Zohaib Bilal (‘19) is from Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He is co-director of the Music Society of Clark University (MSCU), and the Clark University Student Council (CUSC) international student representative.
Scarlet: Tell me about your music.
Zohaib: I used to listen to a lot of rock and roll. Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi taught me how to speak English, basically. Then I moved to hardcore punk music, and my mom hated me for those years [laughs]. Then I listened to a lot of indie music. I used to play in a lot of metal and rock bands back home, and then I started singing and writing my own music. I’m on Spotify now, I have three songs up there. I’m starting a band here at Clark too. Haven’t picked a name though, so if anyone has ideas please throw some names at me.
Scarlet: Who are you starting the band with?
Zohaib: Charlie Malwitz (‘18), Ben Levingston (‘18), and Justin Wilbur (‘17).
Scarlet: How’s the band going?
Zohaib: The band is good. I stayed here over winter break… and I ended up writing a good hundred-ish songs.
Scarlet: What? How?
Zohaib: I want you to imagine being in your room, alone for an entire month in the winter with all the music society equipment. It was great. I’m just trying to narrow down what my sound is.
Scarlet: What does the process of ‘narrowing down your sound’ entail?
Zohaib: [laughs] I’ll let you know when I’m done. The thing is… every musician goes through this self-loathing process where they hate their stuff. And I do, I hate my music. I love making it, but if you put on Spotify and played my song right now I’d have to leave because I just couldn’t do that.
Scarlet: Would you walk or run? Maybe a light jog?
Zohaib: A brisk walk, definitely a brisk walk.
Scarlet: Anything you want your music to sound like in particular?
Zohaib: My favorite band in the world is The Antlers… and I guess my own music is kinda like that. I’m trying to make my music more upbeat because people give me shit for playing sad music all the time.
Scarlet: Any ideas on what you want to do after Clark?
Zohaib: The biggest privilege anyone, in the US at least, has is the American passport… you can travel anywhere in the world… my visa runs out in two and a half years. Being from Pakistan, for me to go anywhere in the world requires six months of extensive interviewing and form-filling, and even then it’s like a lottery. So priority number one is trying to find a way to stay in the US. Also, I want to not hurt the planet no matter what I end up doing. That’s the goal. And if I could do music, that’s what I’d want to do. Before this, I always had an expiration date. I remember back in high school, I was like ‘the day I land in college, music is over.’
Scarlet: You’re literally playing the guitar right now.
Zohaib: [strums] I kept saying only a few more years, then a lot of shit happened, and I was like ‘life is short, I’m gonna worry about disappointing myself instead of others.’ [laughs] Yeah just… an optimistic Clarkie of the Week message: ‘disappoint yourself, not others.’
Scarlet: Do you have a favorite memory at Clark?
Zohaib: I think it was Week One, and there was this campfire, and all of us were outside. I had my guitar and we were all singing songs. At one point, I was like ‘okay, I’m gonna go,’ so I picked up my guitar and I was walking towards the library. Two of my now friends, Emmye [Vernet (‘19)] and Rose [Goldberg (‘19)], were sitting on the bench outside of the library. Emmy had a guitar and Rose had a cello and they were singing songs. I was like ‘hey, can I sit down and play with you guys?’ and sat down and we started playing. For the next four hours we sat on the bench playing music. This was the first time any of us had ever met. Somehow we just clicked and it worked really well.
Scarlet: Other than Obama or JFK, which US president do you think was most attractive at time of presidency? Support your thesis.
Zohaib: First of all, can I just say that FDR was an asshole because he cheated on his wife, but he did get a lot of girls, so there’s something going on with FDR. He’s got a trick up his sleeve. But no, not FDR… Eisenhower has this nice granddaddy thing going on. It’s like a sugar daddy thing for sure, he’s cool. Definitely not Gerald Ford. He was a terrible president and he looked like Frankenstein. So yeah, I’ll go with Eisenhower.
Scarlet: What’s the perfect crime?
Zohaib: There are so many perfect crimes, dude. Capitalism! Or work at Wall Street so I can rob people and get away with it… and then the government will bail me out. I’ll start working for Goldman Sachs, there you go.
Scarlet: Any shoutouts?
Zohaib: I’ll give shoutouts to a few friends. My friends Caitlin Marie Schubert (‘19), Hassan Chehab (‘19), and Alyson Smith (‘19).
Thanks for the interview, Zohaib!