Who are Religious to Damn? Zohra Atash, a New York-based singer and songwriter and a revolving cast of musicians. For latest album Glass Prayer, she’s hooked up with Josh Strawn (Blacklist) on guitar and production duties, classically trained percussionist and composer Charlie Schmid (Indaba Percussion Quartet) and keyboard player and co-producer Brandon Curtis (The Secret Machines, Interpol).

What do they sound like? Densely atmospheric psychedelic rock, at times bluesy, at times haunting.  Atash’s emotive vocals have earned her comparisons to Kate Bush, while their use of acoustic instrumentation, swirling electronic guitars and eastern percussion have also garnered them the tag of “gypsy rock”.

Chief songwriter Atash describes Glass Prayer: “An album that challenges the notion that in order to be noticed today in the flood of music you have to belt and yell every note, blow out the production and make every sound pound the listener over the head so that when they skim through your record alongside the 5,000 others, you’ll be remembered.  It’s a record that’s restrained on purpose.  The production choices were almost always to go subliminal rather than in-your-face.  As a result I think we made a record that’s haunting in the truest sense.  I think that fans of Glass Prayer who are listening to the record 2 or 3 years from now will still be saying, “I never heard that melody/texture/noise until just now.””

Before this Atash was: “Writing and editing snippets about high-end chocolates.”

Has having an Afghan heritage been an influence? “I don’t write songs using eastern song structures, but I’m attracted to certain sounds, and they’re a part of my musical palette. Even though my dad plays music, I don’t think he wanted me to pursue it because of the cultural stigmas people have against women in rock.  I think that forced me to really prove my dedication and intent and convince them that this was something I could do in a dignified way — more than just a hobby.  It really motivated me to spend time practicing and crafting the music and just taking it very seriously.”

How does she find the inspiration to write songs? “I usually find inspiration mid-conversation, and start humming the melody line in my head until I can record it somewhere.  Then it goes under a period of examination and scrutiny, before I start to work out instrumentation. I used to have a routine, but we’re starting to change it up this time out.  I’d say we’re definitely just embracing the fact that we love lavishly produced music.  The lo-fi/bedroom recording aesthetic has a lot of traction right now, but we’re just bigger fans of the way a track like ‘Intruder’ by Peter Gabriel sounds.  No point pretending otherwise!”

How does she feel about those Kate Bush comparisons? “It’s a given that most artists want to be recognized for their own work, but people need a frame of reference.  Kate Bush being a common one people use for my music, well, it’s high praise.  Do I want my work compared to Kate Bush, to have my work sit next to hers and have it judged?  Absolutely not.  I don’t think any artist would.  Most won’t come out on the winning end of that — but on the other hand it’s nothing I can take offense to or complain about.  It’s reached a point, though, where comparing a female artist to Kate Bush can be a bit like comparing a band that uses a lot of guitars with effects to My Bloody Valentine.  In other words, pretty cliché and lazy and almost so overused it doesn’t mean anything.  So most of the time it tends to go in one ear and out the other.  Occasionally, though, somebody will say it who really seems to have paid attention to and appreciate the music.  In those cases, it’s definitely a great compliment which I’d one day like to have the arrogance to accept.”

What’s next? Atash has paired up with Josh Graham of Neurosis to make an album called Latitudes, out soon on Southern Records; Strawn and Schmid’s experimental black metal band Vaura release their debut LP on Wierd Records in the autumn; there’s a potential Religious to Damn EP coming out before the end of the year, and touring.

Essential tracks: Drifter, and to really see where those Kate Bush comparisons come from check out title track Glass Prayer.

Religious to Damn “Drifter” Music Video from Jason Akira Somma on Vimeo.

Glass Prayer is out now on M’Lady Records.

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