Ohad Rein has been around a bit. The 37-year-old singer- songwriter was born in Australia, moved with his Israeli- born parents and siblings to Europe when he was a tiny tot, came to Israel as a young child and did his schooling and army service here before relocating to the United States. Oh yes, there was a stint in India too, followed by another stretch in Australia. Now, after four years of artistic derring-do in these here parts he is going back Down Under. His farewell gig will take place at Zappa Tel Aviv tonight (doors open 8:15 p.m., show starts 10 p.m.).
Sounds like the father-of-two is a true citizen of the world.
“We moved around so much when I was a kid,” says Rein, who is better known to local music fans by his stage moniker of Old Man River. “I sort of don’t belong anywhere, and belong everywhere.”
That might not be a bad bio for an artist to have, allowing him or her to draw on all kinds of musical baggage, and picking up some possibly challenging, but ultimately enriching life experiences on the way.
The aforementioned early toing and froing was underscored by a domestic soundtrack.
“I guess my dad was responsible for playing classical music and jazz records at home, so I absorbed a lot of that,” recalls Rein. “There was Beethoven and Bach of course.”
I ventured that many jazz musicians considered the latter to be the forefather of the entire improvisational discipline. Rein goes along with that theory, but feels there was a core of numerical precision to Bach’s work, rather than a laissez faire ethos.
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“It was more mental I guess. It didn’t really come from the heart. It was mathematical.”
The same could not be said for Rein’s output.
“My music couldn’t be mathematical because I suck at maths,” he laughs.
The paternally-instilled education started to come to fruition when Rein picked up a guitar, for the first time, at the age of 13. He also began getting his own ideas out there from the get-go.
“I think I started writing as soon as I started playing, although I wasn’t really aware that I was writing. It was all in English. We spoke Hebrew at home but all the music we listened to was in English.”
Rein’s initial lyrical forays were hormone driven.
“I wrote about girls,” he chuckles. “It seems the whole rock star dream started from that point.”
There were earlier childhood ambitions.
“I wanted to be the chief of staff [of the IDF], and I also wanted to be a pilot. But I wear glasses so I couldn’t be a pilot.”
How does Rein equate all the above aspirations? “It’s all more or less the same thing,” he observes somewhat enigmatically.
“What would Freud have said?” he muses with tongue firmly in cheek. “When I was little I had all these dreams of conquering the world – tiny Israel conquering America.”
The infant megalomania subsequently took on a less militant complexion.
“When I became a musician I wanted to conquer the world with my songs.”
Rein’s career path was clear from an early age.
“I used to watch Led Zeppelin concerts on videotape, and that sort of thing, and I thought ‘this is a good idea’ – I was [Led Zeppelin guitarist] Jimmy Page, of course. Something really struck a chord – literally. I was doing a music major at school in Kfar Saba – I was in the same class as [internationally acclaimed world music artist] Idan Reichel. I wanted to go to New York to play rock music.
The idea was not to do the army.”
Nonetheless, Rein ended up doing his full military service, but the dream had only been put on hold.
“Three years later I was on a plane to New York,” he says. It took a while, but things eventually took off in the Big Apple.
“I started having all sorts of epiphanies there. It was a sort of real spiritual awakening for me there. It’s funny to relate to New York as a spiritual place, but it is a very spiritual place. I went there as a 21-year-old kid who had his hands completely open to the universe, and a lot of amazing things happened to me there.”
Even so it took a while for the young man to get his rear end in gear.
“I was having a good time just getting lost in the city and then 9/11 happened. That shook me up. It shook everybody up. I was doing telemarketing from home. I’d even forgotten why I went to New York in the first place. I quit that sh**ty job and starting busking on the streets. I’d been partying and having a good time, but I realized I had to remember why I went there.”
Reverting back to his artistic raison d’etre was no simple matter.
“It’s difficult to start anything in New York,” he notes. “There are so many people there, all getting on with their business.”
But, he got his guitar out and began reeling off Dylan and Bob Marley numbers in the subway. He soon got his nose down to the creative grindstone.
“When I ran out of those songs I started writing my own. That gave me a lot of confidence, and finding my own voice.”
It was a formative experience.
“You end up playing for thousands of people a day, and there’s always some reaction from people.”
There were some fruitful professional responses too. Before long, Rein had hooked up with all kinds of like-minded musicians and started getting decent bookings.
But, just when it looked like the American dream might be becoming a reality, Rein began getting itchy feet.
“I was dating a beautiful lingerie model.
Everything was going so sweetly and then I suddenly started having all these dreams of going to India. I never wanted to go to India. I was never that kind of guy.”
But the subcontinent duly called and he packed his guitar and hopped on a plane to the other side of the world. He got into yoga, and soon began studying sitar with a venerated teacher in Varanasi in northeast India, a skill he put to good use on “Sunshine,” a track on his 2007 debut album Good Morning, which became an international hit. Another track from the CD, “La,” also did well around the world.
Gradually, reality began rearing its ugly head in India.
“I ran out of cash so I went to stay with my sister in Sydney, Australia. I sort of parachuted straight into the music scene there,” says Rein.”I got a job as a guitar tech – the guy who tunes the guitar and hands in to the performer – and then I started touring with this indie band. Things started rolling and I ended up recording an album with two guys from the band.”
Good Morning was followed, in 2010, by Trust and, in general, Rein was doing well for himself Down Under, and elsewhere.
He eventually struck out on his own, and became known as Old Man River. “The river always flows,” he muses. “I connected with [20th century German-born Swiss Nobel Prize winning poet and novelist] Hermann Hesse’s idea of the river in his book Siddhartha. And that song, “Ol’ Man River” [from 1927 musical Showboat] – you know, the river always keeps on flowing.
It’s a symbol for life and, of course, music.
Life is music – always changing.”
The music business can be precariousness, and Trust turned out to be less popular with the pop-rock music buying public.
“It was the second album syndrome,” says Rein. “I decided to make a really grandiose album, made in India, Israel and Australia and, of course, it was also a more introspective album which nobody got. I like it,” Rein laughs, somewhat resignedly. “It didn’t do as well as the first one. It sent me into massive turmoil, of accusing the whole world [of the record’s failure]. I was ready for a change and my [Israeli] wife said ‘I really miss my parents, let’s move back to Israel’, and I said that’s a great idea. It was very spontaneous. We still have our stuff in storage in Sydney. We only thought we’d be here for six months or so.”
Although happy to be back in Israel, Rein found the going here tougher than he’d expected, or hoped. “Even when things were exploding for me around the world, nothing really was happening for me here.
No one was playing my music here. I hadn’t even visited Israel.” So, after all the tidal wave of success he’d experienced across the globe, including making Number 1 in Japan, it was back to square one in Israel.
“I don’t know whether it was because I’d become lazy, or I just didn’t want to do all the grassroots work again, but it was pretty demoralizing. I played in Haifa to four people, and they were working in the bar,” he smiles wryly.
After four years of trying to make a go of it here, with the odd prestigious gig and even a pretty successful appearance on the The Voice reality TV show here, which generated some momentum for a while, Rein will soon be packing up his stuff and returning to Sydney, together with his wife and two young daughters.
Rein prefers to look at the move as relocating towards a healthier music scene in Australia, than giving up here. “I just feel the music scene is right for me there,” he says. Considering he has been there and done that, I wouldn’t bet against him making it to the top back in Australia, or even heading back this way again sometime.For tickets and more information: (03) 762- 6666 and www.zappa-club.co.il
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