Jack of all trades

Cleveland-born Jerusalem musician Eli Schabes is the hardest-working man in the game.

JERUSALEM MUSICIAN Eli Schabes wrestles with his music as the one-man looping band Maz Gan. (photo credit: TRUMPLEDOR VINTAGE CLOTHING)
JERUSALEM MUSICIAN Eli Schabes wrestles with his music as the one-man looping band Maz Gan.
Fronting three bands of his own, Cleveland-born Jerusalem musician Eli Schabes is the hardest-working man in the game.
Eli Schabes currently has three bands.
There’s his jazz fusion/hip-hop trio, Faloop. Then there’s his improvisational funk group, Black Schabes. Lastly, there is his newest project, Maz Gan, a one-man looping band. Part performance art with audience participation and part experimental music madness, Maz Gan will play Bessarabia bar in Jerusalem’s center city on January 5. Schabes sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss open mic nights, the Twilight Zone, and playing the bucket drums.
Can you talk about your upbringing?
My parents are not very musical. My dad had an acoustic guitar in the house from when he was a kid. It was broken. It only had three strings. I used to mess around with that and sing songs with my sister. One of my earliest memories is of my parents turning on music in our living room so that we would dance and go crazy. The whole idea was to tire us out before bedtime. We’d take broomsticks and pretend they were instruments. There are countless videos of us dancing. I also remember that my parents went to Acapulco when we were kids and brought back the “Macarena.”
It was a cassette. Other than that, I started playing music when I was much older. I would hit pillows and do that kind of thing; signs of a young drummer. But in terms of starting to take it more seriously, I was 13 when I got a guitar. I started a fictional band that never played a note of music together. Then I got a drum set and started jamming with people.
Professionally, I started playing when I was 18. There’s an open mic night in Cleveland that’s really well-known. It’s been around for years. I started going every Monday night. All of my music connections and opportunities stemmed from that.
What opportunities came from that?
Just the different bands that I joined in Cleveland. The first was a grunge/punk band that I was in for four years. After that, there was another guy who needed a drummer, so he hired me. That was one of my first paying gigs. I met my good friend Johnny Habu there, who’s a professional rock star. Ever since then, we’ve been collaborating. He started Rebel Salmon Media. The whole idea is to start a revolution by going with the stream and changing things from within. We did all sorts of stuff together. We became good friends right when I was getting into my solo stuff with the loop pedals, which is what Maz Gan is. He had this concept where we were going to have a musical wrestling match where we both dressed up in wrestling costumes and rewrote our songs to be like, “I’m gonna kick your butt!” It was probably one of the worst musical performances ever. I recorded two albums with him.
One was called Submitted For Your Approval by The Neener Neeners, which was our group at the time. Rod Serling used to start every Twilight Zone episode by saying that. It’s a Twilight Zone-inspired punk album. We would go into the studio with a riff, put it down, and then sing about an episode. We did another one called Birds of Prey. It’s psychedelic jazz. There are no lyrics. We just went into the studio for eight hours and came out with eight tracks.
When did you move to Israel?
I came here about three years ago. Before I made aliya, I was on kibbutz Sde Eliyahu as a volunteer. My claim to fame is that I was the last volunteer before they closed the program.
Then I moved to Jerusalem and lived in my friend’s basement for a while. I started going to open mic nights and working on my music with the loop pedal. It took me six years to get to where I was with the music community in Cleveland and I was wondering if it would take me that long here, but it didn’t.
I wanted to play bucket drums on the street here, so I started collecting buckets. It makes me extremely nervous to do that kind of stuff like playing on the street and I like putting myself in situations where I get nervous to see what actually happens. I went to Zion Square and there was a saxophone player and a guitarist there and I asked if I could join them. I sat down with them and it was really good.
The saxophonist, Noam, asked me what I was doing the next day. So from then on, we became really good friends and he knows all of the musicians in Jerusalem. We ended up starting a band together called Faloop with a guitarist named Itamar. We’ve played around Jerusalem a handful of times. But at the current moment, Noam moved back up north and Itamar is out of the country.
What about Black Schabes?
That’s a band that I started while I was on kibbutz. Initially the name was Black Laundry, but we looked it up and it’s actually the name of a pro-Palestinian, far left group in Tel Aviv. So we had to change the name the night before our first gig. We went with Black Schabes. We should probably be doing Black Sabbath covers, but we don’t. Last summer, I was at Roasters at Mahaneh Yehuda and my friend who works there told me that they were starting to have live music. We were the first band to perform there. It went really well and we played there a bunch of times. But eventually, they stopped having live music. We are trying to set up more gigs around Jerusalem.
You have a show coming up for Maz Gan. How are you preparing?
I have a song that I do called “Mexico.” In the States, I would go to the Party Center and buy a pinata. But here, it’s a frickin’ mission! I found a place in Talpiot that sells them for NIS 100. This time around, I wanted to be more economical about it, so I decided to make my own. It took me about three hours.
I don’t even think I did it properly. Hopefully it works. It’s a balloon that is covered in cardboard.
It’s in the shape of an obese horse. In the middle of the song, people will come up and try to smash it. The last time, the pinata was really hard to break. In my frustration, I ended up hitting my guitar and it went out of tune. So I played the rest of the song out of tune. It’s all controlled chaos. That’s life in general I think; seemingly controlled chaos.
For tickets to Maz Gan concert visit www.facebook.com/events/1824968584384345/