A personal connection got him a job producing music for a live version of NPR’s “TED Radio Hour,” where he met the show’s co-creator Guy Raz. The gig went well, and Raz offered Arablouei a three-week contract to help produce a pilot for what became “How I Built This” in 2015. That show took off, and NPR kept extending his contract. Soon, Arablouei was producing music for some of NPR’s top programs.
“I really just expected it to be temporary,” Arablouei says. “I had no experience in journalism, but Guy and the team taught me how to do it. [Working on that show,] I was essentially paid to go to graduate school for journalism for two years.”
At NPR, Arablouei met Rund Abdelfatah, and the pair would strike up a friendship, eventually collaborating on “Throughline,” an immersive (thanks to Arablouei’s sound design) podcast that explores and recontextualizes history through the lens of today. The two co-host and co-produce the show, which airs locally on WAMU, and Drop Electric does the music.
“There’s no throughline to ‘Throughline’ show,” he says. “And that’s intentional. We wanted to do something that’s unpredictable. The only thing you can expect is to be surprised.”
An Iranian immigrant who moved with his family to New York, then Gaithersburg, as a child, Arablouei recognizes the luck he’s had. “I’m humbled by this experience, because I realize that this same series of things could have happened to a number of other people who are more talented,” he says.
Now 35, Arablouei lives in Rockville with his wife and son, and he has a lot of pride for his adopted hometown. “I evangelize the area because I think there’s so much to offer culturally,” he says. That comes through in his vision for a perfect day in the region, which includes tastes of different cultures, nods to his father and a gig with his band.
I drink coffee first thing in the morning to get me going. I would go to Black Lion Cafe, which is in Rockville. It’s owned by an Ethiopian family who focuses on bringing in coffee from Ethiopia. I usually ask them for their specials, and whatever they recommend to me, I get black. It’s always so smooth. Anyone who’s had Ethiopian coffee knows it has a certain combination of smoothness and bite that’s great. The other thing I love is the vibe. It’s like what some chain coffee places try to create with a neighborhood vibe. You go in and you see a lot of the same people you say hi to. It’s very local in that sense.
I’m going to go to Keren Cafe & Restaurant, which is in Adams Morgan. There’s a North African Arab dish called ful. It’s a bean-based breakfast dish with cream, eggs, green onions — you can ask for whatever you want. It’s scrumptious. You can eat it with bread, and it’s really filling. Ful is a dish I was familiar with having had Arab friends growing up whose parents would make it at home. That dish has always been near and dear to me, and I’ve never had it so authentic in D.C. It’s a rich, warm comforting breakfast.
I’m going to gather my buddies and we’re gonna play pickup basketball at Sligo Creek Park, which is one of my favorite parks in the D.C. area. It’s in Silver Spring, and what I like about it is it’s kind of the tip of the park. It has the green, beautiful environment, but it’s also up near the road. There’s always people watching when people are playing pickup.
My favorite lunch place is a restaurant in Gaithersburg called Dosa and Chaat. It’s a South Indian restaurant in a shopping center called Kentlands. I’m friends with the owner, and I love going there for lunch and getting a masala dosa, a South Indian rice crepe stuffed with potatoes, some hodgepodge of masala spices and flavoring and peas. It is such a good lunch food. Dosas are my favorite South Indian delicacies, and they make the best one in the area. If you want to learn about cricket, they always have cricket games playing. A lot of South Indians eat there. It reminds them of home.
Then I would get in the car and drive to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. I love that museum. From childhood, I’ve been really fascinated by airplanes. My dad was an airplane mechanic and was training to be a pilot in Iran before we came here, so he’s also obsessed with them. As a kid he would take us to air shows. They have a full space shuttle at Udvar-Hazy. There’s something so epic and grand about being in a space with these large, beautiful machines that human beings have made. So I would go there and just walk around. For me it’s meditative, spending time there. I like to learn, I also just like basking in the beauty and the grandeur of the space.
I’m going to end up playing a show in the evening. Before the show — I have actually done this before — I’d go to Gravelly Point Park because I love watching planes land there. I like to go at golden hour, right when the light is perfect, lay down on the grass, and just watch the planes fly over and over again. It puts me in a relaxed space for the show. I would probably listen to music. I love a group that the lead singer for Sigur Ros has with his partner called Jónsi & Alex. They have this beautiful, ambient, meditative album that they made while they were on vacation in Hawaii called “Riceboy Sleeps.” It integrates a lot of sounds from nature and Hawaii. It’s such beautiful meditative music and there’s such a wonderful juxtaposition — especially if you’re wearing noise-cancelling headphones — of feeling the rumble of the plane go over while gearing up and not hearing it and just feeling that music envelop you.
I like to play on an empty stomach. There’s something nice about feeling light. Because it’s so physical, drumming. Especially with Drop Electric’s music because we play so loud. Drop Electric is going to play a show at 9:30 Club, which is my favorite place to play. We played there four times. It’s the best place to play music or see a show, I’d say, in the country. We’re going to play this show, and it’s going to be so loud people’s ears are going to be ringing when they leave. We’re going to have full projection, the lighting is going to be a crazy immersive experience and everyone’s going to leave the show buzzed.
Then we’re all getting together, the whole squad, we’re getting in the van, we’re going to drive up to Rockville, and we’re going to a late-night food spot called East Dumpling House. It’s near Rockville Town Square, and it’s Western Chinese food, so it’s Middle Eastern-influenced. You can get everything from kebabs to dumplings there, and it’s open late. It’s also a karaoke bar, they have an amazing sound system, and basically any song you want.
Their lamb and carrot dumplings are mind-blowingly good. It’s probably the best dumplings I’ve ever had — even better than the places I’ve been to in Flushing, Queens, which is like a mecca. Their Dan Dan noodles have a more Middle Eastern style and flavor: There’s cumin in there, there’s definitely some Middle Eastern spices and it represents, to me, the diversity of Chinese food that we have in Rockville.