Rahim Quazi has had ghosts around him throughout his life. He’s seen them in person and is not afraid to share about his experiences in interviews and in his songs. But Quazi is not a dour person. He’s pretty much the exact opposite: he’s upbeat, friendly, casual and professional.
Born in San Francisco, he moved to the DFW area when he was five. After his parents divorced, his father moved to Germany and Quazi spent summers there. Coming into adulthood as a musician, he spent considerable time at bars on Berry Street in Fort Worth.
When he joined the popular act OH-no, he spent his time primarily in Dallas. After lots of touring, recording and courting by labels, the band was slowly torn apart. “You can be a buzz band nationally for such a long time to where, no matter how great you are, because nobody signed you, suddenly you’re not as great,” Quazi says on a warm night on the Vagabond Bar’s patio. “So that’s when I went solo.”
Quazi was heavily influenced by Salim and Faris Nourallah’s project, the Nourallah Brothers, at the time. Salim had recently opened his own studio, Pleasantry Lane, and that’s where Quazi recorded most of his first two solo records, Big Black Box and Supernatural. He still speaks highly of those records, but when it came time to think about the third album, he wanted to do something lush that didn’t require hundreds of overdubbed tracks for a single song.
After seven years of not releasing a new solo album, coupled with feeling lost after his second divorce, Quazi wanted a different approach for his next album, Ghost Hunting. “My whole goal was to record an album that was like Japanese art: the fewer strokes, the better,” he says. Quazi wanted to do more melodically without mountains of overdubs. There were many long weekends of 12-14 hour days, but he was driven to make something great.
Drum tracks were recorded at Pleasantry Lane with John Dufilho and Kelly Test behind the kit. But the rest of the tracking was done at a New Orleans studio owned by Rick G. Nelson of the Afghan Whigs. Lyrically, Quazi isn’t afraid to talk about heavy subject matter. The theme of ghosts double as a metaphor for past relationships and falling out of love. Coupled with songs about the loss of love (“She Left Me Now,” “If This is It”), the song “Tiny Flower” is dedicated to victims of child abuse, which Quazi experienced when he was younger.
Fitting with the Ghost Hunting theme is the recording of an actual ghost featured on the title track. And the way Quazi tells how he got the recording is straight out of a campfire tale.
While he was in OH-no, and before a show like Ghost Hunters was a pop culture staple, Quazi was into ghost hunting. He and his daughter Jessica went to an East Texas town called Jefferson and decided to visit an empty house on the market that was apparently haunted. They snuck in the back and had a tape recorder on them, recording the whole time. Feeling some cold spots in the house as they roamed hallways and rooms, they made a beeline for the front door when they heard a woman screaming inside the house. Listening back to the tape in the car, they heard a man singing as well as the woman’s scream.
Considerably scared, they called the cops after they drove back home. The ensuing police report simply said, “Ghosts.” Quazi heard the woman again outside of the OH-no rehearsal space. Coupled with seeing the ghosts of a dead family inside the Ridglea Theatre, Quazi accepted that he has some kind of sixth sense or second sight.
Cut to years later, Quazi was laying down tracks for Ghost Hunting and he wanted to use the recording of the woman’s scream on the title track. As they waited to hear the woman, lights and computer monitors flickered in the studio. Machines stopped working and some smoke came out before the power was fully restored. “The thing is, there’s another studio next door, separately run,” Quazi says. “Nothing happened in there. No other lights in the building flickered. It was just that console and the click-on lights. So, it freaked us out.”
The resulting album is not like something you play around Halloween. The 13 songs display a lot of inviting melodies from Quazi’s voice, guitar and piano, while being backed by sparse drumming and percussion. Songs like the title track, “Relax, Believe” and “The Things We Do” are standouts.
Though he has half of album’s worth of material recorded for the next solo record, Ghost Hunting is his primary thing right now. With a big release show planned at the Kessler Theater, where he will play the new album in full, Quazi is excited about the band he’s gathered together to play it. With a string quartet, a classical pianist, a guitarist, backing singers, a bassist and a couple of drummers, as well as his daughter on melodica, it will be an all-star collective. “When we practice, we love to practice together because we enjoy each other’s company,” Quazi says.
A portion of ticket sales will be donated to the 6th of May Foundation, which works with abused children. Opening acts include Bach
Suites & Two Feet Beats, Neo Camerata, and Wesley Geiger & the Texas Gentleman. But don’t expect any ghosts accompanying him on the stage. As close as a recreation of the album that he wants, there is one thing you won’t hear. “I think I’ll leave the scream out,” he says with a laugh.
RAHIM QUAZI plays the Kessler Theater on Wednesday, June 17.