No matter what the music sounded like, it was a sure bet that the lyrics and English pronunciation on Ella Doron’s debut album Ella vs. Mountain were going to be spot-on. After all, the Galilee-based singer/songwriter’s mother is Helen Doron, the British-born Israeli founder of the international Helen Doron method of teaching English to youth.
But not only did Ella prove to be a model English student growing up, she was also blessed with the musical gene. And Ella vs. Mountain’s music sounds just fine, thanks – a potent blend of nuanced acoustic pop with electro and jazzy overtones, all sung in a clear voice boasting a sharp, radio-friendly British accent. The album’s first single, “Charmed Life,” a bouncy singsong anthem in the “New Soul” vein of Yael Naim, has “international hit” written all over it, as does the rousing “My Country’s Rising.”
According to Doron, it’s an album that she’s been working on her whole life, growing up in Hararit, an idyllic mountaintop Galilee village known for its affinity for counter-culture staples like transcendental meditation, conservation and vegetarianism, and spending summers in England with her grandparents and extended family.
“I started singing the day I started to speak – they all came together,” said Doron in a phone interview last week a few days before her official debut performance of Ella vs. Mountain which takes place tonight (Sunday) at the Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv.
“My mother signed me up to the Suzuki method of learning the violin when I was four [based on learning from the environment]. You listen to the music, you don’t learn how to read the notes, but look for them yourself while listening. I wasn’t very good with the violin but I did end up being very musical and by the time I was seven, I was playing guitar and piano.”
The precocious Doron joined her first band when she was 13, and by the time she was 16, she had completed her high school matriculation and psychometrics tests.
“I was a rebel, and I quit high school, but I did everything I needed to do,” she said.
“I figured that if the only reason I’m here is get these tests done, I would do it on my own and get it out of the way.”
She then enrolled at the prestigious Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music. It almost doused her musical ambitions.
“It was a terrible experience – I was too young and not ready for it,” she said. “I didn’t know what I wanted or who I was, and everybody else seemed to know more than me and had more confidence. I left to join the army and said to myself, ‘that was nice, I don’t have to do it anymore. I’m never going to be a singer.”
But by the time she finished her army service and began studying for a political science degree at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, she had returned to writing, recording and making music.
“I joined the IDC band and another band, but was still convinced it was just a hobby,” she said. “But I was constantly writing songs and performing. The day I graduated, I made the decision that I was going to pursue music.”
Having a secure “day job” producing and recording her mother’s audio and video material for English business, Doron had the flexibility to devote time to her music, which led her in some interesting directions.
In addition to singing in numerous commercials, children’s TV programs and animation series, she also sang background vocals for Mosh Ben-Ari and recorded some vocal tracks for local trance band Intersys, which turned into an unlikely hit in Mexico.
“They’re pretty big in Mexico, and I’ve gone with them to perform there a few time,” said Doron. “We play at big parties of like 5,000 people, where everyone is dancing to the sound of your voice. It’s something I can’t imagine getting to here, but it’s amazing. I understand why they say ‘God is a DJ’– when you stand there on a big stage and every movement, every look, every thing that you do or say sets off people like a wave, it’s a very powerful feeling.”
But the most powerful tug inside Doron was to get her own songs recorded and on the radio, a process she began working at three years ago with various producers, and involved a two-year diversion in Portugal, where she went to record work material for her mother and ended up falling in love.
“When I got back, I had a better idea of what I wanted to do, and I started working with new producers, Nir Geva for pre-production and Gil Lewis in the studio.”
The team meshed and over the course of a year, recorded the 11 tracks that appear on Ella vs. Mountain, an album whose title has its own story, according to Doron.
“It comes from an electronic music expression, meaning like a friendly competition,” she said. “The mountain represents where I came from, the innocent belief in the goodness of the world, that very naïve and accepting view. Then, I’ve been out in the world now for so many years – the city life in Israel and the world, which is terrible and wonderful at the same time. The songs I write now are my life experience weaved together with where I come from.”
“It’s a slightly cynical but more realistic way of looking at life, but underneath it all, there’s still this optimism, I still believe things will get better, you can’t take that away from me completely. So Ella vs. Mountain seemed very appropriate for the title.”
Since completing the album last year, Doron has been performing around the country, sometimes with a band, but often doing acoustic shows to receptive audiences.
Singing in English for an Israeli crowd creates some interesting challenges, she said.
“People don’t often listen to the words because English is not their mother tongue,” she said. “I could be singing the saddest song, and people would come up and say that was so sweet. So what I do now is that I speak in Hebrew before almost every song and say a few words, what the song is about, why I wrote it, and then people suddenly start hearing the words.”
With Ella vs. Mountain being such an accessible album in English, it’s only natural that Doron has one eye looking abroad.
She said that she’s considering a pilot trip to England in the spring to test the waters with the record.
“I want to start small and see what happens. Home is here in Israel, but there is a world out there. I’d like to be able to do both, even if it means that I spend more time in England for a while.”
One thing Doron won’t be doing, though, is taking the music TV reality route, saying that while she understands its effectiveness in propelling an artist’s career, it’s not for her.
“I believe that’s part of the problem for musical artists today – there’s no air time for anybody who’s not willing to sign a crazy contract and go on TV and be judged,” she said.
“I’m happy for people who can do it – but most of my friends who tried came out and said that it takes you back as an artist instead of pushing you forward. When you write and perform your own songs, you bare your soul, and you don’t want someone to tell you if you hit the right notes. You want to be able to connect to the deepest part of yourself, and bring your own truth, and it’s very hard to do that on a TV competition show. The few who manage to do it are very special – it’s a talent, one that I don’t feel I have or want to have.”
Instead, Doron, like her vegan lifestyle and clean living, remains old-school, confident that her talent will be her calling card. Yet, she’s realistic about the narrow chances.
“There’s only so much you can do – I can do my best, keeping on writing and recording, but at some point, either luck has to take over – or life does,” she said.
“But this past year has been just amazing, and I’ve been performing everywhere. And suddenly – yes! I’m a musician.”