Last week at Soundfly Sessions, I took in the final set from (le) poisson rouge‘s sound booth, watching lighting designer Sharif Mekawy at work. What resulted was an impressive and dynamic light show that wove Delicate Steve’s incredible guitar riffs with visual artistry. Sharif is a freelance audio engineer and lighting designer by trade, yet his talents go far beyond production. He is the frontman for Brooklyn-based Looms, who recently dropped their single “Happiness” in anticipation of the release of their debut album “Waking Days”. And his musical curiosity extends even further–to keyboard, guitar, drum, bass, and violin. I sat down with him recently to discuss his trajectory in music–from his very first guitar to rubbing elbows with RJD2 and Sondre Lerche.
(Photo credit: Dylan Johnson)
Did you grow up in a musical household? What inspired you to start playing music?
Nobody else in my immediate family plays an instrument, but everyone was passionate about it in a sense. My mother gave me an old classical guitar when I was around 10 years old, and that really started it all. I took piano lessons a couple years later, and played violin in the middle school orchestra. I shifted to percussion in 8th grade. In high school, I started playing bass in a few bands, and then really rediscovered my main instrument, keys, towards the end of senior year. It was a very fluid process of trying different instruments and learning what I liked about them.
What is different about being a musician in New York versus other cities?
I’ve been playing music in NYC for about 2 years now. The biggest challenge is to get people to listen and to care. There is so much music out there, it almost doesn’t seem worth it to try. NYC is severely oversaturated with people trying to get heard!
What do think is the most effective tool for reaching your audience?
Honestly, that’s something that I’ve been trying to figure out myself lately. Promoting an image can be an awkward task but it’s hugely important. I actually just signed on with Effective Immediately and they are helping me with PR for this exact purpose!
What projects are you most excited about at the moment?
Obviously, I am all about Looms right now. We are working on getting press for some singles as well as a release show for the upcoming record. We’re also rehearsing all month because we’re spending three days recording new material at the end of February!
In addition to being a musician, you’re a successful lighting designer and audio engineer. What effect has that had on your music?
My career has given me the opportunity to see in great depth how performance works behind the scenes. Doing sound and lighting gives me a better idea of how to behave in a live performance setting and helps me easily communicate my goals with other sound engineers and lighting designers when I am performing. Inversely, being a musician has greatly helped my career. I have a much better understanding of what an artist is trying to achieve with their performance and how to work with them to make it happen.
What are the most memorable performances that you’ve been a part of?
I remember I played a show right out of college in New Brunswick, NJ at a bar called the Harvest Moon. It was packed and the crowd was really loving our set. The energy and the vibe in the room was amazing. More recently, I was touring as Sondre Lerche’s front of house audio engineer. I can’t really pin it down to one show per se, but I had such a good experience working with him night after night and really perfecting his mix. In terms of lighting, one of my favorite shows was working for RJD2 at Brooklyn Bowl a few years ago. I am a big fan and was very familiar with his music, so I was able to give him and the audience one hell of a light show!
To what extent do you agree with the following statement: “Everyone is an artist”?
I think that art is truly subjective to the person creating it. What can be considered art to one person, might be considered nothing to the rest of the world. So in that sense, yes, everyone is an artist.
Who is your musical hero?
Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. I love everything about Jeff’s songwriting. There is an amazing, complex simplicity to his song structures. His lyrics are hauntingly beautiful and incredibly poignant, and his voice is one of a kind.
If you could make a mixed tape, what would be your first and last songs?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I really like making mixes and they are constantly changing with my mood or the vibe in a particular room I’m working in. I made a nice fun mix for the Sondre Lerche tour which started with Cibo Matto’s ‘MFN’ and ended with Hall and Oates ‘I Can’t Go For That’.