Keepin’ up with the JonZ

Indie folk duo JonZ prepares to release its debut album, ‘a bridge between the old and the new’.

Israeli duo JonZ (photo credit: MIHAI CERNEA)
Israeli duo JonZ
(photo credit: MIHAI CERNEA)
Jenia Vasilenko and Yoav Or create hypnotic, love-infused music that is at once tender and tough; like folk went out to play in the strobe lights with electronica and brought it back to wrestle in the mud. The couple’s natural chemistry comes through beautifully in their music. In preparation for the release of their debut album, JonZ will play a show at Ha’Azor in Tel Aviv on Thursday, March 22. JonZ sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss getting to know each other through musical collaboration, recording with friends and writing universal lyrics that create timeless songs.
How did music first come into your lives?
Yoav: When I was younger I started to learn a lot of instruments. I played in a lot of bands and I was also an actor in theater. In the army, I was in the band for the Nahal unit. After the army, I opened a studio in Hadera together with a very talented producer. I started to make more music and had bands that were recording for commercials and everything. I had this studio for seven years and I worked with a lot of bands in that time. Then as we were closing the studio, I met Jenia and she became my girlfriend. I was taking everything from the studio to my apartment in Zichron Ya’akov.... We started recording in the house. That’s how our music started. I finished my first chapter of music, and then I was wondering what I was going to do next and it turned out to be really good.
Jenia: My parents come from Russia. There was always a lot of music and culture inside the house all the time. When we came to Israel, my mom had a group of Russian kids who had made aliya and every summer we would have a camp with theater. This was how I got introduced to music. When I met Yoav, he encouraged me to pursue music and we started doing it together.
Was it a natural symbiosis once you two started playing together?
J: I didn’t know that I could sing before he and I got together, but I was always writing. When we sat together and looked at what I wrote, it became clear that we could use it. Sometimes I would write something and we would record it. When I listened to it, I thought it was nice and this is something we could really do. We kept going from there. We have a lot of stories to tell together. It’s also how we got to know each other. Yoav would always play his songs to me and I really liked it; it was very familiar and close to me.
Wow, what a beautiful way to get to know one another!
J: Yeah it was really beautiful and magical. When people ask me how can you be together and play music together, I say that this is all I know, this is how we started. This was the drive of everything between us.
What has it been like putting your album together?
Y: We don’t want to be a folk band that’s like 10 other bands. I want to make bridges between the old and the new; something that’s not going to be only folk acoustic or classic music, or electronic music. This is what we are trying to do with JonZ.
J: It combines old folk with electronic music and what’s going on now. We got inspiration from all around the world. Our sound is not really electronic, but there are touches of it on the album. We like to perform acoustic, but when the album went through the engineering process, it went a little bit back to electronic, so it’s a combination. The idea is to make all of these stories timeless, so that they can touch an old person, young children, everybody.
Y: The process of recording was about one year. I worked with a lot of bands and played with a lot of bands, so I wanted my friends to come play on our album so that we would have a multicultural vibe. I didn’t want the album to sound like it came from Israel or from any particular place, but from all over the globe. We tried to get all the musicians we love and who give us inspiration. We invited them to our home, which is now in Florentine, and recorded.
When I listen to your music, I feel that the heart is folk and it’s wrapped in a blanket of electronic indie music.
Y: That’s really what we’re trying to do. I like all kinds of music, and we want to do it together and cherish every good moment. We try to collect all the vibes and moments that we love and put it together in the song. Also with the lyrics, we really believe in the way of love, the way of cherishing, listening, and bringing good vibes to people.
J: A lot of times in the shows, people are able to get inside and think about their own worlds and what they experience. This is a very interesting process and to see how people react to the lyrics. It started with a story that Yoav and I create and it’s about relationships between people; how to be together and do things together.
Y: It’s really important not to speak about something individual, but something that everybody can relate to. I cannot think of any other way. If I work with musicians and I don’t find good lyrics, I don’t connect. It gets boring when I try to explain things that only happened to me and I feel that it’s not important. But when you ask a question or express an opinion that matters to a lot of people, it starts to make people think. If you have the privilege to make music and people are listening, it’s important to do that. I don’t like to cram a lot of information into the music. Sometimes something really mellow and a minimization of the story can make you think more.
Where does the name JonZ come from?
Y: All my friends call me Jo, short for Yoav. I call Jenia Jen, so Jo and Jen became JonZ. It’s our nickname.
For more information and to purchase tickets to the upcoming show: