Back in the late 1950s, Sonny Rollins took a break from his stellar daytime job. The saxophonist was already an established member of the jazz world’s elite, but felt he needed to rediscover himself by getting away from the recording studios and mostly basement joints he played in and reconnect with the real world.
That is a sentiment that also guides Or Orka Teppler. The 36-year-old vocalist-guitarist is a member of the Forestt sextet, which will perform at Tel Aviv’s Abraham Hostel on March 16 (8:30 p.m.). The band recently released its English-language debut album, Into The Woods, with a couple of singles making it onto the Galgalatz and Kan 88 radio station playlists over the past few months.
Teppler is clearly going with the flow, in both musical and personal senses, which appear to be completely in sync. At the age of 36, and with eight-month-old twins, she gives the impression of being fully capable of juggling her maternal and professional roles with equanimity.
Motherhood took a while to happen, as did her Forestt venture, but she seems to have an unshakable belief that she will always end up just where she needs to be.
“I got to the stage entirely by mistake,” she says, although conscious of the fact that nothing really happens by mistake, and that things happen when and where they ought to. “I thought I was going to be a film actress. But when I was rejected by [actor studio honcho] Yoram Levinstein, I thought, OK, I’ll study music.”
The thespian world’s loss is the music fan’s gain. Plan B led Teppler to the Rimon School of Music in Ramat Hasharon, and the rest, one might say, is history – evolving history, mind you.
Teppler not only brought boundless enthusiasm and not a little talent to her studies, she had also accrued an abundance of precious life experience before getting to the classroom.
“I spent a few years traveling around the world,” she says. “I left as soon as I finished the army and came back at the age of 27. I actually returned to Israel because I was told there was an age limit on starting acting studies.”
DURING THE course of her six-year odyssey, Teppler, naturally, picked up on all kinds of cultures and their endemic sounds and rhythms. All of that found its way into her academic pursuit and, judging by the expansive soundscape of Into The Woods, also informed her work when she and her five bandmates got down to business in the recording studio.
That, and the plethora of sounds that informed her young ears as she was growing up, make for a richly textured offering. The album spans broad sonic climes, from hard rock to folksy trails, with klezmer, psychedelia and Celtic strands all in the seamless mix. There is a strong storytelling element to the 14 numbers, and Teppler and pals let it all hang out, every which way.
Part of that, the singer and main songwriter says, is down to the musical baggage each of the artists brings to the common fray. “We all bring something of our own to what we do. Nadav [Fast], the violinist, who is very prominent on the album, he comes from klezmer. He plays in a klezmer band several times a week. And then there’s Ruth [Danon], the flutist. She’s also a vocalist, and she has her own material. She comes from electronic music, and she plays synthesizer.”
Even with her eclectic backdrop, the latter took Teppler by surprise. “I didn’t think our music needed a synthesizer, and then I heard what she was doing, and then I thought, wow, that adds so much, how much that changes the sound of Forestt.”
Teppler had her ears opened to a diverse range of sounds and genres from the word go. “When I was a kid, my parents listened to a lot of prog rock, a lot of Seventies music, and there was darkish music, like goth, dark Eighties and classical music.”
The youngster also made her own aural choices. “I really like old Israeli music, especially Chava Alberstein. All of that was a bit of a strange amalgam,” she laughs.
When you approach your craft with so many avenues of creativity at your disposal, it can help to have like-minded colleagues on board the free-flowing musical caravan. “I write most of the lyrics and scores, but we do the arrangements together, and we are, somehow, all together. We are very compatible musically.”
One would have thought that with the musical mind-set coming from, and heading off, in so many directions, that would be a prerequisite.
RICH ON the road experience and domestic and academic musical education, notwithstanding, Teppler did not get down to putting pen to music sheet with gay abandon. She fell foul of some perceived or actual peer pressure. “I had to leave Tel Aviv for that. When I lived in Tel Aviv I hung out with musicians, and I think I didn’t feel worthy, that writing songs was sacred work.”
It’s not that she was short of street-level experience. “I always wrote. When I was at Rimon, I was in the lyric-writing and composing stream, and I was always thinking up tunes at home.”
She felt she needed some official collateral to put her creative neck on the line. “I didn’t get formal musical education until a relatively late age, so I didn’t allow myself to call myself a musician or a singer.” Listening to Into The Woods, that is a little hard to believe. Teppler comes across as an accomplished vocalist brimming with confidence, and not in the least bit afraid to proffer her own singular sound.
The numbers of the album sound well crafted and seasoned. Teppler says it was a while in the making. “We worked on the record around three-and-a-half years. We wanted to release a single, to get some radio airplay, on Galgalatz and that sort of thing, and then we thought, Let’s record an album.”
Then again, that’s not something you just decide to do, right? “We wondered how you go about making a record. How you do it the right way. How you get the funding together.” But when it’s time, it’s time. “We just decided to go for it,” Teppler laughs. “Let’s just do it.”
And, if that weren’t a daunting enough prospect, Teppler also released a couple of souls into the world. “I became pregnant, and it all happened at the same time.”
While we chatted on the phone I could hear baby gurgling and cooing, and the odd cry, as the singer tended to her offspring while enlightening me about her, and the band’s, artistic evolution.
Teppler wears her heart on her sleeve and puts out everything she has imbibed during her life thus far.
“I spent three years, from the age of seven to the age of nine, in Leeds,” she notes. “My father was on shlihut there. I got into the sounds of northern England, the folk music and the textures. That’s a part of me too. And that’s probably why it’s natural for me to write songs in English.”
There is a palpable visual element to the new record. It’s almost as if you can see the music unfurling before your eyes, and ears. With Teppler it’s just a matter of giving out. “I think if you are honest and authentic, people get what you are doing. Even if you don’t have a good voice, they will still embrace what you give them.”
It must be said that Teppler’s vocals are of the highest order, and she and the rest of the Forestt gang are clearly in tune with themselves and in step with one another.
If you can’t make it to the Abraham Hostel on March 16, keep your eyes peeled for more Forestt dates elsewhere around the country, or get yourself a copy of Into The Woods. You won’t be disappointed.
For tickets and more information: https://bar.abrahamhostels.com/tel-aviv/events/forestt/
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