Nima Samimi is a nine-year gardener at the Arnold Arboretum. He is also a musician who goes by the name Muhammad Seven. Samimi recently recorded a whole album just using his iPhone. The Gazette conducted a question-and-answer session with him through email about the album. (The session has been edited.)
Where did the idea to record an album on your iPhone come from?
Five years ago, I toured the country with an incredible musician named Chris Sand playing 30 shows from Boston to Spokane – the tour was transformative for me, and left me with notebooks full of new songs. Soon after that, I married my childhood sweetheart and we had a son…and between work and parenting, it seemed like it’d be another 10 years before I might get around to making an album out of all that material.
Then, after penning a new song I was particularly excited about (the opening track to my album), I thought I’d try to record it in the iPhone app “Garageband,” because this was something I could do in little stolen moments—on my lunch break, in the car between appointments. I mostly did it for a laugh, but in the end I thought that first song sounded pretty good—great even—for something I made on my phone. So I figured, what the hell—why not make a whole album this way? So I did.
What’s the name of the album?
How were you able to do it? What were the challenges?
All of the instruments and sounds you hear on Bedouin Cowboy are made on my phone; some of them were easy to make and some of them took painstaking effort. The only analogue instruments are the two guitar solos (the electric lead solo on “Swampers at Fame” and the slide guitar solo on “Saffron Stew”) and my vocals, which were recorded on a cheap cell-phone headset, usually in the driver’s seat of my car. I used the sound system on my little Nissan Versa to mix and master the album.
Challenges: well I almost lost that very first song when my iPhone broke and I had to get it replaced. I thought the song was gone for good and I had just about decided to forget the whole project…when I discovered I had a backup copy. Later in the process I lost an entire recording when the app crashed—so I learned to make extra copies every ten minutes or so.
It was also a challenge to create a compelling and coherent sound for the album given the limitations of my phone’s small library of studio instruments. But, with necessity being the mother of invention, I figured out how to change guitar tempos to get really different sounds, or use 80’s synth beats to mix genres, or add a flue solo where you wouldn’t expect it.
How long did it take?
Start to finish—10 months, probably a total of 70 hours (including composing, producing, recording, mixing, and mastering.)
How would you describe the type of music to someone?
It’s Americana, but my influences are rich and diverse (particularly in the lyrics). My rhyme structures owe a lot to hip-hop (though the songs are purely folk songs) and the lyrical style is heavily influenced by Sufi poetry – Rumi, Hafiz, Khayam. I might reference the delta blues, U.S. politics, 1990s rap, and Quranic scripture, all in the same song.
Where did you get the name Muhammad Seven?
It came out of my 2010 tour, when Chris and I realized I needed an alter ego. It serves to provide me with a little bit of cover to speak my mind (lyrically) on sensitive subjects without risking unneeded attention from either the Iranian or American governments (I’m a first generation Iranian-American.)
It is also an homage to the Sufi masters – “Hafiz” and “Rumi” were also pseudonyms (in fact, Hafiz literally means “God”.) My grandfather was named Muhammad and he had seven daughters; also, there are said to be seven phases of the prophet Muhammad’s life. So for me it was a name steeped in meaning.
How long have you been a musician? What’s your prior experience?
I’ve been a guitar player and songwriter since 1992; I started at age 14. I bought my first guitar at The Music Emporium, back when it was across from Porter Square station (which was destroyed in a car wreck, when I fell asleep at the wheel after working an overnight as a bread baker for Fornax bakery in Roslindale.)
I’ve always been a solo act, with the exception of a band I started with a friend – former Jamaica Plain resident and ex-member of “The Motion Sick,” Patrick Mussari. We played a grand total of one show as “Ayatollah Mozzarella”.
I plan for my next album to be recorded live, in an actual studio, with a band.
What type of music and musicians have influenced you?
So, so many. If I wrote down 100 artists, it would be the tip of the iceberg.
My obsession of the last two years is Jason Isbell (formerly of the Drive By Truckers), an awe inspiring songwriter. Jay-Z has been a major influence. I fell in love with Ani Difranco as a teenager and she shaped my early work (I got to make her lunch at an early coffee house job). My friend Chris Sand is a huge inspiration. I think of him as the Woody Guthrie of our time. The Beatles may be my single greatest influence; Townes Van-Zandt, Cody Chesnutt, Bob Dylan, Gillian Welch, John Coltrane…
Anything else you would like to add?
Parenting is an incredibly rewarding job, but sometimes it comes at the price of giving up certain things we love. I hope my album will inspire other parents to hold on to the things they’re passionate about, in spite of how little time or money or energy they have. If it does, and you make or do something awesome, I’d love to hear about it! You can reach me at [email protected].
For more information about Muhammad Seven or to purchase the album, visit bit.ly/1XjGCwb.