Habibi Talks Touring, Trust, & The New "Gypsy Love" Video
Habibi is taking NYC by storm, and their latest video, an Iranian TV-inspired montage for “Gypsy Love”, is just the icing on the cake of a successful AF year for the Brooklyn-based rock and roll crew. There’s only one piece of this puzzle that’s surprising: Habibi hasn’t released an album since 2013. What’s keeping them at the front of everyone’s minds then, if not new music? For starters, a penchant for touring literally non-stop—when we caught up with the group (comprised of frontwoman Rahill Jamalifard, Lenaya “Lenny” Lynch, Leah Fishman, Erin Campbell, and Karen Isabel), they were just about ready to jet to China, then Japan, then Europe, then home (for a whole three days), before heading out on tour again, this time Stateside. Habibi likes to keep things fresh, which is why live music makes the most sense—you never see exactly the same set twice, after all. And for those in search of a full record, they’re in luck; the band has a new EP teed up after some delays, titled Cardamom Garden. If it’s anything like “Gyspy Love”, it’s worth the wait.
On the heels of the vid’s release, we sat down with three of the fivesome to talk more about touring, trust, and creating the video with production duo Sacred Pact, AKA boss women Jacque and Sunny.
So! You’re going to China tomorrow morning.
Lenaya Lynch: Yes!
Leah Fishman: Technically, it’s tonight because we’re definitely pulling an all-nighter for it since we have to be at the airport at 4.
And then where else are you headed on tour?
Lynch: It’s Shanghai, Beijing, Bali, and then Tokyo.
Fishman: And then we’re home for a week and then we’re touring Europe, and then we’re home for three days, and then we’re doing a U.S. tour!
Lynch: We knew what we were doing. I feel like we were drugged when we said yes to all this. [Laughs]
I’m assuming you tour a lot. Is this something you do often or is it new, something you just picked up?
Lynch: Yeah, this is a new thing! We did a tour in 2014.
Fishman: Yeah, that’s when I joined the band, and that was our last tour before we had our hiatus. And then we got back together, almost a year ago now. It’s just been a whirlwind since then. This is our first tour since then. We’re touring the whole damn world in two months!
Leah: We’re catching up on lost time.
I noticed that on Spotify, the only album you have out is from 2013.
Lynch: We’ve all been working on our other projects. In New York, and just trying to make records, it takes time, and it’s expensive. Leah, Karen, and I have this other band called PMS and the Moodswings. We worked at the album for three years, finished it two years ago, and it’s only being released in two weeks.
I was just about to ask you about that! It’s been done for two years?
Lynch: Yeah! Burger Records had a backlog. We scrambled to get the album done and then they said that it would only release a year from now. We just have to deal with it. We like working with them for Habibi. We’ve just been so busy working on other bands for a while and trying to get these albums out. Once we’re finished with an Album, Rahill and I are always talking about doing another Habibi album. The Burger Boogaloo was coming up, and my friend Steven was handling everything and he asked me if Habibi would ever want to do the Boogaloo. We were looking for the opportunity to have a coming out ball. A celebration of entering society. After the Boogaloo, we scrambled to get ready. We’re so bad about practicing all these old songs until about a week before.
Fishman: [Laughs] yeah, that’s how we do it!
Lynch: We’re slackers sometimes, but yeah, we met Modern Sky (record company), and meeting them changed our world.
Fishman: Ever since then, we’ve been doing ten times the work that we’ve ever done. All in the span in the less of a year. It’s no coincidence that we met them and that all these things have been happening this past year.
Lynch: It’s hard having a band and knowing what to do. We all live busy lives. We all work full-time or almost full-time, we have to keep up with the New York rent, and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for other pursuits. And you want to be creative! You don’t want to do the business side of it! It’s really helpful to have somebody take the lead on what we need to do, so that way, we can just focus on the music.
Fishman: Yeah, our manager lights the fire under our ass. Without her, we probably wouldn’t even have had that EP release. She told us that we needed to get something out, in order to put it out in time to submit to festivals and all. We recorded our EP so fast. This month, we went upstate and recorded the rough first half of what will be our album, which we will have done by the end of the summer, hopefully. It’s all moving super fast.
Do you ever feel burnt out? Where do you get the energy to do all these things? Maybe I should ask this after the tour!
Lynch: A little bit of both. Thankfully, we all have jobs that are super flexible. Leah is an international world gilder. I’m a court stenographer. Karen works at a law office and is a bartender elsewhere. Rahill works at record stores and DJs at the Roxy. We all have these jobs that are crucial for being in the music business at all.
Rahill Jamalifard: [Joins] Hi! I’m done packing. I moved for the second time in the last four months. This time, to Chinatown. I paid a lot of money for movers and that was nice because I don’t know if I would be alive right now. Now I’m selling all my valuables to have money for tour and to live in the city. I’m feeling a little excited and not so burnt out.
Fishman: I’m at the point where I can’t wait to have a 14-hour flight with which do nothing.
Lynch: I look forward unplug! I got the nerdiest sleep pack from Amazon. It looks like a life preserver blown up around my neck.
Jamalifard: Maybe my money from selling clothes will let me get some nice things for the plane ride.
So you just recorded a music video.
Jamalifard: That was for our song “Gypsy Love”, which is off of this EP that we released earlier. We have an intro that’s four songs, and we play that at the beginning of every set, which is a nice and weird middle eastern intro.
Where did you shoot?
Lynch: We shot at Untermyer Gardens in the Bronx.
Jamalifard: It’s based off of a Persian garden. We originally had our album art shot there. When we shot, we loved the visuals and wanted to keep using it. We wanted to keep it cohesive and go back. It was on one of those days that was just a blur. We ended up redoing the album work.
Lynch: It was pretty unbelievable. We had this amazing team of beautiful people that were game about this shoot and making our vision come to life. We showed them little videos that inspired us. Most of this was Rahill’s vision. She was referring to Rangarang, which was an Iranian TV show from the 70’s. I was referring to Top of the Pops. We both really wanted it to be a show, where there’s a stage. We came into the studio around 7pm and it was perfect.
Jamalifard: I don’t know if you’ve seen anything, but I was just blown away.
Lynch: They built such an amazing stage in such a short period of time it was perfect.
Fishman: Right, just what Lenny was saying, they built this incredible stage. With Rangarang and Top of the Pops, they were wildly popular 70’s television shows that had all these stars. Imagine all the cool stars on a super low-budget show. It’s almost practically corny because they’re almost never actually performing, they’re just always just doing their best to lip sync to their own music. I remember watching those and dancing to them. When I walked onto our set, I felt like I was on one of those sets. And when we posted a behind-the-scenes photo, a fan commented that it looked like a techy 70s television show. It was so cool to know that even a BTS photo captured the essence of the era.
Lynch: They got what we were talking about right away. Jacque and Sunny are really great. It was really cool that the set was mostly women. There only like two guys there. All these women. It was so cool to have all these women and have that energy there. That’s what the song is about: a gypsy nomad female and her coolness. It was so cool to have that female energy.
Fishman: I feel like with that female energy, there’s this sharing of ideas that’s so welcoming.
Lynch: Of course, that’s what we do. We support each other. This isn’t a dick measuring contest.
Fishman: Even through just our outfits, we would bounce ideas off each other. We were all on the same page. It’s very community and very encouraging. Even inspiring.
Jamalifard: We all just totally clicked. Everybody was on the same page. There were more than three times with Sunny and Jacque where I would propose a shot and they would tell me that it’s the next thing that we were going to do.
Fishman: Yeah, it was awesome. We were really high for the five hours that we shot. The other few hours, we were just tired.
Lynch: We know who we’re working with again on our next video.
Jamalifard: I don’t know if they ever told you how we met, but they were both separate fans of Habibi. We met through a mutual friend, this Iranian girl who’s a photographer. She wanted to make a debut as a cinematographer and she was friends with them. She asked me if I had any solo work that I wanted to shoot, because she would be comfortable to shoot with me, also being an Iranian artist. That’s how I met them, because they directed the video and she shot it! I knew that these girls would be perfect for a Habibi video. I knew that our visions would be complementary. It was better than I could have anticipated. A lot of it too is when people are fans of what you do, and believe in what you do, that allows them to capture something true, honest, and magic. I really believe in them and I know it’s reciprocated.
I can imagine it takes a lot of trust.
Lynch: It also allows you to be a lot more loose and relaxed, knowing that whoever your working with isn’t just working with you because it’s their job, but because they believe in what you’re doing.
Jamalifard: I had this vision for a while. I had told the band about it and everybody was on board. We were just so busy for so long that we didn’t know when we would release the visuals. At a band meeting, our manager, Wendy, suggested that we do something pre-Europe. After reaching out to Sunny and Jacque, in about a month or two, we already had everything executed.
Fishman: For a while I wanted to press pause, because everything was happening so fast. I was going around asking band members to not do it. I’d ask around, “Are you sure you want to do it?” Only Lenny was supportive of my idea.
Lynch: There’s a saying that goes like, “When you’re over 30, you love it when things cancel.” The best thing about having a manager is that you can go on autopilot and just do everything anyways. Everything turns out being so fun and you’re glad you did it.
Jamalifard: It’s really rewarding because it’s never always pleasant to do something challenging. It takes a lot of coordination. There’s five of us in the band, we added a second guitar after Habibi’s formation. But for this music video, coordinating with four people—aside from the whole team, aside from Sunny and Jacque, aside from hair and makeup—is very difficult. I was so happy to have figured it out. Somehow, effortlessly, Lenny and Karen’s outfits and mine and Leah’s matched. It couldn’t have been better. Sometimes, you just have to thank the universe.
Fishman: Sometimes things just fall into place. Don’t question it.
Featured image courtesy of Bailey Robb
Stay tuned to Milk for more from our favorite musicians.