“When we get onstage, I’m not thinking I’m performing for Germans... or Austrians. They’re just people. The same way, I don’t think most fans know or care that we’re Israeli. We’re all just people, and when you can unite over music, it’s a special feeling.”
Singer and songwriter Yael Shoshana Cohen, who makes up half of the Lola Marsh creative team, is on the phone along with her longtime musical partner Gil Landau, talking about the impressive international success the band has achieved since forming in 2016.
“When we get onstage, I’m not thinking I’m performing for Germans... or Austrians. They’re just people. The same way, I don’t think most fans know or care that we’re Israeli. We’re all just people, and when you can unite over music, it’s a special feeling.”Yael Shoshana Cohen
It’s no small achievement. Dozens of Israeli musical artists over the years have attempted to break out of the country’s tiny confines.
Most, however, end up remaining big fish in the small Mediterranean pond. Sure, there’s an exception like Ofra Haza or Infected Mushroom that makes it big on a certain level. But even some major Israeli talents who jumped out of the small pond for the big lake, like Asaf Avidan and Geva Alon, achieved only moderate success singing in English. And others, from Idan Raichel to David Broza to Mashina, still perform abroad to predominantly Israeli expat audiences.
What makes Lola Marsh so unique?
That’s what puts Lola Marsh in such rarefied company. Offering upbeat charisma galore and self-described “magnetic, thoughtful indie pop,” Cohen and Landau have become staples on European stages. And thanks to their high-profile inclusion in a vital scene from the hit TV series Better Call Saul, performing a cover of the Nancy and Frank Sinatra duet “Something Stupid,” their recognition level in the US isn’t bad either.
By mixing effervescent, eccentrically offbeat pop with wistfully melancholic melodies and arrangements, the duo, along with their talented band, have struck a universal chord.
“We can have a large sound, very happy, influenced by groups like MGMT, and on the other side, quiet and folkie acoustic. That’s been our DNA from the start,” said primary melodist Landau. “I think over time the pop has gotten more poppy and the folk more folkie, but we’re still making the same kind of music we did since the beginning.”
Landau and Cohen met at the former’s 26th birthday party in 2011. Both were writing songs and performing with various configurations, but when they started to playfully sing together at an impromptu jam session, things clicked very quickly.
“We just sat around singing all kinds of songs, some Disney hits, “Jolene,” some Foo Fighters. Everyone at the party stopped what they were doing and came over to listen,” said Landau. “The connection between us was really strong from the start.”
They decided to meet again and see what they could come up with, but at first, the experiment faltered.
“It was like an awkward first date,” said Landau. “But by the second or third session, when we started writing songs together, it began to jell and was super exciting.”
Cohen and Landau spent a couple years writing, performing and forming a band, and a couple more to get their signature sound down in the studio. But in 2016, they self-released an EP – You’re Mine – that showcased their modern yet timeless sense of melody and arrangement, with Cohen’s striking vocals leading the way.
ALL THE songs, as well on their official debut album, 2017’s Remember Roses, are in English, a decision that Cohen and Landau said they never really made.
“There was never an official conversation where we discussed it; it just came very naturally,” said Landau.
“It was a period of time when we were listening to a lot of music in English. If we had met five years earlier, we probably would have sung in Hebrew,” he added, citing Arik Einstein and Shalom Hanoch as all-time favorites.
Cohen, who spent some of her childhood in Singapore and Africa, went to English-language schools. But she only became enamored with American and British folk-rock in her 20s, with Crosby, Stills & Nash and Nick Drake among her inspirations.
Lola Marsh’s music brings all those influences together, along with modern-day singer/songwriters, ranging from Lana Del Ray to Taylor Swift. That synthesis shone through on Remember Roses, which has garnered over 40 million streams on Spotify and has been reviewed in major music sites and magazines.
Making it on Better Call Saul
Its name spread even further when it recorded the rendition of “Something Stupid,” which was chosen to appear in a pivotal scene for the hit Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul in 2018.
The group had answered a call for renditions of the song put out by the show’s producers, and it was chosen from dozens of applicants.
The show’s music supervisor, Thomas Golubic, told The Hollywood Reporter that he had a late-night call with Landau and Cohen and “went through every bar of that song... and the technical aspects. It was four in the morning their time, and they were wonderful. We had such a great collaboration, and when we got the piece back, it really reflected everything we had talked about.
“It’s just so beautiful – the charm of each of their voices, the surges of enthusiasm in the instrumentation, the hand quality of the way the instruments are played. It’s really special.”
Landau and Cohen recalled a similar experience, but with a little more anxiety.
“We were very stressed,” said Cohen.
“I wasn’t stressed,” piped in Landau, before Cohen laughed and responded, “You were the most stressed!”
“We stayed up all night after a show in Tel Aviv, and were changing things till the last moment. When they chose us, we were so proud,” recalled Landau, adding that when they met the son of the song’s composer – C. Carson Parks – the next year in Los Angeles, he told them that the song was “‘amazing.’ He said his father would have loved it.”
ON THE heels of their second album, Someday Tomorrow Maybe, just when the momentum was about to sweep them into another level of popularity, the COVID pandemic hit and sucked the sails out of the Lola Marsh ship.
“We had just started a big 30-show sold-out European tour, and seven shows in, we had to come home,” said Landau. “All the buildup to the album and the chance of performing it went down the drain. All we could do was write more, and record another album.”
Added Cohen, “The songs were a ray of light for us and helped us feel useful and gave us some hope.”
The result, Shot Shot Cherry, was released this month, and, as Landau stated, the pop is bigger and more expansive, and the introspective pieces are more haunting. On the title song, upbeat dance rhythms belie a sense of vulnerability, with COVID-related lyrics like “The world’s about to end / So drink up and pretend.”
Landau and Cohen are gearing up for an extensive month-long European tour next month with a show this Friday at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv. Despite their popularity steadily rising outside its borders, Israel is still their home base, according to the duo.
“We get a lot of love here; things are going really well for us in Israel,” said Landau, as Cohen explained how they’ve established themselves throughout Europe.
“When we put our first song out, it got onto some Spotify playlists, and things started happening very quickly. We’re essentially a live band and we make it fun. We’ve gone over to Europe and played again and again,” she said.
Added Landau, “Let’s not forget, we’ve worked really hard to get to where we are. And above all, the music is good.”
Landau and Cohen became romantically involved for a short time at the beginning of their Lola Marsh adventure, but have settled into a professional partnership that has endured a decade of challenges and triumphs.
“We have a special relationship. Being in a band is a marriage of a different kind,” said Landau.
Whether it’s on a stage in Israel or Europe, the harmony and energy they bring to their music demonstrate those ties that bind.