What’s your earliest memory of music?
Barney was my guy, as well as Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I also remember this tape deck in our Rav4 that would play Islamic lullabies. I was all about that!
Do you have a musical family?
Not in a traditional sense. Brown parents don’t really pay for piano lessons, but my cousins and I would make acapella songs. I was in a band called “Da Mob”, and my sister was in “Lazer Gurls”. Jury is still out on which group was better.
How was the first time you heard your voice over music?
When I was 8 years old, a friend of my cousin heard this acapella song I made called “What’s Happening on my Feet”, and he put a beat under me. I was astonished by how cool that was. I remember showing on my friends like, yo I can rap!
Who were your musical inspirations?
I was put onto Outkast at an early age, so they are big for me. When I was 11, my sister gave me a Radiohead CD and that’s when shit started getting wild. At 17, I deep dived into the discographies of The Beach Boys and Beatles. Those four comprise my personal Mt. Rushmore of bands.
Who was the first person to give you the name Ammar Annex?
I was at U of I for a choir recital, and I passed a building called Khan Annex. That’s my last name, so I was telling my homies ‘yo look that’s my name on that building!” One of them was like “Yeah I know. Ammar Annex.” It was my 21st birthday, and I thought the symmetry was cool so I went with it.
How do you come up with such unique names and long sentences for your song titles?
I like song titles that either are one word, or the best phrase from the lyrics, even if they’re not from the hook. Song titles should draw people into the world you’re trying to evoke.
What inspired your last release I Was On A Tattered Roof?
The boonies and backwoods of Wisconsin, where I grew up, and Pakistan, where my family is from.
How was writing and conceiving the album in Pakistan for you?
I was there for 10 days, for the first time in 18 years. I got to meet my blood that I’ve only seen through IG, and it felt like a mirrored reality. They were just like me, but our lives were so different. I took about four thousand photos and did a video series on my time there, and the album’s thematic scope came about while I was there.
Where in Pakistan?
Karachi. A city with straight up 20 million people running around on motor bikes. At night it looks like third world Blade Runner.
What is the local scene like there?
I got to spend New Years there, and we went to a compound with a disco floor. People were popping off AKs til the wee hours. Even though it’s an Islamic country, you can find your choice of vice if you know the right people. And that’s on the wealthier side of things! I found the middle class areas to be much more tranquil. The album art for Tattered Roof is of my grandfather’s abode, which my father and his brothers built in the 1980s. Life on that side of Karachi felt like my hometown in Wisconsin, believe it or not.
Where were you musically when recording Bless The Lot and Wons?
I was still in university, figuring out how to make music. I turned my studio apartment into a studio, albeit an amateur one. I would fill my class load with choir electives, from gospel to liturgical Catholic mass. I failed music theory, but it taught me how to fool someone into thinking I play the piano.
What did you take away from recording those projects that you applied to your last project I Was On A Tattered Roof?
Those records reflect my time spent tinkering with the art. I had my midi keyboard and my drum pad, and I’d try to say something from the heart. But I feel like ‘Tattered’ is my first real record. In that I built my own studio when I finished school, and I took the responsibility of making an album much more seriously. I made the whole record by myself, from the production, lyrics, mixing and mastering.
What do you use to record music?
I’m an Ableton stan, and I have a tube mic set up in a recording room, in which all the walls are lined with home installation padding to dampen the reflections.
What are your thoughts on Nav being the first brown boy to get it popping?
When I first heard him we were out in Toronto. I remember being super proud. Made it feel like hey, we can do this! My crew bumped his first mixtape hard, TTD is one of my fav joints. He has a great sense of melody. But god, I hope his music gets better! Cuz lately it’s been real sus.
Who are your musical inspirations these days?
I love indie female artists. AdriAnne Lenker of Big Thief is my girl. Also love Mitski, her new album has the hardest lines. St. Vincent is my favourite artist though.
If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?
When I’m not making music, I’m a cinematographer. If I were doing neither of those things, I would be a political revolutionary.
How was writing the novella to accompany the project like?
Every song had a little chapter to it. It tells a story about a house, and the man who lives there. He is throwing a party, and feels isolated so he hangs out with ghosts on his roof. It really helped me feel the album more, and understand where I wanted to place the songs. Before I worked on the novella, I had a completely different tracklisting!
What is your songwriting process?
Some of my favorite songs have come about by me having a conversation inside my head, and I’ll write a whole song around that one thing I said. I love moleskine notebooks, and I write every song I’ve made in them. Chord progressions on the left page, lyrics on the right.
How many unreleased records are you sitting on?
Oh jesus, so many! I made a whole album during Ramadan this summer. I ended up writing and recording 15 songs, 7 of which I think are good enough to release a mini album one day. Its called Heartbeats on the Forest Floor, which is the same amount of syllables of my last album. Every day I work on music, so the records just pile up. I make alot of music for my friends as well, so it’s about helping them achieve their goals as well as my own.
What is your status as an artist i.e. independent, major?
I’ve never stepped inside a professional studio, so I very much consider myself under that DIY, bedroom indie branch of things. But the goal is to turn my work ethic into a record deal. I’d love getting paid to be an artist, including making music and movies.
What’s next for you?
Working on the fourth album with my band, Bad Gesture. Also, I want to work for National Geographic and capture the world the way I see it, so I’m getting my video reel right.