We have sat down with Deep Scar‘s drummer and fouding member Ismail El Harzli, shortly after they performed on Morocco’s biggest stage, L’Boulevard fest, and after releasing their new single “Drop”. Introducing his band to the world, sharing the band’s vision on musical orientation, the future, the music industry, Ismail opened up in a very wholesome interview where he didn’t hold back.
Hello Ismail, to get us started, could you introduce Deep Scar to an international audience? How long have you been around? What are your influences? What do you try to achieve as a band?
Ismail El Harzli: Deep Scar is a progressive metal band, founded in 2007. We’re from Tangier Morocco. We were not a progressive band back then, we were young, me and Charaf (the rhythm guitar player/singer) were just 15 years old. We used to play heavy metal and thrash metal, covering bands like Metallica, Kreator, System of a Down, Slipknot. Slowly we started finding our way, and in 2012 we decided we needed to go differently, more professionally. And that’s when we discovered bands like Monuments, Tesseract, Leprous, and it inspired us to take a more progressive approach to our music. That being said we’d always been fans of prog, since we were, and still are fans of Meshuggah. Our first song “Call of No Mercy” was written in 2011/12 but recorded in 2015.
That’s great. And the progressive influence shows all over the place as to the tightness when you play live, your guitar tones, and so many more aspects of your music. Speaking of live shows, how does it feel to be back on stage, on the biggest of stages in Morocco : L’Boulevard, after 3 years of pandemic stagnation?
Ismail El Harzli: It feels great, when you think about an answer as simple as that. We played mainly old songs, with 2 new ones in the playlist. We preferred to play older stuff because we missed the feeling of playing those songs live, and it was better than showing up and playing songs that the audience didn’t know. We wanted to recreate that bond with the audience by playing songs they were familiar with. We played 7 songs in order not to be tight time wise, and take our time, interact with people. It felt great to be back to play in front of a huge crowd. We had already played there before the pandemic, getting the second prize of the competition, and opening the stage for Carcass the following week. But this year’s crowd was bigger, people had missed going to concerts.
Having played the biggest Moroccan stage twice, what are the plans for the future for Deep Scar?
Ismail El Harzli: The next year has a lot coming up for the audience, about which I can’t tell you more. But it’s going to be a huge surprise for everyone. And we’re not disbanding, don’t worry (laughs). It’s the actual opposite. As a band we stopped aiming for the Moroccan audience. We are orienting our production/shows/everything we do towards Europe, and whatever is outside Morocco, because as we established, we’ve already done what there was to do in Morocco, that being L’Boulevard. There might be one more thing to do, but that wouldn’t be as big as L’Boulevard, that would be touring Morocco. But for me as a person, I don’t find it that exciting. Because in the end, that wouldn’t give a big boost to your career. Of course we wouldn’t decline a live show in Morocco, but that’s not our endgoal. I’m emphasizing that because we get a lot of messages on our social media pages from Moroccan people asking us if we’ll start singing in any local dialect. Our answer is no. English is an international language everyone can understand, that’s why we’re using it, and will keep using it.
I’m glad you brought that up, because it feels like there’s a generalized obsession about incorporating folklore into one’s music, or elements from the local culture into metal, and making it sound exotic. I think that’s demeaning for metal, as it’s a culture within itself, bringing together people from different backgrounds as one. What do you think about incorporating folklore to metal in order to promote it, and more widely changing directions to make it more successful?
Ismail El Harzli: It’s funny because we’ve just had that discussion with the band a couple of days ago, a long 8h discussion. We needed to explore our options, and we wondered what would incorporating folklore to our music would add to the music. The international perception regarding this question is that if you want to succeed faster than the regular way, which is doing whatever you want, you need to be flexible with the music industry. You can do it your way, but still comply with what the industry is about. What other bands are doing. Using the folklore doesn’t mean you’d be successful, it would mean you’re different, and being different might make you more known in the underground music scenes. There are a lot of bands who include their folklore, and it sounds great. But that’s not something you would add to your everyday playlist. That being said, to be compliant to the music industry wouldn’t necessarily make you good. Because following that industry blindly wouldn’t let you be free with your music. The balance between those things is adding a signature that would make you different, but not too obvious. For instance, we use the classic Moroccan drum beat in our songs, that’s our Moroccan touch in metal. We don’t include folklore, but when you analyse our music in depth, you can find those drum beats. If you take a look at our song “The middle of nothing”. The breakdown, a metal breakdown, has traditional Moroccan drumming. You could take out the drumming and put it in any Moroccan song, and it would fit perfectly. It’s something spontaneous, we don’t have to think about those things, they come naturally, because they’re within us. You don’t have to overdo it either.
You’ve just dropped a new single called “Drop”. Give us a bit of a backstory, how did it come to life?
Ismail El Harzli: It’s a single that we wanted to drop after playing L’Boulevard, to keep the audience entertained. It’s a very old song though, it was recorded in 2018. We still have more songs in stock, that we are yet to share, for some reason. Mainly because we had decided that our next release would be an album, or an EP. But life happens, and we still haven’t finished working on the album.
Do you think the album format is still a viable option in 2022, where everything is so quickly consumable, or is it better to drop single by single? What do you think is the way to go?
Ismail El Harzli: It depends on the path the artist wants to take. If an artist has that vision to be global, and present an artistic product, from the studio, to the stage, the album format is viable. An album actually tells the story of an artist, and it creates a link between the audience and the artist, whereas when you drop a single, you’re just keeping the audience entertained. When you drop an album, you’re enriching your discography, and giving yourself more options to play live. And when you play your songs from the album live, it pushes people to enjoy them more, relate to them, and speak about them.
After a nice chat with Ismail, I asked him a couple of questions on the spot, and he replied brilliantly .
Club show or Open air? Open Air, because you feel like you’re on earth, in nature.
Casa or Tangier’s crowd? Casa, even though I’m from Tangier.
Prog snob or thrash pleb? Prog snob.
Metallica or Megadeth? Metallica, sorry Dave Mustaine, but it’ll always be Metallica.