Meet Ardy! Ardalan Zonouzi was born in Tehran, Iran, on December 18, 2001. At the age of 13, the musical artist moved to Georgia and started making music shortly after. Though he grew up playing instruments such as the flute, and the Persian santoor, Zonouzi draws the majority of his influence from hip hop artists such as Mac Miller, Lil Wayne, The Weeknd, as well as various Persian artists such as Zedbazi, Behzad Leito, Hichkas, and Erfan. Zonouzi works with 1122 Records as an artist, engineer, and CEO with a real, yet psychedelic approach to his music that focuses on social issues and personal struggles he’s faced within his life. Inspired to inspire, Zonouzi is also driven by what he has gained from his idols in the past, hoping to pass on the knowledge to those that might look up to him in the future. His debut project “Therapy” was released in 2019 under 1122 Records.
Tell us a little bit about your family.
I live with my mom Sunny and her husband, Phil, in Downtown Woodstock. We recently moved from Acworth.
How long have you lived in the Woodstock area?
Since January 27, 2014.
How has that been?
Great. I love it. It is very different because we have freedom here. I couldn’t rap in Iran, it’s illegal over there. You can go to jail for that. The genre of rap, hip-hop is illegal, rock is also illegal. Basically, anything that’s Westernized is illegal.
Do you go back regularly?
I used to go back every summer, I can’t anymore.
Is that because you are an artist?
That could be a part of it now too because I’ve grown over there and there are certain pages that have shouted me out that might be monitored by the government, but I don’t think that would be a problem at this time. But this year the main problem would be the military. They have mandatory military service in Iran, so after you turn 18 you have to serve at least two years in the military before you can leave the country. I left the country before I was eighteen, but my dad, my aunts, and my cousins are over there so I can’t really see them anymore. It’s hard, but it’s actually one of my main sources of motivation, sharing my experience about coming from Iran to the United States.
When you came to the United States when you were 13 years old. What was that like for you? Did you have culture shock?
It wasn’t a complete shock. Most of the shock I had was from the school system because girls and boys go to separate schools over there until college. For me it was just different.
What was it like for you starting in middle school?
It was actually pretty hard now that I think about it. I was always good at school, but it was hard leaving the friends I had in Tehran. We applied for a visa when I was really young, so my whole life was leading up to the moment we came to America. But it wasn’t until that moment that I realized I was leaving behind a lot of the people who helped me become the person I am today. When I first moved here my mom was only here temporarily because she had to go back to Tehran to take care of things, so it was just me and my grandparents.
A lot of people were welcoming but I also got a lot of unwelcoming remarks. It wasn’t what I expected at all. It was weird to be treated differently here because in Iran we don’t necessarily have different races. But I can understand the difference between when people ask me questions about my ethnicity because they are curious and when they are asking as a determination of whether or not they are going to like me. And it’s funny because now I don’t fit in in Tehran either. Even though I was born there, I’m foreign now. I’m the American boy and I get labeled there too.
How do you deal with people who have opposing views from you?
It depends. If they can communicate why they don’t like something I’m more likely to listen to them. But if they say something is bad just because it is, I don’t pay too much attention to that.
I believe in the balance of life and I know that there are just as many good people in this world as bad people. I decided to focus on myself and the things that I love to do. I realized I can’t spend my life trying to fit it when I’m unique.
What does it mean to you to walk and get your diploma?
It signifies something very important, the ‘I finished this and can do whatever I want now’ mentality. This is the start of a different life. But in a way, I’ve already been doing what I love and that is music. Some of the people I’m graduating with mean a lot to me, so that is a big milestone we share. But I always gravitated toward people that are older, so many of my friends have already graduated.
So, you graduated in February before everything happened?
Yes, but I am planning to walk at graduation. It’s supposed to be in June or July.
Who is the most interesting person, teacher or coach you’ve met here in Woodstock? Why did you choose them?
Mr. Coker from my senior year. I really appreciated the way he handled himself and his class, everything made sense and was straight-forward. He really trusted himself and he taught me to trust myself more.
What is your favorite thing or something unique you love about Woodstock?
I love how things are simple, calm, and peaceful. People are close together and most people are very respectful and friendly.
How did you get into music?
I’ve always been into music since I was three or four years old. When I moved to America, I couldn’t bring the santoor with me and I didn’t have a teacher here. That was hard but I still loved music as an outlet. Music is a transfer of energy through sound. As much as people have impacted my life, I think music has really made me the person I am today. There were so many days and nights I couldn’t talk to people, but I would listen to music and I could feel understood. It inspires me to impact people in the same way.
Tell us about your record label, 1122 Records. What does the name mean?
Because everything started at our house on Bells Ferry. The house number was ‘1122.’ None of the people on the label had anywhere to record so everyone would come to my house at 1122 and we would record there, I would mix all the music, everything would get distributed there in the little room I had.
How many people do you have on the label?
Right now there are six artists I work with closely and I help manage them. But we work with at least 30 or 40 artists.
You seem to have a philosophical approach to making an impact in the music business. Can you tell us more about that?
People around me were inspired to help and that makes them ask the question, ‘what am I good at?’ I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they discover what they are good at. I don’t care if I make one dollar from this or a billion dollars. Technically, I’ve already reached my dream because I have been able to impact people. I just want to do it on a bigger scale and help people do everything they can do to do what makes them happy.
My main goal is to make sure everyone in my record label family knows there is no limit. One of our producers, Aiden Hulsey, was in a biking accident and was very limited in what he could do. But I put him on our label because I have so much belief in him and he’s genuine. Him being inspired by us made me inspired.
Who/what inspires you to be better?
My family motivates me because I know what they’ve been through. They gave me the chance to come to the United States and live the life I want to live with their support, and I’m so grateful for that. My mom’s strength is probably the biggest inspiration to me, knowing all the times things have been hard or gone wrong, she has always helped me make it through.
If you could choose anyone that is alive today, and not a relative: with whom would you love to have lunch? Why? Where, in Woodstock, would you meet for lunch?
I always wanted to sit down and talk to Mac Miller or Kendrick Lamar. I always wanted to know how they manage all the pressure of having so much influence and how they feel about it. We would eat at Salt.
Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
I see myself as a CEO and a man with a positive influence.
What advice would you give to a crowd of people?
Do what makes you happy. Every human being is a member of a whole, and your level of happiness will reflect on others. You don’t need money to be happy if you follow your heart. Everyone will have regrets, but will you be able to look back on your life and say you were happy?
Have you seen any benefits related to the shutdown?
In this past couple of months I realized how much I can truly do with my music, how much more time I would like to invest in it that I didn’t have before because I was working or at school. Now I can put all my energy into this one thing. I think this is a point in time that could help other people understand what they want to in life also.
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?
I would love to travel to LA or New York if there was no quarantine. I always wanted to feel the energy in those cities.
Zonouzi in Community