Divorce is a word often whispered between family members; a subject broached in cryptic Facebook posts and confirmed in private text messages. When an artist is faced with the word, however, it can serve as a well of bitter inspiration.
Moda Spira’s latest record Divorce tackles Latifah Alattas’ real life heartbreak without the typical Robin Thicke faux emotions. Alattas broaches the subject on her new single “Regret” with a quiet reservation, as if watching the action on an old Hollywood movie reel: “You can’t regret it if you’ve never hurt it / You can’t forget it if you’ve never had it / You can’t protect it if you’ve never loved it.” The piano acts as a tense, pulsing metronome for Alattas’ rich vocals; as the violin crescendos and the song reaches a climax, the piano repeats like a film strip stuck on loop. Those suffering from their own tangled love story will relate to the feeling of atrophy, of endless mornings waking up to precious memories now fragmented and dull.
Listen to “Regret” below and read our full interview with Latifah:
AF: Tell us about your upbringing. When did music start becoming a focus for you?
Latifah Alattas: I grew up with a musical mom who was a well-trained vocalist and pianist and a dad from Yemen who did not have access to learning music as a child. My mom started me on piano at two, learning by ear, and cello at three in the Suzuki program. Music has always been a part of my life. I remember driving out to church on Sundays with mom and my sister singing three part harmony to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” I competed as a cellist until fifteen when I quit because I wanted to play soccer and at my school you had to choose. But music remained a big part of my life. I picked up acoustic guitar and taught myself by learning the Under the Table and Dreaming guitar tab book by Dave Matthews. I just never stopped playing. I spent so many Saturdays as little girl working my way through the latest Disney book singing songs from Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and sheet music for the current pop hits!
AF: You were a part of the Christian band Page CXVI. For readers not familiar with the Christian music scene… What’s it like out there?
LA: To be honest, I am outside of the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) world. So all I can speak to is a very independent journey in that way. You know, it has its ups and downs like any industry because it’s made up of people, and all people struggle. I have been grateful for the tremendous spirit of hospitality I have experienced from so many in that world. I have also been hurt and disappointed at times too. I tend to have the perspective that whether I am at a bar or a church that it’s just spaces filled with people who want to enjoy music together. And I can do that anywhere with any group. The Autumn Film was not a Christian band; I toured the country in several venues and clubs that were not church spaces and I loved that. I really enjoy playing music everywhere. Institutions tend to be a reflection of a lot of the same problems culture has, so all the good and bad things come with that in any space. But my posture is to just be who I am and consistent as I can be where I am at.
AF: Page CXVI focused on making hymns more accessible to a modern audience. Did you do a deep dive into the hymnals to find material or were these favorites of yours?
LA: I did for many years. This upcoming Page CXVI record [slated for release in Spring 2019] I wrote a lot more original hymns. I wanted to focus on the Mother and Father aspect of the Divine. I think we have done a tremendous disservice in the traditional Christian church by only referring to God as male. I wonder often, if we saw the Divine as both simultaneously and equally a reflection of the masculine and feminine would society be in this position of systematically oppressing and not believing women? So, in this upcoming album I refer to God as both male and female hoping that in twenty years if little girls and boys can sing about God as both, maybe they will have a posture of respect towards each other subconsciously.
AF: Moda Spira was born out of a need to create on your own. Your self-titled first album drew from your personal life, as well as from source material like The Lord of The Rings. Was the urge to write solo stronger after that album came out?
LA: The Autumn Film gave me that platform before, and I had early, early records under “Tifah” where I was writing on my own. I have always needed a way to write about my personal experiences and I love having Moda Spira to do so. I will always want to write my own songs and explore the emotional process of living through my music.
AF: Your new album Divorce tells the story of your marriage dissolving. “Regret” is a sweeping, sorrowful epic. Can you tell us about the writing process of this song?
LA: It was late at night and I was working on arranging songs for the new Page CXVI record for the strings to come in and perform that weekend. I knew I wanted them to play on some of the new Moda stuff as well. It was after 11pm and I told myself after writing three lame ideas that I should try once before heading to bed. The progression came instantly and I laid it down on piano, just letting it repeat occasionally changing the minor to a major inversion. It moved me, and the first line ”You can’t regret it if you’ve never hurt it” flowed off my lips. I sat there and sang freeform and the song was written except the chorus. I listened for a bit and then it just came to me so I added it to the top and the middle. It is a true stream of consciousness writing moment. I remember crying in the big vocal sections as I laid the idea down in logic and then again when I recorded the vocal on the record. It just moves that sad energy in my gut in a good way. It’s extremely cathartic to sing. When the guys laid the strings down that weekend I was so deeply moved and knew we were on the right track of emoting through the sounds of this song what was really going on for me in my heart, mind and body. This song is a very raw expression for me in a very tenuous and dark time. I am thankful for it.
AF: Is Divorce purely autobiographical or did you draw inspiration from additional material?
LA: It is purely autobiographical in every way.
AF: The artwork for the album is very cool. I especially like the GIF featured on your Twitter profile right now. What was the photography/art collaboration process like?
LA: I got to work with Zach McNair of McNair Haus and Annie Herzig. Together we had a wonderful blend of work styles and creative freedom. I had a general idea of wanting to use projection again in a new way from the first record. Annie was originally going to just write the titles and then she started playing with lines and shapes as we were projecting it over my face. It was truly a collaboration and it was a real joy to work with both of them that day. Zach has a great aesthetic instinct and is incredibly talented and kind.
AF: The album was funded via a Kickstarter campaign. What was that fundraising process like? Any advice for artists thinking of raising funds that way?
LA: Kickstarters are always exhausting, but it is worthwhile work. I had a lot of great content to use from my friend Clark Hutt who shot a lot of behind the scenes footage and made some great short videos for me to use. That on top of the wonderful photos Zach took helped me to post new content every day. I think posting new and different content each day really helps your backers get into the process of making the record. It is challenging for me because I don’t love being on social media everyday, but remind yourself it’s just for a short time and you can do a social media fast afterwards!
AF: What artists are you listening to right now?
LA: Billie Holiday, Al Green, Phoebe Bridgers, Joao Gilberto, Death Cab for Cutie, Rhye, Pretenders, Andy Shauf and Leon Bridges.
AF: Do you have any advice for young female musicians listening to Imogen Heap alone in their room?
LA: Don’t be afraid to try. You can learn anything from YouTube and can start with something as simple as garage band on your computer. Listen to things that inspire you and generate your own creativity. Get outside too! Live life and write about your experiences and what you see and feel. But mostly, don’t be afraid – you can do it.