Interview: Kavus Torabi (on Knifeworld, Cardiacs, Monsoon Bassoon and that snooker bloke)

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After my bizarre dream about Kavus Torabi the other day, I figured it was time to badger him into sitting down to answer a few questions. On the off-chance you’ve forgotten who he is, he’s the wild-haired guitarist from Cardiacs, Knifeworld, Guapo, The Monsoon Bassoon, Chrome Hoof and a dozen other collaborations.

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I figured I’d start with asking him how he wound up working on The Interesting Alternative Show, a weekly prog-rock indulgence co-hosted by Steve Davis. Dare I ask he wound up doing a radio show with some bloke famous for playing snooker?

KT: Well, it was fairly straightforward. Steve is a massive music fan and has impeccable taste. We met at a one month residency Magma were doing at this wonderful venue, Le Triton, in Paris. We pretty much hit it off straight away. He came to a couple of Cardiacs shows, we started hanging out quite a lot, he had me as a guest in The Interesting Alternative Show which he had been doing for a couple of years or so. It was such fun he suggested, if I was up for it, perhaps I could come in on a more full time basis … which ended up being every week.

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How did you feel when The Monsoon Bassoon got three Singles of the Week in NME?

KT: Obviously it felt great. I don’t think even The Jam or The Smiths got three in a row. I’m not entirely sure. The thing is … at that point things had been on a continuous upward trajectory with the band since the time we all moved to London. We worked like madmen, we were writing and playing together everyday and had been for about four years by the point at which we put those singles out.

We had an extraordinary amount of self-belief that could perhaps have seemed like as arrogance if you didn’t know us around then. When the Single Of The Week things happened, as pleased as we were, there was an element in which we weren’t too surprised. When you work that hard at something for so long you would hope for results like that.

The reason we got them though, I am fairly sure there was a lull between the sort of ‘scenes’ the NME like to invent and they saw us releasing f***ed up psychedelic music on our own label as something worth getting behind until something more traditionally bankable came along.

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I first met Kavus via his cousin, a fellow Levitation fan who encouraged my fledgling Cardiacs fandom by making me a mixtape when I was still at school. Kavus started out like me, another adoring punter in the crowd, then he got roped into being Cardiacs’ guitar tech. Next time I checked, he was in the band.

By that point, were you so enmeshed Cardiacs-related things that it didn’t seem weird? [Leading question, I know, but I’m curious]

KT: Yes that’s right. If it had been when I was 18 or something it would have been terrifying but at the point it happened I had been part of the band as a pal and guitar tech for a few years, so when things got too busy for Jon Poole with The Wildhearts and the Special Garage Concerts were looming it just sort of seemed inevitable. Obviously I was very pleased and totally into it.

You said being in The Monsoon Bassoon was more stressful. Why?

KT: Much more stressful, same with Knifeworld that’s more stressful too. Although perhaps stressful sounds too dramatic. More psychologically draining perhaps. With Cardiacs it was just a case of learning the songs. I could play them fine and I like learning stuff. You had to rehearse a lot but it was such good fun and with such lovely friends* that there was little else I would rather have been doing.

With Monsoons and Knifeworld, because it’s my thing, it takes so much more out of me. I always got and continue to get really nervous before gigs.

That surprises me. Kavus has always struck me as being exceptionally confident, and is certainly something of a go-getter. He even made up his own form of musical notation when he was a child. I ask if he’s used it since.

KT: No, although perhaps I should have.

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North Sea Radio Orchestra, Karda Estra, Guapo, Chrome Hoof … is there a little black book directory of psychedelic musicians with your number on every page?

KT: You clearly haven’t seen it. It’s purple for a start.

Do you consider Knifeworld to be your “main” band?

KT: Absolutely.

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A lot has happened in the too-many years since Kavus and I first met. As well as his many musical projects, he’s got married and had a baby.

How has being a father changed how you make music?

KT: It has actually made me more focussed. Where previously I may have been content to ‘be in the mood’ before I tackled certain tasks, now the moment I have any free time I am all over whatever it is that needs doing. Particularly necessary things that I always put off such as writing lyrics, or comping horns.

I’ve recently learned that the cardinal sin of interviewing is to ask “was that a conscious choice?”, but I have to ask: Kavus’s Hair. It deserves a project of its own. Tell me about it.

KT: Not much to say. Gets cut a couple of times a year and then gets on with it without too much intervention.

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* I think it’s testament to how lovely Cardiacs are as people that people really want to help Tim out. Even today I was reading about a new “inspired-by” tribute CD, which is turning out pretty well. – PS

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