Ossama Al Sarraf and Ned Shepard are best known as Sultan + Shepard. The mellow pair exhibits off-stage personalities that are quite in contrast to their high-energy onstage personas. Even the loud club bangers they play are so opposite from their soft-spoken manners. And however subtle, they are honoring rather than dismissing their cultural differences, using music to cross a political chasm.
You two recently filmed a music video with the help of a fan, right?
AL SARRAF: The video is like a fan’s trip across the country to see us play. We’re in the video because she came to our show in Vegas and our show in San Diego and [others]. We’re shown DJing, but the video is really her road trip.
How did the idea come about?
SHEPARD: It was actually one of the guys on our team. He was like, “Well, what if we got somebody to get us some content and just drove across the U.S.?” We were just like, “That’d be a good idea. Why don’t we provide them with a GoPro and pay for their car, hotel, and accommodations and then just send them on this trip? Let’s see what kind of content we get out of it.”
Where did the journey take her?
SHEPARD: She actually flew to L.A., and then came with us on the train to San Diego. She rented a car from there and drove to Vegas and then from Vegas, I believe she hit up six, seven or eight different states on the way. She chose the places that she wanted to go and see, which led her all the way back to Montreal.
How do you decide which tracks you will play at a gig?
AL SARRAF: It’s a combination of our songs and remixes along with popular club songs, mixed with songs that we like outside of club music for which we do special edits. We’re always looking for a capella [versions] of what we like. And then we have a lot of throwbacks, records from the ’90s and ’80s, stuff that we love. If one of us doesn’t like it, then we won’t play it.
How do you find new music?
AL SARRAF: We get tons of promos from labels sent to us every day. Then we also get on Beatport and check out tracks. Ned listens to Hype Machine a lot, sees what’s popular, what’s not, what he likes or doesn’t. We’re always following blogs to see what they send out, what they’re pushing, what’s new. Sometimes, we’ll be in our cars listening to the radio and we’ll hear records we love. We’re like, “OK, how can we get this and make it into a record we can play on the dance floor?” We’ll either mash it up or find the a capella for it.
That’s great for established artists, but how would someone undiscovered get your attention?
AL SARRAF: They can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We check out all the demos that we get. We have a podcast, we have a radio show in France, we have our label—so we’re always interested in new music. We listen to basically everything that people send us.
That must be very time-consuming. Do you schedule time just to check these emails?
SHEPARD: It’s part of our daily routine; we’ve just gotten so used to it. We get tracks, download them right away, and then while we’re going through emails in the morning, we’ll just listen. If something hits us, we’ll reply.
Regarding the plus sign between your names, does it mean anything more than just “and”?
SHEPARD: The plus sign is really just about the two of us coming together in a collaborative way. We’re very different people. We come from different cultures. I’m Jewish, he’s Palestinian, and we just would have never met if it wasn’t for music. We’ve created a really great friendship and business together, and an artistic collaboration. We’ve been working together for almost 13 years. The plus is a symbol that people can come together over positive things.
Sultan + Shepard perform at Light on Sept. 11.