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20 Questions With Ardalan: Growing Up in Iran, Being Evicted & The Real Story of 'Mr. Good'

Ardalan
Grady Brannan

Ardalan

Ardalan Noghre-Kar is not your average producer. His debut track “Mr. Spock” was released on Dirtybird Records in 2010 when he was just 19. It became an Essential Mix tune and the No. 1 song on the Beatport charts. The wild thing was that he had never made a song before, but that isn't all that surprising when you realize he spent half his childhood in Iran, where secular music was illegal, as was satellite television and anything most American kids consider so normal it's boring.

Nine years later, and Ardalan releases his debut LP Mr. Good on Dirtybird. Its 11 tracks play layered, lush and dreamy; beautiful soundscapes that unfold like dimensions in space. Each song is a soft-touch banger, the kind of grooves that crawl under your skin and force your feet into action.

It's a personal triumph for anyone to complete an album, but at the heart of Mr. Good is a lesson we could all stand to hear. It's an homage to accepting yourself as you really are and realizing that's all you need to be -- but then again, it's also a weird shout-out to an old Internet commenter. You wouldn't know it by just listening, but the LP is full of personal history, inside-jokes and wild back stories. It's definitely the sort of album you should listen to front to back with headphones, and -- not to brag -- but the listening experience is amplified when you read our conversation with Ardalan below.

1. Where in the world are you right now?

I am in my studio in San Francisco. Nice weather right now, it's an Indian summer. It's been less foggy with climate change I guess. A good and bad thing.

2. What was the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what medium was it on?

It's funny. I never bought an album until like, seven years ago when I started DJing. I used to live in Iran, and because Western music was illegal, everything was bootlegged on mixetapes and stuff. I bought this mixtape that had Daft Punk and Tupac on it. So, I guess Daft Punk's Homework was technically the first piece of music that I heard that was on tape. The track "Around The World” was on it. I bought the CD like five or six years later. That was basically the first piece of a dance album that really got me into the house music, and then the Tupac track was a B-side song. It was really random, but I guess that helped me, because I'm really random in my music selections these days, too. Random is good.

3. What's distinctive about where you grew up, and how did it shaped you?

I grew up in Iran and the Bay Area. I used to move back and forth with my parents, because my dad used to work in the US and also in Iran. When I was in Iran, I was exposed to so many different types of music. Not only Persian music, but lots of European and Western music. You'd go buy a CD from a store where they would downloaded it from Napster and put it on a CD and sell it to you. There's no Tower Records or any type of products. Some places have vinyl, but very rarely. Everything was bootlegged -- and also satellite TV from around the world, which is also illegal. Everything was on the black market, so I got exposed to so many different types of music; from metal to rock'n'roll, hip-hop and house music. I think that really shaped like who I am. It helps people to listen to music a lot more. Obviously [that] wouldn't make the RIAA happy.

4. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do now?

My dad is an architect in Iran. He's currently still living there with my mom, and my mom's an interior designer. My dad also worked for Caltrans in California, so that's when we went back and forth. They've seen I've been really passionate and working hard. They're super proud of me, which I'm very thankful for. I originally wanted to be an industrial automotive designer of cars and stuff, but I made a track and then 180'd my everything.

5. What was the first song you ever made?

It was “Mr. Spock,” actually.

Wait -- that was the first song you ever made -- in your life?

Well, the first finished song I ever made. So technically, yes. "Mr. Spock" was my first. I couldn't dream of it. To have an Essential Mix Tune, or having my first song be No. 1 on Beatport. I was just stoked to be on Dirtybird Records. That was all I dreamed of. I couldn't dream of having a bigger dream. That's why I was like, “you know what? I think it's time for me to make a major decision and just focus on doing music.” I was 19 when that happened.

6. Are you actually a Trekkie, or was the name of the song "Mr. Spock" just for fun?

What do you mean by Trekkie?

Well, I guess you're not one, if you don't know what it is, haha. It means you're a Star Trek fan.

Oh! Yeah a Trekkie. Definitely not one. When I made "Mr. Spock," I was was like, "I'll just do something completely random" and sampled "Drop It Like It's Hot" [by Snoop Dogg] and another sample from the Avalanches. My version was a 10-minute version and I had like three different breakdowns. When Justin [Martin] heard it he was like, "wow, this has so much potential." And he's like, "this sounds like Star Trek," but I don't think he's a Trekkie, either, and then Barclay was like, "We should call this 'Mr. Spock.'" It just has that sound of a Star Trek, '60s sitcom intro. Definitely not a Trekkie, though.

7. If you had to recommend one album to someone looking to get into dance music, what would you suggest?

There's a million. I would say The Prodigy. I heard The Prodigy on MTV when I was like 7 years old. I would just see the music videos like, "whoa, this is crazy." If they want to get into electronic music and that sense of the real rave scene, where the real vibes from dance music came from, I say Prodigy.

8. What's the first thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as a DJ and producer?

I bought myself a synth. I got myself a Korg MS20, and that was awesome. Since then I've bought like 20 more synths.

9. What's the last song you listened to?

It was on Spotify. It was called "The Beach" by Miss Kitten and The Hacker.

10. Yes, classic electroclash vibes! When and where was the first rave you ever went to?

The first rave I ever went to was in 2007 or 2006. It was in Oakland, and it was in a junkyard. That was my first experience. I was like, a junior in high school. We were going with my friends from San Jose, and I was so nervous, so scared. We got into this junkyard and they were just playing happy hardcore. I was terrified, but I also really loved it. I was like, "cool. This is tight." It was local DJs. I remember some girl said I look like a dolphin. She was on acid. That's the only thing I remember from that night.

11. What's the craziest thing that's ever happened during one of your sets?

Well, it definitely wasn't the titty-milk lady from Campout. That would be a great question for Killfrenzy, because that was during his set. I think the craziest thing was when someone threw a granny-panty at me. It was a friend that did that, but she threw a giant granny-panty into the DJ booth.

12. How did you actually meet the Dirtybird crew?

After my first rave at that junkyard. I was more into house music and techno. A friend of mine from Iran sent me a track through Soulseek; legal file sharing. It was Claude VonStroke's "Who's Afraid of Detroit?" I Googled and was like, "oh, wow. They're from San Francisco. I live in San Jose." I didn't have a fake I.D., so I couldn't go to any clubs, but I found out they threw these barbecue parties in Golden Gate Park. Obviously it wasn't like the barbecue parties now. It was the early days, and it was just a free day party in Golden Gate Park. I went to one in 2007, and it just blew my mind how amazing it was. The music was so good, so groovy, so much fun. Everyone was dancing. Justin's dad and "Grillson," rest in peace, was making tacos and carne asada. Everyone's just having a good time. That for me was a game changer. I loved dancing. That's what started it for me. When I went to raves, I just wanted to dance. I didn't think about DJing or anything.

13. Why'd you make “Mr. Spock” and show it to them?

I got introduced to Justin by my friend Patty. I'd made this track after going to Dirtybird Barbecue. It inspired me a lot. I became friends with Justin, and I sent it to him through Facebook. I didn't think he was going to listen to it, but he did and he was like, "wow, this is sick, but I think it needs like two breakdowns less and needs to be not 10 minutes long. So he helped me make it what it is now, and I'm super grateful for that. I didn't realize that it was gonna become such a big tune that summer in 2010.

14. Why is now the time for a debut album?

I just needed to push myself. I hadn't released a lot of music in the last two years, and because I make more musical tracks, I wanted to do something for the dance floor that's also musical with melodic elements. I also just wanted to challenge myself. I needed to set a vision for myself, and to get to that vision, I needed to have a goal. That was a way for me to push myself more as an artist, and it definitely was a trip doing it.

15. Who is “Mr. Good,” and what makes him so, uh, good?

Okay, so, the album Mr. Good is basically about how we all have our flaws and mistakes. Everyone expects us to be perfect, but we're not perfect. We're good, and it's good to be good. You can make mistakes and everything and learn from it, and you're still “Mr. Good.” But, the original reason why I called it that was, when I first started releasing DJ mixes, I used to release it on this website called darkaudio.co.uk, which was this website where people would post their mixes, and the website would pick the best mix of the month. There was this guy that would comment on my mixes, and his name was Mr. Good. He'd be like, "oh my God, so amazing." He would speak in broken English like, "wow, this is Jesus," or say the funniest stuff, and his name was Mr. Good. I thought I'd dedicate it to that. So random, but it's actually the real reason I called it Mr. Good. This is the first time I've talked about it. Hopefully he sees this.

16. Did you work on the whole album in your studio in San Fran, or did you work on it in other places?

I worked on it mostly in the studio. I actually made one of the tracks at Dirtybird Campout in 2017 in my trailer. Most of it was in my old studio, actually, that I just moved out of like three months ago, which was an apartment in the Fillmore district of San Francisco that I shared with Justin Martin. We were roommates for like seven years there. He moved out two years ago, but I stayed there. It was time for me to move out. I was getting evicted, haha. This was almost at the end of my album, so I had to really finish the album before I moved out. It was an epic, symbolic way [to finish].

17. That's one way to give yourself a deadline. What's another way you pushed yourself?

A deadline did really help, because it's like writing an essay in college; a thesis paper. When people write music, or at least when I wrote this music, my biggest challenge was overthinking and being a perfectionist. I was just trying so hard to make it perfect that I was hurting myself psychologically. When I stopped caring about that, I was like, "this is good. It is what it is, just move on.” It's okay, because you learn from it for the next album. It just improves. As an artist, you're gradually changing. You can't make the perfect song, or the perfect album, or the perfect performance or DJ set. I just stopped caring too much about the small things. I worked on the track "Mr. Good" for nine months, actually, and the rest of the album within only one month. I made my single "I Can't Wait" right after that, which was with the help of my girlfriend. She was basically saying, "I can't wait for you to finish this fucking album."

18. You made it mostly with analog synths?

Yeah, a lot of analog synths used in this, but I'd say like 50/50. "I Can't Wait” was actually pretty much all a synth called Deckard's Dream, which is an amazing clone of a Yamaha CS80, which was used on the Blade Runner movies. It sounds really lush and pretty and weird in some ways. For the album, I used half analog, half software, mostly analog in terms of the synth melodies and stuff.

19. Do you have a favorite piece of hardware?

Yes, the Deckard's Dream. I used that on the whole album. I bought it halfway through the album. I wasn't even planning to use it. I had made all the songs, but it just really helped. It was awesome - not to say you need analog synths or anything to make amazing music. For me, it was just nice to have that opportunity to play with hardware, playing the melodies and seeing it. I think that shaped my songs in a more emotional, human element.

20. You've been on the tour for a couple months. Anything feel different now that you've got all these new songs?

It's been amazing. I've had so many crazy responses in terms of the songs that I've been playing from the album. Playing in Space Miami was so magical, and then Claude played after me. He played "I Can't Wait" at 9 am and the whole place was just lit up in such an amazing way. I don't have a word to describe it, but it felt very majestic. And then Dirtybird Campout. the response to my set was just so amazing, and I played pretty much all my album tracks and people have been responding saying, "wow, that was amazing." It feels good.

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