The “post-apocalyptic, gypsy punk sound” of Nostalghia’s emanates from lead singer Ciscandra Nostalghia, percussionist Roy Gnan, and cellist Adele Stein. AndiHHM had the chance to sit down with all three of them before their Riot Fest Chicago performance on September 13th. She also attended their concert with Primus at the Official After-Party that night at Concord Music Hall in Chicago.
Their debut album Chrysalis, released this past April, draws listeners into Nostalghia’s haunting, intensely emotive world. During their afternoon Riot Fest set, the riveted audience experienced piercing highs, guttural lows, and the soul-touching impact Nostalghia imparts onstage. Even Rick, one of the stage’s security guards who would have rather been manning a neighboring stage for the Wu-Tang Clan,stated that Ciscandra “is an angel that I can’t rip my eyes and ears away from”.
Gnan’s masterful mixing of disparate computer tones, piano melodies, and his drumming back Adele Stein’s moving cello with Ciscandra’s plaintive lyrics opening herself to the crowd. Nostalghia opens their chrysalis to the world allowing the beauty and pain of their songs to take flight.
Ciscandra began her interest in singing, songwriting, and piano during times of chafing under a restrictive upbringing leading into eventually being ousted from her parent’s home. She holed up in the music room of a school campus, teaching herself singing, songwriting and the piano. After meeting Roy Gnan on Craigslist, the duo clicked and began their musical voyage then picked up the lovely Adele Stein along the way to round out the trio.
AndiHHM: (To Ciscandra) We’ve talked about your family just a bit; I know your parents kicked you out and that put you in a place to get started musically, to take that initiative. Just curious, are they supportive of you now?
Ciscandra: They are; they’re excited. They’re very supportive.
AndiHHM: That’s wonderful. I wondered, “How did that pan out?” All the articles I’ve read about your story; I kind of wanted a happy ending with that.
CN: It is a happy ending. I’m actually not so much in to speaking on the relationship we used to have because it is so patched up now and they are supportive. I think it’s strange to have a child that ends up being an artist especially when they’re not artists.
AndiHHM: What do they do?
CN: My dad’s an attorney, my mom’s a CPA.
AndiHHM: Aha, so more analytical type people, more right brain.
AndiHHM: Because of the some of the stuff I’ve read, I was feeling that maybe you’re an only child? Do you have any brothers and sisters?
CN: I have a sister that’s sixteen years older than I am.
AndiHHM: So almost like an only child, you’re that way younger child. We talked about your Iranian heritage, were you born overseas?
CN: I was born in Los Angeles.
AndiHHM; What are your earliest musical memories as a child? Did you have a little walkman that you took around?
CN: I didn’t really get to listen to music when I was younger that much because both of my parents were really strict. My mom comes from a strong Persian background. My dad loved Oldies music so I would hear Oldies music in the car, at home.
But the first thing that I remember listening to really, is Spice Girls. (All laugh) With my uncle, he would come sit in my room at the crack of dawn; he was up at all hours. He would tell me to listen to the rain. We would listen to the raindrops. He showed me how to shift the beat of the raindrops. You just pick up rhythms in a different way; you warp them in your head. That was probably my first musical experience before I was really listening to music. I would hear my uncle play all the time.
AndiHHM: What kind of music did he play?
CN: He was an arranger. He played a lot with two of the biggest artists in Iran, Googoosh and Dariush. They are pop stars in Iran.
AndiHHM: Roy, I know that you guys met on Craigslist, that’s what the bio material says. It said after she posted a “bitchy” ad. Do tell about the “bitchy” ad because you can’t leave that hang and not explain that. I’d like to know.
Roy: Well she didn’t say anything mean or anything. It was just short and to the point. I think “don’t waste my time” was in the ad. It was just no pictures, no music; a couple of influences, styles and “don’t waste my time, write me back”.
Most people try to oversell themselves especially on Craigslist, which she wasn’t doing at all. But that made me curious, “what is this?” So I responded, a couple of days later she wrote back and did attach some of her music. My hair stood up right away. Immediately I knew I wanted to work with her very badly. The only thing I could think of was, “just don’t fuck this up”. I had to think about what kind of music I was sending her so she wouldn’t think it was crappy. Then we started writing; we wrote an entire song before even meeting. Just emailing back and forth. We wanted to make sure it was going to work before we wasted time socializing and talking. After that first song we met, had coffee and talked about doing an entire record together which is what we ended up doing. Mostly back and forth through email.
AndiHHM: That’s great. How long ago did this happen?
CN: Like three and a half years ago.
AndiHHM: Roy, were you in any other bands before Nostalghia?
RG: Yeah, I’ve been in and out of other bands, other projects. Nothing that really got any legs. I went to college for drums, jazz drummer by trade I guess. Through the years I’ve been in different projects I’ve kind of expanded that a little more.
AndiHHM: But nothing on this scale? Just around.
RG: Nothing at all. Local stuff, bands that helped me learn and get prepared for what I’m doing now.
AndiHHM: Adele, you are a cellist and I’m sure you’re a small group when you come to these festivals. You’re probably the only cellist?
Adele: Most likely.
AndiHHM: How did you guys hook up with Adele?
Adele: I got a call from Andy, the tour manager, just asking if I was interested in meeting up with them. I did (meet up), then we played our first show together with barely any time around each other in Mexico. It’s been great.
AndiHHM: How long have you been together with Nostalghia?
AS: It’s been at least six months.
RG: It’s been a year. Since last October I think it’s been.
AS: Oh wow, there ya go.
AndiHHm: See time flies. That’s really good that you all just clicked. When I watched the video (live footage from the Mexico show), obvious I watched you (Ciscandra), but I also took a very careful look at Adele. There aren’t very many cellists out there playing in a rock band. Adele looks like she was very into it. I can see her emotion too. Everybody focuses on you (Ciscandra) because you’re the lead singer, and that’s how it works a lot of the time; everybody understands that. But I really felt her emotionality as she was playing. That’s really cool because it’s not just you, I could see what’s she’s adding to it and I though that was tremendous for you guys.
AS: I mean I commit. I think we definitely all do no matter what’s happening in our lives or during the day, we all end up pulling it out onstage because that’s what matters in the end.
AndiHHM: Ciscandra, I know that your parents are from Iran, is that something in your frame of reference? The world events surrounding Russia, Iran, the Middle East? Do you still have family back there?
CN: I have a lot of family in Iran, in Tehran. I honestly try to stay out of that. I don’t really watch too much about that. I don’t watch the news; I don’t have a TV. Good word choice, chaotic; I just heard someone say chaotic. It’s chaotic and it makes me really sad. And it’s not just those areas; there’s chaos all around the world right now. There are so many things that we don’t know about because it’s not publicized. I try to stay out of that as much as I can.
There are certain things that I pay attention to and I like to bring light to those things. Ultimately I try to stay out of it. But that’s very much a part of my blood. So sure, it affects me.
AndiHHM: Sure, if you catch something on the news, then you pay attention. What are the things that you do like to shine your light on?
CN: Vulnerability; the idea of vulnerability and being true to yourself. Nowadays everyone’s told that feeling is a bad thing. To have any kind of extreme emotion is negative so we try to shut it off with pills and prescriptions. We try to shut it off by building walls outside of our body. What I really stand for is vulnerability. I didn’t realize that until I started performing and I had someone say, “How does it feel to be so vulnerable onstage?” And I freaked the fuck out. I thought, “What?”, because that was my biggest fear is being vulnerable and inside out. When she told me that I realized that was exactly what I’m doing.
Performing in general is a healing experience for me. And I think that it’s a healing experience for me because that was one of my biggest fears. I see that’s one of the biggest fears of most people that I meet is being inside out and showing their true self. So I stand for that. I’m not into PETA but I do believe in compassion and holding compassion for animals. I don’t judge people for their decisions or their lack of but I personally love animals so I don’t eat them. It doesn’t bother me if people around me do.
AndiHHM: Right, you’re not militant.
CN: I don’t believe in that. I don’t believe that works. I think that you have to make choices for yourself; you have to find your own moral compass. But that might not work for everyone else. So if someone’s interested in what I believe in then I’m more than willing to talk about it but I don’t believe in shoving it down anyone’s throat.
AndiHHM: That’s hard to find sometimes in this world. People just have their own ideas they want to push upon others. Whatever it is doesn’t matter what it is.
CN: That stems from fear. They’re afraid they might be wrong so they have to make you believe the same thing otherwise they might be wrong abut their choices. More of an insecurity. I’m not insecure with my choices.
AndiHHM: That’s very important especially since you’re very young; you’ve very self-aware. I was reading about your emotional sensitivity. You talked about in the bio and other interviews about locking yourself away. Big situations like this, does it bother you to be in chaotic situations?
CN: It makes me uncomfortable when I’m not performing. I’m not really big into crowds when I’m not playing. When I’m play music I’m losing myself. I’m able to lose myself; my body no longer matters, eyeballs no longer matter. It’s just more about getting whatever I’ve got to get out. In a situation like this, like talking or hanging out with people or meeting people, that stuff makes me uncomfortable.
AndiHHM: You said you like to try to push yourself to do uncomfortable things.
CN: I do. Yes, I do. Discomfort is a good thing.
AndiHHM: Right, it makes you a stronger person I think. Chrysalis, how do you think that’s been received?
CN: I think it’s been received well. We’ve gotten great reviews on the shows and good reviews on the album.
AndiHHM: What’s your next stop from here?
RG: As far as live or what we’re doing next?
AndiHHM: Your next album or the next thing.
CN: The next album all the songs are already written right now; we’re just arranging them. Hopefully soon. We’re getting a producer involved in this album so that will take a little bit longer.
AndiHHM: Is it a full length album or EP?
CN: Full length album.
AndiHHM: What’s your favorite song on Chrysalis?
CS: “I’d Still Kill You”.
AS: I have a terrible time remembering the names.
CN: I was almost forgetting too. I was like, shit, what is that song called?
AS: We have little set lists. I’ll look at the set list and go, “I don’t know?”
AndiHHM: That one, that starts out like that. (All laugh)
CS: Well she loves to sing Sunshiny Milk in the car. She loves that one on the next album.
AS: I do enjoy Sunshiny Milk.
CN: She loves that one.
RG: I’ll leave that one alone. (all laugh)
AndiHHM: Inside joke!
RG: “I’d Still Kill You” for sure. Me too.
AndiHHM: Who is the artist that has influenced you the most?
CS: I really love PJ Harvey. I love what she stands for. I think that not only is she an amazing artist that’s always transforming herself but she’s also very serious and kind in interviews. She just isn’t pretentious.
AndiHHM: Adele, who is your biggest musical influence?
AS: To be honest with you, probably my dad. He was my cello teacher. Without my family I would have never been interested in music to the extent I am.
AndiHHM: And you, Roy?
RG: It’s a category: Early 60s jazz is really where my rhythms come from and where I like to approach things. Anything from John Coltrane to Miles Davis. Or Tony Williams, Jack Dechanet. It’s kind of where my head is coming from most of the time more so than more contemporary stuff.
AndiHHM: It’s been great talking to you. I can’t wait to see your performance this afternoon at Riot Fest and later at the Official After Party with Primus.
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- photos: Nostalghia live at Concord Music Hall in Chicago photo credit: Wesley Nott
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- Riot Fest After-Shows Announced at Concord Music Hall, Cobra Lounge, Double Door and Beat Kitchen
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- photos: Weezer live at Riot Fest Toronto credit Megan Vella