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Prog-rock band Soleo tells a family’s story of fleeing Iran in the 1970s

Cleveland-Akron prog rock band Soleo stands in an abandoned building filled with graffiti
Devon Keller
Soleo is a prog-rock band formed by Amir Gholizadeh (left) on vocals and guitar, with Nick Golias (center) on drums and Tynan Evans (right) on bass. The Cleveland-based trio released its self-titled debut album this summer, inspired by Gholizadeh's parents' experience fleeing Iran during the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

Middle Eastern prog-rock band Soleo released its debut album this summer, inspired by frontman Amir Gholizadeh’s parents fleeing their home country of Iran and seeking refuge in Akron during the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

“The song ‘Uncle’ on the album is about my mom's uncle, because he was assassinated as a result of the revolution,” Gholizadeh said. “They captured my mom's brother, they captured my mom's dad, and they were going to execute them. They escaped.”

Gholizadeh’s parents met at the University of Akron. He was inspired to tell his family’s story through music after learning more about his roots.

“As I got older, I started to take more appreciation in Iranian culture,” he said. “When I was working on this album, I started talking to my parents more about the history of it. And I did more research on my own.”

Gholizadeh had a deep appreciation for music at a young age, forming a band in high school called Ambersein.

He developed a unique guitar-tuning style heavily inspired by traditional Middle Eastern sounds and began writing songs.

“My dad went to Iran once when I was in college. He came home, he brought me a setar, so I was playing around on it,” Gholizadeh said. “I was like, ‘I wonder what it would sound like if I tuned my electric guitar like this.’”

After moving to California to attend grad school, Gholizadeh felt a pull to return home to Northeast Ohio to pursue music more seriously.

He reached out to his former Ambersein bandmate, Tynan Evans, about starting a new project.

Gholizadeh introduced the Middle Eastern-inspired songs he was working on to Evans, who plays bass, and the two later brought in Nick Golias on drums to form Soleo.

Conceptualizing a full-length album

Soleo’s sound is a cinematic blend of Western progressive rock and metal with classic Persian music.

The psychedelic influence of Gholizadeh’s sitar-style guitar with heavy metal drumming and sludgy basslines gives Soleo a sound distinct from typical progressive rock.

The band has been collaborating on songs together for about eight years, and their debut album has been in development for that stretch of time.

They were signed to the independent heavy-metal label, Tragic Hero Records, an independent heavy-metal label, in 2022.

“‘Manifesto’ was probably the first song that I wrote where I was like, ‘I know what this is going to be. This is going to be the album opener,’” Gholizadeh.

His idea for the opening track was to feature Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the Iranian Revolution, giving a speech to the public about an optimistic future that was based on lies.

Developing “Manifesto” inspired the concept behind the entire album, which is told in three musical acts, from Gholizadeh’s mother fleeing Iran to starting a life and family in Akron.

“Act three is kind of like how it affected my mom and how it affected me and how it affects like Iranians in general,” he said.

The end of the album begins to morph into fiction, with the track “Soleo” portraying a fantasy of Gholizadeh and his brother returning to Iran to free the people.

“Obviously, that's not going to happen,” he said. “If the revolution, the new revolution took place and was successful, then a lot of us could go back at least to visit or stay for however long we want to.”

Gholizadeh has visited Iran twice, once as a baby and again in college with his father. His mother has never gone back.

“I hesitated in the beginning to, like, talk about her history,” he said. “Because I know it sounds crazy, but their government over there has people here that keep tabs on people. She's a little nervous that I released this, but I didn't do it without her consent. She said that she's fine with it.”

Members of Soleo pose in front of a skylight
Devon Keller
Soleo's sound is a blend of metal and progressive rock with distinct guitar tuning inspired by the sitar. The band's debut release is a collaborative concept album that is told in three acts.

Putting the immigrant experience into song

Writing music about his family’s history has been liberating and freeing, Gholizadeh said, but also the hardest thing he’s done.

“I think a lot of other people have gone through the same thing and don't have any way to express it."
Amir Gholizadeh

The Iranian Revolution is the central concept behind the album when the last shah of Iran lost control and the Islamic Republic took hold of the country.

Thousands were killed or displaced during the year-long series of protests, strikes and armed combat.

Gholizadeh said he doesn’t talk to his parents about certain themes on the album, particularly the song “Uncle” about his mother’s uncle who was killed during the revolution.

“He was disobeying Islam by not submitting to the new regime. And so, they said if you basically bend the knee to Khomeini and say, ‘You are now my leader,’ we won't kill you. And the story goes that he spit in the guy's face and said, ‘Long live the king,’ and then they shot him,” he said. “That hit me pretty hard.”

Gholizadeh said while the album is conceptual and includes audio recordings of his family and footage from the Iranian Revolution, he hopes the immigrant experiences in the songs speak to a universal audience.

“I think a lot of other people have gone through the same thing and don't have any way to express it,” he said.

Gholizadeh said Soleo is working on new music and plans to put together a new album that is lighter and less conceptual in nature.

The three-piece will perform next at the Foundry Concert Club in Lakewood with Moon Tooth and Her Familiar on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.