I am from a city called Mashhad, country of Iran. Mashhad was an odd place for me to grow up, because even though it's the largest religious city in Iran, I didn't exactly feel that religious mindset. Of course in school there was a fair part of the education devoted to making us religious, giving us all the Islamic teachings. But as a child I grew up in a very urban, Chicago-like environment, where there were kids running around, you know, and bikes.
I came here when I was 20 years old. Two weeks after I arrived I had my first-ever job in my life: I started working at Dominick's. I was a bag boy and a cart boy. I met a bike messenger at Dominick's. I asked him what he does—I just liked how he walked in with his bike and his gear—and I ended up doing it, because I wanted to get out of that Dominick's environment. So I became a bike messenger after that, for three years.
I loved every second of it. At that age I just wanted to get on my bike every day and just ride around. I was also studying English and general education at the time I was a bike messenger, at Truman College. But I had fractured my wrist. I had torn muscles. I had head injuries. And that's why I quit.
I ended up switching to cab driving, because my dad was a cabdriver and I loved the freedom that cab driving had to offer. Cab driving is one of the best and worst things that I've done in my life, because it's one of the hardest jobs but sometimes a prize comes with it. It gives you such an insight into humanity and American culture—culture in general! I had the accordion in the front seat, and I was working and practicing and playing accordion. And then I met Doug Abram, the leader of Black Bear Combo, Chicago Gypsy Brass Band, who I owe a lot to. He asked me to join his band, even though I was a way less accomplished musician than the rest of those guys. And I joined and I learned all the songs in the cab. It was all gypsy music, and I discovered that, oh my God, I love gypsy music because it's so close to the music of my country that I'd been so far apart from. I did start my own project a couple of years ago. I discovered I wanted to create music that was more geared towards my roots. And not just my roots, but my place in the world, which is an Iranian expat being in America, post-9/11. And then I started my new band, Bad Mashadi.
I drove for another couple years, and then I reenrolled to school, to Columbia College, for sound design. I was 27.
I ended up switching to filmmaking. I was making films in classes and my films would turn out really great and my teachers said, "You should switch." I discovered my love for filmmaking almost accidentally. But the beauty of it was that I was a kid who knew what he was doing, who had a little business, who'd been through shit. I wasn't some shy kid who thought he was going to be the next fucking Tarantino. I knew who I was, I knew my potential, I knew my limits, I knew that I had to try hard and work my ass off. I was a little bit ahead of most of these kids in terms of life experience. So I ended up making friends with my teachers, who are still my friends. I ended up collaborating with my teachers; actually I recently finished a film, a documentary, called I'm a Visitor in Your World, about a cancer patient who is my age, she's an artist and writer. The film is about how she copes with cancer through her writings. It's a beautiful film, and I coproduced it with one of my teachers at Columbia, Miguel Silveira.
I kind of stopped doing production because I believe that much of filmmaking is done in writing. You have to be very compelled to make a film before you just hold a camera. I'm doing that and the music. I'm growing my music, recording, trying to get my music heard around the world, hopefully.