You’re Going To Give Taraneh What She Wants

You’re Going To Give Taraneh What She Wants

Story by Meg Yates / Photography by Benjamin Taylor / Styling by Juje Hsiung / Hair by Sean Bennett / Makeup by Comet Candler
Dec 07, 2023

Taraneh has established herself as a magnetic force in the New York music scene. On stage she looks like a goth Debbie Harry and sings like a moody siren. We met up on the heels of her latest single release, “Face of Fear,” at home in Chinatown, where she’s just rearranged her bedroom. In the newly feng shui'd space, Taraneh and I talk dreams, writing for her inner 13-year-old and her increasingly amped-up sound.

How did “Face of Fear” come to be?

The track is an open letter to the universe, essentially. It's a series of demands. It’s “you’re gonna give me what I want or else.” I reached this point where I decided that I’m so fucking tired and fed up. Tired of feeling like things are happening to me instead of for me. Tired of repeating cycles. So the song is a proclamation of the end of that. I was sad once, but then I got angry and this song marks that transition.

In “Face of Fear” you're literally saying, “Give me what I want this time,” over and over. What changes are you ready for?

I’m ready to take control. The music I’ve released up until this single has been very reflective, very passive in a way. That’s been powerful for me, but I’m ready to start working with the universe rather than documenting what it’s doing. It feels like growing up, and this single is very much an indicator of what's to come. The sound is changing a lot. My released body of work was also never written with performance in mind. I wrote those songs before I was doing music with a band, before I was playing shows. They're very intimate, written and recorded in my bedroom. And then in my co-producer James Duncan’s bedroom. I write everything in my bedroom, but this new stuff was recorded in a studio with James and my friend Grant Lepping, which is so different. I'm working on a new album and this is almost a teaser of that.


I would say it's heavier in vocal delivery. My music in the past may have involved similar feelings, but it was slower and softer. The new sound is a lot more energetic, it feels more powerful to me. With this new single, the title “Face of Fear,” it's a line in the song, but when I was finalizing the track I sat down and thought about what it is that I’m really trying to say. And I think it's really about looking down the barrel of a gun and saying, “Fuck you, I don’t care.” An ode to being scared and doing it anyway. Maybe that’s the new sound in general.

Belt: Women's History Museum (Vintage)

What are you scared of?

Honestly, not a lot at this point. I’ve been really working on detaching from what I think I want, from the outcomes and specifics. That’s where the magic happens. I think fear comes from attachment in a lot of ways and the desire for control. A fear of failure is one that's really been highlighted for me recently, but embracing this principle that things happen the way they’re supposed to and for a reason has been a huge point of liberation for me. There’s nothing to be scared of.

In the past year, you've toured and put together a band. What is it like as an independent artist to motivate and then anchor all that?

It's a hustle. You need to have a burning passion and drive to do it. You really can't think about what it is you're doing, you just have to do it. In order to be an independent artist and navigate booking shows and doing the thing, you have to have blind faith in the universe.

It's not delusional, but you have to walk the line of being crazy?

You have to be crazy, for sure. Some people would call it delusion, I like to call it trust. When we have a clear intention behind our actions and we believe that it's possible, it very much is. I've seen proof of that formula in my own life and I've seen other people embody it as well. Building anything from scratch can be really difficult and it can feel lonely, too. You have to be delusional, for sure. I know I am.

Take me through your musical journey a little bit.

I started making music when I was 14 and I would post it on Tumblr. I had something like 13,000 followers on Tumblr.

Top and bottom: Seditionaries (Vintage), Hat: Women's History Museum (Vintage), Shoes: Roger Vivier

That was kind of a lot for Tumblr.

I know, I was so proud. That was a big deal. I had one post that got like 800,000 notes. Actually, every once in a while I still get messages on Instagram or TikTok of people being like, “Omg I remember you from Tumblr.” It’s so trippy. But yeah, I started making music when I was a kid and posting it on Bandcamp. That was the heyday of Bandcamp and I was listening to like a lot of like, Elliott Smith, Teen Suicide, Bright Eyes. I was like, “Wow, I can make music like this and post it.”

When you made music, was it always connected to releasing it?

Not even. I mean, the whole release cycle thing is so new for me. The last album I put out was A Fleeting Feeling and I released that when I was still working as a full-time journalist. I was working for USA Today at the time. I wouldn't say music was a hobby, but it was never the full thing I was doing.

That sounds intensely personal.

It was one of those things like, I'm making this for myself. If anyone hears, that's great. If they like it, that's awesome. But that's where it ends. It's evolved a lot in the past year, but that’s an important approach to embody. Things get boring when you do them with the hope that other people will like it.

Clothing and accessories: Talent's own

How did that evolution begin? You went on a tour?

I went on a tour in Europe right after I graduated college in 2022 and that was with my bestie/brother Evanora Unlimited. Our friend Angus Green, who runs Kiss Me I’m Famous the label “Face of Fear” is released under, booked us to play in Berlin. My involvement was very unofficial, we combined sets and I was essentially a surprise guest. Then I came back to New York and started working for USA Today as an investigative journalist. I put out my latest record during that time and played my first solo show at the end of that summer. And then things started picking up. I played a show in New York this time last year with Thoom and Comet, which was very serendipitous because we all later became really good friends and started playing together regularly. And then I played another show with Ivy Knight, Evanora and Lucy. These were all turning points for me.

I remember this one show you played with Thoom and She Diamond around that time so clearly because it was you all on the bill, and all these other girls that make music in New York like Ren from Club Eat and Miss Madeline in the audience. It was this moment where we were starting to feel like a scene of these really talented female artists taking shape and people were interested.

You continued playing all over New York this year, then you went on another tour in Europe? Were you learning to perform as you went?

100%. Until this past summer 2023, it was always just me and a backing track. Then over the summer I went to Berlin to start a tour with my friend Elusin, who I made a song called “Spell” with a few months ago and Evanora. We had something like 13 dates booked out across Europe and my friend Spencer Light called me up and was like, “I'm in Berlin and I can play guitar for you.” After that we came back to New York and put a full band together. That’s been a major turning point, sharing the stage with a band and experiencing the freedom of not having to carry everything by myself and being able to experiment with the performance more because that's really important. I hate watching boring shows. I kind of hate live music in general. Like, if I'm going to see a show, there has to be something crazy and engaging and exciting happening.

I know you’re a really energetically attuned person. How does the energy of the band and the audience come into play when you’re performing?

Before I had a band, everything felt a lot more vulnerable. With the band, there’s less pressure on me to constantly command attention, so I’ve noticed that I do it out of choice and not necessity which feels more freeing. I always think about the energy exchange of performing. There has to be a give and take. I’m a sensitive girl, obviously, emotionally and energetically. Learning how to ask the audience for what I want has been a really important step in my evolution as a performer.

Belt: Women's History Museum (Vintage)

Having a real live moment is so difficult. Maybe in the past going to a show would have been the most stimulating experience you could have. Now we're stimulated so constantly you have to refocus yourself to be able to pay attention to a live show. There's insane tension to a live show and everybody's actually forced to be really present.

The biggest thing for me before I perform is reminding myself why I'm doing what I’m doing. When you're playing show after show I think it's really easy to forget why you're there in the first place, like what you're setting out to do when you get on that stage.

What is your intention?

My intention is to offer something novel and honest. A new experience, a new feeling, a new way of looking at things. The songs that have been most important in shaping my experience in life have been the ones that make me feel something totally new in a way, or just invoke a feeling that I'd never been able to put my finger on.

They say that every time someone takes your photo, it takes a part of your soul. How does it feel when someone listens to your music?

It feels really special. One thing I noticed when I was on this last tour was people singing my lyrics in the crowd for the first time. It was such a gratifying feeling because you feel like you're shouting out into the void until you see that. It’s really energizing to know that people are listening. The soul sucking thing is probably feeling like I have to pitch myself or sell myself to some sort of corporate machine. That feels like a humiliation ritual. I think that is the dark underbelly, if you will, of putting out music.

Top and bottom: Seditionaries (Vintage), Hat: Women's History Museum (Vintage), Shoes: Roger Vivier

Who do you make music for?

I make music for my 13-year-old self. I do most things for my 13-year-old self.

Hell is a teenage girl.

If I'm doing something 13-year-old me would be proud of, I’m on the right track.

You've said before that a lot of your songs come to you in dreams?

Yeah, it happens semi-regularly I’d say. There was one song on my last record called “Miss U,” and in a dream I saw the lyrics and heard the melody clear as day. In the dream I was sitting in the car and it came on a playlist or like the radio. And it was called “Miss U,” stylized like that which I kind of hate but since I saw it in the dream I figured fuck it might as well just use that.

You even dreamed the melody?

Yeah, it’s crazy that I remembered it enough to explore in real life. And I was like, “Okay, I have to write that song.” Lots of times I'll have dreams about songs or lyrics and I'll forget them when I wake up. It's not always that fully fledged, but some stick. I'm inspired to take a lot of action based on my dreams or explore certain themes or tap into certain thoughts based on my dreams. Dreams are a very integral part of my life and my practice as a person in general. I was named based on a dream, dreams are the messenger.

Top and bottom: Seditionaries (Vintage), Hat: Women's History Museum (Vintage), Shoes: Roger Vivier

Talk about the choice to go by your real name, Taraneh, for music.

“Taraneh” means “melody” or “song” in Farsi, it can be translated both ways. So I feel like it would be a wasted opportunity to not use it for my artist name. It does create this scenario though, where I don't really have a separation between my artistic identity and personal identity. It's something that I'm noticing more and more these days.

It seems harder for musicians to separate their identity from their art more than ever.

It's interesting because this work is me, the work is my name, the work is my identity. But one thing I did think about when I decided to use my first name is that a lot of people don’t know how to pronounce it. I've heard a lot of mispronunciations. I've heard that since I was a kid growing up in the Midwest being the only Iranian kid in my town. No one knew how to pronounce it. And so I was like, “That might be a problem because when I don't know how to pronounce something I don't want to say it.” But then I was like, “fuck it.” People are just gonna have to learn how to pronounce it.

Do you speak Farsi?

I speak Farsi. Both of my parents are from Iran and I was raised Muslim. I spent all of my summers growing up in Iran. And in some ways, I was raised between Iran and Cleveland, which are like super extreme opposites. Similar in a way too, though. Persian culture is richly poetic and beautiful, and it's a culture of revolutionaries in a sense. We don’t like to follow rules, which is ironic considering the current regime. But with the current regime, there’s this oppressive aspect to the way that religion is imposed or integrated into the culture, right? It’s an Islamic Republic. There’s mandatory hijab for women, there are restrictions on how men and women can interact in public. I think there’s a difference between the spiritual manifestation of religion and the institutional application. I resonate with the former, totally, but exploring the latter has also been a feature of my work. So in my imagery, for example, I’ll wear the headpiece of a niqab along with a really skimpy outfit. And maybe that's very haram and some people would consider that blasphemous, but for me–

Belt: Women's History Museum (Vintage)

That's who you are.

That's who I am. And that's the balance and dichotomy of making religion your own or making anything your own for that matter. I think it’s important to be radical. I'm not laughing at God, I'm laughing with God.

In Iran around 13 you start having to cover, right? But you're also at the same time in Cleveland, starting to be sexualized in the way American girls are. If you're writing and making music with that self in mind, then that dichotomy is just you.

Definitely. And growing up, I had a really weird relationship with my femininity. I had a lot of shame around being a woman when I was young and part of it was navigating like, Am I supposed to be hot or sexy or am I supposed to be modest? What the fuck am I supposed to be?

Now as an adult woman, now that you're on the stage, you've got a band full of guys behind you that are great at their instruments, and you're taking power and really presenting yourself. Do you feel freed by that honesty of all the contradictions or dichotomies of yourself?

Absolutely. It's such a liberating experience and it feels right. Which isn't surprising to me, but it is very affirming to feel that this doesn't feel like a costume that I'm putting on or even like a persona. Obviously, it is a dialed up version of myself, a performance. But it squares with who I am, my intention, my world, at least as I realize it now.

You have such a strong identity and have so much freedom in that. How do you navigate moving forward in the music scene and industry with that in mind?

It’s liberating knowing that I’m driven by something that transcends physical restraints. Regardless of what the specifics are of how I move forward, it’s just getting bigger and better by nature of the vision. And that’s something no one can take away or water down. It’s important to be radical, it’s important to look fear in the face and say, “Fuck it, I’m doing it anyway.” There’s no point in doing anything if you don’t stand for something. And if you don’t, at least make sure you enjoy yourself.

Photography: Benjamin Taylor
Styling: Juje Hsiung
Hair: Sean Bennett
Makeup: Comet Candler