After nearly 11 years, Lenny Lynch says she finally feels like Habibi is home — and there’s no end in sight.
Habibi, a band from Detroit-via-Brooklyn, New York and, now, upstate New York known for mixing lo-fi chamber rock, garage rock, Farsi and Dick Dale’s surf rock with harmonies and girl band hooks, formed over a decade after vocalist and guitarist Lynch moved to New York from Detroit where she met Lansing native and future Habibi lead singer Rahill Jamalifard, who Lynch easily considers a sister after enduring years of “sweaty pickups” and “tense fights over dinner”.
“I still feel like a Detroiter living in New York even though it’s been 15-16 years,” Lynch says. “It was never exactly my home because it’s just a temporary place, you know?”
Habibi is playing at Beachland tonight and with them they bring the record they never got to back, plus a new pair of singles, “Somewhere They Can’t Find Us” and “Call Our Own” – their first releases since signing with Kill Rock Stars.
The first two months of 2020, the Habibi fraternity, which is rounded out by Ana Becker, Lyla Vander and Yukary, had what Lynch calls “a truly dreamy time” and one of the “dreamiest” tours yet. The pre-pandemic ride led to a moment that the band and many Habibi fans had been waiting for nearly six years: a second full album. For Anywhere But Here, the sequel to the band’s 2014 self-titled debut album, which garnered praise from outlets like NPR and the New Yorker, Lynch and company revisited songs they had been sitting on (including the closest to the album, “Habibi, ” originally written in 2012). Together, they paired old songs with fresh ears, 12-string guitar, ney flute, vibraphone and sitar, and wrapped the sharp but hazy collection in a confident, coherent and cross-country road trippy unease reminiscent of go-go boots, blurry shots taken by manual car windows and ephemeral sensations of displacement.
“Some things aren’t things that last forever,” Jamalifard sings on “Flowers.” “Time never stops, she travels in mystery/the sun slowly follows the heels of stormy weather/here shines a light/she comes through the window.”
“We finally got to Seattle, where COVID ground zero was and we had a KEXP show scheduled and they canceled the live audience,” says Lynch. “And we started having this weird feeling every day as it got closer and closer to the end of our tour, it was like, you know, man, do we have COVID? What’s up? Everything the world feels sick because you just started hearing these reports. It was paranoia,” she says. “And we were about to hit the road to go to Detroit and play UFO Factory. And I had to say, I’m really sorry. I don’t know what’s going on, but we have to cancel and we’ve never canceled a show that I know of.”
As the music world and many other industries came to a standstill, the band, realizing they weren’t going to be able to continue touring, used their time to focus. But the motivation to create was sparked when representatives of the Kill Rock Stars label had come to one of Habibi’s last shows before the pandemic and expressed an interest in wanting to work together. Although the group found themselves somewhat separated in their respective places of confinement, an EP was born from the DIY spirit from which Habibi was forged and the desire to dance at a time when dance parties did not exist. more and where the need for output was great.
“I think one of our last nights on tour, which probably wasn’t sure in retrospect now that I think about it, after the show was over, a big dance party broke out,” Lynch said. “I think that was the last time I danced before the pandemic.”
The songs scream underground funk outfit (and one of Habibi’s “hero bands”) ESG, Studio 54 after-parties, 80s dance clubs and space outfit for catharsis based on dance. But as the group yearned to dance and perform, New York was ravaged by the deadly coronavirus amid months-long Black Lives Matter protests that erupted when Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in May 2020. .
“There were constant sirens, constant sirens,” Lynch says of last summer. “Endless fireworks, constant sirens. And the protests were all over the neighborhood. And here, you’re really stuck in your room with this. You know, you feel like you can’t escape. So Paul [Quattrone of Thee Oh Sees] sent me stuff. He was actually working on this Italian cop movie or something where he was like, ‘Oh, it’s sirens and beats.’ And we were like, yeah, it works.”
“Somewhere they can’t find / Silence, up day and night / It’s been a year since I slept / No one knows what to do / Just keep protecting yourself,” Habibi harmonises on “Somewhere They Can ‘t Find Us”.
Earlier this month, Habibi was finally able to dance.
As part of a short series of shows in November, which will resume in March with dates on the West Coast, Habibi played two shows at New York’s Baby’s All Right where they found themselves sharing a stage with Michael Imperioli of the Sopranos and his group Zopa because, yes, in the world of Habibi, anything can happen.
“I feel bad talking about it because it was so crowded that I stayed in the back room because I was scared to see how full it was,” Lynch said. “But it was super wild and my 3-year-old niece was there and like, you’re in the green room with Michael Imperioli and all those Sopranos people. OK, I don’t really know who was all there, but I know Artie well who owns the restaurant [Nuovo Vesuvio], I do not remember the name of its actor. But I always wanted to meet him. He was there but I couldn’t find him,” she said. “It was a really fun juxtaposition of everything. It was like old mafia dudes, Habibi, like all of our families came to this gig, and then there was this young, all-female punk band, so just a total New York night.”
With more than a decade of Habibi under their belt, Lynch says there are no plans to stop. Although, says Lynch, people consume music differently, adding that it takes time for people to discover music from someone other than, like, Taylor Swift, she thinks Habibi finally has her place, a supporting label, and the fearlessness to take on a country record.
“I mean, it’s something that’s really close to my heart,” Lynch says. “What’s also great is that our music, because of the different directions we’ve taken, hasn’t been cataloged. Next year we’re like, oh, we could work on an e-disc , so let’s do country stuff . It’s kind of limitless. And especially when you’re having fun working with people that you consider family right now, especially, I mean, all the girls in the band, I want so much to them, they’re all my family. So it’s really fun,” she said. “You just don’t want to give up.”