Nashville Scene: How's this tour going?
Yonatan Gat: Oh it's going great, it's going really good.
NS: Is this a headlining tour you guys are doing?
YG: Yeah, actually, yeah. We're not playing festivals or any support shows at all. We just put out a record, so we're supporting that.
NS: How's it different headlining shows? Are they drawing really well? Playing in front of your own fans and all that, you kinda know what to expect. Is it different playing in front of those people instead of opening or doing some festival sets?
YG: Yeah, definitely. I think the show is very much the same--I mean we've been doing it for so long and obviously a lot of special things happen every night but basically it's our show and we kinda do it the same every night in a way.
NS: What are the kind of things that are different every night?
YG: The thing is that what you said is true. When we play, we played a lot of festivals in Europe during the summer, and then we kinda get a chance to really surprise the audience. Because they stand there, they don't know what to expect. Like we set up on the floor and they look at us kinda weird. It's an interesting experience to know that they're going to be shocked at the beginning. And when we come to play in front of audiences that some of them have seen us before, actually on this tour you kinda of a lot of new audiences too but they kinda know what to expect--they've seen videos and read about the band and whatever, so it's kinda different. We have a little bit of the shock factor, but that's understandable too because we've been doing it for a while. It's actually more fun. It's actually kinda challenging in a way too, we have to kind of live up even higher expectations, so I guess it brings more out of the band. And it's really fun, basically, I think the big festivals and the shows we get that are kinda weird and nobody knows about us are fun every once in a while. But I think my favorite thing is to actually play in front of our audience.
NS: You talked before about having to live up to the expectations of the show. Last year when you guys played with Silver Jews, I guess it was last fall, people were expecting fire and there was no fire. Is there going to be fire this time?
YG: I don't know, I can't say. We can't always give them exactly what they expect, hopefully we don't let them down but I don't think we're what you call a one-trick pony. I don't think if somebody expects fire and it doesn't happening, I think there might be other things that happen. I don't think a lot of people come to our shows to see fire; they could just have a barbecue in your yard for that. I think the thing we like about shows in general, about bands in general is the atmosphere of people playing together and being in a room together and how it blends in with the audience and I think you get that at our show. I think the fire or what we do it kinda beside the point.
NS: You guys have been to Nashville a few times now, what has your impression of the city been?
YG: I like Nashville a lot--it's one of my favorite cities in the states. I really like the atmosphere, we have a bunch of friends, we always have great shows there. The people we meet are always interesting. We got to spend a few days, so we did a few touristic things, I was walking down town and went to the honky-tonks. I like Nashville a bunch, it's one of my favorite American cities. I think it's really interesting.
NS: We're really excited to have you back. Have you heard either of bands you're playing with (JEFF the Brotherhood and Turbo Fruits)?
YG: Turbo Fruits, we're actually on tour with. We're playing 15 shows with them and this is the last show. The Nashville show is actually like the finale show of the tour. We like to end tours in cities we like, we're going to leave all of our equipment in Nashville with friends, so we figured we'll end this tour in Nashville. We usually end in New York or L.A. or something, but this one ends in Nashville. Turbo Fruits are great; we just played like 5 shows with them. Now we have like 3 days doing shows without them and we're going to meet up with them in New York over the weekend. And JEFF the Brotherhood, I saw them in Brooklyn three months ago or something and thought they were great. I knew the guitar player because we just met him a couple of times in Nashville. But, in Brooklyn three months ago was the first time I saw them and they were great. So it's a pretty exciting show.
NS: Have heard any other Nashville bands, are you familiar with the Nashville scene at all?
YG: Not that much, we have friends in the Silver Jews and we have a friend Willy Tyler that does his solo thing now, it's called Paper Hats? He's a good friend of ours and he gave us his CD once and I thought it was great; we listened to it in the car. But never got to see his show yet because he's actually going to be on tour in Europe when we're in Nashville, so we couldn't do the show together. So I never really go to see his show, but I know his music is great and he's a great guitar player.
NS: At the Silver Jews show Exit/In last year, your singer grabbed my beer and poured it down his shorts. I thought it was funny, but I guess I could see how it would anger some people. Have you ever been confronted by audience members who get upset by the band being physically mixed in with the audience or any things that happen in regard to the antics?
YG: You know, you would think so but not really. Maybe once every hundred shows, somebody complains. I got a person once who really wanted to be refunded for his beer, so I gave a drink ticket I think and he bought a record anyway so it didn't really matter. No, I think kinda...I don't know. People don't care for some reason. I don't know how Ami does it, I guess maybe people like having their beers taken spilled over them. Maybe they need it.
NS: What's the scariest thing that you've had happen at one of these shows?
YG: Sometimes it gets really wild, and people jump and you think the floor is gonna collapse. We played, like, the second floor in Toronto once and I was sure that the sure was going to end up in the restaurant downstairs because I just felt like the floor was going to collapse. Sometimes it gets really crazy and trash cans are flying in the air and cymbals are flying in the air. One show in Providence, one guy grabbed a cymbal and was going to throw it as a Frisbee and we stopped him. A lot of things where danger almost happened, but nothing really bad ever happens except for, like, minor injuries.
NS: Well, what kind of injuries?
YG: Just bruises and scars.
NS: But you guys don't mind that kind of stuff?
YG: I don't know, I guess it's a part of it. It doesn't feel great but it passes.
NS: How would you describe the show to someone who's never seen it?
YG: I think it's three Israeli people...trying to play rock 'n' roll...inside the audience...and doing the things that they feel like doing at any given moment of time. I don't know--it's really hard to describe. Anything, I don't you can really capture in words or genres or descriptions. Like I said earlier, it's just like the atmosphere of the thing that really counts. What I like about our show is that we do it on the floor and it's really like eye-level and the band and audience are the same unit in a way. It's very unifying and liberating and fun.
NS: Have you been banned from any clubs in the U.S. yet?
YG: Yeah, a little bit. We got banned out of many clubs in Austin because we used to play a lot of shows every South by Southwest. This year we didn't, we just played, like, three or something. We used to want to play a lot, so we played a lot of clubs and never really bother to really know which band they book so they were, like, really surprised. Some club tried to force us to play onstage and we said yeah, but we took to the floor on the second song so I don't think we can go back there. Some club was just pissed that Ami was throwing straws and napkins from the bar at the audience or something, so we were banned from there. I think that if a club books us, they usually know what to expect and they know we're respectful of the venue, because we are. I mean, because we've played so many shows here. Our thing is not trashing rooms, it's more about having a good time and I think people trust us. They trust us with their beers, they know we will do the right thing with their beers, and they know we will do the right thing with their venues.
NS: So, like, when you go up and play on the bar and things like that, do you tell them before hand that you're going to be doing that?
YG: No, we don't do that. Only if it's something really extreme. If we want to light fires and stuff, we might say something. We never plan those things before the show, so we're not like, "Tonight we'll get on the bar." It's kind of the way it keeps it refreshing for us too. So what we tell them before the show, we tell them we play on the floor which can be problematic to certain places but that's part of our certain conditions. We only play on the floors, if they want to book us they know we have to play on the floor. We tell them that, because it's an important thing. We don't really care about going to the bar or not, we want to be free to do what we want. But if the bar can break or something, and they tell us, "Don't get on the bar," we won't. We don't really care. All we care about is to be able to do our show our way, and that's on the floor. We try to make it safe for everybody and that's it. We have some technical requirements that are really simple, our set-up is really simply, and that's what we tell them but we don't really plan what we're going to do so we can't really talk to them about it.
NS: Are there any antics that you've pulled off live that you'll never try again?
YG: Me, personally, some things I tell myself I'll never do again because it was so close to something happening, but when the right moment comes I just end up doing them again. I guess not. I guess if we tried anything [and] survived it then we're liable to do it again one day. As long we're not dead, then the answer to this question is, "No."
NS: So when you guys are playing and you pass parts of the drum kit around and you get separated in the audience. Is it hard to play under those conditions? How long did it take to get used to that and to manage to still sound like a band and sound tight while all that is going on?
YG: We're still getting used to it. I think we're getting better and better, but I think we're still kind of improving it. It's really hard to play when people fall on you and push you. People will fall down and hold onto my guitar while they're falling, just to grab something, and it's hard to play. People will fall on Haggai's drum, people will steal Ami's microphone. It's hard, but I guess over time we just kinda learned how to do it. I think sometimes we do better, sometimes we don't do it as well. But we're improving.
NS: Was there ever a time when you guys played on a stage, or did you always start out doing this way?
YG: Since we started, all of our shows are on the floor.
NS: How do you translate what you do live to record?
YG: Well, with this record, what we tried to do is we kept it really, really, really simple. We took more time writing it and recording it than the last record because we actually had time and we had some money to put on this record, as opposed to the debut effort when we were pretty broke at the time. So we spent two weeks in the studio recording and mixing it. We [spent] two months in New Orleans writing it and a bunch more time in Israel beforehand, starting to work on the songs. Basically we came to the studio pretty ready. As opposed to the EP--on the EP we played the songs in, like, 400 shows before we recorded them. This time kinda wanted to keep it fresh, too, so we tried not to play as many shows. We did a little bit because we like to play the songs and see how they feel at the show. A lot of the songs we never played live. There's a couple of slower songs on the record that we actually never played live--we never even tried. Most of them, we only played live five or 10 or 15 times, which is nothing for us.
So we kinda kept it fresh and we went into the studio with the songs pretty done, we just started playing them. We tried to make it as live as possible with a lot of the songs. We recorded everything--guitars and drums, in the same room. I had, like, three guitar amps turned up really loud in the room to make it like a kind of natural environment, like a show or something. A lot of the songs, Ami's original vocal take is the vocal take of the song. We barely did like tricks with vocals like doubling it too much, we kinda kept the vocals very simple. Guitars, there's a little overdub, but nothing. It just sounds like the three of us playing and that's what it is basically. Almost the entire thing is live, we just played it really loud in the room, really simple. It was a really natural way for us, it felt really comfortable. I think the thing we did achieve, I mean, it's not like the show, it'll never be like the show. It cannot sweat on you and put a trash can on you and steal your beer, but what it does capture is kind of like the smell of our band and the way we sound and the atmosphere of our band. I don't know if it's a good thing or not but it's us and I think it's closer to what we are and what we like about our music than anything else we ever did. I think a lot of people that like the show a lot end up liking this record. It doesn't have the visual element of the show, but other than that it has a lot from the show.
NS: Who are some of your biggest influences, musically?
YG: So much stuff, man. It's really hard to say. We've all been listening to music for so many years and a lot of it is rock 'n' roll from the U.K. and U.S., like old stuff from the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, now. It's endless, so it's really hard to say specific influences.
NS: You were talking earlier about capturing the atmosphere and what your band's all about. Being that you guys are from Israel and not the U.K. or America or Europe, how does that inform your music differently? what is it about where you're from that you want to convey to people if anything?
YG: We don't really think about what we want to convey to people about where we're from. If we thought of ourselves as some sort of Israeli ambassadors, we would have sang in Hebrew and sang, like, folk or Israeli funk. We don't really think about what we want to convey, but I think it does make us really different, the place we're from. I think anyone, like American bands, they have their American way of playing rock 'n' roll, and English bands have an English way of playing rock 'n' roll. People from other countries have kind of usually a weird way of playing rock 'n' roll, which sometimes works amazing. There's great bands from Europe and Sweden. I think the way play rock 'n' roll, being Israelis, is really, really, really different from American bands. I'm not even saying it's a good thing or not a good thing. We always laugh that it's not a good thing, but I'm not saying if it's good or not. I'm saying that to somebody that's used to listening American rock 'n' roll, hearing us play music that's kind of similar will sound really different.
YG: How different?
NS: Yeah, how and in what ways is it different?
YG: I mean, the world is small now. We all listen to the same record people in the States have been listening to growing up. Maybe to a person like Ami, who's 44, it was harder to get but he was still able to get Mudhoney and Royal Trux records back in the late '80s in Israel. It was hard for him, and for me, I'm 27, I had very easy access to all this music. You can order things online and there's record stores in Israel and stuff. It's really easy to get access to recorded music, but we didn't get to see that many rock 'n' roll shows. Maybe like Israeli bands, but it's kinda secluded because of the way it's located geographically and not a lot of bands go through there. And the culture is so different, people look different, speak different, smell different, so obviously the way they would play guitar would be different. I can't really describe, but I'm just saying that what an American person plays rock 'n' roll it kinda makes sense in a way and when an Israeli person plays rock 'n' roll it's kinda weird sounding. I think if you tried to go against it and if we tried to play rock 'n' roll like Americans, then we would sound weird in a very twisted weird way. But if we kinda go with that.... Rock 'n' roll is basically, despite the fact that we're not American, it is a thing we all grew up with in a way only because we listened to those records at home. At the same time we grew up around this Mediterranean culture that's completely different. If we kind of find our language within this thing called rock 'n' roll, then there'll be Israeli rock 'n' roll that's us. If we tried to sound and look like an American band, we'll just look like a bunch of asshole and probably not sound much better too.
NS: It's not often that you see bands come here from Israel. How did you guys manage to get exposure in the U.S. and what really brought you over here?
YG: I don't know. When we started it, we couldn't do many shows. We like playing shows, we did our show on the floor for the first time and we thought it was really fun, and we just wanted to play other shows. We never ever thought about things like money or stuff like that at the time, because in Israel, to make money out of music, you have to be like this kind of successful mainstream artist and we knew we can't make music like Dave Matthews Band or whatever. So making money out of music seemed like something for other people. We all kind of worked in music, I was playing bass for successful Israeli mainstream singers and whatever, and Ami was doing sound and was an engineer for other bands. Our thing was always kind of a hobby to us, but it was a hobby we liked to take really seriously. We liked to do it every day and we couldn't play shows every day, so we just practiced every day. We tried to get as many shows at possible, so basically we tried to play everywhere and that's the reason we got banned from so many places in Israel because we tried to get a show every day and we just ended up playing at those really weird places that would not tolerate a show like ours. At some point, it was really hard to get a show in Israel and we knew that a bunch of friends from Israeli bands did those, like, D.I.Y. tours of the States. We didn't even think of Europe as an option at the time, which didn't make sense because Europe is actually closer and kind of easier for a band that's starting out. But America was always kind of fascinating to us in a way and we were listening to all different American music. So we just though, let's go there.
We talked to a friend that had another band and we said let's go there three weeks, just check it our, go on tour and see what it feels like to be in a band that tours and whatever. And we did a tour. And we played in front of 5 or 10 people every night in really shitty bars. If we had done the same tour now, we would probably felt that it wasn't really successful or anything. But back then, the only thing that was different about this tour and playing shows in Israel, is that we felt people were really, really open to what we do. I mean, we weren't like a great band back then or something. It still had the same atmosphere, I talk about atmosphere all the time, it still had the same atmosphere that it has now. But we had different songs and we progressed a lot playing 600 shows since then. We didn't blow people away then, but people were really curious and interested in what we did and they liked it. They didn't like faint, they weren't blown away by the show back then, but we saw that they liked it, so we just thought maybe we could to it again. And then David Berman actually invited us to do some support shows for them, and then we met our booking agent and eventually our label. Things just went on from there--we liked playing shows so much that we just kept doing it and doing it and doing it until it became our lives and our livelihood and make the way our lives look the last four years.
NS: When you guys go back and play in Israel, is it like it was back 4 years ago or is it different? Is the band bigger there now and is the reception different?
YG: We barely play Israel now. We're not so crazy about playing there and we like to rest when we go home because we tour so much, so when we go home we really like to take time off from the band when we can. But we just put out the record, so we did one huge show in Tel Aviv. We supported Faith No More and Dinosaur Jr. in front of 6,000 people--we played on the floor. It was really fun. But no, we're not really famous in Israel. I think that walking in San Francisco, more people would talk to me about my band than in Tel Aviv, for sure.
NS: Do you still live in Israel?
YG: Yeah. We all do. Haggai and his family is there and they're settled there. I travel a lot, but I go home a lot too. I spent probably three or four months a year there.
NS: So what's the goal for the band at this point? What will be the next step?
YG: Well, we're excited about doing this tour, which is kind of a big deal for us because we put out this new record and we get to sell to people and make people know about this new record, so that's kind of an exciting thing. We're going to Australia and then we're talking about going to South America and a lot of new places that we've never been before, which is really exciting. So we'll do a bunch of touring, and then we actually have plans of maybe writing another record. We have really exciting plans about that, but it's really early to talk about. But for now, I think for the next six months we're just going to tour a lot because we just put out this record and we want people to know about it because we really stand behind and we feel that people might actually kind of like it.
NS: Cool, man, I can't wait to see you guys in Nashville.
YG: Yeah, man, it's going to be a great show. It's the last show of our tour--it's going to be a celebration.
(Thanks to our editorial intern Lance Conzett for transcribing this interview.)