Benjamin Verdoes discusses the duo's Seattle roots, literary lustre, and spectrum-spanning sound.
“I think a climate like Seattle does lend itself to creative output,” says Ben Verdoes of Iska Dhaaf. “The rain, the gloom, forces people indoors, to think. To explore art.”
Iska Dhaaf, which plays the Howlin’ Wolf on Wednesday, is a pop-rock duo composed of Verdoes at drums and Nathan Quiroga at guitar and vocals. They’re one of many acts to have emerged from the wet and wild of Seattle, representing, along with Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Death Cab and a host of others, a city that has become an incubator for musical acts in nascence.
Ironically, the band’s debut LP, released in March via Brick Lane Records, is titled Even the Sun Will Burn and is an epic, if schizophrenic, 53 minutes of textured psych-pop that reflects the very different aesthetic sensibilities of the group’s two members.
The pair’s combined musical resume speaks to the both the diversity and interconnectivity of the Seattle scene. Verdoes once fronted psych rockers Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band, and Quiroga is locally notorious for his inclusion in polarizing hip-hop group Mad Rad (in turn known less for its rap game than for the lewd antics of its members).
The music video for “Everybody Knows,” the group’s skittish first single, in addition to appearing plucked straight from a Tarantino film, is a visual feast of Seattle musicians, including a cameo from Macklemore.
If gloom-and-gray Seattle conjures motifs of the “tortured artist" a la Kurt Cobain, then Iska Dhaaf fits in and stands out. There is an essential literary quality to the band’s lyrics and self-presentation. “‘Iska Dhaaf’ means ‘let it go’ in Somali,” says Verdoes. “It’s about peace, acceptance.”
Song titles like “Happiness,” “Same Indifference,” and “Sullen Eyes” evince poetic moods, and the lyrics invoke a heady sort of intellect. “General Malaise,” in particular, appears to be an ode to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, with Quiroga crooning of an albatross, water, and “Lieutenant Ennui” with a Morrissey-like enunciation.
Iska Dhaaf’s Facebook page describes them as a band “inspired by Sufi poetry, limitation, and an obsessive preoccupation with writing.” “Nate and I are both big readers,” adds Verdoes. “Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Junot Diaz, as well as Walt Whitman. Naturally those kinds of influences seep into the music that we put out.”
If the band’s literary bent is easily discernable, its sound is not. “It’s just so difficult to take all of the bands that have impacted us over the years and pick an ‘influence’,” says Verdoes. Even the Sun Will Burn runs the gamut, sound-wise, spanning genres as well as eras, intermixing big band guitar riffs with various nods to '60s psychedelia, post-punk, and even orchestral elements. Likewise, the band has garnered some unwieldy classifications from critics, including those that
Concludes Verdoes, “Saying that you’re unable to pin down our sound--or that we sound like a bunch of different bands all at once--in my mind that’s really the best compliment you could give us.”