Intisaar is a progressive folk act from Seattle featuring Intisaar Jubran and Natalie Mai Hall. Their new album, Borrowed Ground, is a carefully orchestrated creation, layers of Jubran’s soulful voice alternating with Hall’s rhythmic cello playing. There’s not much soft about the sound, despite the guitar/cello instrumentation, and if a tender moment sneaks in here and there, rest assured it’ll soon be interrupted with a wild cello solo or vocal attack. Intisaar’s music is a roller coaster, dynamics and textures all over the dark field all the songs live in. The new album will be released on October 9th. STACKEDD talked to Jubran and Hall about the politics of music, political music and sounds new and old.
How did you get into music?
Jubran: To be honest with you, I always liked to make up songs when I was little. I remember one time when I was around 8, I was in my grandmother’s backyard and I had these few words in my head. I remember singing them to myself and thinking “you know what, that’s pretty easy.” I don’t know why, but it dawned on me that maybe music isn’t so hard after all. I just kept singing to myself in my head–that’s the first time I can remember actively experimenting.
And then when I was like 13-ish, I was very depressed, and my mom rented a guitar for me because she heard that was one way to lift someone out of their sadness. I had a few lessons, I learned how to play chords, and then I kind of went off on my own. I remember becoming addicted to playing. I was obsessed with Tool–learning how to play Tool on guitar, that was how I started with music.
Hall: I started piano when I was a little kid, and then my mom was set on me learning cello in fifth grade. I cried, I hated it, and I wanted to play the flute.
J: Thank god you didn’t!
H: Yeah, but the flute is smaller and at the time seemed more ‘girly’! My mom said, “no daughter of mine is going to join marching band!” As a former flautist herself, high school marching band wasn’t her fondest memory.
In middle school, my mom threatened to take away the cello for some reason–and that did it. I loved it from there on out. “If you don’t do better in school I’m taking away the cello!”
J: And that made you realize you loved it.
H: Yeah. And then a couple years ago Tess and I met up.
J: We super vibed. I felt like you immediately got it, and we had a particular chemistry.
H: And she kept calling me. It took a year–I played hard to get. But it’s been great, and I love it.
How would you describe your music?
J: It’s got a few incarnations. When I’m playing by myself, it’s very acoustic, but not too folky. I’m doing more rock based things and singing more soulfully. There are a lot of dynamics– I’m going from fingerpicking to strumming really loudly or singing in a whisper to full voice–it goes all over the place to build momentum and work with the sparseness of the instrumentation.
When I’m playing with a band, or with Natalie as a duo, there’s a more full, classical, lush feel–there are more solos and epic parts…
H: Cello doesn’t mean that it’s classical!
J: Well, the arrangements are more orchestral and flowy in some songs, like Bluebird, but in others you’re mimicking a guitar solo and it’s very grand, and quieter parts are creepier because you do some weird creepy sounds.
H: Tess takes a lot from powerful 90s female singers — Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, Beth Gibbons, Bjork, in the way that they’re very powerful lyrics and a very feminist singer backing the lyrics. And some of the music borrows from Tess’ Arab roots.
J: I’m Palestinian and Intisaar is an Arabic name (although it means other things in other cultures). In Arabic, Intisaar means ‘victory’.
There’s a song called ‘Territorial View’ on the album about the conflict in Israel. I tried to avoid being too overt with the metaphors and kept them pretty vague. I don’t usually even write political songs, but the bloodshed and violence happening in my family’s homeland is impossible for me to ignore.
The name of the album, Borrowed Ground, relates to themes of occupation, appropriating land, and eradicating one type of person to make way for another. No matter how much money or prestige or land you conquer, it’s all temporary. That’s how I feel.
How have you felt your experience as a woman in the Seattle Music industry has been?
J: I have a lot of friends who are in the rock scene–I came up going to rock shows– and they’re so male dominated. I played open mics for six years before I was noticed, and then it seems like even just now, six years after that, that I’m finally getting noticed for my abilities. I held off on using sex appeal as a gimmick. That may have something to do with it, hah.
H: I have had mostly positive experiences being a woman in the male-dominated Seattle music industry. But in our experience as a band I have found that guys can make a fit onstage about sound stuff or whatever it is and the sound guy gets irritated but respects it. But if you make a fit and you’re a female, they call you a bitch. “Oh my god, who let the drama queen in?”
Despite all of this, it’s a great time to be a woman in the music industry. There are so many talented female players in the Seattle scene, and we are proud to be working amongst them.
Intisaar’s album, Borrowed Ground, will be released on October 9th. The release show is October 10th at Barboza with Ten Miles Wide and Rabia Shaheen Qazi.