It’s a long way from a bedroom in Beersheba to a recording studio in Los Angeles and concert stages around the world. But Guy Erez can clearly trace the direct connection from his career as a much-in-demand music producer, songwriter and bass player to his teen years in his room in the Negev city where he first caught the music bug that has infected him for life.
“I was a teenager, listening to Army Radio all the time and learning the guitar, when I started to really notice that this was what I cared about more than anything else,” says the 39-year-old Erez as he sips a cold drink at a Jerusalem café last month.
Amid a wide range of musical projects – ranging from producing an album for folk pop sister duo Karmina to composing the theme song for the upcoming Disney show The Avengers
to touring as bass player and de facto band leader for The Alan Parsons Project – Erez is here on an extended, well-deserved summer vacation with his wife and two children in order to visit family and chill out from the everyday intensity of the US music business.
While he’s far from a household name to the average American music fan, Erez certainly appears on the Blackberrys of many leading musicians and top record and song publishing executives in the Los Angeles music community, who regard his consummate professionalism, accomplished musicianship and visionary enthusiasm as vital additions to any of their musical projects.
Erez credits his ability to excel at his chosen instrument – the bass guitar – and at songwriting and production to a combination of innate talent, an unnatural sense of commitment and a couple of kindly guiding lights along the way.
“I was fortunate to have a teacher really smart about teaching me to develop my ear more than anything else,” he says, adding that he didn’t know how to read music at the time. “He would put a couple of songs I liked on a tape and say, ‘Go home and figure them out.’ And I’d go and sit there, come back with the right chords, and we’d go over it together.”
Erez also credits his older brother for turning him on to the more adventurous 1970s fare that piqued his musical curiosity. “He would play Jethro Tull, King Crimson, the progressive stuff – and, funnily enough, Alan Parsons,” he says with a laugh, thinking about how 25 years later he’d wind up playing with the rock icon.
While most kids would hear the guitar solos, the drums and the vocals, Erez’s ear always went immediately to the songs’ bass lines, which led him to a life-long love affair with the bass.
“I would naturally hear the bass line in songs, and I would say to friends, ‘Did you hear that?’ and they wouldn’t know what I was talking about. For me, it was the most obvious thing – the bass line and the vocal. Some people cant’ hear it, but once they recognize it, they go, ‘Wow!’ I say to people, ‘Play a song and mute the bass’ – and the whole song falls apart,” he says, effortlessly switching back and forth between Hebrew and fluent, unaccented English.
WHILE SERVING in the army, he was tapped to play bass for the score of an IDF film, and his playing caught the attention of Dani Tiberan of the Duvdevan Band, who referred him to a bass player who had attended the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston.
“We jammed for a while – he couldn’t believe I couldn’t read music, and he said to me, ‘This what you do: You go buy these books, you do this, etc...’ and I remember I left and thought, ‘Yes, I understand. This is what I’m going to do.’ It was an entrance to a new world. A lot of my friends went on trips to the Far East after the army, but I had my path.”
Even though he initially stayed in Israel and played in some bands, working with artists like Jango and Assaf Amdursky, Erez admits that he knew he was destined to leave the friendly confines of Israel and its insular musical scene even before he got too involved.
“In my mind, I was already not here. I felt it wasn’t my path. I decided I wanted to go learn music, and I found a school called the Music Institute in Hollywood,” says Erez.
It was a year that changed his life. He decided to look for a musical gig in Los Angeles, and if that proved unsuccessful, to go back home to Israel.
“I found a great gig with a band touring southern California doing covers and originals and making a good living. I was very lucky. I understood at the early stages that a professional musician was someone who worked in music. So the main thing for me at the beginning was that I was making a living as a musician and didn’t have to work at anything else,” says Erez.
“Later on I understood that as you make a living doing this, you’re getting better. And that enables you to meet more people and they lift you to the next level, and you get even better and make more money. It’s a great cycle.”
Erez’s prowess on the bass caught the attention of noted musicians/teachers like drummer Ralph Humphrey and bassist Alphonso Johnson, who invited the young musician to teach bass at the newly established Los Angeles Music Academy. At the same time, Erez met Jimmy Macon, the guitarist for funk pioneers The Gap Band.
“For some reason, Jimmy took me under his wing and was mentoring me. And I entered this whole world of old school funk and R&B as a white guy, playing bass. It was bizarre. He really introduced me to this style, I could hear it through his ears. And I started doing sessions for R&B and more black kind of things,” says Erez.
As he became more in demand as a session player, Erez also entered the world of record production and songwriting, almost through a fluke. A musical friend of his named Goldo had signed a deal with Epic Records, and Erez played bass and co-produced his second album, introducing him to Pro Tools and digital recording.
“Before that, it always seemed to be that separation – I’m a musician, they’re behind the board doing technical things. But with Pro Tools, there was something about it that I could say, ‘I could do this,’” says Erez.
At the end of the recording sessions, Erez and Goldo blew off some steam and wrote a joke song call “Boom Da Boom” which, ironically, was picked up by the FOX network to promo their Tuesday night lineup of Futurama
, The King of the Hill
and The Simpsons
. Disney then picked up the song, placing it on the album Disney Kid Jams 2
(with The Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera and more) – which reached No. 1 on the charts for child-oriented albums.
“It was the first time I was introduced to publishing and royalties. I was like ‘I get it’ – if I do this, there’s money that comes back after you finish the work. It’s not just work, work, work,” says Erez.
In an act of foresight, Erez used the royalty money, took some more out in a loan and bought his first studio, which he set up in a spare bedroom in the apartment he shared in Los Angeles with his wife, Michal.
Erez says he started to write songs like crazy for the first time, and the offers to collaborate with established artists and newcomers both in songwriting and production hasn’t stopped since. Among the different artists Erez has worked with are Sarah Bettens (K’s Choice), Gypsy Kings, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ryan Cabrera, Meredith Brooks and Israeli rockers Missflag and Randy Coleman, for whom he produced the song “Hey God,” which was featured on the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning film Crash.
Erez also branched out with theme music for TV shows such as The Tom Green Show
and The Andy Dick Show
for MTV; I’m with Busy
for Comedy Central; The Whitest Kids You Know
and the themes for Marvel/Disney shows like The Avengers
Astonishing X Man
“People knew me as a bass player, but
they were learning that I wrote and suddenly they wanted to write with
me,” says Erez. “I suddenly started to get cuts on records, without
trying too hard. So I’d have a couple of cuts on this record, I had
three songs on an album by this great singer Holly Palmer. And then
there was a bunch of songs with Meredith Brooks and she ended up
producing a record for Jennifer Love Hewitt, and one of them was the
single “Bare Naked,” he says.
“I didn’t even know the game, and
all of a sudden publishing companies were approaching me, ‘Do you want a
piece of my composition?’ I negotiated with a bunch of them and ended
up signing with Chrysalis Music, which was a great choice. They’re big
enough and small enough at the same time, based in London. For me, it
was closing a circle again, with the butterfly logo, the same as the
Jethro Tull albums I had as a teen.”
Erez credits his ability to
shift styles in his songwriting and his production skills to his Israeli
musical upbringing.and to his personality, which he describes as a
“In Israel there wasn’t any formatted radio,” he
recalls, “so I used to listen to specific DJs on Army Radio – and I used
to write who the DJ was, whether it was Yoav Kutner or Sharon Moldavi. I
would hear a band like Talk Talk, who I loved, so I’d write it down to
go buy the album. Then they would play John Coltrane, and I would take
the bus to Tel Aviv with my friends at 14 and go to Piccadilly Records
to buy the album. To me, music is music. You can listen to Army Radio
for an hour and go from Van Morrison to an Israeli band to a funk tune
and a jazz number. Who cares? I think that’s what I brought to the US – I
like the different styles.”
THAT MUSICAL diversity is what
likely attracted Alan Parsons to Erez, whom he tapped for his touring
band last year upon the advice of his singer PJ Olssen, who had worked
with Erez in the studio.
“PJ’s been touring with Alan for seven
years. He was whispering in Alan’s ears and in my ears. Then one day
Alan called, one of those things you remember, “Hello, it’s Alan
Parsons,” says Erez.
Erez describes integrating Parson’s touring
schedule with his songwriting and production responsibilities as a
“Alan doesn’t want to tour intensively. So
he does a week here, a few days there. So it’s perfect for me and my
career. Although I admit that after touring with him, I’m getting the
bug again to play live more,” laughs Erez.
working perfectly when Erez walked out on stage a returning hero earlier
this year at Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium as part of Parson’s band.
really was a homecoming,” says Erez. “A good Israeli friend of mine in
LA told me, ‘You are a big inspiration for all of us. You are someone
who can make a great dream come true,’” Erez recounts.
think about it, to come home and perform with Alan Parsons and play the
music I grew up with is really a dream come true. Sometimes you get a
gig with a young 25-year-old and it pays well and you do it, but you
don’t even listen to the music. With Alan, I really enjoy it. And when
Alan introduced me at the end and said I was from Israel, the roar in
the crowd was just ‘Wow!’”
If he is a role model for aspiring
Israeli musicians, perhaps it’s not the role model most Zionist mothers
and fathers would wish for their children. But Erez is brutally honest
in explaining the factors involved, having seen it from both sides.
a lot of talent, a lot of enthusiasm in Israel, but there’s not that
the-sky’s the-limit feeling,” says Erez. “Here there is a limit. An
artist with a limit is very frustrating if they think, ‘Even if I do
this and this… it’s still just Israel.’ I would recommend to someone
with a really strong fire and passion to try it outside the country. But
then there’s so many other elements at play – the problems of language,
absorption into another culture – it takes a certain type to handle
The way that Erez has handled it is to treat his career like
a marathon, not a sprint.
“You need stamina for the long haul.
Maybe you know someone who got a break, and you feel jealous. But to be a
musician, you have to take the good and the bad. A few years ago, I
played with Randy Coleman at the Hollywood Bowl, opening up for The Who.
Unbelievable, right? One of those moments. And my friends went, ‘Wow,
you have it made.’ But if they knew how many days I spent in the
trenches just to even get the gigs or writing songs and submitting them
and not getting the gig,” he stresses.
“You deserve once in a
while to get a break. But you won’t get it sitting at home. You have to
be so passionate, so committed to it, Check with yourself where you’re
coming from. If you want to be famous, then it’s not for you. You might
end up being famous, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to make great
music and to enjoy the process. There are times you get to where you
thought you wanted to be and it’s not as great as you thought – it can
be very disappointing if you didn’t enjoy the process. It may be a
cliché, but it’s the truth,” says Erez.