An interview with “Nazi Killer” Nadia Tehran

We have always loved the abrasive and ungovernable artist. That kind of rebellious virtuoso that has chanted songs of a society unjust. Many cultural icons and provocateurs have shared their warped reality with us – the conceptual narrative of Marilyn Manson, pop-agitator M.I.A and the opinionated firecracker that is, of course, Kanye West. Now, Nadia Tehran joins the chat.

There’s no rulebook for what makes up a good artist, and to be quite frank, nor has Tehran needed one either. Her sound – which intersects punk, rock and contemporary pop is a clear-cut product of growing up to influential touchstones such as Björk, Bowie and The Knife.

Her latest album Dozakh: All Lovers Hell (Expanded) is informed by her sense of rootlessness and explores boundaries beyond borders and genres. Tehran’s sly and whipsmart lyrics lace her percussion-heavy productions and send the listener on a journey set for an oxymoron – a heavenly hell. Dozakh is a Persian metaphorical notion synonymous to hell or a place of torment one believes they arrive in when separated from their lover. On the album, Tehran delves into ideas of the empyrean as well as chthonian state of minds, and with her vim and vigour, she invites us to learn more about her illustrious career.

Where did the initial idea come from to further extend your album and how was the creative process of creating it?

Nadia Tehran: After I released the record, it felt as if it left me and became something that wasn’t mine anymore, and I felt that these questions inspired me to further explore my own work, and I’ve done that through different ways now. 

The first part was when I created this exhibition, ‘Inherited Void’, that was a part of the album roll-out. It was a way for me to physically manifest what the record was about. To create a physical space where you could understand, read or experience the concept of Dozakh – not through me, but through other artist’s interpretation of what it meant to them. And so, now it’s this organ that’s living its own life and I can just be friends with it.

KALTBLUT: That’s really interesting to hear. I feel like it’s something that snowballs into something, and people just end up building on top of it. It takes on a life of its own – almost like giving birth. 

NT: Yes, exactly!

KALTBLUT: How did you decide on who would rework what song?

NT: I didn’t! I only reached out to people that are my friends and asked them if they wanted to be a part of it, and they chose the songs. Naturally, they all chose different songs, and that tells me something about the record as well, that everybody relates to it in different ways because it’s very genre-less. It was a very natural process of me reaching out to my creative circle of friends.

KALTBLUT: An album a decade in the making must have incredible sentimental value: What’s the story of Dozakh: All Lovers Hell and what can a potential listener expect?

NT: Dozakh metaphorically means “a place of torment one believe their in when separated from their loves”, and when I think about that, the lover can be a love-interest, but it can also be a separation from your roots and your history- this concept of separation is something I’ve been interested in understanding and processing.

I’ve been writing songs and making music since I was 10 years, and some of those songs have been following me throughout my life on different tapes, laptops and hard drives. I didn’t know that they were going to be on a record. When I finally got the opportunity to create the album, I collected these songs as memories and descriptions of my life. So, it’s this story of an Iranian girl growing up in Sweden, trying to understand where this feeling of separation comes from and why it’s constantly recreated by myself in the different relationships I’ve established. That’s what a listener can expect.

I find the “High” video extremely symbolic to what is going on in real-time: Did you deliberately want to convey this identification?

NT: I worked with Marco Stoltze on the video, the founder and director of Morph Studios. The story behind it came from when I got arrested in Iran while filming the “Refugee” video and had to smuggle the film back. So, that’s where the idea of the video comes from – telling a story about how it is to be a brown woman trying to liberate yourself through your art, but constantly being worked against by the system.

When we made the video in January, we had no clue of how relevant – painfully relevant – it would be to release it when we did in August. There were a lot of things that were happening during that time. Police brutality was already ongoing, but it wasn’t highlighted with the way it came to be by the rise of the BLM-movement. That created an internal discussion to understand where this video belongs. I was scared of people misunderstanding my intention, but then again, like with the ‘Refugee’ video, for me to not release it would be a much bigger loss than to be misunderstood. When things are created in a grey-zone, that’s when you know that you’re in an interesting space.

KALTBLUT: In an interview, you mentioned how you “won” an argument with Nazi’s flooding your streets and handing out flyers, yet feeling sad and ambivalent after. Is “I’m a Nazi killer / But my heart still burns” a reflection of that dual feeling?

NT: Yeah, very much so. It’s like, I don’t want to be a Nazi-killer, it’s not like I thrive off of it or feel good about it, but I have to. It makes me sad. There’s no joy in it, and I wanted to portray that feeling. When you produce political art it can be considered bombastic, grand and come off as if you can take anything. Behind it, it hurts a lot. So, yeah, I wanted to write that song.

And it’s a great song. Kablam did a fabulous fucking job with the remix, it’s such an experience. 

NT: Truly! I can’t wait to hear it on the dance floor. Please Corona, can you let us dance soon!

KALTBLUT: How was it to create an entire LP?

NT: It was a long and hard process of constantly feeling worked against, and I still feel that. To be honest, I feel like this record deserves more than it has received in terms of likes, views, streams and stuff. That’s not just because I made a record, I think that whatever I would do, I would be underappreciated because society is built to under-appreciate us. 

It wasn’t the songs that took 10 years to write, it was finding a way for the songs to be what they wanted to be and still be put-out. It was a struggle to stay uncompromised but still exist. There’s no compromises on the record, and that was painful because I was tossed and turned around a lot of systems that wouldn’t support me. Getting in and out of contracts, getting people who are trying to change what I was going to do. 

KALTBLUT: What does the future hold for Nadia Tehran?

NT: The future does not exist – I’m here now, and all I can think about is making art, breaking down power structures and mobilising communities. If I could make a wish, I’d wish for sweaty dance floors to come back, I can’t put into words how much I miss the club </3

Dozakh: All Lovers Hell (Expanded) is out now on YEAR0001:



Photos: Agri Ibrahim
Photo edit: Will Ek-Uvelius