Tom Petrover, Orit Shachaf and the rest of the Hayehudim gang were not seriously considering a drastic career change when they popped over to Austin, Texas, recently to play at a major rock festival. It seems there was a problem of a political nature with the veteran Israeli rock band’s name.
“We were told we couldn’t call ourselves ‘The Jews’ and that we’d just get ourselves into a whole lot of trouble with it,” explains guitarist-vocalist-songwriter Petrover, “so we chose the initials I.U.D.M. It was the best thing we could come up with that sounded like our actual name.”
Naturally, the bogus – and politically safe – moniker caused a little brow-furrowing, and some inquired as to the source of the acronym.
“It doesn’t mean anything at all,” admits Petrover, “although someone suggested that it meant Israeli Unemployed Doughnut Makers,” he adds with a laugh.
Rather than making perforated pastries, for the last two decades Hayehudim have been pumping out decibels like there’s no tomorrow, with some intermittent gentler stuff, and have been the leading hard rock outfit on the Israeli scene throughout.
The band is celebrating its 20th anniversary with the release of its latest album, Yoter Lo (No More), and has several high-profile gigs lined up over the coming weeks.
First up is the opening slot at this year’s Rishon Lezion Music Festival, which will take place at eight venues around the city from September 28 to October 3. And there are plenty of other big guns in the Rishon mix too, with the likes of Danny Sanderson, Shalom Hanoch, Berri Sacharof, Guri Alfi and Aviv Gefen in there. Rami Kleinstein will also mark a personal milestone with the 20th anniversary of his Tapuchim and Temarim (Apples and Dates) record that went platinum and is still his biggest-selling album.
Now 45, while Petrover may not quite be ready to cash in on a pension plan, he has been in the business for quite some time and has accrued a fair deal of hard-won wisdom since the debut Hayehudim offering, Metziut Nifredet (Separate Reality) hit the record stores. The Hayehudim frontman says he and wife, Shachaf, tend to incorporate their individual and shared experience in their songwriting.
“As you get older, you have more memories and more things, and everything becomes deeper,” says Petrover.
“That gets on to our albums, for sure. You can’t run away from it, especially in this country where everything is stormy. As time passes, things certainly change, but it’s hard for me to say exactly what changes have come into our music since the first record.”
Petrover notes that songwriting provides him with an efficient means of getting his thoughts and feelings out there.
“At the end of the day, you put yourself out there. You find different ways of doing that,” he says.
Yoter Lo, the band’s fourth studio album – there are also two live releases – has 11 cuts, with most written by Petrover or vocalist Shachaf. The last track, “Medamyenet” (Imagining) is a combined work by all the band members.
It is a quieter number than most of the band’s other material, with the multi-layered vocals introducing an added dimension to the sonic texture.
Three of the tracks are in English, which begs a query about whether Petrover approaches the songwriting job in hand differently, as opposed to songs with Hebrew lyrics.
His response is a surprise.
“Most of the songs I write start out with an English text,” he says. “Then the music comes in, and then I’ll write the Hebrew words. I don’t translate the same lyrics from English into Hebrew. Some remain in English.”
There are three English-language songs on the new album – “I Guess It’s for You”; “Screaming You” and “Son.”
“Writing in English takes me to a different place,” continues Petrover. “I am certain that performing songs in different languages impacts on the rhythm. I feel the difference between songs that were originally written in Hebrew compared with those written in English that subsequently became Hebrew songs and others written in English that stayed in English. They have a different vibe to them.”
While the band certainly pertains to the rock end of the musical spectrum and of the generally loud and in-yourface kind, Petrover says he and his cohorts don’t pay too much attention to genres.
“We don’t think about styles, we just want to express something. When we get that together, we take it in a musical direction that seems to us to be the most logical and appropriate from a musical standpoint. None of songs are written for a specific genre,” he explains.
Petrover says he feeds off a variety of influences from the pop and rock worlds.
“I was into Springsteen and Pink Floyd, and Orit loves Hendrix. When I was a kid, we had records by The Beatles at home, and my older brother liked [mid-1970s British-American rock band] Foreigner.”
Those childhood sounds got to the youngster, and by the time he was six he had begun to take his first steps into the mysteries of guitar playing.
Later he considered a career in the theater, but his high school career at the Thelma Yellin School of the Arts in Givatayim brought him into daily contact with budding musicians, and the die was duly cast. His path crossed that of Shachaf when they were in the army, and they eventually became partners in life and in artistic craft.
Although Hayehudim has sold hundreds of thousands of records to date, the start was a bit slow.
“Our first gig was on August 18, 1995, at a place in Tel Aviv called The 12th Night,” recalls Petrover. “We wanted to have the debut album out and ready to sell beforehand. We didn’t want to find ourselves in a situation whereby people enjoyed the show and then started asking us when we were going to make a record.”
Even with the first record ready and waiting, sales were disappointing, and it took a while before the Israeli public took the band to their hearts.
“I think, to begin with, people were a bit in shock by how we played,” Petrover muses, “but things did take off.”
They certainly did. With a sunrise show at the Tamar Festival on October 1, along with Guri Alfi, and an October 23 gig at this year’s Piano Festival in Tel Aviv, in addition to the Rishon Lezion Music Festival slot, which will feature guest appearances by seasoned rapper Muki, popular hip hop-funk band Hadag Nahash and iconic rocker Rami Fortis, Petrover and Hayehudim look set to keep the hard rock flag flying high and proud for some time yet.
For tickets and more information about the Rishon Lezion Music Festival: www.zappa-club.co.il and 9080*, www.hakartis.co.il and (03) 966-6141 and www.heichal-rishon.co.il.