'The rural areas in America don't know [much] about Israel...what's going on here has more to do with their culture than they think.' - Amir Neubach
Settlers, suicide bombings, and politics are among the topics that Amir Neubach, Ofer Korichoner, and Orr Kahlon deal with as the Tel Aviv rock trio, The Genders. For these three Israelis nothing could be more natural than to sing about the 'situation' (or matzav) in English.
"It would make sense to sing about [the situation] in Hebrew because we all know what's happening here," says Neubach. "But [people abroad] don't know. They think they know from CNN and regular news media but that doesn't tell anybody anything...they don't actually show what people go through here."
The Genders aren't about causing distress. Nothing is sacred as this trio entertainingly skewers life in the Middle East.
"I kind of feel sorry for American bands that they don't have such a cool subject matter to write about," says Neubach, over coffee at a Givatayim coffee house.
From their song "Horatio", about an American Jew who moves to Israel to become a settler in the West Bank to "Swastika on your T-Shirt", about ignorant youth who think it's cool to support hate-mongers, to the title track, "Rockin' in Ramallah", about the poor quality of life for Palestinians in Ramallah, all 12 tracks are sung tongue-in-cheek.
The Genders are made up of three Hebrew-speaking Israelis who prefer to sing in English. Guitar-vocalist-songwriter Neubach, 30, attributes his fluency in English to a three year stint his parents did as shlichim in Brighton, England when he was a child. Fellow songwriter and bassist-vocalist Korichoner, 30, logged a couple years in the US as a musician. The third member of the group is drummer-vocalist Kahlon, 24.
Make no mistake this is not an album for children. In addition to the serious topics, there's also a good dose of sleaze and sexual connotations in their lyrics. Moreover, the band's web site (www.thegenders.com) features Israeli "bikini babes", which Neubach says, "gives Israel a good image." It shows that Israel is not a "conservative religious place where nobody is allowed to do anything," says the father of one. "For good or bad, we're very Americanized."
The Genders were formed in 2004. Originally they were supposed to be a group with both sexes but instead the three guys decided to they were fine as a trio, and nevertheless kept the name of the group. Their debut album, "Rockin' in Ramallah", was released in Israel on September 7.
Last September they hit the road for a three-week 17-date mini tour of the US and Canada. Next month they're returning to English-language stomping grounds for a 60-date coast to coast North American tour.
"The rural areas in America don't know anything about Israel and that's why it's good for us to go there. It's cool to them that we're from Israel because it's exotic. I want to tell them that what's going on here has more to do with their culture than they think," says Neubach, the band's spokesman.
"Americans look at Israel from a movie point of view, that we're fighting one another in a desert. They have a romanticized view of what's happening here," says Neubach, a former member of the Salem metal band. "People see Israel as the evil empire in the Middle East. They don't see the physical boundaries on a map and think, well, how could this little insignificant dot be the evil empire? They don't know geography very well, but they hear a lot of stuff. What they think is Israel is this big imperialistic country that's conquered the whole of the Middle East."
While most music lovers accept them for their music, there are those who come to The Genders' shows to provoke. Neubach relates that one woman in New Jersey was offended every time the band mentioned the word "Israel".
At home, Neubach identifies himself as very left-wing. "I'm in favor of a Palestinian State, I'm even for the right of return. In Israel people would crucify me for my very left wing views. But in America, when people ask 'are you guys Zionists', hell ya, we're Zionists. They don't know it just means that Jewish people have a right to live in their land. They think Zionism is racism."
The Genders let only their lyrics show that they hail from Israel. You won't find any Middle Eastern beats mixed in to their music. "I think if you're into rock and roll you want to hear rock and roll. You don't want to hear some Middle Eastern guy and his take on rock. Rock is an idiom in which to be pure, it's not an idiom to start working your scales into. We would sound stupid doing Led Zeppelin type Middle Eastern stuff. We're not about minor harmonic scales," explains Neubach, who counts as his influences Velvet Underground, The Kinks, The Clash, The Ramones, Chuck Berry, AC/DC, and Elvis Presley among others.
As for The Genders dreams, the band wants to stay Israeli but make it in the US. They are already working on a new album, set to be called "Assassination Fascination", and have a couple songs laid down - the title track and "Hip in the Gaza Strip".
"There are political bands in North America, but while they have an opinion they don't actually have a first-hand experience," says Neubach. "They don't have that personal connection. We do."