The number of lawyers populating Seattle's underground-music scene is infinitesimal. Which makes Natasha El-Sergany, guitarist and vocalist for the spellbinding dream-rock group somesurprises and staff attorney for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (where, according to NWIRP's site, she "represents survivors of violence in obtaining US visas, asylum, and other immigration benefits"), a real anomaly.
As leader of somesurprises, El-Sergany casts spells with opiated vocals, spectral guitar shimmers, and ethereal synth whorls, augmented by the David Roback–like guitar tone poetry of her partner, Josh Medina. Their new cassette full-length on local label Eiderdown Records, Serious Dreams, conjures the nocturnal bliss and tranquility of peak Mazzy Star, dispersing rock moves into a hushed meditation ritual. It's the balm.
How has the nature of your job with Northwest Immigrant Rights Project changed under the Trump presidency? With this administration's rampant xenophobia, have your efforts taken on a greater sense of urgency?
The US immigration system has long been rife with discrimination and exploitation. President Obama deported more people than any other president, overseeing family detention centers that jail asylum-seekers at the border and for-profit prisons that force immigrants to work for a dollar a day. Still, Trump's rapid acceleration of existing policies is alarming. The new executive orders are clearly intended to spread fear and terror, with one provision effectively turning the entire United States into a border zone where people can be deported with zero due process, not to mention shameful bans on people from Muslim-majority countries. These days I have been engaging in more community outreach, including know-your-rights and immigrant ally-ship presentations, consulting with folks at mosques, and staying informed on ways to use the law as part of a greater collective resistance to this administration.
Does your work as a lawyer have any influence on the music you make with somesurprises? It's hard to imagine two more different ways to use your mind than these activities.
I don't know that my work influences music, or vice versa. I do see a connection between the anarchist spirit of the DIY music community and the lefty lawyers and advocates working against tyranny. On the other hand, I wish that my day job did not need to exist, whereas I wouldn't want to live in a world without music.
Somesurprises' Serious Dreams album is incredibly beautiful and supremely laid-back. Is it accurate to call your music a lofty kind of escapism from the world's worries and horrors? What do you hope people get out of your music?
I'm not really going for escapism so much as attempting to create space for reflection on themes of love, loss, and isolation. Music can seem pretty frivolous in this strange post-Brexit, post-Trump reality, but when I need it most, it always calms me down. I think it's really important to stay human right now and stay connected to your imagination, so I hope that our album can be a part of helping people to do that. Seriously.
What's been on your playlist lately?
Stereolab's Margerine Eclipse, Neu!'s first album, Broadcast and the Focus Group, Aya Metwalli, Kikagaku Moyo, George Harrison, Dirty Beaches, Amen Dunes, Benoît Pioulard, Zen Mother, Brenan Chambers's SoundCloud page.
What have you been reading or watching?
I recently watched I Am Not Your Negro, which was incredible. Chewing Gum is pretty hilarious. Corny, I know, but reading dystopian classics like The Man in the High Castle and Brave New World [helps me] to grasp some kind of narrative amid the fascist chaos.
If you could fix one thing about Seattle with a magic wand, what would it be?
Replacing tent cities with actual housing, rather than criminalizing poor people? Not building more kid jails? Wait, that's two.