Formerly of Headcase and Feed Me!, Mohamed Ashraf's solo project Pie Are Squared segues dramatically between the somber and the upbeat, which together form the soundscape of his unique musical opus.
Mohamed Ashraf AKA Pie Are Squared is a 28 year old Egyptian producer with a catalogue of releases that span from gut-wrenching, to heavy, let-it-all-out noise music to happy-go-lucky pop re-mixes, to intricate ambient post-rock, all with a whole lot of heart in each track. We speak to the multi-faceted artist about his passion for sound and evolving as a musician...
What are you up to these days?
Currently, not much. I finished a course in Sound Engineering, Post Production and Game Audio a few months back, and I’ve been working on some new music, mixed Egyptian rock musician Booma's upcoming EP, travelling around, learning Italian and job hunting.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your musical journey. How and when did you get into production?
Well when I was around five or so, my dad started introducing me to rock... The Beatles, Queen, Deep Purple; that kind of thing. He used to play bass, so music was always present, even at a very young age. It wasn't until junior high, maybe, when I listened to KoRn, and noticed how they're using their guitars to create all these weird sounds, that I seriously started thinking about making music myself. A few years later, I bought my first guitar and that was it really. I was hooked. My brother started playing bass almost at the same time, so I started playing a bit of bass as well. Later on, met a few people, started a few bands, most notably Headcase and Feed Me!, and it was through Feed Me! and working with Nader Ahmed that I realised that I wanted to do my own thing; Pie Are Squared. Mainly to start making the music I wasn't making with the bands I was in, and later as my main creative outlet. In terms of Pie Are Squared's journey, as a musical entity, you could trace the changes in my influences and through the albums and EP's I've released. It's gone from very guitar-centric to soundscapes, drones and whatnot, and I feel that will be changing again very soon.
What drives you to make music?
One aspect of it was extremely well-put by a musician I hold in extremely high regard, Mike Vennart of the now defunct Oceansize, “Everything. Ultimately, when you're walking down the street, there's a beat in your head, there's a melody in your head. It's literally the fucking fabric of my existence. I hear music in everything, absolutely everything.” I don't think I could ever put it in better terms.
The thing that I'd add to that quote is that in almost every song or album I hear, in whatever genre, I always hear a little bit that I feel I could push further or utilise in a different way, to make something new. I'd like to think that my music has reached the point of not sounding like anything else, be that for better or for worse. Of course there are influences, because at the end of the day nothing is created in a vacuum, but I think they don't make it to the surface as much, and that's something that I want to keep doing and improving upon.
Who are you listening to a lot of these days?
Mainly Cardiacs, a band that I'd heard a couple of years back but never quite got into until a couple of weeks back when I listened to their album Sing to God and it absolutely floored me. I could easily say that it's like nothing else and pretty much better than most. Such a brilliant album, from start to finish. I could keep gushing over it for hours on end; it's that good! Other than that, there's Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs, Saor's Aura, Ian William Craig's A Turn of Breath (an absolute gem of an album), Truckfighters' Gravity X, a lot of Aphex Twinand, and a lot of King Crimson.
What instruments do you play?
Guitar is my main instrument, then there is bass guitar, a tiny bit of keyboards and I've started learning to play drums.
Some of your tracks have that dark, grungy, ambient vibe, while some, particularly the remixes, stay up-beat. Which end of the emotional spectrum fuels you more?
The short answer is that both the darker and the lighter sides of things are there in equal parts. The longer version is that I need both. It's especially prevalent when you listen to the albums I've released from start to finish; they're always there either simultaneously or dispersed around the album in the manner that serves the songs best, and ultimately serves the album best. I generally make albums, and very rarely would I sit down and write a song. Every single song on my Soundcloud, minus the odd cover or remix, was part of an album that either hasn't been released yet or just didn't make the cut. I find it easier to map out the flow of a 30-40 minute continuum of music, compared to a 5-6 minute one. And since these albums are representations of who I am at the point of time, there's always bound to be these moments that are dark, oppressive, or whatever you want to call it, and others of a lighter nature. As for the remixes, for some reason or the other, they always veer towards the upbeat. I listen to the songs or the stems and feel that I'd like to make something happy out of them. No idea why that's the case.
In A State of Unwavering Contempt was there a particular situation or theme you wanted to capture when creating the EP?
A State of Unwavering Contempt was recorded in full in a single day. It was the first time I had access to my gear after being offshore for a month, so I had a couple or more demons that I needed to exorcise. It was also at the end of a not-so-bright period in my life that needed that final 'good riddance' so that I could get on with my life, and I think that's exactly what it sounds like. It then took me almost a year to actually finish mixing it, and had it not been for the fact that I had access to an amazing mixing desk and some incredible outboard gear, I don't think it would've ever reached the sound that I wanted for it. Thankfully it has though, and I'm very proud of that album in particular.
What attracts you to make drone and noise music, and why don't you think it's such an accessible soundscape for most?
I hate using this word, but there is something very visceral about making this kind of music. It's such a humungous release of energy, and I have found for the past two or three years that it's the kind of music that I more often than not want to make. There's also the fact that it's music I love listening to. I love expansive soundscapes that could mean something different every time you listen to them, or that they don't necessarily dictate a mood or feeling to the listener, but could adapt to whatever the listener wants to feel. I suspect that's just a phase though, and the album that I will be releasing hopefully at the end of this year, called Beauty in Decay,will be the end of this sound for some time to come.
In terms of accessibility, it's simply music that you can't sing to or tap your foot to and that challenges the listener. Most people don't want to be challenged, they want something that sounds familiar or that sounds exactly like what they're used to listening to. This could apply to every art form. It also gets most people out of their comfort zones, which is also a big no for the majority. Thankfully there are people who are willing to listen to and support this music and the artists who make it. I'm honestly always surprised -- pleasantly so of course -- when I find anyone who has listened to my stuff, let alone liked it.
Do you gig live often?
Nope, still haven't performed live as Pie Are Squared.
Which musicians do you admire locally?
I'm not really in touch with the Egyptian music scene, but out of what I've heard I'd say Ahmed El Ghazoly and especially his Zuli moniker is by far my favourite. The choice of sounds, attention to detail, sampling choices, beats... everything is really good. Quit Together is another one of his projects with Bosaina, and it's almost equally good. Her more ambient solo stuff is brilliant too. There are also Rami Abadir and PanSTARRS, and I think that's about it.
Any upcoming releases we should look out for?
There are a couple actually; I've just released a split with Apta. There's another EP titled Farewell/Gratitude, of which the first track is already on my Soundcloud, that's all done and only pending the album art, and the aforementioned Beauty in Decay,and hopefully I could sneak in one last release this year titled Codeine...Bourbon, which is very electronic, very different and might well be the start of a new sound.
Keep up to date with Pie Are Squared on his Facebook page here.