Too often, when bands try to break into the US market they conform to stereotypes, becoming quirky Swedish alterna-pop “stars” or eclectic Latin dance experimentalists. But Tel Aviv based Vaadat Charigim, who are having their US debut this summer on Burger Records, refuse to sell their music out. Their upcoming record, The World is Well Lost, shows off their noise-heavy shoegaze, and although their vocals are all in Hebrew, songs like “Ze Beseder Lefahed” transcend the language barrier in all of their dreamy 90s glory.
Guitarist and Vocalist Juval Harring talked to us all the way from Tel Aviv. Although Vaadat Charigim has obvious foreign influences, it was revealing to see how strongly they were shaped by the local scene and the local vernacular. We discussed the Israeli underground (they gave a great introduction to Israeli music history, especially the homegrown shoegaze scene) and the way politics has shaped their sound, and contemporary Israeli music in general. Often, music that has any sort of political inspiration is pigeonholed, appreciated for its message but not for its artistic merit. It's a difficult balance, but Vaadat Charigim succeed, creating music that comes from politics, and comments on it, but never lets its message overshadow the music.
One of the first things that hit me while listening to your album was that all the lyrics were in Hebrew. So many bands, when trying to break out internationally, sing in English. What inspired you to stick with Hebrew, and how has that choice affected your music?
Israel has a small, yet very interesting underground history. At its height it was a sort of cross breed between dark 80s and Middle Eastern music. Bands like Wire, Jesus and Mary Chain, Joy Division etc. had a great influence on early underground rock bands here. Ever since then and to this day, there have always been two kinds of bands here: the ones that sing in Hebrew, and the ones who either sing partly in English or completely in English. As I grew older, I found out about myself that I get excited, and more emotional when the music is sung in my mother tongue. I think it has to do with nuances that I notice in Hebrew lyrics, and a local vibe / way of telling a story that just doesn’t exist in English for me. Hebrew is a tough language to write in, especially for rock music, but when you find your way, it is that much more rewarding spiritually.
Yeah, I totally get that. Sadly, though, my Hebrew doesn't extend past shalom and a few prayers. Are there any lyrics that contain stories or impactful moments that you'd like to share with us?
In this album all the lyrics in all the songs are about the same thing, because I wrote it as a whole. A sense of things being unreal around you. The first song opens with the words “When missiles will fall on Tel Aviv's streets, what will we wear and what music will we like,” as if you are playing pretend with yourself, asking “I wonder how I will be when I grow up.” The song after that is called Kezef Al Hamayim, which translates to Ocean Foam. The song reflects on the scene in Tel Aviv, comparing it to something that floats around and then disappears like foam on the water. In “Ze Beseder Lefahed” which translates to “It's OK to be Afraid,” I am singing a love song to my wife, but it is not a love song of self-fulfillment, but rather one about running away from reality together.
I know that some of your songs have been inspired by current events, and I was wondering how the ongoing conflict has affected or inspired your music.
Everyone who lives in this region (Israel, and outside of it) lives in what you call “current events” practically all their lives. We are everyone else's news. In Israel there is mandatory army service, high taxes, high cost of living, low income, no jobs, and at times it seems no future. What this reality creates is a very big group of people who fight on a daily basis to make art / culture possible and interesting as if they are fighting for life. And in turn, this makes for very exciting music, lyrics, and happenings. Even though underground culture is somewhat bourgeois , especially in cities like Tel Aviv, its grass roots are rebellious, existential and very political, in a way that strives to always undermine oppression, banality and authority.
You bring up some interesting points. How have you navigated these interactions between music and politics, and how have you worked to prevent your own political vision from being co-opted by bourgeois culture?
Tel Aviv is a mostly left thinking city, center to left, but still, some sort of left. This makes for a good basis to create art, but it also creates a comfort zone that is dangerous. A lot of underground music is made IN Tel Aviv FOR Tel Aviv, or rather FOR the Tel Aviv state of mind, and neglects communicating with the rest of the country. You have to understand that radio and the mainstream in Israel is very different from what you have in the USA. Rock is not a part of our heritage. In the 60s and 70s, most of the local rock sounded like French chansons, or vintage Italian pop. Distortion as a “thing”, only really got here in the 80s, and was only really turned up in the 90s. When it was first introduced, like anything new, distortion had a mainstream following, including teenagers. And like anything that is not part of a heritage, its mainstream appeal died off, making distortion, in the eyes of the mainstream, from that day to present day, either a “retro” thing, or a 'token” thing, or just annoying and unmusical. The “south Tel Aviv noise rock scene” as it is today, the same scene I am part of, is, therefore, a very self sustaining organism, with little to no outreach. Within Tel Aviv it exists as a novelty, but in the rest of the country, where the mainstream lives and breathes, it is irrelevant. Vaadat Charigim's choice to sing in Hebrew, construct songs with verses and choruses that are somewhat “pop-ish” in sound, these to me are subversive choices within the Israeli context, choices which allow me to take my un-mainstream thinking to a broader audience. With this record I believe we have tapped into a collective sense of “retro” on the distortion level, but on a conceptual level, a content level, we are breaking new ground, going beyond Tel Aviv.
What bands have influenced your sound the most? Were they mostly Israeli or foreign?
I grew up listening to American bands – Nirvana, Beat Happening, Sonic Youth, The Wipers, Dinosaur JR. etc. Ironically, to this day, it is easier to discover new American music than it is new and exciting local underground music. That’s just how the media works, even locally. Whatever is already well known gets more well known, and whatever is unknown either stays that way or evaporates. The breaking up of great local bands just months after the release of their debut album is something of a tradition here, due to the fact that experimental music has nowhere to evolve, no local market to sustain it, no unified and definable scene to support it. BUT, if you are an obsessive collector like myself, you find great local bands. Plastic Venus, a local band from the late 80s to early 90s, have been a great influence on Vaadat Charigim's sound and song writing. Captured Tracks should be releasing their old material soon as part of their Shoegaze Archives.
We’re always interested in hearing about new music from around the world. What are some other bands from Tel Aviv to watch out for?
Check out Bela Tar, aka, Zoe Polanski. She is an anomaly to me. We met a long time ago, and have been part of the same scene more or less for many years, and she has always been in great bands, or doing great music on her own. Recently she started a project with another local musician (Or Edry) called REO, which is poppier and is also in Hebrew and I just think it's great.