No end in sight

Bryan Steiner has released many albums by top artists; now he can claim his own – with a little help from friends.

Bryan Steiner 370 (photo credit: David Brinn)
Bryan Steiner 370
(photo credit: David Brinn)
When Bryan Steiner began gathering some of Israel’s top musicians for weekly free-form jam sessions in a Tel Aviv rehearsal hall in 2006, he never envisioned that six years later it would result in the sprawling rock-funk album After The End.
But the behind-the-scenes music promotion pro had a number of things going for him: a penchant for writing offbeat lyrics, an extremely well-connected address book of musical friends, and an abundance of “lunacidal tendencies” – the name he gave to the roster of musicians who populate the album.
Those tendencies saw nothing wrong with members of local bands like Funk’n’stein and Hadag Nahash, and established performers like Geva Alon, The Voice quarter-finalist Gadi Altman, Karolina and Ronen Kohavi, rubbing shoulders and trading instruments with no expectations beyond pleasing themselves.
“The jam sessions took place every week for almost two years, and it was a terrific period,” said the 43-year-old Steiner recently, sitting in the patio of his rented home in the Judean Hills outside Jerusalem.
“It took place at this rehearsal space in [Tel Aviv’s Florentin [neighborhood] called Janis and anyone who was free that evening would come – people like Kutiman, [Hadag Nahash’s] Shlomi Alon, Geva and Elran Dekel [the leader of Funk’n’stein]. The main purpose was to just hang out and enjoy each other’s company.”
Steiner, who moved to Israel from New York in 1999 and has worked in music promotion via his own record label Blue Sun and concert promotion company 2BVibes since 2003, had longstanding relationships with many of the musicians, but he credited Dekel with being the magnet for attracting upwards of 20 musicians to the jam sessions.
“It was mostly word of mouth, but it was Elran who brought them in – he’s not just a respected musician but one of the kindest people any of us know,” said Steiner. “When he calls someone and says ‘do you want to come to a jam?’ people show up.”
Dekel was also instrumental in drawing out the nascent artist inside Steiner, whose lifelong love of music previously consisted of being “a professional concert goer.”
“I had been an armchair lyricist – I had this little notebook I wrote things in, but when Elran asked me if I wanted to write some songs together, the floodgates opened,” said Steiner. “All these snippets and parts of songs suddenly had a context.
We worked on this one funky song “If It Ain’t Broke” and then I just sat down and the lyrics to other songs started flowing.”
By the time Dekel and Steiner devised the idea for the jam sessions, Steiner had stacks of lyrics ready.
“I brought in sheets, put them on the table, and while the jam was going on, someone would pick up the lyrics and start singing.”
Every session was taped in full, with the musicians often switching instruments after taking their breaks. Within a few months, Steiner realized they had recorded enough songs to stock an album. But when the jam sessions fizzled out due to the increasingly busy schedules of the principles, the project began gathering dust for a couple of years.
However, amid his concert promotion and record label duties, Steiner didn’t forget about the treasure trove of music on his hard drive.
Last year, when he arranged for Ronen Kohavi’s latest album to be mixed in Los Angeles by noted producer Jamie Condiloro of Ryan Adams fame, Steiner mentioned his long-neglected music and wondered if Condiloro would be willing to take a listen.
Condiloro liked what he heard and agreed to get involved in the project.
“When we realized that we were actually going to make an album, we brought everyone into a rehearsal and played the rough mixes of what we had done in the jam sessions four years earlier,” said Steiner. “Then we assigned someone to each song to be the producer, determined by who took the lead during the jam, and they became in charge of that song and decided who would appear on it. That’s why there’s a different configuration for each song, although the core group that appear on almost every song consists of Kuti, Shlomi Alon, Shacham ‘Chakamoon’ Ohana from Funk’n’stein and Elran.”
“I called Jamie and told him we’re going to go ahead and make the record – ‘there’s going to be a crazy amount of artists on it and they’re amazing. I know about your fee, but I wanted to know if part of your fee would be to have me fly you over to Israel to man the recording,’ a n d he just said ‘yes, how can we make it happen?’” The eight-day recording sessions at Pluto Studios in Tel Aviv resembled the fabled jam sessions they were based on, with some nights 30 to 40 musicians crammed into the room.
“It was a big party and the vibe of the jam sessions seeped into the recording studio, but everyone knew when it was time to do the free form stuff and the time to focus – they were all professional,” said Steiner.
Steiner wrote most of the lyrics and sang on two tracks, as well as co-producing the After the End.
Among the 13 songs and three interludes sung all in English are the snarling “We’ve Come So Far” featuring Altman, the country rock of Alon’s “Slow Down,” the Dekel- Karolina duet “You’re Not of This World” and the kitchen-sink hippiedom of “A New Way to Rhyme.”
To mark the album’s release on August 5, Steiner is planning a record release party and a few live shows. But as he readily admits, finding a date when all of the in-demand musicians are free is proving to be impossible. But seeing the silver lining in his dilemma, Steiner noted that the reason his band can’t find the time is because they are at the top of their field in Israel, and rival the talents of any group of musicians in the world.
“They’re on a world class level, and my hope is that this album will be a showcase for them abroad so people will go on and learn more about them,” said Steiner, who plans on promoting the album in the US and Europe. “It was important for the album to be released and distributed first in Israel though, because they’re a group of Israeli musicians.”
And Steiner is convinced that his pipe dream of writing songs and making an album came true only because he’s in Israel.
“I’d never be able to work with musicians at this level in the US. It might be my project and vision, but it’s really their album.”
After the end, for lunacidal tendencies at least, is a new beginning.