Sandmoon Find Inspiration at Home

Lebanese indie folk act drop second album after three-year break

Arslanian (front) with Sandmoon's new lineup
By Adam Grundey
Feb 06, 2014

"I started very late, realizing that I might want to actually do music in this way, and not just in my living room,” says Lebanese singer-songwriter Sandra Arslanian. Her band, Sandmoon, recently released their second LP, Home, although 38-year-old Arslanian prefers to think of it as her real debut record.

“Don’t listen to the first one,” she says of 2010’s raW. “Don’t. I don’t even listen to it. It’s not really an album. I was just putting songs together. It’s just not that interesting.” raW was a solo effort (Arslanian sings and plays piano), recorded with the influential Lebanese producer Fadi Tabbal (“I’m not sure indie music in Lebanon would’ve been the same without Fadi,” Arslanian says). It was Tabbal who first encouraged Arslanian to record some of her original material, something that – although she’d been writing her own tracks since she was 16 – she’d never been confident enough to do before. “I used to play with a couple of bands, but nothing really serious,” she says. “And I used to write songs, but I wasn’t really sure about them.”

Those bands were based in Belgium, where Arslanian’s parents relocated when she was just seven months old. It wasn’t until she returned to Beirut in 2006 that she began to write songs she thought others might want to hear. “When I came here, I got inspired,” she says. “The Middle East is very inspiring. So I decided to record a couple of my songs.” She sent those early recordings off to Radio Liban, which was running a local talent search, and she was selected as a finalist. Unfortunately for Arslanian, that was also a contest which a fledgling Mashrou’ Leila – now arguably the biggest indie band in the region – entered, and ultimately won. But Arslanian was encouraged enough to continue writing, inspired by artists including Patrick Watson, Cat Power, Feist, Daughter and Beth Gibbons.

Once she’d wrapped raW, Arslanian was keen to put together a band to perform the songs live. But, she explains, it wasn’t easy to find musicians in Beirut with a feel for her sad-core take on folk music. “It’s really difficult. They’re either really rock or electro,” she says. “There’s nothing in between. [I wanted] people who really like indie rock or indie pop.”

She allows that the situation has changed somewhat in the last few years. “There are a lot of young bands who’re starting to play, like, happy folk music. But I’m not happy folk. I’m from the older generation influenced by the war and being a refugee.”

Sandmoon’s original lineup soon dissolved, but Arslanian returned last year with new band members – and with Home, she has finally released an album she’s happy to listen to. “When I decided to do the second album, I thought, ‘I need musicians who feel this music,’” she says. “We really enjoy playing together, and everyone has really good ideas.”

While Arslanian composed “90 per cent” of Home, she stresses that everyone in the new five-piece band had some input. But she was keen to retain her “distinctive sound and style.” “It’s emotional music,” she says.

The album’s title track tackles a theme that Arslanian has struggled with throughout her life. “It’s about what we’re all going through in Lebanon and the region; having to be displaced, not exactly knowing where home is. My grandparents came from Armenia, my parents were born here, I grew up in Belgium; the notion of home is very fluid. It’s a question of identity and roots.”

The positive reaction to Home (“I didn’t expect it, but it’s actually been very good," Arslanian says) suggests she’s starting to answer that question for herself.

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