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Music Interview with Zohra Atash of Religious To Damn

Described as pretty gypsy, garage psych. Me neither. However this description does surprisingly make sense when you listen to Religious to Damn. Here is my interview with the lead singer; Zohra Atash.

Written by Helen Martin

Religious to damn by Gemma Smith
Religious to Damn Illustration by Gemma Smith

Religious to Damn‘s lead singer is Zohra Atash, a cool lady with a batwingged 70s style, a voice a bit like Alison Goldfrapp and Natasha;Bat For Lashes, and an excellent (seemingly well behaved) fringe. The Brooklyn band’s album, Glass Prayer, is out now on M’Lady’s Records. I caught up with Afghan-American Zohra, and asked her a few questions.

Hello, could you introduce yourself for us please?
My name is Zohra Atash, I’m a singer/multi-instrumentalist/songwriter. My primary project is Religious to Damn.

Could you describe what your music is like?
I try to make music that’s atmospheric and elegant, thoughtful and melodic. Some people have said that it’s cinematic and evokes a certain sense of expansiveness, which I’d agree with.

Where are you from?
My parents are Afghan, but I was born in Florida and grew up in Virginia. But I’ve been in Brooklyn for quite some time now.


How does London compare to New York? Do you like England?
I’ve been in love with British culture and art for years. I may have had my raising in south, but I lived in a house full of British records – from 60’s British invasion rock, to my sister’s collection of new wave and post-punk. My favorite bands in high school were Lush and Pulp…. I really wanted to move to London and start a band!

Why the name; ‘Religious to Damn’?
I write the music, but I wanted to avoid the stigma that goes with being a singer-songwriter. The name came up in a rather fiery conversation I was having with Josh about people who seem to be attracted to religion primarily so that they can condemn others to hell. We both liked the multiple meanings, (from) Religious to Damn(ation), as in a span, and Religious (in order) to Damn, so it stuck.


Tell us about Glass Prayer?
I wanted to make a record you could really immerse yourself in, something with really grandiose imagery. There are a lot of layers. It’s subtle at times, and heavy on the drama as well. It’s meant to reveal itself after multiple listens. We’re inspired very much by artists that maximized the possibilities of production, but the thing about them was that they didn’t beat you over the head with every last sound and idea. Some things may be out in front, but others are buried, carefully placed, left in soft focus. And that’s why they reward multiple listens, because new nuances emerge gradually, and one day you notice things you may not have noticed before. It’s a gamble to make a record like that these days, given how saturated the world is with new music. But we went for it anyway.


And when will you next be on tour…?
We’re planning to be in the UK/Europe this year, hopefully sooner than later. I’m very excited.

Who would you like to sing with in an ideal world – dead or alive?!
Bryan Ferry

How did you all meet?
Josh and I knew each other for years before we started working together. We had a similar aesthetic. Charlie was a classically trained percussionist, but also just an amazing rock drummer. He has an incredibly full range of capabilities to realize the diverse aspects of the music. Allegra played in a band in Portland called Magick Daggers, as well as The Portland Cello Project, and we had mutual friends, so when she moved to New York, she came on board. And Lea was Charlie’s bandmate in a Balkan punk band, and she’s also a classical musician, so she rounded out our current lineup.

How did you get the position you’re in now?
We put a lot of heart and muscle into getting to the place we’re in now. I dedicated my whole life to this. It’s a labor of love…. it’s what I wanted to do my whole life. We’ve certainly put up with our share of obstacles. Sadly no stories that don’t fall into the category of boring rock doc cliché. It’s not an easy business and New York’s not always a kind town. But we got to where we are through perseverance and the belief that we had something worthwhile to offer to the musical landscape.

How do you see your future?
We’re excited to bring our live show to as many people as want to see it. Believe it or not, the next record’s almost written, and we’re planning on recording it later this year. I’d say the future will be at the very least, eventful. I’ve got lots of ideas, and am always eager to write new songs and record new records. I see a future filled with lots of Religious to Damn music!


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