Jyad Murr, the man behind bringing Anathema and To/Die/For to Lebanon. That’s what the Lebanese Metal scene mainly knows him for, but he has more to do in the music industry than just organizing events, so here is an interview you don’t want to miss. It was done by Karl Sawaya and Fadi BK in Mr Jyad’s office in the MTV building, Naccache.
First let us start with your musical background, can you tell us about when and how did you become interested in rock/metal music? And do you play any instrument?
I’m not a very good player but I play keyboard and a few other instruments, but mainly keyboard. My musical background, well I started it when I opened the radio station in 1979. I went into rock music around 1981. At that time, I had a rock show called 666 The Number of the Beast, which is currently the Dark NRJ show. We played stuff like Cocteau Twins, Sisters of Mercy, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Dead Can Dance, Japan, and occasionally some hard rock or heavy metal, whatever they were called back then, like Whitesnake, Scorpions, Iron Maiden. I used to host the show every Friday, but currently I’m just the producer. It’s hosted by Bernie Simmons every Wednesday at 9pm on 99FM. And throughout the years, I evolved with the music, varying from gothic to dark wave to alternative to heavy metal. But eventually you could call it what you want. Like for me, I consider the Sisters of Mercy the godfathers of gothic music, but when they came here, they told me not to coin their music as gothic.
We heard that you hold a masters degree in music production and technology from Berklee College of Music, and for some people that is a dream come true. Could you please share with us your experience there? Did you meet any famous people?
Actually, I had one course there and took the others online. It was very interesting, they started this school which requires about 3 years to acquire the degree. We had a lot of interactions and I met many important professors. The thing is that I couldn’t leave the radio, TV, and my work here to study abroad. I also did some Pro Tools certification in London.
Was it your first university degree or did you initially major in something else?
No I first majored in Business Administration at AUB. I took some MCSE courses, and I took some courses in executive management in London Business School for 5 years. So I took a bit from different majors, but the most important one is that of Berklee, in Music Production and Technology.
Most of us know just a few things about your work here in Lebanon, such as Studio Vision, NRJ, Instruments Garage. Can you tell us how you got involved in all those, along with 2U2C and M.E.A.S?
I started with the radios RML, Nostalgie, Iza3at Jabal Lebnen, Hit FM, then it evolved to the TV station with my brother. In 1986, I did the first rock festival in Mont La Salle which was sponsored by both RML and Radio One. We had 10 local bands playing, including Ghassan Rahbani Group, Angel, Dead. That was my first experience, then the year after it I started bringing international artists like Alphaville, A-Ha, Alanis Morisette, to name a few. The production company at that time was called RML Production, which then became 2U2C. Later on, I established Audiovision, a professional recording studio through which I helped a lot of Lebanese bands like Just Negative and The Arcane, but it was mostly Arabic music unfortunately. As for M.E.A.S, I had a Pro Tools certification, and a colleague of mine, Miss Carole Issa, cooperated with me in the project. She went abroad and received all the certifications needed, especially an instruction certification. To this day, M.E.A.S is the only institution in the Middle East which has a certified license in instructing Pro Tools up to level 3. Concerning Instruments Garage, the idea came to mind due to the lack of many instrument brands that I personally needed. And so currently we have 40 brands, and we’re still getting new ones. The latest are Nord, Shecter, DBZ.
You are the founder of the oldest program on the FM Band which is still running since 1981, and it is a program that gives us the best of Alternative, Gothic Rock, and Darkwave music. It is obvious that the show is more of a hobby than a business. Could you tell us more about your show, and why gothic music precisely, not some other metal genre?
You know, you excel or you’re good at something you like. If you’re passionate about something, you can give that passion to the people. For instance, I have friends playing in a Death metal band. If I play their music on the radio or in my car, I won’t be able to give a good opinion about it or discuss songs off the album. However, if it were Fields of the Nephilim, Nightwish, Moonspell or others I could debate over their songs. So basically my interest has been around Gothic, Darkwave, and Alternative. Although I used to play some progressive rock like Eloy and Marillion on the radio.
There was a 2-hour show called “The Music Show” that was hosted on MTV Lebanon years ago, before it was temporarily shut down. John Saad, who presents the yearly Top 30 Darkwave tracks on Dark NRJ with you, used to host it. Will it see the light of day anytime soon?
No, but we’re preparing ideas for a rock show which, in case of feasibility, will be aired at midnight since rock music is more selective. As for John, he will be hosting an official Top Lebanese Chart, compiled from all the radios, and having the most played tracks on the FM band.
Did you ever face some problems from the government due to the music style played in the show, or in a previous metal gig you organized in the past years?
Well on the radio I didn’t face a lot of problems. The problem was at Virgin, we faced some constraints. Regarding festivals, basically the problems were not from the government. 2-3 times occurred from the Church, and once from Pro Palestinian extremists who were arguing that Placebo had passed through Israel before coming to our country. In this case half of the bands shouldn’t be allowed to play here since all bands usually pass by Israel, Greece, Cyprus, or Turkey during their tour in the Middle East. But now it’s settled, I’ve had a meeting with the Church and they understand the concept.
Have you met any famous musicians throughout the years?
(Laughs) A lot, really. I’ve been to so many concerts around the world, not to forget all the artists I brought here to Lebanon. Once when I was abroad, I shared the same cab with Robert Plant. He went like “Can I share the taxi with you?”, and I said “Um, yeah sure!” as if I have no clue who he is (laughs). So that was a cool experience I’ve had. We were in fact going to the same airport back then.
We heard that in the late 80s you had a band called ‘Fugitive Entity’ , so we googled it and found some old videos about the band playing live at big concerts in Lebanon. Tell us more about your band.
It wasn’t something serious for me, and at that time everyone was playing heavy metal and progressive rock. There was no band playing alternative rock. So at that time, my band was the only one I think that covered songs for The Sisters of Mercy, The Cure, The Wolfgang Press, Simple Minds. I used to write the lyrics and the music of our original songs, but the band was made of Robert Azar on guitars, Jihad Said on drums, Fadi Saad on bass guitars, and Cynthia Zaven on keyboard. And it was fun, I used to be the vocalist and saxophonist. My first song was called Jessica’s Marriage. It’s the story of a girl whom I met and was getting married. So I decided to make a song in which I saw her marriage as a funeral. We even made a music video for it in which everyone was crying and wearing black.
You have big plans for the next Beirut Rock Festival in September 2011. Can you give us some clue about the bands? We know that Moonspell are confirmed.
Moonspell and Katatonia are confirmed, and there will be a huge name for the first night on September 2nd. Kimaera and The Weeping Willow will be opening for the bands. And there are additional artists which will be announced very soon.
Finally can we expect from 2U2C an open air festival such as Wacken Open Air in the upcoming years? This could take the Lebanese Metal scene to broader horizons.
We are bringing a lot of rock bands as you can see, yet we’re not being able to bring them all in the same time. But we’ll surely continue with the Beirut Rock Festival every year and do our best to promote the rock scene.