Interview: Ali Tabatabaee of Fear No Empire

Fear No Empire

A few days ago I was able to have a conversation with Ali of Fear No Empire, and we chatted about why he decided to form a new, politically-charged rock band after so many years with pop-punk band Zebrahead. Fear No Empire is Ali Tabatabaee – Vocals (Zebrahead,) Ben Ozz – Bass (Zebrahead,) Dan Palmer – Guitar (Zebrahead, Death By Stereo,) and Mike Cambra – Drums (The Adolescents, Death by Stereo and Common War). Their new single, “Revolt” captures their punk rock spirit with some hip-hop elements thrown into the mix. During my conversation with Ali, we discussed the formation of this new band, what makes Fear No Empire unique, and the recording process of their new self-titled EP that will be released this October.

I’m here with Ali of Fear No Empire. Thank you for your time today!

Thank you for having me, man, and for the time you’ve taken to do this. 

Sure, not a problem. So tell me about why you decided to form a new band after so many years of being with Zebrahead?

Well, we were on tour in Europe for about a month. Then we came home and a few weeks later the pandemic hit here and then soon after George Floyd was killed. With everything going on, I just started writing down my thoughts and those ultimately became lyrics. I wasn’t really thinking about starting a new band or anything. I was more just getting stuff off my chest. Then I started talking with Ben and Dan, who are in Zebrahead with me, about how I was feeling about all the things happening around us. They were also feeling the same, so that motivated us to start throwing ideas back and forth, and then we were like, we should reach out to Mike, who was the drummer for Death by Stereo, who I met through Dan. We also toured with Mike in Australia a little while back, and he’s a rad musician. He had the same mentality as us and was on board. We started sending song ideas through email and using Dropbox to collaborate. We were really trying to find an outlet to our frustration and anger. We started Fear No Empire to use our voice to shine a light on issues that have become of paramount importance and to hopefully inspire others to do the same and to take action. Whether it’s to vote, protest, educate themselves on issues, or even simply having a real conversation with someone to hear a different perspective to broaden their understanding.

That’s pretty cool how it all came together for you guys. So with the formation of this new band, what types of goals did you all set for yourselves?

Well, I guess one goal was to try to step outside of the pop-punk genre that we had been in for so long and create a new sound musically. We wrote a lot of songs around samples and loops that we created. That added a more electronic sound to Fear No Empire unlike anything we’ve done before. Another goal was to inspire our fans to use their voice and to stand up for what they believe in. 

Yeah, and you kind of alluded to some of the topics that are on the forthcoming self-titled EP that comes out in October. They range from like ultra-charged political themes you mentioned before, as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. So with so much negativity going on in the world, how do you actually narrow your focus on certain topics in your lyrics? 

Yeah, there’s so many things going on right now that inspire me to write. You know, like, systemic racism, police brutality and the killing of black and brown people in our country, which I write about on other songs in our EP. Our first single “Revolt” deals with the separation of immigrant children from their families during the Trump administration, which has been heightened by the very serious health concerns created by the COVID-19 pandemic. I am an immigrant. I came to the US from Iran when I was six years old. I couldn’t imagine being separated from my family, not knowing where they were, not knowing the language, and being fearful of the pandemic. This issue is so close to me and I guess that’s how I’ve been approaching all the songs. What affects me emotionally or mentally inspires me to write.

Yeah, and it sounds like it comes across really powerfully. I already heard the advance of the record and everything like that. So yeah, so it came across really authentic, just knowing like your songwriting style, your aggressive rapping, and stuff like that. So it seems like it’s a good fit for you guys. 

Thank you, man. Thank you. Yeah, we put a lot of ourselves into these songs, and the messaging was very dear to us. We appreciate you saying that. 

Sure! So describe the songwriting process. So when you went to record your new record, did it feel any different than the process with your previous projects? 

Yeah, this entire EP was written remotely due to the quarantine and social distancing guidelines. So it was completely unique. I’ve never done anything like this before, where I said before, we would send each other ideas through email or Dropbox to collaborate. Once we were like, okay, this is the final version, then then we would meet up at the studio to record the songs. Everything was written together, yet separate, and I think that caused everyone to step out of their comfort zones. I guess it’s our version of working remotely, though everyone was very excited about forming the band and creating new music.

Yeah. So going back to the recording process, did anybody actually produce the record? Or was there certain memories that stood out looking back at those sessions where you collaborated on?

Yeah, we recorded the EP with Paul Minor, who we’ve worked with before on previous projects, at Buzzbomb Studios in Orange County, California. And, like I said, we did a lot of the writing and pre-production remotely, and then we would meet with Paul when we were ready to record the final version of the songs and he would help rearrange certain parts and just made everything sound better. There was a lot of positive energy right off the bat. I could tell by everyone’s attitude that this could possibly be something really special.

Yeah. So are there any plans to tour once the pandemic clears? I imagine you’re pretty eager to get back on the road, being a road warrior yourself…

Of course, for sure. You know, we’re really proud of the songs and we’re very eager for people to hear them live. And also, it’s going to be great to be able to travel again and see our friends all over the world and go to cool places. So yeah, we’re definitely going to be touring once the pandemic is over. 

That’s great to hear! So the last question I have for you, with so many politically-charged bands in the rock scene today from bands such as Anti-Flag, other bands like Rage Against the Machine, what do you think makes Fear No Empire unique?

So we know that punk, rock and hip hop music play a very important role in bringing awareness to social and political issues. I see Fear No Empire as another voice. We need as many voices speaking out in solidarity against inequality and injustice as we can right now to fight for change. I feel our music is unique in that it combines rock, electronic, punk and hip hop influences to give us a distinctive sound. I’m really excited to get our music out there to see how it resonates with people.

That’s great. And I love the sound of it. I love the direction you guys are going for. I wish you guys nothing but the best, and I hope you can hopefully come back to the east coast at some point. 

Adam, buddy, thank you so much for the time, and I appreciate all your kind words. Thanks!

Have a great evening!