Sometime before 1979, when Azita Youssefi’s parents fled Tehran for the United States, someone snapped a picture of the wide-eyed girl. Youssefi doesn’t remember exactly when the photo was taken, but it signifies the calm before the storm—before the young girl and her family encountered the “total madness” of prerevolution Iran.
That picture now graces the cover of How Will You? (Drag City), an album full of songs with a simple barroom swagger. No stranger among Chicago musicians, Youssefi first made her name in the early avant-garde rock scene that germinated in and around Wicker Park in the early 1990s. She helped form the Scissor Girls and, later, Bride of No No, two art punk bands that challenged audiences with high-concept live shows and an abrasive sonic palette.
With age, however, Youssefi (who’s in her mid-30s) has mellowed. How Will You?—which comes out in March—now finds her in a community of one. By turning to the piano as her main instrument of choice, her moody pop now follows the poetic exactitude of Joni Mitchell. It also matches up with the fierce intensity of Patti Smith through drastic changeups in dynamics: Youssefi reports that every word, band arrangement, and vocal utterance was meticulously decided upon through a process that took nearly four years.
To promote the album, she will bring back a full band, something she tested the waters with last July when she opened for Modest Mouse in Cincinnati. “There’s freedom doing things solo,” says the artist, who plays the Empty Bottle on March 2nd. “But there’s also freedom with a band. You can be an extrovert in a way you can’t be by yourself.”
GO: Empty Bottle 1035 N. Western Ave.; 773-276-3600, emptybottle.com March 2nd
Photography: Keith Claunch, Hair And Makeup: Eileen Mcnulty, Location: Jeri’s Grill