Xakestar's Mo Khojasteh Discusses New Release and the Band's backstory, Influences, and Plans

Progressive metal/rockers Xakestar got it's start in the 90's building themselves up, playing live performances, writing and recording their own work, and much more, that they have yet to slow down. Mo Khojasteh discusses their most recent release, the band's past, present, and future ahead of them.

1. Please tell us about the history of your band and its members.

Mo: Xakestar was formed in early 1999 by Mo Khojasteh (lead guitars, bass, keyboards, back vocals and lyrics). Hani Rajabi joined the band as the pianist, guitarist and the lead vocalist. Behruz Bazargan was invited to play the drums, percussion and electronics. Now Xakestar works with session drummers, mostly Swedish. Moreover, all songs are written by Mo Khojasteh and Hani Rajabi. 

The lyrics are all written by Mo Khojasteh. Xakestar was firstly established in Tehran-Iran. The band had a number of live performances in the universities and Farabi Hall which were extremely successful. However, as the band intended to expand and have more performances, the Iranian authorities, represented by the ministry of culture and the armed forces of national security prevented the band from making music, performing and recording it. 

Mo Khojasteh was officially warned that any attempt to resume the band’s musical activities is prohibited. Mo Khojasteh as the frontman of Xakestar was threatened to be prosecuted in the court of law if Xakestar members go on making music. Since the band, in the early performances, was inclined to play black and gothic metal, the ministry of culture found their music as a movement against Islamic beliefs and against the national security and they described their music in this way: “Xakestar's music contains blasphemous and highly misleading and offensive material.” 

Therefore, Xakestar stopped its musical activities for a period of time but the members chose to leave their homeland, in order to make music in the way they wanted to, a situation of exile were forced on the band and they suffered a lot in Sweden to regain the right to publish their music.

2. What’s the origin of the band’s name?

Mo: The band’s name is a Persian word meaning something which has turned to black as a result of being exposed with fire but it has not burned completely. The X is pronounced similar to what international phonetic alphabet recommends for [X].

3. How would you describe your style? Which bands influenced your music?

Mo: Currently the band is in the move between Falun/Sweden and Tehran/Iran despite the fact that Iranian ministry of culture still holds Xakestar under the prohibited category. Xakestar’s current sound can be considered an inclination towards impressionistic arts as each song rises from Mo and Hani’s temporal mental state, personal issues and tensions, their predisposition to a new point of view which they personally achieve or distinctive sets of thoughts which they encounter in their dynamic and gradual approach. The mentioned factors mark the progressive direction of the band; however, there are global patterns, characteristic traits, conventions and well-defined and well-spread structures of the rock and metal genre that the band tends to follow and retain while Xakestar has always tried to maintain the decisive elements of music which are innovation and creativity, and on some occasions the band disregards certain rules and codes which the mainstream rock bands or the preceding bands have considered obligatory to follow.

For example, Xakestar puts stress on the bass and the way Mo Khojasteh plays the base guitar can be described as overactive, independent and excitable and it opposes the ordinary well-established methods through which bass follows the guitar line or simply it is in the direction of vocals. Xakestar’s music includes occasions which reminisce references to Celtic folklore; on the other hand, there are sections which Middle-Eastern scales can be recognized. The ambiance, eeriness and dark and melancholic atmosphere of the songs is mixed with Hani’s extensive taste for Romantic era or Baroque music. In some songs, such as Rebel, the harmonies bring 17th century’s music into mind. All musical materials are shaped and directed by various, and ornamental support of keyboards, synths and piano since creating a gloomy and dark atmosphere, or melancholic context has been one crucial goal for Xakestar. 

The mentioned musical features are accompanied by lines of vocals which are multi-layered, dynamic, modal, rock-oriented and embellished with an attitude of self-determination. Guitars vary in each piece and they range from creating an ambient context to thrash metal solos; however, guitars prefer to create more subtle and sophisticated riffs and scales. Despite the descriptions above, guitar lines which Mo has played are mostly compared with Pink Floyd and performances of David Gilmour. The lyrics contain modern elements and they are subjective while they benefit from certain literary styles such as Gothic Revival, Romanticism and etc. The lyrics are suggestive and they encourage various interpretations and on certain occasions there can be found traces of mythical or medieval references. Certain issues and philosophies can be detected in the lyrics such as left hand paths, nihilism, individualism, anarchism or tragic relationships, self-destruction, drugs, alienation and etc.

Since the latest set of Xakestar’s songs constitute the basic content of the first release, sometimes Xakestar tried to avoid going beyond the standards and primary expectations of the contemporary audiences who prefer to listen to a polished sound, a convenient and digestible piece which would put the hook on them at the first 20 seconds. For example, the arrangements are adjusted in line with what 90’s pop or alternative music have to offer.

The genres which the members are influenced by and try to reach are Gothic, progressive, stoner doom and alternative. For example, as I listened to Tiamat’s masterpiece “A deeper kind of slumber” for the first time, I somehow knew for sure that the direction of the band I would establish some years later would be determined by this album. The bands which can be listed as the ones who directly influenced the band are: Pink Floyd, Tiamat, Anathema, Depeche Mode, Megadeth, Alice in Chains, Audioslave, Moonspell and etc. Hypocrisy is another band that I have always recommended as an ideal in Doom/Death metal genre, also they are from Sweden and not so far from Falun.

Xakestar has always suffered from the lack of a sufficient budget and necessary equipment. All the songs are recorded, mixed and mastered by the band members themselves and that is why the overall sound quality can be considered a problem which would decrease the audience’s pleasure and joy; indeed, this shortage is overshadowing all the band’s efforts and innovation because of the fact that even though the music can be assumed to be good enough to be presented, the poor sound quality and bad mastering are the decisive factors which determine and dictate the level of popularity. Hence, from the audience’s point of view and with regards to ordinary assessments, the band’s capabilities and competence are dependent on the overall sound; in fact, the sound quality unconsciously affects the listeners’ judgments and in Xakestar’s case, the consequence of such casual evaluations is being underrated.

Another unique characteristic of Xakestar is the diversity of songs in terms of genre and style. We already got a thrash metal song and yet we have some soft tunes far away from the brutality which some other tunes represent. The said issue of diversity can be considered both good and bad. For instance, a listener’s reasoning would be like this: they are versatile enough in terms of writing and performing which will allow them to compose in any genre they like; on the other hand, these distinctive tunes cannot be classified under one single category, and they fail to be congregated as a whole in an album. However, as we progress and as we learn more in each song we write, we are reaching to a solution and reconciliation which will integrate the both opposing styles which two separate songs exhibit and epitomize. Another judgment, will be based on the point that, having studied the lyrics, and having analyzed the factors in song-writing such as keys, scales, chords and having examined the overall emotions or possible messages we try to deliver, the distinctive songs can be assumed to be representatives of one single set of thoughts and one single set of aesthetic values. It is only the “outside” that is different, while the “inside” is the same.

4. What's your favorite song on "Crystal Shadow" right now?

Mo: In the upcoming album, I like all the songs, some songs are written by me and some by Hani and in both cases we have helped each other, we like Crystal Shadow and Rebel more than the others.

5. Where can we listen to your band and where can we buy your stuff?

Mo: You can reach us by this link which takes you to our official website, the links to social medias and online purchases can be found here as well: www.xakestar.com.

6. What is it you’d like a listener to remember the most when hearing your music for the first time?

Mo: I have reached to the end of the road many times, maybe I have been dead for a large portion of my life, but I guess, if there was something or there is something called “love”, love could save me. 

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