The sweet smell of success

Israeli instrumental rock trio Tatran is ready to showcase their experimental mastery at Tel Aviv’s Barby Club

‘THE WAY we write music is like Bach or Beethoven, in the sense that they also didn’t need words and didn’t have a singer to express what they wanted to express,’ says Israeli instrumental rock trio Tatran. (photo credit: ZOHAR RALT)
‘THE WAY we write music is like Bach or Beethoven, in the sense that they also didn’t need words and didn’t have a singer to express what they wanted to express,’ says Israeli instrumental rock trio Tatran.
(photo credit: ZOHAR RALT)
If George Harrison made his guitar gently weep, Israeli instrumental trio Tatran makes their instruments convulse and burst into song. Guitarist Tamuz Dekel, bassist Offir Banjaminov and drummer Dan Mayo play together with mastery, ease and near telepathic coordination.
With two albums under their collective belt and a loyal Israeli following, Tatran is expanding their fan base and readying for the release of a new album.
The experimental rock-jazz group played alongside another instrumental trio, BadBadNotGood, at Tel Aviv’s Barby Club on Thursday at 8:30 p.m..
Tatran sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss the meaning of their name, their recent foray into American concerts and the live recording that has become their signature.
How did you come to form Tatran?
Offir had the idea of the three of us playing together about five years ago. So he called us to jam and we played a composition of his. It was really good, so we kept on meeting and developing our sound.
We knew each other and had even played together before because musicians like to try out different combinations. But the combination of the three of us was so good and so deep that it had to continue.
What does Tatran mean?
The Hebrew meaning is someone who has no sense of smell. It’s also the last word in the dictionary. Our music doesn’t necessarily portray the lack of smell, it’s more the sound and the feeling of the word that we liked and we went with it.
There are very few bands, especially in Israel, that play only instrumentals with no vocals. Was that always the plan? It wasn’t a plan necessarily, it’s just the reality. When we play together, we strive to express ourselves and it happens to be that we express ourselves best and most purely through our instruments. If one of us had expressed themselves really well with lyrics and singing, it would probably find its way into the band. So it’s more a matter of expression.
Do American fans compare you guys to Phish?
Yeah, we’ve heard that a few times. We dislike that comparison actually. We didn’t know Phish before people started telling us that we reminded them of that band. We have nothing against them though, it’s not personal.
How do you play the music so that people don’t feel like they’re missing out on vocals; how do you make the instruments sing?
We have musical ideas and our lives to draw from, so it is what it is. We put all of our efforts and energy into it. Then it goes out into the audience and they get it. When you say singing, it’s a very human way to express art. So it’s a compliment.
When we write and compose music, we always try to imagine it like a story with a beginning, middle and end. The way we write music is like Bach or Beethoven, in the sense that they also didn’t need words and didn’t have a singer to express what they wanted to express.
Do you guys always write songs all together?
We have a lot of songs that we wrote together through jamming and experimenting. We also have songs where one of us brought a basic melodic or harmonic idea and we developed it together.
You recorded your debut album, ‘Shvat,’ live in the studio. Can you talk about that experience? We thought about the recording process a lot and tried different approaches before settling on that one. It became clear that we were going to do it live because the way that we arrange stuff is the way we wanted the listener to experience it. We wanted it to sound exactly as we imagined it to be; not adding more stuff later when we recorded.
Then it would sound different and it would be hard for us to understand where we are, both artistically and sonically. So our approach has always been to create it by getting together and playing, with no need for anything else. It was also a big challenge because we discovered new things and stretched our boundaries.
When we went to record Shvat, we went in with these limitations. It’s good to have limitations when creating something. It makes you more creative. Actually when we recorded, we played the album as a consecutive show with multiple takes. So we played those 11 songs in a row about a million times! That was two-and-a-half years ago and it feels like a long time. Shvat was our first try, but we are still taking this same approach to recording. Our second album, Soul Ghosts, is a live concert album. Our next album, which we currently working on, will also be live. This is what works for us right now.
You guys signed with American booking agency AMI last summer. Has that opened up more exposure for you as a band?
Yeah, we just did two concerts in New York, and before that we were in Atlanta for the jazz festival. We’re starting to spread the seeds across the universe. It was really interesting playing in Atlanta. The audience was all kinds of different people of every age and background, and they really connected with us in a surprisingly natural way. The things that they said they experienced were the same as Israeli fans. Maybe it’s because we don’t have lyrics, so we’re an international language.
What can you tell me about your upcoming show at the Barby with BadBadNotGood?
We’re playing with them as a double feature. Both bands are instrumental trios, so we liked the idea of this show. We’ve played at the Barby a lot before; it’s a nice place with good beers. We’ll be playing songs from the new album, as well as improvisations. We do some shows that are entirely improvisational, called experimental sessions, but most of our shows have a clear skeleton structure with spaces in between to take the songs to all kinds of different places.
What’s next for Tatran?
Working on finishing the new album, playing more concerts, and there are some music videos that we want to do. We’ve been gathering recordings from improvisations and shows that will be in the air sooner or later. We definitely want the chance to play in places that we haven’t played yet and explore new vibes.
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