Introducing Shelly and Rotem

Tel Aviv-based indie duo prepare to release their debut album, ‘Some Things Can Change’

Tel Aviv-based indie duo Shelly and Rotem (photo credit: GAYA COHEN)
Tel Aviv-based indie duo Shelly and Rotem
(photo credit: GAYA COHEN)
Tel Aviv based indie duo Shelly and Rotem make music that is impossible to categorize. But it is consistent in its beautiful harmonies, ethereal mood and stripped-down sincerity. After five years of playing together, Shelly and Rotem’s full length, debut album, Some Things Can Change, will be released on August 30. They will play an album release show at Bascula (9:30 p.m.) in Tel Aviv that same night.
Shelly sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss musical roots, producing the album themselves, and how opposites attract.
Can you talk about the musical roots of Shelly and Rotem? I read that you came together over a mutual love of Bon Iver.
Yeah, it’s true. We met in high school and were both into music. It was a big part of both of our lives. We went to an art high school, where we were both music majors. We got to talking and Rotem introduced me to a lot of music. She knew all the cool music before it was cool. We found out that we had a lot in common and became really good friends before we ever started playing together. After two years, we had an idea to play some covers of songs we liked. After awhile, it came up that each of us had original songs that we wrote. We played them for each other and we started working on them together. Soon enough, most of the songs we played were originals.
Do you remember what the first cover was that you sang together?
Yeah, we actually made a music video on Youtube. It’s Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We also did a Bon Iver cover. Our covers were eclectic, but they made sense to us.
What do you think makes a good cover?
The song you cover has to speak to you in some way. You have to relate to it and take it to your own place. We’re doing a Prince cover project now. With each one, we broke the song down into something completely different and then we started to build it up from scratch. We change the harmony and the arrangement. It’s hard to make a good cover, especially for a song you appreciate. If we try to sound like the original, it probably won’t be as good, so there’s no point.
What has it been like recording your debut, full length album?
It’s been really amazing because we produced it ourselves. When we first started playing, we had no idea about anything other than live playing. But during this time, we learned a lot about recording and producing. Our first EP, which was called Between Shores, was released in 2013. It was produced by an amazing producer and woman, who we wanted to work on the new album with, but she’s totally busy. She can always be our mentor. So we decided to go for it and do it ourselves. We sat down and recorded our songs, at first like how they were in our live shows. Then we started adding things. It was such an intense process that we didn’t see daylight sometimes. We just sat in the room and worked on it for days. Most of the songs really changed from the live version to the album version. We’ve made really significant steps as producers and have changed a lot in the way we think about our approach to our songs. In the end, we are really proud of this album and that we know every part and every note. We almost didn’t record with any other players, except for a drummer and a brass section for one of the songs. Except for that, we played everything on the album.
That’s amazing. It’s really about the dynamics between the two of you.
Yeah I think because now a lot of people can afford a home studio, more people are doing it. But it still felt good. Our studio is at Rotem’s house. When we needed a place with better acoustics for vocals or drums, we went to an outside studio, but all of the editing and beat making was done in our home studio. It was nice. We got to take lunch breaks whenever we wanted.
I was watching the video for the ‘This Low Commotion’ cover and it really exudes those intimate dynamics that you’re talking about now.
We developed a really special relationship. We became telepathic at some point. We don’t need to say anything in words anymore. Until now, when we work with other people, they are shocked. We’re not the same person, we’re very different, even though we say the same things at the same time a lot. It’s a product of working together for so many hours and getting to know each other’s brains really well. Being really good friends is also a major part of it.
What do you think that each of you brings to the other?
We came from different backgrounds. The music that we write separately is very different. Each of us has her own contribution, which is not always the same. But we can work together. Rotem tends to be really brave and bold about the production. At first, it might be really weird and then it comes together. The fact that we’re different and don’t agree about a lot of stuff creates an interesting conflict that we solve. We try to take something out of each one of our ideas. I tend to have more pop or mainstream concepts and Rotem tends to be more avant-garde, with very far-out visions that turn out to be awesome once they are fully expressed. Sometime it can be the other way around too. We have this mix between our musical worlds.
Speaking of far out visions, I’d love to hear about the meaning behind your video for ‘Somethings’ featuring two women with their faces painted like cats?
It was made with really good friends and directed by Shira Haimovich. Rotem and I had some initial ideas and all together we developed it into a story. We took the song and made the video an interpretation of the words, although not directly. The story of the video clip that relates really well to the lyrics, for me, is that intense connection between two people that ended because of circumstances and it’s never really solved. Each one comes back to where it began, but they have this experience left in them. The cat aspect was just part of the vision we had; we wanted cat people. We found such an amazing crew to do this video. They are all friends, or friends of friends, and they worked so hard for the sake of making good art.
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