WRBB’s Joey Molloy caught up with Lenaya “Lenny” Lynch of Habibi to talk about Detroit, eclectic influences, lazy music journalism, and Habibi’s imminent comeback. Be sure to check them out at Great Scott on April 16!
[Lynch, noticing the area code of my phone number] Are you from Livonia, Michigan?
Yes, I’m from right around there! Detroit is sort of my home city and I know the scene there pretty well.
Yeah! So I’m from Harper Woods which is sandwiched in between Detroit and Grosse Pointe. It’s really little, I hope it’s still a city. Then I moved into a house in Hamtramck. It was always rough in Hamtramck, but there are sweet parts of it. I lived in this place called Hamtramck Disneyland. It’s like in a back alley. This older Ukrainian man Dmytro Szyslak, who’s kind of like this outsider artist, made this huge art installation out of his house. It’s pretty hard to describe. A lot of that old crew was flourishing. It was such a cool place to be. I’m really glad my roots are in going to rock shows all the time.
So what prompted you all to leave Detroit?
For me, going to New York was something I had always wanted to do. My sister went out there in 1997, so I was always going back and forth. It was really kind of like final destination. Now after being here for 12 years I’m like, “yeah, it really is the final destination.” But you know, when I was young it was like, “If I don’t get out there even just for a year I’m going to be disappointed in myself.” I came in 2007 and I think Rahill came a couple of years after. I had actually never met her in Detroit. I think she had moved to Detroit right when I left for New York, so we were kind of like ships passing in the night. I don’t know what prompted her to come out to New York, I’ve never asked her. I probably should! We’re both adventurers so it makes sense. We met each other here around 2010. This girl Tia from Detroit was playing with her band out here, and we met through being mutual friends of her. We went to her show and immediately hit it off. So the reason we met is still Detroit. We had all these mutual friends and also it’s so nice to meet someone when you’re young and it’s this bright-eyed thing. The attitude is just like, “Let’s hang out next week!” From there we started playing music together.
I saw on the band’s facebook you bonded over psych and garage rock. That was certainly evident in Habibi’s What’s in My Bag? Episode at Amoeba. I also saw on the band’s facebook you cite a bond over Iranian culture and music, like that Gagoosh record Rahill picked up. Could you speak on the influence of her on the band?
Yeah! Coming from Detroit, as you probably know, a lot of my friends were Syrian and Lebanese, so it’s part of the fact that we were eating really well and of course listening to good music. It wasn’t until a lot of these Turkish psych reissues started coming out in the early aughts with people I loved like Erkin Koray and Baris Manco. That coincided with me doing a lot of traveling in Turkey. The Anatolia connection with Iran is so clear as well. Pre-revolution Iran you had all these artists and psych-rock groups coming out too. So, Rahill, I think grew up listening to Kourosh Yaghmaei, and I was a huge fan of Kourosh. So it was kind of like, “Oh but you gotta hear these psych songs!” and we came together in that way. And it’s very emotional, he’s one of the most poetic Iranian lyricists. I think we compared him to someone like Leonard Cohen. The songs are beautiful but kind of melancholy. But it wasn’t just that. Being from Detroit there’s always going to be this garage element to whatever we do, and that’s the only way I know to play the guitar. Suzi Quatro is also a huge influence on me, I mean she’s from my neighborhood. She and her sisters had a band called The Pleasure Seekers when they were just like 16, and then later she became the Suzi Quatro. Additionally, Rahill loved hip-hop. Then on top of all that, of course, we were raised on Motown and those wonderful harmonies. Basically, there are all sorts of music we came together on, and I think we still have this avid desire to explore. She’s always bringing something new to the table. She just lurks at record shops. I’m always like “What is this? What is this?” So she’s my favorite person to this day I like to share music with, besides my sister!
That’s cool to hear because Habibi has always struck me as a band that seems to be melding lots of styles and musical movements, and now I know that really is the case.
Well, I also think the girls’ rock n’ roll community here is super important. It’s maybe not as small and intimate as Detroit or something, but it’s still really small here. When we started we only had three songs and were just playing in Rahill’s living room. One day she’s like, “Alright! We need a bass player and a drummer!” and I was just like, “We’re not ready!” and she’s like, “Oh, we’re ready!” I just didn’t think the songs were fleshed out enough. She didn’t have a past history of playing in bands, but she was always an artist. She just had this fearlessness that was really great and I think that I needed. From there, we immediately started playing with Erin and Karen who were New Yorkers. Karen is also from Puerto Rico, which is totally evident in her drumming which is very Latin-inspired. Then, of course, we all love The Ramones. Karen is always like, “The Ramones are my all time favorite band!” I think everyone brings something unique to the table.
I read an interview where you talk about how when Habibi’s debut record started to pick up steam, journalists would write about your music in a way that wasn’t accurate. Is it weird to see that and does it still happen?
Yes! When people just don’t even know what they’re talking about. There’s a lot of lazy music writing, and we complain about it all the time. A lot of people don’t know the whole story and put down whatever is gonna make the story sound quick and easy. There’s a lot of articles where we’ll read it and be like, “We didn’t say that? That’s not what it is at all!” I guess that’s just the name of the game though. I don’t know if there’s much you can do about that.
You haven’t come out with an album since 2013. Is this going to be a sort of comeback year for Habibi?
I hope it’s this year! We’re talking to certain labels right now. So we’re in this sort of state of limbo where we have all these amazing songs and we’re so excited to share them with everybody. It takes a minute to get everything straightened out. Then I also look back on that old album and remember we were really young kids, too. We’ve grown a lot as musicians over the years. We’re working with a new drummer right now and we told her to just listen to the record for the parts, but what we’ve found it is that we play things differently live than the record now.
That has me looking even more excited for your show coming up at the Great Scott! It’s kind of a legendary venue around here.
Me too! I can’t even remember if we’ve ever played Boston! I’m doing the math and if we did it would have been like seven years ago, so this should be a real treat. A lot of these cities we’re hitting are super close by, but we haven’t played them in a really long time. We’re just starting to tour again. We took some years off and we’re all ready now to jump back in and play all over the place.
Looking so forward to seeing Habibi back on everyone’s radar! I have one last question for you. On your new EP, you have a killer cover of ‘Green Fuz’. I’ve been needing to know, was that prompted by The Cramps’ version or the original 60’s psych rock nugget?
Yeah! We’re going to sound like such music snobs. We were both really into the Randy Alvey version. I actually didn’t even know about The Cramps doing it until later. I think I had just played it on tour and Rahill fell head over heels for it and suggested we cover it. I was like, “Really? Are you sure? I don’t know.” Then we debuted it when we were playing with Black Lips and King Kong and it had a really warm reception. From there we just kept going with it and when it came to recording that EP we decided to throw it on there.
That makes a lot of sense given your love for garage rock. Thank you so much for your time, and I’m looking forward to seeing Habibi live!