The musical road less traveled

Built up by word of mouth among Israeli backpackers, Beit Habubot has now hit the mainstream.

habubot 88 298 (photo credit: )
habubot 88 298
(photo credit: )
Amir Atias has just returned from a long day at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music. Plunking down on a couch, the 28-year-old gawks at Music Channel 24 and watches the new video clips of local pop stars. If it weren't for this reporter, who requests that the tube be switched off, Atias would likely watch for hours what his contemporaries are doing in the local music field. His friend and band-mate Itai Shiff has been fielding all the questions up to the TV's confiscation. Shiff and Atias are the two guys behind the popular group, Beit Habubot (Dolls House). A few weeks prior to the interview, the band celebrated gold status of their debut album, Madafim - which was also, according to Time Out magazine, the most bought domestic or foreign album last week. Some 500 people came to the Barbi nightclub in Tel Aviv to mark Beit Habubot's success. The first notes of each new song were all it took for the audience to sing out with the guys. In fact, with hits like "Sigapo," "Beit Habubot" and "Lemaani", the band became almost unnecessary during the concert. "That's the greatest gift to have mass of people coming to sing our songs," says Atias. "We come to the shows to start the songs, and people in the audience are there to sing. We love feeling the audience. It is not so easy to make people happy today, and if we do that then that's fantastic." While many of the music lovers in attendance wore as little as possible, a good handful of devotees were conservatively dressed and donned kipot. Beit Habubot's music is rock, their texts are spiritual. "We're spiritual people, not necessarily religious," says Atias. "I don't think there's anyone who is not spiritual in some way. We as people are always searching." The name of the band was adopted from the title of one of their songs, "Beit Habubot" (Dolls House). The song/band has no connection to Henrik Ibsen or Karol Cetinsky. Rather, the title track discusses the world as God's doll house, and whether people have freedom of choice or predetermined lives. "There are a number of songs with the word 'God' in it. God for me is the experience of the word. Here we call it Elohim, in India they call it Buddha. For me it's the same thing. I believe there's something bigger than us that guides us," says Atias. "We're not dolls, per se, but we are not without direction." While the band's music is catchy, the profound texts are what make Beit Habubot stand out from the rest of the pack. The lyrics talk to any person who has ever traveled, anyone who has sought her place in the world, anybody who believes in God or simply believes. "We get influences from life. Everything is an inspiration," says 29-year-old Shiff. "Whether its dreams or something that has happened to me or to friends, or it can be memories. From people to animals to art, there's nothing that doesn't influence me. I draw inspiration from everything." BEIT HABUBOT is a band that succeeded the old-fashioned way, from word of mouth. It was a success before it released even one single to radio stations. The guys, who met in high school, had been jamming together for years in their homes, with only family and friends as an audience. Shortly before they headed off on a joint trip to Central and South America, one friend persuaded them to record a few songs. They burned 10 copies of the amateurish CD, passed them out to friends who were also going traveling, and set off on their merry way. When Shiff and Atias reached Colombia - after realizing a shared dream of surfing in Mexico - they were surprised to find that fellow Israeli travelers knew their music. The original 10 copies had been burned repeatedly. "We are a band that was built up 100 percent by Israeli backpackers," says Shiff. "They heard our music and passed it on. From India to South America to Africa, Israelis were listening to our music." When they returned home, Shiff and Atias were told people wanted to see them in concert. So, they called up some friends to back them musically and hit the concert circuit. Their first gig was in a small club, and though they didn't expect more than 10 people to show up, they quickly understood bigger venues were a must. Over the last five years their fan base has grown exponentially. "We didn't believe and still don't believe we'd fill clubs," says Atias. "We have yet to perform to an empty house." "We continue to be shock by the number of fans who come see us - as if it's our first concert," chimes in Shiff. "We are still stunned every time we sellout a show and hear from our manager that hundreds of people were sent home because there wasn't enough room." Today, Atias juggles being a student and serving up rock to local music lovers. The oldest of three siblings, he began studying music at the age of six. His parents - a chef and chemist - always played music in the house though they themselves did not perform. Shiff, meanwhile, balances running a production company (he directs and is a scriptwriter) and upholding Beit Habubot. He shares writing and composing duties with Atias. He does not come from a musical family. In fact, the first time Shiff's parents "saw a guitar was when [he] brought it home". He took up the hobby at age 16, and his parents - a judge and teacher - gave him free reign. Madafim, which was co-produced by Nana and Barbi Records, was released at the beginning of this year. Between gigs throughout the country, Shiff and Atias are now working on album No. 2. "The next album won't be a revisal of the first one. We've matured, and now we're more of a band as opposed to just Amir and Itai," says Atias. "The first album was the two of us with backup musicians. This album is an effort by the entire band," says Shiff. They will take a break from working on their album when they hit the road in February - Israeli backpackers in India requested that Beit Habubot perform there. Both Shiff and Atias make repeated references to living their dream. "Our success till now feels surreal. We're still in awe of the fact that people come out to shows to see us and that our music supports us financially. We feel like we're in a bubble," says Atias. "We are realistic and know the bubble could pop. We hope it won't."