TORONTO – It was just a typical morning for Ehsan Ashrafi: he booted up his computer and navigated to Coldplay’s website to see what was new with the British arena-poppers.
What he saw next, well, you could safely say it was accompanied by a rush of blood to the head.
Ashrafi’s face was splashed across the front page of Coldplay’s website. The band — his favourite band at that — had posted the video that Ashrafi and his Mississauga, Ont.-based band Soul Nidus had made themselves for their song, “Clown on Strike.”
They had made Coldplay’s homepage.
Ashrafi, naturally, figured someone was playing a joke on him.
“I was taken aback, so my first thought was: ‘This guy looks familiar,'” Ashrafi said during an interview in downtown Toronto.
“Then you think weird stuff. I thought maybe one of my friends hacked their website. But it was true. It was amazing. It was a great feeling.”
Soul Nidus is among a group of Canadian artists who have benefited from blog endorsements from big-time international pop stars.
Yet, even among celeb-championed Canucks, their story seems unlikely.
Soul Nidus — consisting of Ashrafi, his younger brother Salman and drummer Nick Sansalone — are, in Ashrafi’s own words, a “100 per cent independent band.”
They have no record label, no high-priced publicity team. Instead, the three-piece band — purveyors of poppy, acoustic guitar-driven alt-rock — have a team of friends and family who help them with videos, press and setting up gigs.
When the Coldplay coup happened a few months back, Ashrafi ensured word travelled at the speed of sound.
But he had a little fun first.
“I remember calling my sister,” Ashrafi said. “I told her: ‘I thought Oasis breaking up was the bad news, (but) Coldplay are breaking up too.’ She said: ‘No way.’ I said, ‘Yeah. Go look at their website.’
“It was a really good feeling.”
And it was a long time coming.
Ashrafi and his brother moved to Mississauga, just west of Toronto, from Iran in 2001. They did so because their parents thought they could have a better life here.
“When we came here, we weren’t thinking about pursuing music careers,” said the 28-year-old Ashrafi. “Sometimes stuff happens and you don’t know why, and then later on you realize, OK, so that’s why.
“It was my parents’ decision. They thought we’d have more choices, more of a future if we were here.”
Soul Nidus formed in 2003 and issued their debut record, “Stoic,” in ’05. But Ashrafi said they began to gather momentum in 2007, when they decided music would be a full-time occupation.
They posted the video for “Clown on Strike” — which Ashrafi says was written to describe his own feelings as a singer, whose pain is meant to entertain people like a clown — back in November. Like much of the band’s work, it was generated by the trio themselves. And it took a painstaking day of work.
The clip — shot in stark black and white — portrays Ashrafi hardly moving from the centre of the frame as clown makeup gradually spreads across his face.
Salman Ashrafi (a photographer and graphic designer as well as the band’s guitarist and pianist) directed the video from his own concept. The clip is, in fact, a combination of almost 6,000 photos put together stop-motion style.
To make it, Ehsan Ashrafi had to stand still for roughly 10 hours as his brother and a makeup artist fussed over him.
“I’m still in pain from that,” he said. “Ten hours standing like a statue? It was crazy.”
But as far as the practical gains from the video and the endorsement that came with it? Soul Nidus can look to some Canadian peers who have also received high-profile nods.
Take London, Ont., rapper Shad, whose video for “Compromise” was posted on Kanye West’s blog in December.
Shad said that by granting his implicit approval, West might have provided validation for people who were already fans of the Canadian’s music.
“The cool thing about that stuff is for fans who already (are into the music), they get stoked on that,” he said during a recent interview in Toronto.
“I think that’s the coolest thing. They’re like: ‘Yeah, I was listening to that already.’ Fans love that vindication every once in a while.”
West also treated Ottawa indie-folk outfit the Acorn to a few hits via his blog. He posted the ethereal video for their song, “Crooked Legs,” under the heading: “THIS IS BEAUTIFUL!”
Singer Rolf Klausener said he was enthused by the recommendation, but ultimately feels similarly positive any time a fan approaches him and compliments the band’s music.
“I’m a big Kanye fan, I love his music and stuff, he’s pretty cool,” said Klausener, whose band responded by issuing an open invitation to West to stop by for a barbecue if he’s ever in Ottawa.
“(But) his opinion doesn’t bear any more weight than anyone on the street, really.”
In the case of Soul Nidus, however, Coldplay’s opinion might have been a bit more meaningful.
Ashrafi said they received hundreds of emails after the video was posted and “the hits are obviously going crazy” on their website.
The band has released a double-A side single to iTunes (for “Accident or Design” and “Song of Hope”) and will issue another full-length this summer, which they mixed at Abbey Road Studios in London.
They’re planning on releasing it in the UK first, because — perhaps not coincidentally — they’ve received a disproportionate amount of interest from England, with airplay on BBC and an in-studio performance on Kerrang! Radio.
And, once the album is completely finished, there are a few Brits in particular whose ears Ashrafi might hope to catch.
“Whenever the chance comes up to get it to (Coldplay), yeah, definitely, we’ll try.”