New Dog is the musical persona of Azerbaijani-American musician-songwriter Anar Badalov. After working as a part of two different bands, Badalov is now releasing his second solo LP. “Classic Ballroom Dances” is set to be released on June 2nd. New Dog’s music is sparse, reflective, and emotional. There is a calmness to the songs but also more than a note of melancholy. Badalov has stated the influence “sad music” has had on him, and that’s definitely evident in his work. But his music is not wholly despairing. Its very evocative and can heighten a number of emotions or states the listener may have, whether that be relaxed, wistful, or even lustful. In this interview, Badalov discusses his excitement at playing with a drummer Justin Keyhoe, his love of boxing and poetry, and his greater popularity in Europe.

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Lola Who: Your new album “Classic Ballroom Dances” is set for release on June 2nd. What is your life like in this part of the process a few months before the release? Is this a hectic time in which you have many duties, or is this like the eye of a hurricane of work?
Anar: In February, I began playing with a drummer for the first time in nearly 10 years, so my answer would have been different then.  Also, there’s only one show left to confirm for the European tour coming in June, so that pressure is off. Now that the set is about ready, life is back to normal: I work full time, box at least once a week, practice with the drummer (Justin Kehoe) on Sundays, and spend 2-3 nights a week writing new material. Most of my focus is there now.

Lola Who: According to your Bandcamp page, the title of your new album “Classic Ballroom Dances” is taken from a poem by Charles Simic. Is your music often inspired by literary works?
Anar: I’m certainly inspired by literary works, but no more than I’m inspired by slogging away at work or at the gym, or being stuck in traffic. T.S. Eliot said that good poetry can communicate before it’s understood. The same thing could be said about music, and that’s maybe my biggest takeaway from poetry.

Lola Who: You used to be a part of the bands Metal Hearts and Travels. Why do you now work as a solo artist? Was this solely your decision or did circumstances dictate that you move in this direction?
Anar: Travels was a band I started with my ex-girlfriend, so it naturally dissolved when that relationship ended a couple of years ago. Metal Hearts was my first serious band, and my writing partner and I weren’t on particularly good terms. Musically, there was a nice bond, but it wasn’t sustainable. So both of those projects ended in natural ways, and the next place to go was solo. Frankly, I work at a frantic pace, and realized I might not be the most patient collaborator. Anyhow, I love the freedom of working alone.

Lola Who: What is your musical background? When did you start playing music? What bands or artists influenced you when you were growing up?
Anar: I picked up a guitar when I was 13 years old, and started seriously writing songs when I was 16. Too embarrassed to get into influences.  Other than R.E.M.’s Out of Time, I was stuck listening to horrible Russian music.

Lola Who: You’re originally from Baku, Azerbaijan. However, there is no Azerbaijani presence overtly evident in your music. Do you think your ethnic background plays a significant role in your art or do you feel your musical identity is more recently formed?
Anar: Yes, I was born in Baku and came to the United States when my family decided to moved here, during the breakup of the Soviet Union. As much as my father would love to hear some Azerbaijani instrumentation, it’s never going to happen. I don’t feel my background plays any significant role in my work, and my musical identity was formed more recently. I’ve always been attracted to sad music—songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Cat Power—particularly Moon Pix—Jason Molina, Mark Linkous, Leonard Cohen, Nico. A few years ago there was a fantastic book, This Will End in Tears by Adam B. Houghtaling, that validated my obsession with this genre of music.

Lola Who: You describe yourself as a “publishing guy by day” and an “amateur boxer” on various online profiles. Do you feel these alternate identities are integral to understanding or appreciating your music?
Anar: No, I don’t think they’re integral. They’re just part of who I am—a cubicle dweller and athlete—so it seemed appropriate to include it in a bio.

Lola Who: For how long have you been boxing? What about the sport appeals to you?
Anar: I’ve boxed for about six years, on and off. Right now, I’m regularly sparring, but not competing. I’m prone to injuries, and they often take me out of it for up to a few months at a time. There is nothing more honest than boxing. There is no pretending or talking your way out of it—if you’re good enough, you finish the rounds; if not, you’re quickly exposed. Like any sport, there’s also a feeling of elation when you’re at your peak. But unlike other sports, you get to enjoy it all by yourself.

Lola Who: How similar are Anar Badalov and New Dog? Is New Dog simply a name under which you release your music, or are they two separate facets of who you are?
Anar: Yes, New Dog is simply the moniker I use.

Lola Who: What is your song-writing process?
Anar: The process is always evolving. Usually, I sit down at the keyboard or with the guitar and start with a chord. I might have an idea of a feeling I want to express. Sometimes a song is written in one sitting, and sometimes it’ll take months of fussing with chords and words. Recently, I began writing the words first and adjusting them to fit the songs. “Classic Ballroom Dances” is more about the feeling of the songs. The next will likely be more lyrical. If I’m lucky, these two ideas will join each other one day.

Lola Who: How would you describe a typical New Dog concert? What do you think are the ingredients for a great live performance?
Anar: The setup with the Justin Kehoe (drummer) is the best. I couldn’t be happier.I’ve always tried to bring an intensity to the sets—a mix of quiet and loud, often one right after the other, and I think it’s there now more than ever. More generally, it’s important that a band sound good, but I’m not obsessed with a “tight” sound. Sincerity is much more important to me.

Lola Who: You have a European tour coming up in June. Do you find there is a noticeable difference in how different audiences around the world react to your music?
Anar: The audiences in Europe tend to be a little bigger, and have definitely expressed more interest than I’ve received in the US. Eastern Europe and Germany are very, very cool. Whenever I go, I come back inspired. I stopped playing as much here because people just don’t go to shows as often. Admittedly, I’m a homebody too, so I’m not blaming them. But the distances are so long, it’s disheartening to drive nine hours and play for five people.

Lola Who: Apart from the upcoming album release and the European tour, are there any future developments about which you’d like to tell our readers?
Anar: I’ll be playing a string of shows down the east coast in July. I think that’s it! Thanks a lot for reaching out.


New Dog on bandcamp:

By Jesse Templeton