Tel Aviv’s Noga Erez belongs to the group of those rare artists that somehow find a way to excel in pretty much all the branches that encompass their artistic expression – in Noga’s case it’s made with a fresh sound that is complemented with great songs, enthralling visuals, and a message that actually means something. Her debut album Off The Radar, Tel Aviv, and the importance of balance, were some of the subjects of our conversation with one of the most exciting new artists around.
I had the chance of interviewing the vocalist from King 810, which is from Flint, Michigan (one of the most dangerous cities in the United States), and it was quite visible that he was highly informed and influenced, as an artist and as a human being, by his surroundings. It seems that you share that with him – even the way you talk about political and social subjects from a very personal point of view. I’m extremely curious to know how Tel Aviv made you develop as a person and ultimately as an artist.
You know, living in Tel Aviv, and living in Israel, is not… I mean, sometimes you can really imagine something that feels very unsafe or even dangerous because you hear about what’s going on here and you always hear about war, or terrorism, violence, and stuff like that, but in reality when you live inside of Tel Aviv, or in the center of Israel, you don’t feel the violence on the everyday life. That’s the main different between me and the artist you talked about. I walk the streets and I feel safe… most of the time. But the thing is, when you take yourself maybe an hour away from Tel Aviv to places like Jerusalem or Gaza, which is so nearby, terrible things are happening. Things that are in the center of a very, very complex conflict that has been going on for decades and decades. So, I think in a way that would be what kind of shaped me as a human being. Knowing that something in a not very distant place from me is happening and I’m, in a way, a part of it. But I’ve kind of experienced from far.
You’ve confessed that at some point you got rid of your TV and stopped consuming news completely. Do you maintain that?
The reason I wanted to avoid news and media in general, was because of the fact that I tend to be oversensitive or too interested in what’s happening. I found myself, at a certain point, kind of waking up in the morning and just reading whatever there is to read about the situation, about the world, about Israel, and because it has something so interesting to it consuming this information was something that I felt was almost like an addiction for me. It was almost like when you read gossip, because it’s something you can’t stop consuming. I felt that at a certain point it became unhealthy and I kind of felt that it numbed me in the emotional side because you are continuously reading about how dreadful the world can be, horror stories like awful things that happen to people, it kind of becomes something that you just read about. It’s not something that really happened and it kind of loses the human aspect of it, and I felt, at a certain point, I really needed to disconnect myself from it, in order to maintain a certain sensitivity and to not be detached. That was the reason and I don’t find myself disconnecting completely from what’s happening anymore because I had to learn how to find the balance and how to not get myself too deep into things and still remain very aware of what’s happening. I think after a while that I was really working on it, I’ve kind of achieved that, so I don’t need to do that very extreme separation between myself and the world.
There seems to exist a huge concern for the visual aspect of your music. Is the visual aspect of it attached to the creative process of the music in some way, or is it just a very pivotal after thought?
I love music videos and that’s why I put so much effort in making them, and I’ve always kind of dreamt to have videos for my music, so it’s a very important thing to me. But I think if you look at the hierarchy – what’s more important – I tend to think, of course because I’m a musician, that the music comes first and the music needs to stand on its own and be very, very good on its own without having a video helping communication the message. But I do think that videos are an extremely important tool to make the music in a way accessible, because visuality is something that we can connect with very easily and the visual sense is one of the most important ways for us to process the world. It’s an extension of the music. It’s no intended to be something that distracts you from the music.
How does it work your relation with your creative partner, co-writer and producer Ori Rousso?
We have been creative partners and collaborators for the past four years, or something like that. It has been working very, very well from the beginning and something about the communication that we have really helps the creative process. For me sitting with him in the same room and creating music is something that really helps my creativity and the same for him. I think that’s something really important about partnership. Each side can benefit from it and also it can build something completely new and really be its own thing, because there’s me, there’s him, we both write the lyrics and compose, and produce the music together, but there’s also the partnership itself, which is a whole separate thing that, from day one, has been working on a very harmonic way.
When you started composing these tracks you were not necessarily thinking about making an album, from what I understand. How was the process of putting them together and create a sort of context for them?
We had a lot of songs, which we picked out the ones that felt that they could work best together. And then when we realized kind of the atmosphere of the album was going to be, we had a few songs that we felt needed… I mean, we had the order of the songs and we felt it was a strong lineup between the songs, but we felt we needed to kind of break the tension from time to time because we ended up having a very intense album. So, we added a few bits of music, some raw ideas between songs in order to give a certain relief between all the tensions of the songs. We really tried a lot of things and did I don’t know how many variations but… it was a very, very long, and very interesting process to think of the aspect of besides having the songs how you put them together into something that would feel like it’s one, very continuous, and very organic.
“…I had to learn how to find the balance and how to not get myself too deep into things and still remain very aware of what’s happening.”
One of the most impressive features on Off The Radar is to witness all these different voices that you have and use throughout the album. I remember listening to it for the first time and being excited because I didn’t know what the hell I would encounter in terms of vocal performance on each song. How’s your creative process regarding your vocal performance and what would you say influences it?
I look at vocal performances as something that has the aesthetic of being a good vocal performance, but also something that is supposed to transfer something, that’s beyond a lot of emotion, attitude, and vibe. I felt like in many ways I didn’t want sing the songs from my point of view, the very neutral point of Noga Erez as a human being. I wanted to play different characters in the songs because sometimes I wasn’t talking from my own mouth and I felt it could be an interesting experience to try and bring out a few different voices into the songs, and really follow the meaning of them, what they want me to do. In a song like “Toy”, for example, I was kind of trying to be like an annoying child, a very spoiled child that is used to getting whatever he wants – that’s one approach. In “Dance While You Shoot” I was trying to bring something almost monotonic and disconnected but at the same time very angry. When you put so much loaded emotions into things, it changes the vocal performance in a way that creates a big variety of characters.
Even though your lyrics can be politically and social conscious, your music provides a release that seems to come from a more positive place – it’s often danceable and upbeat. Was that a conscious effort to create this sort of dichotomy?
No, I mean… this all album was created not from a place of effort. Of course there was a tone of work put into that album, and hard work is a part of creating something and when things come too easily, usually I begin to suspect that there’s still something that needs to be solved. But when I think about not putting effort I mean, I love every moment of this album and I loved the difficulties and challenges about it. You can get to a point where you feel so frustrated because of the creative process. In a way I think the atmosphere we brought there, when you put it together with the lyrics is really something that came so naturally for both of us because we both like music that contains a very strong message, but we also like music that really gives a good beat that you can maybe dance to. These are the two sides that exist in us and combining them wasn’t an effort.
What’s the meaning behind “Instruction” and “Side Effect” and what did you want to convey? I’m asking about these two in particular because there seems to exist a connection between them.
Yeah, there is. It’s basically the same text, but “Side Effect” is basically an extension of the same text. There’s a track in the album called “Muezzin” that used to have chorus, which was both of those little parts. It was the verses that are now on “Muezzin” and then the chorus was what you hear now in the acappella parts. At a certain point, we felt that “Muezzin” should exist without those chorus because in a way it felt like “Muezzin”, which is a very personal song that talks about the experience of anxiety attack or paranoia that shouldn’t have a resolution because “Read the instructions carefully” is how a medication brochure starts, and then it goes on talking about the side effects of said medication… So, “Muezzin” is a song that talks sort of about mental illness and then it gives the solution of taking medicine, which is something I wasn’t really interested in saying. But I did feel that when you take out the chorus and you put it before other songs, it gives it another meaning, it gives it a meaning of: “Read the instructions carefully,” meaning know what you’re getting into, and then comes something that you’re supposed to go through, which is emotional, which is the song that comes after. This is kind of what stands behind those two little parts of acappellas.
Could you please explain the “Quiet One” track and why did you mention Kendrick and Vince?
“Quiet One” is basically a track to prepare the listener to he’s about to hear in the same way as “Side Effect” and “Instruction”. All of those little short parts inside the album are meant to kind of break the fourth wall me, as an artist, and the listener. “Quit One” is a song that comes right before a very quiet song, a very mellow song “Worth None”, and in a way it is approaching the listener as someone who’s having a hard time really listening to something that’s not very upbeat, that’s not a hit song. It tells the listener, “Well, you’ve come this far and you must know that right now I need to provide a quiet song.” About the Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples references, I listen to them all the time, but in that song I’m trying to tell myself and the listener to try avoid doing the same thing and try to go to somewhere else and change your listening habits, in a way.
“Global Fear” feels a sort of center piece. Not only its position right at the middle, but you say something that seems to sort of inform the record as a whole – “Breathing is impossible / I think I’m about to pass out.” Not to mention that is probably the most relatable statement on the entire record, something seems to be reaching the vast majority of the population.
Yeah, we thought about putting it right on the middle of the album. It was an intentional thing. We wanted to break the album in the middle with “Global Fear” because it’s a statement and we need to approach this very specific thing about us, a generation driven by fear, driven by a paranoia that distances us from what’s happening in the world and makes us disconnect, or run away, or escape. We felt this was one of the messages that was very central to the album, which tells the story of the album in a way.