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Anees interview: Summer Camp Tour

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You may recognize 29-year-old Anees from his TikTok or Instagram videos performing or freestyling from his car, particularly when Justin Bieber crashed one of his live streams. Or, more recently, you might have seen him performing his hit song “Sun and Moon” on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

The Arab American artist is known for his genre-defying, uplifting sound and mood-lifting, soulful lyrics about love and self-care — a breath of fresh air in a world that can be hard on us. The former lawyer turned singer-songwriter from Northern Virginia just embarked on his first tour, with a closing date at the Howard Theater on July 29.

“Every single person should be doing the thing that makes them feel alive, and this is it for me,” he said in a Zoom interview from his same car. We talked about his background, favorite artists and what the Summer Camp Tour means to him.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What made you want to start your music career?

A: Yo grew up in an ecosystem of music. My parents played a wide range of music. So subconsciously, music was always woven into the fabric of my life. But I never believed that it was a career path just because nobody ever told me that it could be. I went and studied other things and became very depressed, especially when I went to law school. And then I got to my lowest point, which was graduating law school and becoming a lawyer. I absolutely hated it, and music was my outlet from depression. What started as my therapy eventually became my career.

Q: You’re Arab American, and in our culture, there are often three paths that are laid out: becoming a doctor, engineer or lawyer. Did that play a part of why you became a lawyer, and how did that affect your transition to music?

A: My family was very supportive; they didn’t pressure me at all. I think what led me to pursue a more traditional path wasn’t a traditional upbringing, but it was the school system. The school system doesn’t encourage you to do arts. I also think when you come from an Arab American background, the generation above you was in survival mode. So you inherit traces of that mentality. They survive so that we could do something that isn’t just to put the money on the table, but to make our hearts feel alive. Once I had that reckoning moment, I started being happy every day.

Q: You were on Jimmy Kimmel recently. How was that experience?

A: That was a dream come true. And it’s one of those blessings that you don’t question. The truth is, it’s a blur. You get up there, you perform. You come home and you fly home. And you fall asleep. And you wake up and you’re like, did that really happen? Just to think that the same car I’m sitting in right now having this conversation with you, six months ago I created that song right here in this seat, and then to see that within half a year, I was able to go on one of the biggest stages on the planet and sing it to the world, it’s crazy.

Q: What are your ultimate goals as a musician? What do you want to use your platform for?

A: It may sound corny, but it’s just to have inner peace and to wake up every day feeling more excited than I was the last day. There’s nothing inside of me that gets excited by a Grammy Award or a certain number of followers or streams. I mean, that stuff is all very cool. And it can absolutely change your life. But really, I just want to be able to make art every day and have people connect with it.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration for your music?

A: My inspirations for the music that I make are typically the people that I love the most. If I’m writing a love song, it’s obviously about my wife and my relationship with her. Even the songs that aren’t super lovey-dovey, like the more introspective songs like my song “Leave Me,” might come across as a sad song to people, but it’s me reflecting on how I feel about myself when I’m not the best husband that I can be. And my relationship with myself. Because self-love is just as important, if not more important than love for other people.

Q: Who are some of your favorite artists?

A: DMX. Lauryn Hill. Ed Sheeran. John Mayer. And just to be spicy, we’ll throw in Rex Orange County.

Q: Let’s talk about your first tour. So how do you feel about it?

A: This is the most exciting part of my career because for years, I have entertained my community of people through a screen. But music is meant to be experienced. And now I get to go from city to city to city to city and see people, look at them in the eyes, experience the emotion in the same room with them. I feel like when we go on tour, we’re going to have that same magical connection that I felt growing up going to summer camp.

Q: Hence the name, the Summer Camp Tour.

A: That’s why we named it that. I want every day on tour to feel like it’s the first night of summer camp. Because I remember as a kid when you’d show up for that first night, you’d have this sense of hope and relief knowing you were about to have an experience that was going to remind you of all the things you love most. And I want people to feel that exact same way for three hours when they come to my show. And the show at Howard Theater is the final show on tour, and it’s my birthday show. Unlike the other dates, we’re going to do a late show. The last song will be past midnight, on the 30th of July, bringing in my 30th birthday.

Q: Do you have any favorite memories of the DMV or any favorite spots that you like to frequent while you’re here?

A: What I love most about this area is how diverse it is. I think that’s something I took for granted as a kid growing up that in this area; you got every color, every sound, every flavor. It’s really like a melting pot, and I think that informed my life views and allowed me to be a better artist by allowing me to communicate a message that connected to a wider range of human beings. Another beautiful thing about this area is our parks. I’m a nature guy. I go to Algonkian Park, Great Falls Park, Riverbend Park. Those are just places where I find my center. I’m very proud to bring people here. And whenever I go to LA, people are like, when are you going to move here? And I always tell them I’m not.

July 29 at 10:30 pm at the Howard Theatre, 620 T St. NW. thehowardtheatre.com. $27.

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