Chaos wrought of effortless charm

For The Giraffes’ outrageous lead singer/songwriter Gilad Kahana, meticulous preparation gives him the freedom to let loose on the stage.

giraffes/girafot band 311 (photo credit: Amit Israeli)
giraffes/girafot band 311
(photo credit: Amit Israeli)
Drinking to tell the tale, singer/songwriter Gilad Kahana has a unique way with words. He doesn’t need more than two sentences, four chords and several pints of beer to tell the most profound truths with eerie levity.
Ever restless, Kahana, 40, has released four solo albums (both in Hebrew and in English) and two books (short stories and poetry). Known as the lead singer and writer for The Giraffes, the outspoken lyricist, singer and social commentator has already established himself as an astute iconoclast, with his intelligent, biting songs full of left field humor and observations of Israeli society and the human condition.
Their third album, No Elephants Allowed, is a collection of little heartfelt stories full of terse, poetic scenes.
Where did you find the stories for No Elephants Allowed?
There are so many places to find poetry. For a while I’ve been taking methodically aimless strolls around the city, and I came to feel at home in the streets. Instead of being an observer, I was letting myself disappear into the scenery, which allowed me to connect with the littlest stories around me. That’s what “No elephants allowed“ means, by the way: No big stories allowed.
When you’re off the streets, how do you get started on a song?
Songwriting is not something I do deliberately, in the sense that my art is constantly intruding on my life and vice versa. I feel that my inspiration comes from some sort of collective-wealth of inspiration that everyone shares. Some people could be intimidated by this thought; it basically makes artists seem less godlike, maybe even less talented. But the work of a real artist is to be keen enough to recognize when he receives something from this collective wealth. Your distinction as an artist is your limitation as a human being. Since my mind is so limited, I naturally narrow and compress it to fit the templates of my mind.
So the power of an artist is his ability to filter?
His inability not to filter.
You often said that recording this album was an extremely positive experience. What made it so?
First, recording Roof [the previous album] was hell.And what’s worse, it was enormously successful, and success is often more difficult than failure. With success come much strain and arguing. But once we survived all that, we could take on the next album with our egos tamed and cleansed of emotional toxins. I think we truly longed to work together again on this one.
How far are you aiming for your music?
Honestly, let me conquer the world. Alexander the Great-style. But first and foremost, I want to make it here. This is my home, Hebrew is my language.
But you write in both Hebrew and English. Do the two ever battle for your attention?
No. Those two languages are like two parallel lives in me, like schizophrenia. Also, there are plenty of songs to be written in both. But I’ll admit that being bilingual, I do crave to reach audiences that don’t just use English but actually live the language.
What part does music play in your life?
It’s a matter of sanity; writing songs, playing, recording, everything. When you work 12 hours in the studio, it doesn’t matter whether you come out with two complete tracks or with nothing. What does matter is you go in there and try hard to twist time, to invent, to touch, to enrage. Results and accomplishments are only the by-products of this work.
Your concerts are known for your fiery and extravagant presence. What’s your secret, apart from your notorious beer-only diet?
Everything before a show has to be prepared and rehearsed super meticulously; God is in the details.
On stage, everything turns into total chaos. This kind of chaos has a sort of effortless charm because it’s not the result of carelessness or laziness. It’s achieved through rigidly maintained order and after scrupulous preparations.
But what triggers this passionate chaos?
My everyday rage, I guess. I think what separates an active artist from a dormant one is whether or not you have some need screaming in you. It doesn’t have to be a topical scream, like in my concert monologues; it could just as well be about personal relationships.
You’ve got to have this inextinguishable flame in you.
I believe I have more flame than talent. I recently went to an acupuncturist and he said, ‘What’s wrong with you? You’re on fire!’ He also told me I was “overassertive.”
In what sense?
The moment I start working on something, I latch onto it, no questions asked. My decision-making process as an artist is mainly intuitive. It probably derives from my improvisational habits on stage. I think standing before “a blank canvas” is one of the hardest moments in creative work. But I never put myself in front of a blank canvas. I start immediately, without even knowing where I’m going. And often it comes out ridiculous. So what? I throw it away. No need to make a big deal out of it. The road to brilliance is paved with ridiculous drafts. For he who fools around gets to be brilliant, and he who is wise takes longer. I guess I’m not too wise, in this sense.
The Giraffes will be launching their new album tour in a special concert at the Zappa Shuni Amphitheater in Binyamina on Tuesday, September 21 at 9:30 p.m.