Assault on the senses

Israeli art-punk band Pink Noise is emerging from semi-obscurity in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to pelt the world with its hard-edged free-form music.

July 25, 2010 22:11
SHARON SULAMI (second from left) and Pink Noise will perform at Tel Aviv’s Levontin 7 this week.

Pink Noise 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

They’ve been favorably compared to everyone from Sonic Youth and the Pixies to PJ Harvey and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. So why are the Israeli rockers who make up the artpunk band Pink Noise still a Williamsburg, Brooklyn semi-obscurity after almost a decade in the band-eat-band world of New York?

It may be because the world is not ready for the aggressive free-form rhythm and meter and provocative lyrics and vocals provided by guitarist/singer Sharon Sulami, brothers Yuval and Itamar Ziegler on guitar and bass respectively, and drummer Yuval Lion – collectively they have been described by one enthusiastic New York City reviewer as “precise to a fault, like four musicians playing with a shared brain. The result is tight, complex, and fascinating.”

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Or, with a new, sparkling album coming out later this year and a real, bill-paying song-publishing deal recently inked, it may be because their time is just rising over the horizon like a burning hot globe of fire about to explode.

Singer Sulami is really hoping for the latter, having invested the last few years into honing Pink Noise’s sound into a well-oiled machine, while sacrificing personal amenities living the starving musician’s life in New York.

“There’s been a lot of struggling, banging our heads against walls and working at shitty jobs to pay for rehearsal space in a basement,” said Sulami, who, along with the rest of the band, is spending time in Israel this month – part vacation, part work with two shows on Thursday and Friday at Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv.

“It’s very tough getting started, you don’t know the city, and you don’t know how things work – it takes a long time to figure it out. We all lived in together in one house in Williamsburg – there were eight musicians there.”

With the number of Israeli musicians relocating to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg in recent years – turning the haredi stronghold into an artsy alter-Village for those who can’t afford the real thing – it’s a wonder that Hebrew hasn’t become the number one language. However Sulami finds the musical and cultural camaraderie comforting and inspiring.

“We got to Williamsburg before it became trendy, because it was cheap and close to the city,” she said, adding that the influx of Israelis hasn’t been a bad thing for her. “Israelis have a tendency to look for each other, and if one group of people go out, then another goes too and it feels like home.”

HOME, FOR the members of Pink Noise, used to be Israel, where Sulami and Lion met each other playing in an Air Force band during their army service. At some point, the couple – both romantically and musically – befriended the Ziegler brothers, who were founding members of Side Effect, touted as Israel’s first hip hop band ahead of Hadag Nahash.

“We arrived in New York in different bands, but we all knew each other and were friends. When Yuval [Lion] left New York to go to Boston to study music, we convinced him to come back to start Pink Noise,” said Sulami.

The band’s music was physical and featured a combined Israeli-New York intensity from day one, with Sulami’s wired stage presence and commanding vocals complementing the powerhouse drumming of Lion, and the Zieglers’ arty angularity.

A well-received debut EP, Come On Senses, was followed in 2006 by the band’s first full-length album, All Is Nu, which won accolades in New York indie circles and started creating a nationwide buzz, with over 200 radio station picking up tracks off the album. Sulami attributed the powerful, sometimes abrasive sound of the band to the environment of where they came from as well as where they are today.

“I think being Israeli is part of the directness – it’s who we are as people. And it comes out in the music. I think it might have more to do with being in New York for so long, than with being Israeli. It’s the music we like,” she said.

OTHERS EVIDENTLY like Pink Noise’s music as well. Producer Dave Sitek, who’s worked with TV on the Radio and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, took the helm for the band’s upcoming album, What Will Happen if Somebody Finds Out, and the aforementioned song-publishing deal will likely boost the band’s profile in the coming months. Sulami, while grateful for the exposure, said she also feels the downside for a band that has been calling the shots itself for a long time.

“We used to do things on our own, and now we have other people involved, which is interesting,” she said. “I think it’s better, because you get some kind of money and appreciation for what you do. It’s nice when people say it’s great, and they work to get songs used in films or on TV. But it’s also harder – there’s more people to deal with and everything takes longer. There are more rules to follow.”

Following the rules but still keeping to their rule-breaking music is part of the deal that may soon find Pink Noise on the tips of tongues outside the New York trendsetter crowd. And there have been some fringe benefits to working with the big boys, according to Sulami.

“I think things are turning a corner, Working with Dave was really nice, and it was great mastering the album in the best studio in New York. It sounds great,” she said, adding that she didn’t see any problem in possibly increasing the comparisons to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as a result of working with Sitek.

“They’re different. They have one guitar and a drummer. We’re a full band, I play an instrument,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s a bad band to have as a point of reference for us, but I think people who hear us think more about Sonic Youth than the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. What we do is less poppy, more hard-edged.”

With the future promising but uncertain, Sulami said the only course of action for Pink Noise is to keep doing what they’ve been doing ever since arriving in New York, and that’s playing for whoever will have them.

“It’s a lot of work, but we know we have to keep on doing it. These days, nobody in the music business knows what’s going to happen. Is it better for the artists to do it themselves, or go with a record company? Nobody has any idea.”

Not knowing the answer to that question, Sulami contended that it’s the best time to be making music, “because anything is possible and you don’t need a big label to make it happen.”

You just need some noise, preferably pink.

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