"This guy is the George Harrison from Pakistan. That's awesome, and that's something people should know about. Not only is he the George Harrison of Pakistan, but also if you were to take all five Traveling Wilburys and distill them into one man from Karachi, what you would end up with is TEE-M," says Chris Jean, director and co-producer of the "Disappeared" and "Hallucination" music videos of 2 songs from TEE-M's album, "Earthiotic...songsfromaoneroompalace."
TEE-M was born and raised Tariq Mirza in Karachi, Pakistan, the youngest of 5 children. "I'm the baby, so I think by the time they got to me they said, 'Ok, let this crazy cat do whatever he wants to do,'" TEE-M laughs as he describes his career path, his choice use of idioms indicative of the inevitable "Americanization" that comes after 3 decades of living in Michigan, Texas, and Los Angeles, California.
"I grew up in the '60s, so a lot of the '60s was British Invasion music. At that time you don't know where England is or where America is, you just know that it's coming from far away. So The Beatles were an inspiration to me. And then when I heard that these guys were self-taught singer songwriters and performers and everything -- to me, that was magic. I'd like to get that magic some day," TEE-M shares the inspiration for his dream that began in Pakistan long ago.
"My cousin left behind a guitar, I learned it on my own, and then I thought, 'I got to get me a band!' My mother was asking me, 'Where would you like to go? Do you want to go to England? Or do you want to go to America?' I would always say, 'America!' -- I don't know why," TEE-M confesses.
Director and producer Chris Jean, who runs Decipher Pictures together with his business partner Race Owen, is dedicated to the development of motion pictures, television programming, home entertainment, and digitally delivered content with stories that resonate around the world. In April, Decipher Pictures hosted a live concert and streaming event to launch TEE-M's latest video, "Hallucination," where they had 200 attendees and 30 countries from around the world tune in and participate.
"As an independent filmmaker, so many things are stacked against you when you go out to do something. There's the money and the human talent necessary to operate, the equipment you're renting -- all of this stuff can be very cumbersome. So what you do is, you start building strategic relationships, you meet cinematographers that have their own camera rig, you work with wardrobe and stylist talent who really want a credit on something that you're doing because they like working with you -- and the challenge has always been you finish your piece, and then what do you do with it?" Jean asks, and then goes on to extend his argument to encompass the plague of independent artists both buoyed and bogged down by a technology and media addicted culture.
"In the four years it's been since Time Magazine declared Internet users and social media users the "Person of the Year" ("You" , 2006), there's such a saturation of stuff out there. You get a new youtube link sent to you every day, and what you watched yesterday, you can't even really remember! But now, with something such as Ustream Producer client, you can do something new, you can turn the Internet literally into your own television broadcasting station. You can stage a premiere of your work that doesn't cost much money and get people excited," Jean shares.
"The technology has reached a point where you can scale this as high as you want to -- it's really limited only by the manpower of the skills of the person behind the tool," chimes in Owen. "A small company like ours could create a channel that was a weekly syndicated program on-line that was both live, as well as recorded. It's a fascinating moment when you're able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the big media conglomerates and you're vying for the same eyeballs. It's just about getting the message out, which has always been the issue about getting publicity, but that's really where we're at right now. The technology is there, we're all using the same tools," Owen concludes.
TEE-M co-hosts "TEE-M's Unsigned Music Show" with Mike Stark (author of Black Sabbath: An Oral History) on http://wpmd.org/, and has been selected as Music Connection Magazine's "100 Hottest Unsigned Artists" 5 years in a row, in addition to other awards and honors. His song "Aao Aao Aao" is a top 10 hit for him in Pakistan.
"Anyone who has worked for hire in the entertainment business, whether that be in music, television, film, in the new media space somewhere, or in commercials, promos, you name it - eventually, you reach a critical mass. For most people it happens in their late 20s, or their early 30s where they say, 'Okay, I've been working for other people for a number of years now' -- and you can always tell when you're working on a project you don't like and it's just a paycheck and there's no passion," says Jean.
"You say to yourself, 'Well if I don't enjoy this project, what am I doing ultimately?,' and so people come to a crossroads, a fork in the road - they can either resign themselves to just working for other people on their projects regardless of whether or not something inspires them, it's a paycheck. And then there's that other road which is less traveled which is 'Wait a second, I set out to do this because there was an impulse in me to do things that spoke to me, that excited me, that energized me when I thought about them.' We're going to take this road less traveled," Jean illustrates the evolution of his partnership with Owen and their enthusiasm to work with TEE-M to create music videos that would enable him to reach a wider audience with his music.
"The Internet has really helped me to spread my music, with Facebook and Youtube," says TEE-M. "The Internet has been a blessing for independent artists."
"Regarding the Internet distribution of music, there is a double-edged sword because you have informed consumers, and you have uninformed consumers. Informed consumers are always going to know where to find quality music that they haven't heard because they are networked, there is a word of mouth phenomenon that goes on. For your average person who's poking around, because you have such a saturation of artists all over the world who can produce an entire record with input from no one in their bedroom and post it on-line, sell it on iTunes right next to say, The Eagles, for example, -- what you get is a cacophony of independent artists that range everywhere from people who really shouldn't be clogging up the bandwidth with the stuff that they're putting out, to quality independent artists like TEE-M who write their own music, write their own lyrics, work with a producer -- who do all that extra work that it takes to put that je ne sais qoui into an album. So there is that struggle of trying to emerge from a radiation of market saturation on the Internet. I think TEE-M has been very successful at that," Jean states.
"In the words of Joseph Campbell -- I think that's what the American dream is - to 'follow your bliss.' It's going out there, pursuing your dream. People will look at that phrase and will say that's very aristocratic, people can't afford to, they don't have time to follow their bliss. All of that may be true, but I don't like framing things in a negative context because ultimately it doesn't achieve anything. It is a tremendous act of courage and that has been American from Day One. Americans follow their bliss even if they're not sure what it is!" Jean argues.
"If you're an independent artist, as long as you're independent, you have to do other things to support your passion and your art. Just like everybody else," says TEE-M. "My favorite thing used to be tuning into the shockwave radio of that time (growing up in Pakistan in the '60s). I would know each and every voice of America, 30 minute pop shows of rock and roll music. I would be playing outside with my friends and I'd say 'Ok, I'll be back in 30 minutes,' and I would tune in. I started in Karachi, Pakistan. That's not your basic backyard for rock and roll like London, Los Angeles, Memphis, or Liverpool. So I had to start dreaming way out there."
For more information on TEE-M and Decipher Pictures, visit http://www.tee-m.com/ and http://decipherpictures.com/Decipher_Pictures_Home.html
Follow Ashley Wren Collins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@wrenashley