Q&A: Portrait Avenue Talk New Music, Gigs and Embarrassing Songs

Photo courtesy of Ingy Dabbous.
Image courtesy of Ingy Dabbous.
Image courtesy of Ingy Dabbous.

When I first came across Portrait Avenue’s songs, I could instantly relate to their addictive indie vibes. Their music is anything but ordinary or conventional, with their own unique take on music and musical statements in every track.

The home-grown Alexandrian band, which first formed back in 2008, have been on a roll ever since, experimenting with different genres of music and always aiming to express their singular style.

After winning the first ever round of the Red Bull Bedroom Jam competition back in 2012, the band got the chance to fly to Madrid to shoot their new music video and record and produce their first EP, Rainbow Escalator. Upon hearing of all their successes, as well as truly finding myself enjoying their music, I had to sit down with them to get the scoop on everything they have accomplished so far.



Tell me about the experience of recording and filming the music video for “Spiral” in Madrid.


It was interesting, because when Red Bull told us they’ll be shooting, we assumed it will just be for a documentary, not a full-on music video. We were simply in the studio jamming the song in, and we had no idea they were actually planning to incorporate the footage into a music video. Overall, we loved the experience. We looked famous, huh?




So, you’re a seven-piece band, which is pretty rare in the industry since most bands seem to have five members tops. How do you think that affects your band dynamics and overall sound?


We feel like this gives us a lot of variety and options to experiment with different genres, sound effects and instruments. If there’s a perk to that, it’s that despite us being seven members, we don’t always feel the need to contribute at the same time and make our sound negatively overwhelming. We’ve grown to be really in sync with each other, without a single member dominating the sound.



But what about conflicting visions? How do you guys still manage to agree on playing a certain type of music when every member has a unique taste?


Yeah, that dilemma sometimes comes up and it can be exhausting, but we have a certain understanding that if we reach a situation where there’s no common ground, we move on and find an alternative.



How would you guys classify your genre of music? Personally, I feel like it’s a hybrid of indie, electronic and alternative rock, but it’s still very fluid, right?


We don’t even know. Previously, we used to play a different sound, but then we reached our current sound, which we think is definitely experimental with a hint of indie. The indie part came up on its own, really. What we basically try to do is to create a new sound for ourselves that we’ve never heard before and feel like it truly represents who we are and what we like.



Your sound has truly transformed since you first started, from more mainstream-sounding tunes to more abstract, statement-making ones. What brought about this shift?


At some point, we all sat down together and decided that we we’re going to create music that we honestly love and feel connected to, regardless of what the mainstream industry’s interested in. Our previous sound was all over the place and we felt like we could always improve our music and work on creating a signature sound for ourselves.



Image courtesy of Ingy Dabbous.
Image courtesy of Ingy Dabbous.



You pay homage to your home city, Alexandria, in your “Rainbow Ruckus” music video. How do you think growing up in such a beautiful city has influenced your overall take on music?


Intense question! Well, we feel like the fact that we all grew up in Alexandria and have similar backgrounds definitely contributes to our sense of unity. As for inspiring us, living in Alexandria definitely has its pros and cons and, well, the cons may have contributed more to fueling our music. We honestly love jamming and making new music when we’re feeling a bit down. Alexandria’s whole mood has definitely had an effect on our music, especially how it feels during winter.



Out of all your songs, which ones are your favourite to perform live?


Our favourites have to be “Camera to the Fall”, “Spiral” and our latest unreleased single “Modern Day Child”. Our favourite to record, though, was definitely “Harmonial.”



Which one of the other Arab indie artists would you want to collaborate with in the near future?


We definitely want to work again with Aya Metwally; she has this hip hop feel in her vocals and she also resorts to using complex drumming to accompany them, making for a very unique sound.



What’s your dream gig? If you could play anywhere, where would you play?


Hands down, we’d love to one day play in Glastonbury Festival, which is a music festival that takes place in England.



Fun question and you guys need to be as honest as can be on this matter: What are the most embarrassing songs you have on your personal playlists?


Well, [lead singer] Belal loves listening to Celine Dion and Madonna, as well as Justin Timberlake in his not-so-glamourous-early-2000s era. Also, [guitarist] Samir loves listening to Pink. When we say ‘listen’, we also mean dance like mad when no one’s around!



I have my own share of embarrassing tunes on my playlist, *cough* Taylor Swift *cough*, so who am I to judge? Finally, what can we expect from Portrait Avenue next? What projects are you guys currently working on?


At the moment, we’re in the writing phase of some new material. We always love putting together new tracks before gigs to elongate our playlist. So yeah, right now, we’re exploring the whole concept of writing and composing new songs then performing them live.



WE SAID THIS: Check out Portrait Avenue’s music on Soundcloud for more of their talented awesomeness and get their new EP on iTunes.