Like a real-life version of the Clash's "Rock the Casbah," Iran's Hypernova skirted the Islamic republic's moral code by playing underground shows, literally, down on the lower levels of Tehran's parking structures. It was a dangerous game, and faced with ever-tightening cultural restrictions, the band began to consider an exit strategy.
"Originally, we were only supposed to stay [in the U.S.] for two or three weeks," says Raam (no last names, please) some 18 months later. "We literally packed one suitcase, and each of us brought a guitar. We didn't have amps or drums or anything, and only like $400 each. We just came here with a big heart and no expectations whatsoever."
Fresh from the "Axis of Evil," Raam was horrified by American presidential candidate John McCain's rendition of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann" ("Bomb, bomb, bomb / Bomb, bomb Iran"), but overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the press and public. The band members eventually relocated from L.A. to New York and got their visas extended. (Having the same immigration lawyer as Black Sabbath and the Who doesn't hurt.)
Hypernova's debut album, Through the Chaos (slated for early 2009 release), proves the music lives up to the hype. They've earned comparisons to Interpol and Bauhaus, although Raam's striking baritone more closely resembles that of the late Ian Curtis. The main difference is that the Joy Division frontman's vocals conveyed his desperation to escape reality, while Raam clearly sounds like he's coping.
No longer forced to scream in order to be heard through a guitar amp, Raam is finally singing is his own deep voice. His songwriting, meanwhile, is catchy but not coy, abounding with references to politics ("your theocratic neo-fascist ideology"), religion ("I will not bow down to your God / This is not who I am") and slightly less weighty subjects ("Mirror, mirror, on the wall / Who's the fairest motherfucker of all?"). Although he still writes from the perspective of "an underground Iranian," he aims to communicate broader sentiments.
"I can sit and talk to you about politics and what I believe in personally," he says, "but I don't want to put my band or myself or anyone else in a position that would jeopardize our career, or even the well-being of my family. So that's why I always try to steer away from that sort of stuff."
In younger years, Raam got to spend time in the States while his father attended university in Eugene, Ore., which he describes as a cool, laid-back hippie town where "we all used to go to school barefoot." In contrast, his first memories as a kid in Iran were "bombs falling, sirens ringing and people going to shelters. You go through some really horrible things, but you get used to anything. That's just how we humans adapt."
As the son of a "hardcore tree-hugger," Raam says he also spent a couple months living with a group of pastoral nomads herding goats, no less in the mountains of Iran. Now he's hooked on computers and cell phones and on tour with the Sisters of Mercy. But there are still ambitions to be fulfilled.
"If I were to grade myself, I'd probably still give myself a 5 out of 100 right now," he says. "We're all such perfectionists, we just want to keep doing better and better. By our fifth or sixth album, I want it to be so great that it'll never be forgotten."