Raw Men on the slow cooker.
(photo credit: Alon Porat)
If there’s one criticism that can be leveled at the diverse and robust Israeli
music scene it is that it takes itself a little too seriously. Either you’re an
“artist” with elaborate, precisely rehearsed stage shows and custom-made
clothes, or you’re the indie antithesis, making earnest music about alienation
while wearing a frown, T-shirt and pro-Keds.
Either way, there’s not a
lot of levity and satire going on – a void which is nicely being filled by Raw
Men Empire, a Tel Aviv “freak folk” quartet which takes having fun very
seriously. Compared to genre-mashing singer/songwriters like Beck, Devendra
Banhart and Jeffrey Lewis, the ragtag mainly acoustic group rocks out on
everything from blues and hip hop to folk and country.
“Each of us comes
from a different musical background, so it’s probably what makes the band sound
like it does,” said Nadav Lazar, who plays bass and is joined by Tsvika Frosh on
guitar, lead vocals and songwriting, guitarist Yonatan Miller and drummer Itai
“I came from progressive rock, Tsvika grew up with alternative
rock, Itai the drummer is actually a pianist who loves the blues and Tom Waits,
and Yonatan likes jazz and hip hop. It’s a good mix of different styles that
The result is good-time, if somewhat offkilter music
created in a relaxed, almost hippie-laced atmosphere that has produced two
well-received EPs – 2009’s The Rise and Fall Of and 2010’s Elodie. But its their
live show – a mixture of ragged spontaneity, audience involvement and lots of
sing-alongs – where the band lets its freak flag fly. But Lazar cautioned not to
confuse musical freedom and lack of discipline, something he said the band has
“My previous band used to rehearse for ages – it was a complex
Frank Zappa-like thing and it took forever to get right. It’s refreshing to be
in a band and just start jamming and you intuitively know what the next note is
going to be without having to rehearse too much – that’s what it’s like for us,”
he said. “To get to that point, of course, you do need to rehearse, but not
over-rehearse, and still retain the magic.”
The result is a lively,
upbeat performance, one punctuated with plenty of audience involvement,
according to Lazar, who explained that front man Frosh can’t stop himself from
engaging with the crowd.
“Tsvika’s very good at relating to the audience
and creating a special relationship.
For him, it’s a natural thing and
people seem to like it,” he said. “He encourages them to sing along and teaches
them parts in a few songs – ‘OK, now you all have to shout.’” Plenty of vocal
exercise should take place this weekend, as the band will be celebrating its
third anniversary, and the release of two singles from its forthcoming next
album, with two shows – tomorrow afternoon in Tel Aviv at The Zone with a 3
show time, and Saturday night, July 21 for a free-entrance single
release party at The Container at the Jaffa Port.
Three years together
sounds pretty serious, and the Raw Men Empire toured Europe twice last year and
are returning later this year, to be followed by a tour of the US. Will the band
soon loose its smiles and join the well-rehearsed mainstream? The whimsical new
singles “Orange Land” and “Nobody Here (But Me)” indicate that’s not going to
happen soon, and Lazar concurs.
“I don’t think any of us thought about
the long term when we started playing together. We’re just enjoying each other’s
company and the chemistry we create.”