Shahzad Ismaily © Ebru Yildiz for Monheim Triennale
Photo: Shahzad Ismaily © Ebru Yildiz for Monheim Triennale

Shahzad Ismaily (US)

To say Shahzad Ismaily is a very special human being, still sells the New York based artist short. It is rare to find a musician not only that open and communicative with everybody he meets on his path through life, but he also offers a biography worth multiple lifetimes. Shahzad originally studied biochemistry, inspired by his mother (a doctor) and father (an engineer), but as ‘natural sciences was very comfortable for me – I could be asleep and take these exams and get into that kind of work – I had to set that path totally on fire.’

Once Shahzad got an instrument in his hands, the biochemistry class room was nothing more than a practice zone to him: ‘I was in physics class and I had the bass on. And initially the teachers were very grumpy. I said: “Look, if I just had my fingers like this under the table, it would not bother you. So if I do this, it is not that different.” Especially if I could still answer the questions. So they asked me sometimes out of the blue what these or that chemical components are – and I would just answer and keep going on playing.’
Till today Shahzad cultivates this multitasking idea of practicing. ‘I still drive and play the guitar all the time’, he disclosed to the amusement of the Monheim audience. ‘Because if you are in traffic and you got a long drive, the time passes really quickly. You are driving and the steering wheel is right here at the toes and you have the instrument here in front of you. And if its electric, this is on the radio, the instrument is connected to the car stereo, and you also got a metronom and a mixer. So you are practicing all day. There were few times when I drove like that with a friend who was playing violin in the back. We had full rehearsals for two hours on the way to concerts.’

At some point during the artist talk Shahzad shared insights on his collaborations with other well-known artists with the audience. ‘Let´s say I am working with someone like Lou Reed. He was really picky with what he wanted. I can´t easily get there. But I am still somehow able to read the room with the energy and find the part that elevates the feeling. It that myself? Is that what they wanted? Which one is it? It is complex, but somehow I feel like I am always myself, in all these situations – and I feel very relaxed and very alive.’

It is pretty hard to stop listening to the flow of words by Shahzad Ismaily, not only does he have so many great stories, he also tells them with an engaging voice, especially as he always comes by as so modest, maybe even to a degree that makes you shake the head: ‘I am a very inactive person. Things tend to lazily flow my way’, Shahzad ends the conversation – well, if this is lazy for the man, then we don’t want to see him act ambitiously.

All quotes are from the Artist Talk with Thomas Venker as part of the 2021 Prequel issue.

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