No one knows for sure what kick-started this panic disorder, although Faris often points to what he terms his "triple whammy": a devastating divorce, a humiliating return to living with Mom and Dad, the episode with his brother and the band. His life had been turned on its head, and when he perceived that his brother wouldn't help him, emotionally or creatively, he was crushed.
To this day, he hasn't collaborated with any musician besides Salim. Once dependent on his brother's partnership, he has learned to thrive as sole creator, as mastermind of his own music. And, as he puts it, "No one can leave my band."
When Faris talks about his brother now, he uses terms like "salesman" and "starfucker," and I find it hard to connect those terms to the Salim I know--a fine musician, a hardworking producer, modest to a fault. But as I listen to Faris, I begin to suspect it's not Salim he's talking about so much as all musicians out there willing to play The Game. He hates what the industry asks them to do, and he hates that they're willing to do it. "Salim will throw as many fucking pies on the wall as you want," he says, "just like every other thirtysomething father musician under the sun. They just want to feed the baby. So he'll put out five records in one year, and maybe one of them will fucking stick. And I know Salim would just downplay me, saying that I'm just a using lech, I don't have a real job and I can afford that attitude. I don't know. Maybe the truth is somewhere in between."
Faris Nourallah refuses to play The Game. He will not throw a pie on a wall. He will not wear a suit, or cut his hair, or get a job in some shitty cubicle just to make the mortgage. He will not even soften his language for an interviewer if he doesn't feel like it. "Life on my terms is being able to make my records," he says. "I control this. My studio can't be taken away." For all these reasons, he is essentially unsignable, but the great irony is that he does have a record deal, and that deal enables him to continue living like this. In one way, he is keeping his art pure. In another, he's rationalizing his illness.
But whatever you think about Faris Nourallah--genius or nut case--he is deeply devoted to his craft. "I want to make the best record you've never heard," he says, "because it proves that the system's fucked up."
About a year ago, Faris read Catcher in the Rye for the first time, and like many others, he found in its excoriation of phonies and rat-racers a kind of salvation. He claims the book has become a bigger influence on his work than the Beatles and that he will dedicate his next album to the protagonist, Holden Caulfield. "Because," he says, "he taught me that I'm not the only one."
I asked him what he knew about the book's author, J.D. Salinger.
"Nothing," he said. "And I don't care. It doesn't have any relevance to me."
"Ask him what he thinks about the fact that Mark David Chapman was carrying that book when he shot John Lennon," Salim says to me later. But at the time, I was thinking about something else entirely, something curious, almost eerie given Faris' identification with the book.
"Would it be interesting if I told you J.D. Salinger became a hermit?" I ask.
"It wouldn't be interesting," says Faris. "It would be disturbing."
Last December, Western Vinyl re-released The Nourallah Brothers with a bonus CD of added tracks. Both brothers have solo albums coming out later in the year--Faris' King of Sweden, due in April, and Salim's Beautiful Noise, due this summer. Every once in a while, they play around with the idea of recording another Nourallah Brothers album, but the plans get procrastinated upon, groused about and eventually scrapped. Which is too bad, not only because it could be musically fruitful, but also because sibling artists are so much more compelling and marketable when they come in pairs. People want a Noel and Liam Gallagher, a Ray and Dave Davies--and if their stories are dark and twisted, full of bruises and spilled blood, then hey, all the better.
Even if they never record an album together again, their shadows float through each other's music. Faris' "I Can Run Faster Than You," off King of Sweden, is a classic tale of sibling rivalry, in which his brother joins in on vocals. Salim's "Model Brothers," from Polaroid, tells the story of how he and Faris came together and fell apart through music. "Now 34, and 32," it concludes, "can't remember when I last saw you."