Arnon Naor – aka Israeli indie singer/ songwriter Sun Tailor – was reflecting on the eerie juxtaposition of performing a show with his band in Haifa the night before while the country was at war, with soldiers dying daily.
“It’s such a difficult time now – for me, the band and the audience. But everyone who came to the show was looking for music as a sort of lifesaver in a sense, that gives us meaning and hope and sense of togetherness,” said the 34-year-old Naor, whose 2012 English-language debut album Like The Tide combined Jeff Buckley-like grace with spooky acoustic intimacy.
“I think I was always looking for those qualities, and I found them through music.”
With a new single coming out this month ahead of an album later in the year, and a showcase concert scheduled for August 12 at the Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv, Naor is one step closer to the dream he’s pursued since leaving Israel for an extended stay in London following the completion of his army service.
Serving on Mount Hermon, he learned to play guitar during the expanses of downtime as a means of escape, and soon found himself inseparable from the instrument. But it was only in London that he was drawn to the idea of performing professionally.
“I didn’t really have a plan after the army, I just wanted to do something different. And since I had lived in London with my family for a few years when I was young, it was a natural choice to move there for a while. But there was no idea of launching a music career,” he said.
Naor ended up staying in England for five years, working at various jobs like bartending and clerking in a cultural center. But he also studied music for a year, fell in with a group of like-minded musicians and began to write songs and perform them onstage.
“It was my first major breakthrough into the world and sense of what I should be doing with my life,” said Maor, adding that he had been greatly influenced by Buckley’s landmark 1994 album Grace.
“I had grown up listening to rock bands and didn’t really know any singer/songwriters.
So when I finally heard that album, I was blown away. It was the most visceral experience I ever had from hearing music. And it also changed something inside me in terms of appreciating music as art and understanding that I can create musical art.
“I stopped smoking two weeks after hearing Grace for the first time. After hearing Buckley’s angelic voice, I remember thinking that I need to be serious and do justice to my singing.”
As Naor gathered more material and gained more experience performing, he felt that he was getting to the stage of making an album – a feeling that prompted him to return to Israel six years ago.
“I felt that it was time to make an album and time to go home,” he said. “So as soon as I got back to Israel, that’s what I focused on.”
But there was one more element missing before Naor unleashed his material to the world – a name. Sun Tailor came to him in a dream, he recalled, when he found himself on a football-shaped sun made of patches with lava oozing from the center. Naor knelt and sewed the patches together as they began to unravel, and when he woke up, the words “Sun Tailor” were etched on his mind.
“I had been going through this period where I was thinking about what it means to have a moniker when it comes to art. There’s Sting and Elvis, but there’s also more esoteric stage names like Bonnie Prince Billy. There’s a beauty to it, of having a persona that enables you to be on the outside and reflect what’s going on inside. So Sun Tailor became my stage name.”
Sun Tailor’s understated, dreamy Like The Tide caused more ripples than waves when it was released, but the disarmingly piercing music has continued to gather accolades and establish Naor as an original artist in a sea of copycats.
“I wouldn’t call it mainstream, but I was pleased that it received quite a bit of radio exposure,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to expect and didn’t really think about how I was going to promote it or market it. It was hard enough to focus on the creative side of things.”
Thanks to the album and subsequent live shows over the past two years, Naor has developed a solid reputation in Israel’s indie circles that has led to collaborations with popular Anglo artist Maya Isacowitz and production chores for the debut album of up-and-coming singer Maya Johanna. He accompanied Johanna on guitar last spring at the Jacob’s Ladder Folk Festival at Kibbutz Ginossar and seemed content to play the supporting role.
“I’m really interested in nurturing something from an embryonic stage into a full-blown victory. It’s great when I do it for myself but even more helping someone else, because then I get to witness the creation from an outside perspective,” he said about producing Johanna.
“With Maya, I’m very much a part of the project but I’m watching her songs materialize before my eyes and I feel like I’m chaperoning the process.”
That process, said Naor, is much more preferable to the fast track to success offered by the music reality competition shows like The Voice and X Factor, which he categorized as the “gladiator version of music.”
“Far be it from me to say there’s no room for them in the world of entertainment, but I do feel that the way it works can be damaging to a young singer,” he said. “To make art is a very fragile process. And it takes a lot of effort to build up a career. And what these shows offer is success without that effort. The temptation is great, especially if you’re young and you’re not sure what to do with your life. I know that feeling.
“But for 95 percent of the contestants, it’s not a ticket into the music world, it’s a ticket out. They’re exposed to the show biz side of the industry, and music is a lot more than that. It’s about a feeling, and some feeling is lacking in these shows.”
It’s a feeling, however, that is clearly in full radiance when Sun Tailor starts to sing.