Arooj Aftab + Amelia Meath In Conversation
October 1, 2022 - By Nootropic
Arooj Aftab is a Pakistani musician, composer, and producer based in Brooklyn, who was recently nominated for several Grammys, including Best New Artist and Best Global Performance (the latter of which she won). Her experimental music lies somewhere between jazz, folk, Hindustani classical, and heartbreak, with her remarkable voice at the core. Vulture Prince, her stunning recent album, is out everywhere now. Amelia Meath, the Durham-based musician at the helm of Sylvan Esso, Mountain Man, and The A’s, caught up with Aftab one Friday afternoon to chat gas station snacks, their favorite cooking soundtracks, the perils of forests, and more.
Amelia Meath: Because you mentioned him previously—what is your cat’s name?
Arooj Aftab: Tuna. Like the fish.
AM: How old is Tuna?
AA: Tuna is an unknown age. Every year when I take him to the vet, they say, “He’s eight.” I’m like, “It’s been six years guys, he’s not still eight.” But we don’t know how old he is. He just came inside one day from the backyard so I don’t know his past really.
AM: When they choose you, that’s when you know when you’ve really won. What are your favorite things to do on tour when you’re not playing music?
AA: I usually sleep as much as I can. Lately I’ve been trying to get up and go outside a little bit but I’m not really motivated to do that kind of thing unless there’s a purpose. But for the most part I’m usually pretty tired, so I try to sleep and chill and drink tea. Drink tea up until the point when I get on stage, because then it’s just debauchery. Like whiskey, wine, cigarettes…45 minutes of singing, and then just waking up and dying. And doing it again. I try for the hours before that to be chill.
AM: That sounds really good. Okay, you’re on death row, and you have one last meal. What is the meal?
AA: Oooh. I am a haleem fiend. It’s this slow-cooked beef and lentil stew. They cook it for a really long time and it becomes a stew, something you have to eat with a spoon, and there’s no semblance of what was in there but it’s really, really delicious, and I recommend everyone have it. It’s really good.
AM: Yum. What is your favorite smell?
AA: I really like perfume. You know, I’m kind of vain like that. I’ve been told I like notes of bergamot, jasmine… I like jasmine.
AM: Bergamot is my favorite too. I once got a horrible sunburn because I covered myself in bergamot oil and I went outside like an asshole and just got totally burned.
AA: WHAT? I was told I like earl gray ice cream because of the bergamot and I was like, “Oh, wow, I like it so much that I’m eating it.”
AM: Ooo. That’s cool. What non-musical sound makes you feel good?
AA: Thunder clap.
AM: And do you like mountains, or the ocean, if you had to pick?
AA: The ocean, for sure. I am like, crazy, never take me on a hike. Things that are crawling… On me from every direction… I am like a wreck, a maniac. I don’t like the forest or whatever. It’s just crazy.
AM: I really like that opinion.
AA: I simply cannot do it.
AM: But you’re okay with the ocean?
AA: Yeah. The ocean’s chill, the ocean’s chill. I mean, I’m not trying to go all the way in, but it’s fine. It’s way more manageable than just the general unknown of being in the wilderness.
AM: If you didn’t work in the creative field, what would your job be?
AA: Um. Would it have to be… dead? I feel like archaeology is creative, something to do with animals is also creative… I guess it would be something to do with animals.
AM: That’s good. Yeah, archaeology counts as an answer too.
AA: Even archaeology feels like it’s a never-ending kind of thing. Because what actually have they even discovered? It’s taking them way too long. Haven’t they figured out anything constructive at all? Aside from the fact that the earth is very old?
AM: Also I hate how they keep coming back and being like “Sorry, remember the thing we thought was true? That isn’t true.”
AA: It’s a mess over there. They don’t have their shit together. I don’t wanna do that. I would love to do something with animals because they’re really sweet.
AM: If you’re cooking, what do you like to listen to?
AA: It really depends. I’ve been listening to Cécile McLorin Salvant’s new album lately. You should check it out. She starts the album with this cover of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” and it’s insane.
AM: Aw. I love when someone can actually do that song and does.
AA: You need to go listen to it after this call immediately.
AM: I will. Anyone who has the balls to cover Kate Bush, I’m into it. What are you watching right now?
AA: I’m watching the Lord of the Rings thing. I have no idea what’s going on. I’m like, “Did I not watch the movies? Am I just an imposter?” Did I just watch them as a proxy to everyone else watching them? I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, Frodo…” but I don’t even know who Frodo is. I’m realizing that I’m a fake nerd. But that’s what I’ve been watching. But I don’t know what’s happening… So I think I’m gonna stop watching that pretty soon.
AM: Honestly, I just feel like part of Lord of the Rings is surrendering to the lore and just relaxing into the fact that there’s so much to it that there’s no way to really know exactly…
AA: Be comfortable in being confused and lost.
AM: Are you reading anything?
AA: No, I’m fully post-literate now. I can’t read. I simply cannot even get past two sentences. I don’t know what has happened.
AM: The only way I do it is through audio books at this point. It’s my favorite thing on tour. Just audio books.
AA: Yeah, I’ve been listening to some podcasts! There’s this really great one called Scotland Yards or something. It’s this True Crime podcast, and it’s just amazing. The music’s so good and they narrate it really well and the sound design is really good and the stories are really creepy but not over the top. It’s a good listen for the road.
AM: Ooh, that sounds good! And this is my last one: What is your favorite gas station snack?
AA: Favorite gas station snack… Definitely just water and chips. Very boring. I really like the plain chips because these people say they’ve made spicy chips, but it’s just paprika or barbecue flavor… It’s like, Europe, why are you trying to lie? Don’t say spicy. There will be a huge chili pepper on the packaging and then it’s just barbecue… They don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. I get the plain ones.