Pin It
Marina Abramović, AWOA 2021
Marina Abramović, AWOA 2021Courtesy of Are We On Air

Marina Abramović, Dua Lipa, and more reveal the soundtrack to their lives

Are We On Air has a heavyweight guest roster – Maisie Williams, Kali Uchis, David LaChapelle, and more – in a Desert Island Discs-esque set-up with intimate and riotous stories from stars

In his role as musical director for the hotelier André Balazs, Arman Nafeei moved among the great and good in some of the world’s most glamorous hotels. Spending his evenings at the Chateau Marmont, he often found himself chatting with the West Hollywood hotel’s illustrious guests at the piano, in the lush, palm-laden gardens, or poolside, beneath the neon sign that’s become an icon of Sunset Strip.

Inspired to recreate these intimate conversations, his podcast Are We On Air has now launched for a second series. A cool and considerate take on the music podcast form, the show invites guests to share their favourite tracks and spill some extraordinary anecdotes – think Desert Island Discs but with the late-night confessional atmosphere of a hotel bar. 

The podcast features some of the most prestigious names from Nafeei’s address book. “I’d like to keep it as close to me as possible,” he tells Dazed. “Not more than one contact away to have some sort of intimacy or personal relation.” While previous guests have included the likes of Patti Smith, Jane Birkin, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Gia Coppola, the new series promises another star-studded line-up. Listen out for Marina Abramović, Dua Lipa, Maisie Williams, David LaChapelle, and Nadia Lee Cohen among many more. 

Above, take the look through the gallery for a glimpse behind the scenes and some of the podcast’s notable guests. Below, we talk to Arman Nafeei about his life as a “directeur d’ambiance”, how he ended up in Jane Birkin’s living room, and his hopes for the future of Are We On Air. 

Please could you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to meet André Balazs? 

Arman Nafeei: I’m Persian, born in Cologne, grew up in London, moved to NY, and now based in LA. I met André in 2010 through our mutual friend, Jay Jopling (founder of White Cube), who I was helping with music for his events back then. The rest is history.

The Chateau Marmont has rich historical associations with so many legendary musicians. Could you tell us about your role as musical director at the hotel? 

I’ve been looking after all of André’s hotels for the past ten years, from the Boom Boom Room, the Standard Hotels, Sunset Beach, The Chiltern Firehouse, and the Chateau Marmont. 

The Chateau, of course, has its own special chemistry. It’s the 90-year-old patina and history that gives it its special aura. We were actually in the process of revamping the old Bar Marmont and I had turned it into this beautiful little audiophile spot, all analogue and fuzzy sounds. But COVID-19 put a halt to that project. 

Actually, our last big event was the Frieze art fair party in February 2020 – a full takeover of the property with a gospel choir, the Compton High School marching band, and myself behind the decks. Looking back at it now, it was the perfect big bang to end an era. I’m just so excited for what’s happening today and where we’re all heading next.

“David LaChapelle’s stories were insane – from Michael Jackson to Kanye and Tupac, we covered it all” – Arman Nafeei

How did the idea for Are We On Air develop? 

Arman Nafeei: The idea has been lingering with me for a while. I’ve been working in music for 20 years, from when I first picked up the turntables at age 15 to now. Naturally, it’s my go-to subject that I talk about on a daily basis. 

Fast forward to my time at the Chateau, where I’m in a constant exchange of stories and ideas with all these interesting cultural personalities, chatting over a drink by the piano, bar, or poolside. I thought, ‘Why not record these conversations? Share the knowledge and provide access to their creative processes.’

How do you select your line-up of guests? 

Arman Nafeei: It started literally with my address book and friends. I’d like to keep it as close to me as possible, not more than one contact away to have some sort of intimacy or personal relation. But, for me, the key is to keep the line up eclectic. My personal taste and musical interests are so broad that I’d like to see that reflected in the line-up. The more colour the better!

Can you tell us any memorable behind the scenes moments that occurred whilst recording the podcast? 

Arman Nafeei: There are so many wonderful moments, I love each episode as I learn so much with each guest. But some of my personal highlights must have been being invited to Jane Birkin’s home in Paris to sit with her in her living room, chatting and joking before and after our conversation. 

Another moment that I will cherish forever was my interview with the late Balearic DJ and Ibiza legend, José Padilla. He sadly passed away from cancer a few weeks after our conversation, it was his last public moment and I really hope that I was able to give him some sort of comfort. 

Which are, for you, the stand-out episodes from the first season? And which particular episodes are you most excited about from season two? 

Arman Nafeei: Again, too many to count. But I’d like to use this opportunity to thank Patti Smith, Julian Schnabel, and Chris Blackwell for their encouraging words and support in the early stages. Getting love and respect from these giants was the moment when I realised that I’ve got something here and need to pursue. 

Season two started off super strong and I’m very excited that it's more female-driven, from Marina Abramović, Maisie Williams, Julie Mehretu, Kali Uchis, and Elim Chan. Of course, opening the season with the biggest pop star in Dua Lipa is a blessing but I also have to say David LaChapelle’s stories were insane – from Michael Jackson to Kanye and Tupac, we covered it all. 

Who would be your dream guest (dead or alive)?

Arman Nafeei: Maria Callas, Lucio Battisti, Prince, Gianni Agnelli, Marlon Brando

Which tracks might you include on your own playlist? Could you elaborate on why they’re meaningful to you? 

Arman Nafeei: I don’t know why I expose my guests to it as it’s nearly impossible to answer. But to answer my own question, I’d say go to heartbreak/falling-in-love song, ‘If I Ever Feel Better’ by Phoenix. For the getting ready song, ‘The More I Get, The More I Want’ by Teddy Pendergrass. And the song in the end credits in my own biopic would be the way I always end when playing towards a sunset – ‘O mio babbino caro’ by Maria Callas. A little dramatic ending, why not.

What’s the future for Are We On Air and how do you hope it’ll develop? 

Arman Nafeei: I’m just waiting for Netflix or Apple to call! But honestly, I’m best when I just float along and see what happens, that’s what’s always worked for me the best. There’s only so much you can plan but you come prepared. I’m just happy being able to build this ‘library of knowledge’, as Patti Smith called it. Being able to share and, hopefully, inspire. That’s the biggest fulfilment.

Listen to series two of Are We On Air via Apple here and Spotify here