Youssef Salloum believes the best things in life aren’t planned.
“Believe is inspired by the roller coaster ride we go through touching on subjects, such a losing a loved one, difficulties in starting a family, struggling with faith and moving on. All the songs were written with a high-energy, feel-good vibe and a dynamic sound topped with an honest message,” Salloum said.
Originally from Beirut, Salloum spent more than two decades making Believe an alt rock-fueled reality after putting music aside for different careers, personal relationships and international moves. The EP thoughtfully represents a renewed self-commitment to creativity, motivation and persistence in a disconnected world of musical uncertainty.
“The song ‘Believe’ says ‘There was a time I lost a dream.’ It’s never too late, and no matter how hard it feels, things get better if you hang in there long enough. At the time, I had made the decision to see how I was going to make a living while having music as a hobby instead of a career. My intention was to be a musician, but at the end of the day, when you look at what’s going on around you, there was no internet, and there was no social media,” said Salloum, who returned to Ann Arbor in November 2018.
Through Random Ties, Salloum poetically chronicles his international musical journey through six heartfelt alt rock anthems. Together, those profound Believe tracks represent a highly relatable narrative about overcoming personal struggles regardless of age, geography or culture.
Week 39 to Why
One of those struggles includes eagerly awaiting the birth of a child after overcoming years of infertility on the Pearl Jam-tinged “Week 39.” Now a father, Salloum poignantly addresses the anxiety-induced anticipation of son Liam’s arrival during his wife’s 39th week of pregnancy.
Piercing, distorted electric guitars, pulsating drums, rhythmic cymbal taps and humming bass entice Liam leave the womb as Salloum throatily beckons, “Son, this song is all for you/All I have is all for you/Son, this song is about you/All I am is all I am for you.”
“Those last few weeks of anxiety were more than all the previous nine months put together. You want him to be safe more than anything else in life and then suddenly Liam was born and in our arms. It was a special time because it wasn’t easy for us to get pregnant, and it was the most powerful moment in our lives,” Salloum said.
Salloum shares another powerful life moment on “She’s Something,” a glistening, romantic tribute to everlasting love. Shimmery, fuzzy electric guitars, light bass, thumping drums and shaky cymbals magically surround Salloum as he reflects, “Here we are/In a place we have never been before/Too many things left unsaid/What do we do, where do we go from here.”
“She’s Something” briefly pauses, then seamlessly segues into a hidden part of the track with additional gleaming, grungy instrumentation. Salloum reiterates his eternal devotion as he sings, “You and me/Me and you/You and me/Me and you, forever.”
“Most of these songs I wrote here when we moved to Ann Arbor, and I wrote them playing on my $20 acoustic guitar because of having a newborn at home. ‘She’s Something’ came about after my wife and I moved here when everything was new, and we didn’t know that many people. We used to get into a lot of arguments about small, silly things, and if you asked me what they were, I would never remember,” he said.
“It’s made me realize relationships that work or withstand time do so, not because they have problems, but because you care about the other individual to make it work. At today’s pace, we face so many distractions and can easily forget what’s important to us.”
“She’s Something” also features a breathtaking lyric video with footage from The Maldives. Crystal blue waters crash along the shores of white sandy beaches and chiseled brown rocks as emerald palm trees sway in the distance. It’s a refreshing escape for true love in today’s turbulent, pandemic-crazed world.
“That video is from a friend of mine who’s a photographer. The footage was from his vacation there with his family, and he said, ‘I think that song would go with the video.’ I said, ‘Well, let’s release something rather than wait three months before we can get something out,” Salloum said.
Another standout Believe track includes the Foo Fighters-inspired, “Why,” which blends screaming, distorted guitars, thrashy, pounding drum rolls and rhythmic bass into a tearful ode to lost souls. Salloum sadly sings, “Why did you have to do it/Couldn’t you hold the pain inside/I knew you were loyal to everyone/But they abused your soul.”
“This was my first experience of losing someone in my life who was very important to me. The question I asked myself after they had taken their own life was, ‘Why?’ It’s a deep, heavy subject, but I didn’t want the song to be a reflection of that,” said Salloum, who recently filmed a new video for ‘Why’ in Detroit with Random Ties.
“I want it to be an uplifting song celebrating people’s lives. I really think about the lyrics because somebody could listen to that, and I wonder what they’re going to get out of it. The vocals should be clear, and the person should not only feel the music, but also feel the lyrics and relate to it.”
Beirut to Believe
Saloum initially developed a strong connection to music after relocating to Europe from Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. His first exposure included playing a ‘40s piano and singing with his granddad, who was an opera singer. Salloum was also heavily influenced by his older cousin’s interest in Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan as well as several hard rock and heavy metal artists.
“We would sing a lot of different genres of music, and as my cousin got older, his taste in music slowly got a bit heavier. He graduated to Jon Bon Jovi, and the first album I listened to was Blaze of Glory. That was like, ‘Wow, look at the guitar playing,’ and then when I saw my cousin again, he went to something even heavier like Metallica and Megadeth,” said Salloum, who’s lived in nine different countries.
By 1993, Salloum received a student visa to attend Father Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor and took guitar lessons at the now defunct Herb David Guitar Studio. Playing guitar brought Salloum a new sense of creative freedom and artistic expression before returning to Lebanon in 1994.
Back home, Salloum attended Lebanese American University in Beirut, became infatuated with Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and started his first band, which recorded several tracks at a local studio and performed regularly at different live music venues throughout Lebanon. By age 20, Salloum earned a bachelor’s degree and decided to pursue a business career instead of becoming a full-time musician.
Twenty years passed before Salloum seriously considered returning to music. By November 2018, he and his wife received their green cards and opted to settle in Ann Arbor. At the time, Salloum refreshed his guitar skills while watching YouTube videos and attending open mic nights at The Ark.
“This is the dream that I’ve put on hold for so many years, and now I’m gonna put all my energy and effort into making something out of music. It took me seven months to find the right group of people to form Random Ties. I used to go to all the bars and all those open mics downtown, and I started meeting musicians and getting contacts,” he said.
Salloum first met Murray and started playing with him while writing songs. Not long after that, Salloum brought Thew Vayle (guitar) and Steven Silvis (bass) into the fold and formed Random Ties in 2019. The quartet performed several live shows in Ann Arbor and Detroit and later recorded 11 tracks over two days with Paul Smith at Warren’s Burning Ear Studios. Karno Baghdassarian also mixed and engineered their debut project.
“They made the songs more complete and richer while Thew’s fills and licks gave each song a face-lift and added to a dynamic sound. Steven brought that grunginess to the album with some great basslines while KD played thunderously to bring that heavy-hitting power with amazing fills and breaks,” Salloum said.
With Believe now available on all streaming platforms, Random Ties will release a new video for Week 39” on July 19 as well as another video for “Why” later this year. Along with two new videos and a search for new members (Vayle and Silvis recently left the band), Salloum and Murray will host a Random Ties Believe EP release show Aug. 6 at Jonesville’s Goose Lake Jamboree.
“It was the biggest music festival in Michigan and was like the equivalent of Woodstock in the ‘70s. Then, it kind of died down, and they brought it back a few years ago. The organizers have been very supportive of our music, and we feel it’s a great event and perfect setting to release our EP,” Salloum said.