The old cliché about an artist having to experience hardships before he or she can produce the creative goods may be merely a romanticized and outmoded idea, but all the members of the Nine Souls rock group have certainly been there and done that.
The band comprises nine members, but the numerical element of the name of the group refers to the number of proverbial feline lives, and to the fact that all the artists have been through some very tight scrapes in the military arena.
Shlomo Gevili, for example, was a combat medic and lost two fingers, and two more were subsequently paralyzed, during an incident that took place in Gaza in 2004. Today, he plays bass guitar despite only having the use of the thumb on one of his hands. Amit Barkin, who was wounded while on reserve duty during the Second Lebanon War, is now an animator and creates the group’s onstage video art.
Playing music together helped the war veterans rehabilitate their lives, both on an emotional and physical level.
Guitarist Ofer Hai Meir was a combat medic with the IDF paratroopers when the Second Lebanon War broke out in 2006.
He came out of the war minus an eye, after being seriously wounded in a battle during the course of which he saved the lives of several of his brothers in arms.
“I didn’t have time to worry about my own injury,” he recalls. “I had to take care of a lot of people around me, and it took some time before we could be evacuated to a hospital in Israel. I lost a lot of friends in that battle.”
Today, among his many other activities, 33-year-old Meir plays guitar with the Nine Souls group which will mark the release of its self-titled debut album at a launch gig at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv tonight (8:30 p.m.).
Meir looked a big groggy when we met in Tel Aviv, but it was not the result of a night out on the town.
“I’m a bit jetlagged. I came back from Philadelphia last night,” he explains. “I went there to talk about Brothers for Life and what we do there.”
The latter is an organization which was set up in 2007 with the idea of providing soldiers suffering from post-trauma with much needed physical and emotional support.
All nine members of the band have benefited from the services of the NPO, which was where their paths first crossed.
The Brothers for Life jam sessions were not Meir’s first encounter with the discipline.
“I come from a musical family,” he explains. “I played piano and flute as a kid.”
It took a while until he started getting to grips with his current instrument. “I began with guitar when I was 25. I went to India and took a classical guitar with me. You know, once you can play one instrument you know the vocabulary and you can apply it to other instruments.”
The guitar was clearly the right vehicle of musical expression for Meir. “In the past five years I have been practicing three or four hours a day,” he states. “There is no other way. I have to progress. I am the lead guitarist of the band.”
Meir grew up on a highly varied musical diet. “There was a lot of classical music at home, but I also got into progressive rock – Deep Purple are my favorite band – and I try to keep an open mind about any kind of music. Anything can move you, in any genre, if you are open to it.” That ethos carries through to Nine Souls. “We try to keep things open in the band too,” continues Meir. “As far as we are concerned variety is the spice of life.”
The band also maintains an open ended approach to the creative process. “There is no specific soloist in the group, and we all bring our musical baggage to what we do,” says the guitarist. That can lead to rich sonic pickings, but also crossed wires. “We have lots of arguments about music,” Meir notes, “but we never fall out.” The guitarist is often one of the most vociferous. “I can get really heated and say some nasty things while we’re talking about music, but I always apologize afterwards.”
That confession came as a surprise, considering Meir’s seeming eminently sunny and gentle demeanor. “I can get worked up a lot,” he says. “But, you know, we’re like a family, and family members have arguments too, don’t they. At the end of the day, we all contribute to the music we play and the way we sound.”
Meir attributes the share and share alike mindset to the military-emotional common denominator. “We didn’t set out to be a band. Originally, we just wanted to express our pain. That’s what Brothers for Life does. It supports wounded soldiers and creates projects.” It was a meeting of hearts and minds. “We started out playing together just to express our emotions, and the each of us began to bring things we had written. Some brought lyrics, others brought music, and the whole thing began to build. It became a very important part of our rehabilitation, and our lives.”
The emotional therapy gradually spawned some serious musical progress. “I grew a lot, musically, with this band,” says Meir. “Gil Smetana [who produced the debut album] taught me a lot and [vocalist- guitarist] Yariv Peled has a degree in music. I learned a lot from him too.” Peled was wounded in Gaza and underwent a long rehabilitation process to get to where he is today. “I also learned a lot about sound from Shlomi [Gevili]. We have learned a lot from each other.”
It should be an emotive affair when the nine brothers in musical arms strut their combined stuff on Sunday evening.
For tickets and more information: (03) 518- 8123 and www.barby.co.il