Amjad Mrad, a Lebanese singer and songwriter, will be releasing his first single Sick of You, completely produced and written by him. Amjad’s life revolves around creating art, as he is a Television and Film student at the Lebanese American University (LAU) as well. He has performed multiple times on Documented Experiences’ stage and continues to engage with the artist community in Lebanon. The pandemic has provided him with the opportunity to focus on his music and expand his reach to an international audience. Along with the struggles that accompany being an artist in Lebanon, in this interview, we explore his personal journey with his country and artistry.
– What have you been up to recently?
Aside from university work, I’ve been teaching myself production and trying to write multiple songs. I know COVID-19 was a curse for a lot of people, but if it wasn’t for the lockdown, I wouldn’t be releasing a song right now. I don’t think I would have had the time to write and release a song now. In my first year of university, especially with moving out of my parents’ house, everything was going by so quickly, and I was so excited to do everything; so, I had a million things on my plate, and I never really got the chance to focus. Obviously, the first month was us realizing and taking in what was happening. But then, I started working with music production and tried writing different genres of music.
– What has the music production process been like for you?
It’s basically the process of digitizing music, and music production is typically difficult and takes a lot of time. I don’t think I mastered it, but for Sick of You, it’s written and composed by me! When I was trying to experiment with teaching myself how to produce music, I used tracks I had already written but also produced tracks and wrote lyrics over those. Sometimes you might get too overwhelmed with layering the instruments and you don’t really leave space for vocals and lyrics, so I would prefer to nestle the lyrics during production instead.
– When did you start singing and writing songs?
I believe I started writing songs when I was really young. I think I was 4 years old jumping on the bed and creating gibberish songs about a crush I had at kindergarten haha… Even my parents remember the person’s name. I used to like writing short rhyming poems too. I think when I was about 13, I started realizing that I really liked writing songs and I wrote them mostly in the shower. I didn’t play an instrument back then, but during my school midterms, I procrastinated by transforming my old guitar into a ukulele! I muted two of the strings to have only 4 strings and tuned it to sound like a ukulele. Then, I taught myself on that ukulele-guitar-apparatus, and that’s actually how I picked up my first instrument. After that, I started writing songs.
– When did you take that step into releasing music online on YouTube and wanting to hold concerts?
When I was 14, I had stage fright and insecurities about singing in front of anyone. Though a year later, I decided I want to put out Graphene Hearts on YouTube. It was on a spontaneous whim; I woke up that morning and did it without planning because I was too scared to plan it. So, I recorded myself, uploaded it and I was so shocked to receive a lot more love than I expected. Graphene Hearts was about some of the bullying I had experienced in school, and so many people had shared their own stories with me. Ever since then, I started checking out the local art scene and I feel like I grew with Documented Experiences and the like.
– You’ve been on stage so many times, from Documented Experiences and Sidewalk Beirut to side gigs and festivals. So how do you feel about the transition to performing virtually?
Honestly, I would do anything to perform in front of a physical crowd now. It has almost been a year since I’ve last done that, and that’s crazy considering that I was doing it so often. I feel so deprived from getting that emotional and energetic exchange with the crowd. But at the same time, I feel like this break from performing in front of people actually helped in terms of regaining my own artistry and starting to write with less consideration to what people might like and might not – instead taking into consideration what I want to write. As well as, very recently, I discovered the ease of access of performing internationally on online platforms. During the last week, I have performed over 10 times in different online events. I literally looked for every single event I could find, and that was fulfilling because I was able to let my music reach an international audience that I didn’t really have the opportunity to reach before. So, it has its pros and its cons. When you’re in a room with people, you can sense the energy change. You can feel them resonate, and even when they’re clapping along, there’s this unity, and I consider that its own instrument, as if they’re playing the song with me. On Zoom, there’s this interaction and they attempt to connect, but it’s not the same. Though it is satisfying, because you are even able to touch someone in the comfort of their own homes.
– How did you feel like hearing yourself perform for the first time?
It was so amazing for me to be able to carry my singing onto an instrument. I spent the whole weekend learning songs, recording them on voice memos, and sending them to my best friends. It was so crazy and exciting—mind you, my playing was very shitty, it didn’t sound very good but it was enough for me to start.
– You’ve mentioned feeling insecure about your music when you first started creating.What’s your relationship with your insecurities now? What kind of self-talk do you carry to maintain your confidence as an artist?
Creating music is kind of scary, you never know if your work is good enough and you always feel like there’s someone out there better than you. I think the spontaneous factor of music-making is a huge part of the drive for it. If you overthink your art, you’ll never get it out there. Akid, you can perfect it but there’s a part of perfectionism that can make you unmotivated, and I remember going through writers’ block during perfectionist phases. I would tell myself, “maybe they won’t like it…maybe this sounds too similar.” The best songs I’ve written were spontaneous and raw, and all the songs that felt forced weren’t as good as those that came naturally. There’s always an impulse pushing my art out.
– What’s the story behind Sick of You?
Initially, it was actually a really angry song; it had a slight rock feeling to it. I was going crazy on my guitar and improvising lyrics, pouring everything out. Simultaneously, I was teaching myself production and I created a pop kind of tune. So, I turned me screaming, “I’m sick of you,” into a very fun pop fuck-you kind of song, and the tone changed very interestingly actually. The song is targeted towards one person, but the inspiration came from multiple people and experiences I’m sick of. I remember when I was in the process of writing it, I had so much fun. When I was giving myself digital drafts and playing around with ideas, I was laughing in between takes because it was just so funny to me.
– Who did you write Sick of You for?
This is shway out of my usual style, because my music before was more acoustic on the guitar and was kind of sad. But this song is more of me realizing that I don’t really need that person and me being able to jokingly tell that person that I’m sick of them, and I don’t need them, and it’s coming from a place of self-satisfaction. The song isn’t about a breakup, it can be about anyone you’re sick of.
– How many times have you danced in your pajamas to Sick of You?
So many times, to the point where throughout the whole month of December, especially because I was working on the production part of it, I vowed I would not listen to it again since it started sounding obnoxious to my ears, thoughI needed to continue finalizing it for the release. But I could so see myself vibing to the song!
– As an artist and a film student in Lebanon, what is it like being a creative in your country? How do you feel your relationship is with your country?
My whole life revolves around being creative and I feel like living here presents a lot of stories that I’d want to share with the world, because we’re underrepresented in film and mainstream creative arts. Despite all the shit that happens here, and I don’t mean to romanticize this, but I feel like we’re driven to express ourselves because of the challenges we surpass. The art we create is so high-quality because it’s a means of survival for us as artists. From another side, it’s difficult to see yourself making a living off of your art. Art here is purely driven by passion and a lot of people don’t expect to be paid back for the art they create. Unfortunately, the creativity that comes from Lebanon comes out of trauma and not out of support, as the government overlooks the arts and culture scene. Not only do we want arts to be respected as a career, but we also want it to be financially supported by the government.
– What is it like being a film student here?
Film is more stable than music here, which is partially why I chose to major in film. As a citizen, I am driven by the need to tell my story, and Lebanon has been achieving some milestones internationally – especially with respect to Nadine Labaki and Ziad Doueiri. Here, as film students and independent filmmakers, we have a really unique sense of art and way of telling stories. For example, in our final projects, there is a huge diversity that amazes me. But being a filmmaker is difficult because in Lebanon we do have a flourishing scene, though it is marketing/advertising oriented with a focus on social media content for businesses. A lot of people start off wanting to tell stories and end up in an advertising company creating ads, and that’s simply because if we don’t do that, we will end up unemployed or jobless.
– Do you feel like you have more bitter memories or sweet memories in Lebanon?
I have some really sweet, beautiful memories but now that I think about it, they’re sweet because they are memories of me escaping the bitterness. So many of the memories I’ve had with my friends are ones where I was close to the people I love, and I felt safe and comfortable. I escaped day-to-day life. I definitely think that I want to leave Lebanon, at least for the time being. After the explosion that had happened, I was so adamant on leaving and I even applied to a university abroad and got accepted, because I thought nothing was left for me here. Literally from Em Nazih – the café – to the streets of Mar Mikhael, my memories are based there and they were all wiped away. The only reason I’m still here is because of the economic crisis. I say I want to leave but it’s not really a want; I am forced to do this. If I leave, I would still aim to come back, and I’m sure I’d write music about homesickness. At this point, I feel like the only way Lebanon can be fixed if people decide to leave and support it from abroad; the only way I can fight for Lebanon is if I leave it for the time being.
This interview was conducted on February 6, 2021 with Amjad Mrad, about the pre-release of his song Sick of You and in reflection of the theme on Migrations.
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Stream Sick of You on all platforms, coming out on February 12, 2021.
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