The Current, The Sunday Edition. I find that I always feel intellectually charged after listening to them.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I would have to say I am proud of the new album I have just released. I put four years of my life into it. I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out. Just because you put a lot of time, effort and love into a project it doesn't guarantee that the end result is going be good. But I am proud of how this album came together.

7. You want to be remembered for ...?

As a great songwriter.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

Dylan, Cohen, Pablo Neruda, John Coltrane, Ingmar Bergman.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

I would have died a happy man had I created any of these:

-" Mirror" by Andrei Tarkovsky

-"Visions of Johanna" by Bob Dylan

-"Gymnopedies" by Erik Satie

-"Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen

10. Your hidden talents ...?

Give me an hour with someone and they will tell me their deepest secrets. Somehow I bring out the confessional side of people.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

"Watch out where the huskies go / And don't you eat that yellow snow" -- Frank Zappa

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

The best thing I bought was a vibraphone. I bought it on eBay years ago. I drove eight hours to Chicago to pick it up. A lot of instruments have come in and out of my life, but this one instrument has stayed with me. It's such a beautiful instrument. Ever time I see it, I catch myself admiring its beauty.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or ...?

Sometimes I think jeans are the only things I will ever feel comfortable in.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

I am quite fascinated by Marlon Brando. He was an amazing actor, really influenced a whole generation of actors. But I admire him not just for his acting, but also for the fact that he shed his sex symbol status and took on roles that were daring and not based on ambition or furthering his career. He became more and more unpredictable and eccentric; it's as though he underwent a transformation. Sometimes I feel he really took on the role of Kurtz in Apocalypse Now and acquired some kind of wisdom that made him see past all the glitter and the allure of Hollywood and celebrity life. I admire people who are able to operate within their own set of private rules, despite the enormous pressure that is put on them to behave a certain way.

15. Time travel: where, when, and why?

I think I would go some 50 years back to the time when my father was a teenager. I know very little about his life. He was always tight-lipped about his upbringing. So I hardly know about his mother, father, or his siblings. I want to know where he lived, what he looked liked back then, and so on and so forth. I find that as I get older I feel this need to want to learn about his history, as though that understanding will shed light on so many aspects of my own life.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?

Never tried Prozac, but have always been curious about it. Can't afford a hit man. So spa vacation it is.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or ...?

Sour candy.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I think Leonard Cohen put it best: "I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean / I love the country, but I can't stand the scene". I think I am more in love with the idea of living in the country then actually wanting to go through with it. I am a creature of the city. I inhabit its coffee shops, taverns, theaters, etc. ... As far as a cities go, I love NYC. I love the energy of that city.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Well, right now I feel I have a lot more to say to the so-called leader of my city, Rob Ford, who is single-handedly embarrassing himself and our city by his drunk driving, crack smoking, homophobia, and possible involvement in a murder. I would say to him: "Have you no shame?" What else can you say to someone who goes on Jimmy Kimmel's show to broadcast to the world how much of an imbecile he is?

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

I am about to go on tour for two months. So I am mostly just practicing the songs and preparing for the road.

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