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While most Jews can agree that latkes are delicious, they may have a harder time agreeing on whether the oily potato pancakes are better with sour cream or applesauce. Adam Gardner of the American pop rock band Guster, and Dave Schneider of the hockey-obsessed rockers The Zambonis, have decided to put this age old argument to song with "Apple Sauce vs. Sour Cream," just one of the songs on the world's first Hanukka-themed indie pop album Hanukkah Rocks!, recently released on Reprise and Jdub records. (See related article)
The band takes its name from Gardner's childhood rabbi, and in the tradition of the Ramones, every member of the band has adopted the last name Leevee.
"We were sitting on the bus and Adam said we should write some songs together," Schneider told The Jerusalem Post. "Our bands were getting on really well on a personal level and I thought, yeah that would be great. I went to get some tea and when I returned Adam said, 'We should write songs about Hanukka.'
"An electric menorah went off in my brain and I was about to say, 'Are you serious?'
"When Adam said, 'I'm serious!' We grabbed two guitars, headed to the back of the bus and started cranking out these songs."
The idea for the album came when Guster and The Zambonis were on tour together last April.
"There is a lack of new Hanukka music in the States. There aren't any new and certainly not any rock Hanukka songs out there, with the exception of Adam Sandler, whose Hanukka song is more of a comedy song than a rock song. There was a void and I thought it was a pretty good idea for us to fill it," added Gardner.
Although, the concept of the album is tongue-in-cheek, the tunes are undeniably catchy nuggets of infectious pop.
"You can hear everything from the Beach Boys, to the Clash to the Ramones, Kinks, R.E.M., Soul Coughing and the indie band Clem Snide," said Gardner. The album opens with "Latke Clan" a Pet Sounds era Beach Boys- inspired symphonic pop song that wouldn't feel out of place on one of Phil Spector's Christmas albums.
Besides the great latke condiment debate, The LeeVees question the ever-disputed spelling of the word "Hanukka" in the the aptly titled, "How Do You Spell Channukkahh?" "Our non-Jewish producer Peter Katis yelled out "Hey, how do you spell Hanukkah and Adam and I looked at each other and celebrated, 'Yes! That is a great song!'" Schnieder recalled.
The album also offers a tribute to their "Goyim Friends," and warns Jews (and non-Jews) everywhere not to carry Hanukka gelt in your pant pockets in the Ramones-inspired "Gelt Melts". Inside jokes are also plentiful on the album since many of The Leevees's "goyim friends" would probably not understand songs like "Jewish Girls (At the Matzoh Ball)" (an annual New York-based Jewish singles event) and "At the Timeshare."
"It's great that my Jewish friends love it, but my goyim friends are interested in the references they don't get. It's a lot of fun... The music might be perceived as a novelty and we are ready to take on that challenge. If you listen to the music, though, you see it's not a joke. We are pretty serious about the music, the words are funny because...that's one of the great traditions of being Jewish," said Schneider.
Although the duo aren't religious, they both consider themselves "cultural Jews." Both Gardner and Schneider grew up in non-Jewish neighborhoods with mostly non-Jewish friends, but insist their childhoods directly influenced Hanukka Rocks!
"I grew up in an area of New Jersey that actually didn't have many Jews," said Gardner. "While my family was celebrating Hanukka most of my friends were celebrating Christmas. In American culture, Christmas is such a huge and obviously very commercial holiday. I remember at the holiday concerts at school we'd always sing the same two Hanukkah songs."
"This project is coming from us celebrating being Jewish, putting out songs for the holidays and giving Jews great classic songs that didn't exist before. We are following the tradition of great Jewish songwriters like Lieber and Stoller who wrote these great Christmas songs... but we're doing Jewish ones," joked Schneider.
Upon informing The LeeVees that latkes actually aren't that popular in Israel and that Israelis prefer the fried jelly donut, Schneider quickly quipped, "We can do always do a remix of "Latke Clan."