This interview was taken from the now defunct 'Rock That House' magazine...
Rock That House interview with Tarik Al-Kadhim of the band Compact Deity - October 2009
When Tarik Al-Kadhim takes the stage wearing an Arab keffiyeh head-dress and growls "Salaam aleikum. The world you know is at its end", you can hear a pin drop.
You wonder if he’s crazy saying that to a tough, boozed up Detroit crowd.
(Tarik later explains the meaning behind this ominous sounding statement. He is about to sacrifice a stereotype before your eyes. For some, what they thought they knew when they walked in will be disproved by the time they leave).
Then, the smoke machines and strobe lights kick on and a pitch bending pedal causes his guitar to emit deep thundering tones that make your bones shake. The mic picks up a faint, diabolical laugh from behind the veil of fog. All eyes are now focused on the stage; just as he intends. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Tarik roars, "We are Compact Deity!" and the show has begun.
The band soon stirs the crowd into frenzy as people rush the stage.
Tarik leans back, eyes shut; flooding the room with singing solos, thick, complex riffs and breathes out some poetic baritone lyrics about unusual things. People scream the chorus to ‘Dismissed’ and mosh to ‘The Desolation’. But the intense spiritual journey of ‘Sanctum Sanctorum’ and the dreamy, Mid-Eastern sounding ‘Myriad’ leave the audience mesmerized. ‘Thorns’ and ‘Kill the Lights’ from Compact Deity’s future 2nd album are so brutal, the moshing metal-heads get winded.
The guitar abuse grand finale is a crowd favorite as Tarik violently wrestles unnatural sounds from the instrument. Manipulated feedback howls from the Marshall speakers in varying patterns of sound that layer over one another and echo into infinity. People fight to the edge of the stage to see how all the sounds can be created on a single guitar by this wild-man who has dropped to the floor to work the effects pedals with his hands. Tarik falls on his back in mock death. The bass player, Shawn Busch, stabs him in the chest with the neck of his bass while his finger taps out a slowing heartbeat on one string. The drummer, Kyle Smith (R.I.P.), gets up to kick him a few times. The battered guitar continues to wail.
The crowd screams for more.
And if things weren't crazy enough, Compact Deity then rips through a blisteringly heavy rendition of 'Stayin' Alive' by the Bee Gees followed by a psychedelic blues rock version of Ministry’s ‘N.W.O.’ for encores.
“I’m getting a tattoo on my ass that says ‘Tarik is God!’”, shouts one young fan.
“I just love his music, his words…He’s intense onstage. He gives me goose-bumps”, says one woman.
This is a rock show with all the creativity and danger music has been missing.
This is Compact Deity.
Those who dare are relieved to find the intimidating 6' 2" former competitive kick boxer and power lifter is polite and reserved.
And now, Rock That House interviews Detroit's own Tarik Al-Kadhim of the band Compact Deity...
RTH: Describe your background and how it affected your musical development.
Tarik: At age 4, I discovered rock music by accidentally hearing Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’ while playing with my parents’ stereo. I got chills and was instantly hooked. I listened for it daily. I instinctively began turning up the volume. My mother got annoyed and shouted for me to turn it down…I knew I was on to something. I’d sing it and get all the words wrong. Teenagers would laugh and try to correct me. I became a fan of The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath and Kiss during that time.
And when I visited my cousins in Germany, they were listening to German experimental electronic music. I heard bands like Tangerine Dream, Neu!, and Kraftwerk. I’m sure that’s where Compact Deity’s slight industrial edge came from.
So in 1982, when I first heard a new band out of Chicago called ‘Ministry’, I was an instant fan. They’re still one of my all time favorite bands.
I also grew up listening to my mother’s classical music and my father’s Arabic music.
All those different sounds influenced me. That’s where the world music part of the Compact Deity sound came from.
RTH: Your bio says you tried out for Ministry and the Sisters of Mercy, right?
Tarik: I never did get to try out for either band. As a college student, I walked the streets of Chicago and found Chicago Trax studios, but it was empty. It had just been moved. My college roommate’s study partner’s fiancée was somehow in touch with Al’s cousin or something who was a DJ at a club in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But by then, Ministry had already brought in a replacement. I did meet The Sisters of Mercy. But my joining them was never a possibility either. If you aren’t failing and being rejected very often, you just aren’t being ambitious enough.
RTH: Your bio also said you ‘failed miserably’ in your college engineering studies. Is that because you were too busy trying to find Ministry in Chicago?
Tarik: No, that’s just my sense of humor. I didn’t actually fail anything. I passed my classes, but not with top marks and I hated the subject. So I changed my major to something I actually took an interest in and did very well as a result. Think of the one thing you most want to do in life. Now keep putting it aside and pursue something practical, but time consuming and less interesting. It isn’t easy.
RTH: Talk about inspiration.
Tarik: You don’t usually, if ever, see a great band, writer or artist come from extremely privileged lives. That sort of creativity comes from a place where nobody coddles you or cares about you and your ideas. Inspiration only happens when you stop caring about peoples' opinions and live for your idea.
You’ve got to have a great deal of fortitude. Because you're initially the only one who believes in it.
It’s up to you to see things through in spite of everyone advising 'better' use of your time.
I don’t happen to be interested in what people think. They might as well advise me not to breathe. And some people I’ve met probably would advise that.
I’m interested in things that play on the edge of chaos and the surreal. I like the work of Sam Beckett, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Salvador Dali, Robert Wiene, Fritz Lang, The Doors, and David Lynch to name only a few. They threaten the observer’s complacency and remove the perceived safety of logic and boundaries. I’m fascinated by where the art takes you. Those artists abandoned the rules that told them to stick to established form and conventional reason. I admire that.
RTH: Why are you doing this? Some musicians say they only ever did it to attract women.
Tarik: I didn't start petitioning to get myself a guitar when I was 4 years old because I cared about impressing people or thought I could attract women.
Those ideas weren't in my head at that age. And the same goes for when I finally got a virtually unplayable, warped old guitar at age 8.
It had only 4 rusty strings and a crooked neck. My child hands were barely strong enough to hold down a note.
It made me miserable. The other kids in my beginning guitar class had brand new guitars. And, trust me; nobody on Earth was encouraging me.
I was the only one who wrote and performed his own songs to the class after the first week or so...on 4 rusty strings and a warped neck. I learned all the basic chords in a few weeks and quit the class. I’ve played by ear ever since.
I joined a legitimate band at age 11, played my first gig at 13 and first bar at 14.
I received offers as a studio musician at 16, and signed my first recording contract on my 18th birthday.
My heart was just on fire for it. It still is. This is what I'm here to do.
RTH: Compact Deity's music isn't always easy to classify, yet the influences are.
Tarik: That's right. I’m not genre faithful at all. I couldn’t care less. It’s a hodge-podge of music I like. And I consciously avoided clichés both in style and in choice of gear. The resulting sound is sometimes difficult to categorize. And that has been challenging in some cases. But that’s no reason to limit my ideas to little genre restrictive boxes.
New music has to come from somewhere and it isn't done by being mindful of what rules were set by the music that came before it. To hell with the rules; they certainly aren't mine.
Somewhere on the ‘net we’re described as ‘Surf Rock, Reggae and Death Metal’…whatever. Everyone knows we’re polka.
I’m not with a major label and I don’t sell a million albums. The consolation prizes are artistic freedom and humiliation.
RTH: The Trancemantra album is pretty varied.
Tarik: I love the old classic rock albums. Led Zeppelin albums were always diverse. They had rock, folk, blues, acoustic instrumentals and such all on the same album. Their albums were panned by critics. And 30 years later nobody remembers the music the critics were raving about. But Led Zeppelin is as popular as ever. Variety gave them much more depth, dimension and freedom for experimentation and that kept things interesting. I value variety and experimentation. But that doesn't mean I'll be doing anything as drastically different as opera, country or jazz.
I am a fan of both Morrissey and Danzig. I like both Duran Duran and Iron Maiden.
I don't care how anyone feels about that.
RTH: What do you think about the state of the music industry?
Tarik: The record industry's done its part to contribute to their predicament by avoiding anything good.
They seem to have given up on supporting music for adults or even by adults.
Instead, they've concentrated on the miasmal careers of lip synching cheerleader product spokes-models that peddle their soft-porn to pre-teens and vintage perverts while line-dancing to music written for soft drink ads. That sounds ridiculous. Yet it’s true.
I find most new rock bands so boring. They’re all so safely calculated and unimaginative like products born in a board room. The guitars all sound alike.
I avoid food that comes from corporations because I know it is cheap, unhealthy and generally bad. I feel the same way about music.
I spend time looking for new music and buy loads of CDs. Your next favorite band is out there struggling. I just wish more people would make the effort to find them. Listen to podcasts. I listen to a weekly podcast called the ‘Razor Blade Dance Floor’ to get my industrial metal fix, for instance.
RTH: What’s next?
Tarik: I’ve just turned 38. I'm almost 40. That's past retirement age for rock musicians. Fortunately, fame has eluded me.
I have no illusions about a music career and am satisfied to do it on the side.
I’m fortunate enough to have a lucrative day job; I live very comfortably.
I make music because it’s what I’m naturally compelled to do and I enjoy it.
For those reasons, I fully intend to carry on until I am physically unable to.
Compact Deity has some listeners in Europe. I travelled through several European countries last year and spoke with someone about performing in the summer music festivals. That remains a possibility, I guess.
So, I'm preparing to record the next album and I'm assembling a new live band.
Beyond that is left to fate.