Track Work: Sarmust, ‘Edison’

By Tim Regan

D.C. trio Sarmust rehashes a 19th century beef on its new single, "Edison."
D.C. trio Sarmust rehashes a 19th century beef on its new single, "Edison." Bora Chung


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Breakups suck, but every once in a while, they can become catalysts of clarity and self-discovery. Take the case of “Edison,” the newest single from D.C.-based “mystical dance-punk” trio Sarmust. Singer Omar Waqar says the tune was born from the death of a four-month relationship last year.

“We broke up abruptly and she didn’t call me back, so I didn’t get any closure or understand why it happened,” says Waqar, 33. “I wanted to deal with that musically because that’s how I deal with stuff.”

When writing the song’s lyrics, Waqar drew inspiration from the Islamic concept of Sufi, which he describes as “the celebration of the beloved, heartbreak and separation from the beloved.” In other words, it’s deeper than its catchy chorus and upbeat tempo may suggest. “‘Edison’ might seem conventional, ‘Western,’ but it is essentially very Sufi in the way it deals with worldly pain.”

Once he had the basic chord progression and lyrics down, Waqar took the song to bandmates Nicholas Michalopoulos and Austin Gaske, and the trio hammered it out in Waqar’s Brookland art loft—not exactly an ideal venue, the frontman says, because it sits adjacent to a stretch of the Red Line. “The train would drive by and mess up the track, which was really frustrating.”

But what does “Edison” refer to? Well, that has a nerdy backstory. The song is loosely based on the 19th century feud between electrical engineer Nikola Tesla and inventor Thomas Edison. In short: Edison is thought to have thrown his former colleague under the bus, defaming Tesla’s work with alternating current electricity to protect his interests in direct current. “It’s me trying to think of a time when someone betrayed someone else’s trust,” Waqar says. Though Waqar doesn’t recall betraying his former flame, his point is that he’s OK taking the blame for the breakup if that means she’ll talk to him. “The line, ‘Call me Edison, call me,’ is like, ‘Fine, you can call me Edison, but just… call me.'”

And the ex? Waqar says she eventually reconnected with him, a fact he invokes in the last line of the song. “She told me the reason she never called me back is because she couldn’t find her phone,” Waqar says. “Maybe she lost it, maybe she didn’t.”

Sarmust plays IOTA with Chess Club Romeos on Friday, Aug. 29.