A Fiendish Conversation with Iska Dhaaf's Nathan Quiroga
The singer (aka Buffalo Madonna) chats about Iska Dhaaf's new album Even the Sun Will Burn and the group's video with Macklemore.
There's currently no hotter band in Seattle than Iska Dhaaf. Over the past year, the duo—consisting of Nathan Quiroga (Buffalo Madonna, Mad Rad) on guitar and Benjamin Verdoes (Mt. St. Helen's Vietnam Band) on drums—has whipped the indie rock scene into a frenzy with a dual vocal approach and restrained guitar and drum rock that buzzes with heady melodies. Drawing its name from a Somali phrase meaning “let it go," Iska Dhaaf (prounced Is-ka Dawf; "It’s pretty phonetic. The more you think about it or try to make it sound like from another country the worse it gets," says Quiroga) has built all the hype despite only digitally releasing a few songs. Then again, Quiroga (as Buffalo Madonna) also contributed to a little album called The Heist, singing the hook for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's "Thin Line," so, comparatively, the local spotlight isn't too blinding. (His pal Macklemore pops up as a Bob Hope-esque character in the Iska Dhaaf music video for "Everybody Knows," which can be seen below.)
Now it's time to pay off all the excitement. Today, Iska Dhaaf released its much anticipated debut LP Even the Sun Will Burn, and the duo celebrates this Thursday (March 13) with a record release show at Neumos.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Quiroga about the group's origins, Even the Sun Will Burn's lyrical density, and preshow yoga.
How did you and Benjamin initially hook up and get started working on Iska Dhaaf?
He started trying to learn how to produce beats from Peter from Mad Rad. And he listened to some of the stuff I was working on for (Mad Rad’s 2010 album) The Youth Die Young and became intrigued with my songwriting. So he wanted to link up and talk about songwriting, and at the time I had just started to get intrigued with how to play guitar, so I wanted to learn from him about instruments. So we just kind of started hanging out in cafes, just talking about poetry and lyrics and writing. And then I started going over to his spot, and we started messing around. And I just kept going over there, and then we started doing it like every day; we decided that we wanted to make something.
Do you at all feel the local enthusiasm or maybe, for lack of a better term, buzz around the city for Iska Dhaaf? Because when I’m talking to people around town, you’re consistently the group that everyone seems to be most excited about.
Ah, that’s awesome. You know, I do feel it, actually. I do, I really do. And in kind of the best way possible. I’m very immersed in the community around here in Seattle, and so it’s hard because I’m so close to it. It’s difficult to detach my relationships with people from the actual music and, like, how people are liking it. But I feel a really good positive energy and support, and everybody seems to be really excited. I can definitely feel it. And like I said, in kind of the best way possible. It doesn’t feel like a quick flash. It feels like we’re building something with people that’s relationship-based. And people just want to see where we take it. I think they see how hard we’re working. I think that’s a big part of it too; that we’re at it every day, you know?
For sure. What aspect of Even the Sun Will Burn’s release are you most excited about?
I guess I’m just excited to just get it out there and move on. (Laughs) As funny as that is, I’m excited to get the new record out so I can keep writing more music. But I’m also excited for people to see the cohesive story that the record tells. There’s like a lot of different elements and I think they way that we curated the ideas and themes tells a narrative about this particular moment in time. We got slight glimpses of it through our releases, but we’ve gotten to see kind of the bigger picture a bit, and I’m hoping that it’s reflective and people get it. You know what I mean? If not, then it’s a collection of good songs that work together well. But thematically, I think the record tells a story. Not like super obviously. But yeah, I’m excited for people to geek out on that and really dig into the lyrics. I think there’s a ton there to chew on; a lot of condensed thoughts that can be broken down many different ways. So I’m excited to hear from people how they respond.
How did the idea for the “Everybody Knows” video come about?
So that idea about came primarily from Benjamin. We had some idea about a video and as he was doing research for it, he came across a video of Ann-Margaret, and Bob Hope, and some soldiers at a USO show. And these soldiers are like, jumping on stage and dancing with Ann-Margaret and were just wiling out with a frenetic energy; like they could die the next day. And there was a desperation in it that just seemed really beautiful and inspiring. So we kind of took it from there and launched off.
Who are some of the up-and-coming local music acts that you think people should check out?
I’m really big into OC Notes. Like I’m a huge promoter of his stuff. He’s got like a bunch of great records that he’s sitting on right now. Super psyched for when he gets that stuff out. Let’s see… what else have I been listening to? I like the Haunted Horses kids. I really like their vibe that they’ve got going on. I think they’re going to do fantastic things. I like that Pony Time record. I’ve been pretty hyped on that. Um, what else? Oh shit! Yeah, I’ve got one. Valley Maker. Have you heard of this?
Dude, that record is really good. Really good. I’ve been listening to that like on repeat right now and can’t get the melodies out of my head, and the songs are really well written.
If you weren’t a musician, is there any other line of work you think you might have pursued?
My initial reasoning for moving up to Seattle actually… I went to Cornish for theater. So like I was studying playwriting, directing, acting. I was extremely immersed in that. So I bet if I wouldn’t have gotten obsessed with doing music that I’d probably still be doing that. I always think have to be doing something that involved some level of risk, like, you know, that’s not a job that there’s any stability in. But it adds, like, a lot of meaning for me. And it also is constantly breaking you down and challenging you. I think that no matter what I do, throughout time, it’ll have to have those components: great struggle, something to just completely obliterate my ego at a given point in time, just so I could have sustainable, better relationships with myself and others.
Do you have any sort of preshow routine?
Yeah, I go running to try to get my breath support up and clear my head. And I also do yoga, if I can. This isn’t before every show, this is specially if I’m in town. I can go do something like a yoga class and get centered and focused. And I try to take the day really slow. I try to read, try to go at my own pace, because I can feel a lot of the energy and focus that about to be put on me at this certain moment, so I try to not think about it as long as possible. I try to really enjoy my day and get out of my head and not really worry.
How long do you go running for?
About 45 minutes. I run around Volunteer Park.
How do kind of feel that Seattle, kind of the city and place has influenced your music?
When I first moved to the city, I felt pretty anonymous in the city. And so when I started making music with Mad Rad, I felt like I could actually say anything or do anything and it didn’t matter because Seattle is a big city, you know? I was invisible. And now as time has gone on and I’ve created a lot of relationships in the city, I’ve realized like, “Oh, maybe something that I say or do does stick around a little bit longer than just that moment that it happened.” And so I’ve become more thoughtful, because I think of the community that I’ve gathered around and I realize that what I say does actually have some importance and weight. So I think that that has been something that has really influenced me.
And also, I’d say that a lot of people who are in this city are doing things themselves. They’re really like teaching themselves. It’s very introspective in that sense. You have to have your own drive to really propel yourself and to teach yourself. And I think that’s always been really inspiring to me. I’ve met so many amazing artists in this city and we all support each other, but they’re all doing their own thing. They’re not, like, trying to hop on to somebody else’s thing really. It’s like they want to do it themselves. They want to build it themselves. They want to be the strongest, most versatile artist possible. And that has inspired me to like really want to take those things on, and that’s why I’ve been trying to teach myself so many different things.
Iska Dhaaf: Even the Sun Will Burn Release Show
Mar 13 at 9, Neumos, $8