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(photo credit: Daniel Chechick)
The Midnight Peacocks aren't your ordinary Israeli indie rockers. That is, unless your ordinary indie rock band features a performance artist, a belly dancer and an unlikely combination of hard-core metal, cabaret and Middle Eastern music sung in English that the band members affectionately like to call "circus core."
"We try to give a different kind of experience at each of our shows," said the founder of the Tel Aviv-based band, Eitan Radoshinski (bass & vocals).
Maybe it's that fresh, experimental attitude that made the Peacocks one of the first Israeli bands ever to get accepted to perform at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, which is taking place this week. The music industry conference showcases hundreds of musical acts from around the globe on over 80 stages in downtown Austin, and has been instrumental in launching the careers of dozens of successful artists.
"It's an amazing opportunity for us. I've heard about SXSW for so long, and it's definitely the best place for us to be at the moment. I think our style will fit the festival perfectly," said the 39-year-old Radoshinski, who formed the Peacocks in 2004.
To make its first visit to North America financially feasible, the band has booked a full tour of shows in the southwest to support the SXSW Austin showcase on Wednesday, including dates in other parts of Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina. The Peacocks will be playing at regular rock clubs instead of targeting the American Jewish community of Israel supporters, although the Foreign Ministry is helping to sponsor their show in Houston in an effort to show another side of Israel to young Americans.
"We feel that we represent Israeli culture, and we love Tel Aviv and Israel. It's our base. When we play in front of people who never saw Israelis before, in places like the South, we feel like we need to make a good impression," said Radoshinski, whose smooth speaking voice contrasts the booming growls of his vocals.
Good impressions and The Midnight Peacocks have been synonymous ever since the band evolved out of two other bands in which Radoshinski played - the hard core Plastic Peacocks and the experimental Midnight Fish.
"The band combines the melodic hard-core minimalist rock of the Plastic Peacocks with the pure improvisation of Midnight Fish. We never knew what we were going to play when we got onstage," recalled Radoshinski.
"With the Midnight Peacocks, we wanted a project where, on the one hand, we could play powerful and heavy songs, but still have some cabaret and improv with guest artists and performance art whenever we wanted. We wanted that flexibility."
THE CORE band, which also includes Ron Bunker on guitar and Hagai Shlezinger on drums, may receive its eclecticism from the wide spectrum of music Radoshinski listened to while growing up in Tel Aviv.
"The first band I really liked was Iron Maiden. But at the same time, I listened to a lot of Arabic styles, especially Egyptian music. I kind of stopped listening at some point, but I was reintroduced to it when I was in Sinai years later and stocked up on a lot of CDs. That inspired me to start writing songs influenced by Arabic music," said Radoshinski.
The band's latest CD - appropriately entitled Shalosh - reflects three of the band's personalities. A loosely knit concept album, it features the musicians taking on the persona of three different bands - hard core rock, instrumental Arabic and psychedelic experimental.
"Our music is a very democratic process," said Radoshinski. "I write most of the songs at home and bring them to the band. Then we open up the arrangements, change the songs around and each member brings his own character to the songs."
For someone whose spoken English is choppy and uncertain, Radoshinski has never had a problem writing the lyrics to his songs in English.
"I love to write in Hebrew, but for this music, it feels more natural in English. Anyway, I grew up on English music. When I sing, my voice and inflection sound different than when I talk," he said.
Onstage, though, the vocals take a back seat to the musical and visual mayhem taking place. Radoshinski feels that every show should grasp for a unique quality, and the band rarely duplicates itself, with set and musician changes constantly taking place. Among the regular part-timers are violinist Yoni Silver, belly dancer Hadar Eleni and visual performance artist Hezi Shoshat. The results are usually unpredictable, and always entertaining.
However, it's definitely not mainstream, and one of the challenges the band has faced during its life has been to find an audience.
"Our music is very different from what's on the radio, it's like another world. In Tel Aviv, there's an audience for it, but it's a matter of building a following elsewhere, which is what we've been doing over the years," said Radoshinski. "We don't mind playing in front of 20 or 30 people because we know that the next time we come back, there'll be another 10 or 20 people there. But we know that ultimately, our future is outside of Israel - it's very limiting here."
Of course, with their SXSW break, the tide could be turning for the Midnight Peacocks. In the meantime, the band members are like any other struggling musicians trying to make ends meet.
"We treat the band like a startup. Any money we make goes back into the band, and we all supplement our income with outside work - some of the guys are studio musicians for other artists or commercials, and some teach music," said Radoshinski. "I'm keeping busy right now by codirecting a zombie movie."
Coming out of anyone else's mouth, that last sentence would have elicited a "huh?" But with the worldly influences that Radoshinski has brought to the Midnight Peacocks table, it sounds like the most logical declaration in the world.