Band of Brothers

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He clears his throat. "I wrote this song as I watched my 1-year-old son Gavin lie on the couch." He speaks slowly, weighing the words. "He seemed so happy and safe, but then I thought about how there were all these little kids out there being abused, and they would grow up to hurt him someday."

"Oh, my God," whispers the woman behind me. "That's so depressing."

The song, "The World Is Full of People Who Want To Hurt You," is a bit depressing, actually. It's also beautiful and naked, the kind of song a father writes for a son whose tiny feet he still considers a revelation. The song doesn't go over brilliantly live, because a lot of Salim's music doesn't. It's music meant for long nights and drives alone, when the violins and heartbreak can settle in and take hold. In a city known for metal gods and the world's most eccentric choral rock band, Salim Nourallah is an anomaly. He makes understated chamber pop, short and lovely as a curling sigh. "Rare is the songwriter who can stop time," read the review of his 2004 debut solo album, Polaroid, on, "but Salim Nourallah does just that."

The accolades have rarely translated into financial success, however, and these days--as Salim and his wife, Jayme, close the deal on a new house--he's been taking more and more of these kinds of gigs. They don't pay much, and they keep him out late during the hours when he'd rather be home, the hours when his wife and only son are tucked snugly into bed.

Like his brother, Salim has also built a studio behind his house, which he calls Pleasantry Lane. He is a sought-after producer in this town and has recorded The Deathray Davies, The Damnwells and the Old 97's. He loves it, and he needs the money, but it takes time, and often that means time away from the things he loves the most--his family, his own music, his life.

At 36, Faris Nourallah has never had a job. He lives with his girlfriend, who helps support him. In a bizarre twist, she also happens to be the high-school best friend of his first wife.

"I'm an exotic house pet," he tells me at one point. "You know, you don't want to come home to an empty house." He leaves the room to get something and returns. "Maybe that was a little harsh," he says. "I've been known to be dramatic."

For a while, it was not clear that Faris Nourallah would participate in this story. The brothers are on speaking terms these days, but, in Faris' words, things are "dicey."

One afternoon, at about 5 o'clock, I received a call from Salim, asking me if I could accompany him in two hours to Faris' house, without my tape recorder, just to meet. Faris was having a good day, and if he didn't meet me soon, he suspected too much anxiety would build, and he might refuse to meet me altogether.

By that point, Faris Nourallah had become a mythic figure to me. I suppose I expected some kind of Boo Radley character--pale and cowering, gentle as a baby lamb. What I didn't expect was Faris: tall, articulate and deeply opinionated, handsome. We talked on the porch for a while, and he toured Salim and me around his tastefully designed back house and his small studio, a string of Danelectro guitars hanging on the wall. Whatever problems he may have, he has learned to disguise them. Only hints remain: his impulsive speech, the fact that months earlier, all his Danelectro guitars had been Rickenbackers until he traded them in.

A few days later, I called Faris to arrange our interview and was again surprised at how easy, enjoyable even, it was to speak with him. But about an hour after we hung up, he called back to ask, a bit randomly, what kind of beer I drink. And when I arrived at his place, he had dimmed the lights and lined the walls with a hundred lit votive candles. A bucket of iced beer sat in the center of the room.

"I figure if I'm gonna do an interview, I might as well be comfortable," he says.

Faris has never sought a clinical diagnosis for his agoraphobia, but he's not in denial about his condition. He rarely speaks to anyone except his mother and his girlfriend. "It's hard to describe in rational terms," he says. "It just isn't an option. I mean, who doesn't want a free trip to Europe?"

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Sarah Hepola

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