The two sides of Lazer Lloyd

Israel’s hassidic blues rocker reaches for the American heartland with his upcoming album.

LAZER LLOYD says that, ‘most fans like the music and the message, which is universal.’ (photo credit: MARKO DASHEV)
LAZER LLOYD says that, ‘most fans like the music and the message, which is universal.’
(photo credit: MARKO DASHEV)
Lazer Lloyd likes to hug people, and for a variety of reasons they seem to have a need to be embraced by the bear-like, bearded figure.
At the Woodstock 50th anniversary festival “Almost Cut My Hair” in the Arava earlier this month, the lanky Lloyd couldn’t walk five feet before a festival goer cornered him for a clinch and an endearing word.
Maybe it’s because his performances are less a polished, rote repetition of songs and more a heartfelt in-the-moment experience. Or maybe it’s Lloyd’s shaggy between-song raps that can range from anecdotes about people he meets to the spiritual state of the nation. But Lloyd manages to break down the barrier between artist and audience, and that makes fans feel like they can approach him.
“I’m just a guy who loves the crowd and the flow of performing,” said Lloyd to The Jerusalem Post last week.
It’s certainly been a flowing journey for the 52-year-old Lloyd, who adopted an observant lifestyle and moved to Israel from his native Connecticut in 1994. Then known as Lloyd Blumen, he left behind a promising music career in New York with his band The Last Mavericks when he encountered and performed with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The meeting transformed him, and within weeks Lloyd had packed up and relocated to Israel.
Focusing on developing his solo career over the last decade, Lloyd established himself as one of Israel’s most accomplished guitar slingers before branching out into one of Israel’s most accomplished singer-songwriters. With a string of impressive albums to his credit enhanced by a wicked live show, Lloyd has slowly but steadily built a following in his native United States to the point that he now performs there the bulk of the time.
Now facing a crossroads, the question burning at Lloyd’s psyche is who does he want to be? The quirky Hassid who plays electric blues and rock like Hendrix, or a Middle America rootsy folkster with mainstream potential?
He recently recorded a slew of songs in Nashville at Ricky Skaggs Studio with Willie Nelson’s producer Eric Paul and a crack band of Nashville veterans that positions him as an Americana-infused, Southern-tinged cowboy with a 10-gallon hat instead of his worn-in chapeau. He also recorded in a Texas studio with Grammy-nominated Chris Bell (Eagles, Luther Dickinson) with a group of young Tulsa musicians.
“Some people really like the rocking guitar stuff and they don’t want to sit through the quiet songs,” Lloyd said. “But then, I have a whole new fan base that really likes the softer acoustic songs. The Nashville album has some mellow, acoustic songs, with a few rocking ones,” he continued. “Then I went to Texas and recorded some electric tracks. We were listening to it all, and trying to figure out how to get this acoustic side and the rocking side of Lazer Lloyd together.”
THE ANSWER was to release a double album, called Lazer Lloyd: The Full Story – which is slated for release in the fall of 2019 by Lots of Love Records. Lloyd and his longtime Israeli band will be performing on April 21 at the Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem at the release party for the album’s first single, the acoustic “Found U." The advanced single will be released in May.
“We decided to give them both, one album really rocks, great for driving around and the other in more acoustic and mellow for sitting and listening to,” said Lloyd, adding that the album also solves a perennial marketing and image dilemma. “I do lots of festivals in American, playing solo acoustic in a country and folk setting. The organizers get confused if you send them an album which is half loud rock. It’s the same with the rock and jam band festivals who want me to rock out, they don’t have the patience for the quiet songs. This way, it’s clear that it’s the same performer but with two different shows.”
Whether the move expands Lloyd’s fan base remains to be seen, but he’s done fine developing a “sweet spot” in the heart of the US where he says his music and message of unity especially resonate.
“People want to be uplifted, and that area of the country is really hit hard with things like addictions and unemployment. They’re looking for direction,” he said, adding that the majority of his fans abroad aren’t even aware that he’s Israeli and lives an observant lifestyle.
“Most fans like the music and the message, which is universal,” said Lloyd. “I don’t make it specifically for Jews and most of the time, I’m not playing for Jews. And my recent songs are focusing more on what’s going on in America.”
A case in point is “Oklahoma” from the upcoming album – a grim, but stomping tune, sung in the point of view of an American who believes in Conservative values and wonders why he is scorned by the rest of the country.
“It might be misunderstood, but I can’t worry too much about it,” he said. “In the middle of the song, the point of view changes and the message is about lowering the volume and giving respect to each other, but that might get lost.”
 Regardless of whether the song – and the album – win him new flag-waving, gun-carrying fans at the expense of liberal music lovers, Lloyd is intent on reaching new audiences and isn’t interested in alienating anyone.
“I’m just trying to give a positive message and provide a good example.”
And the hugs don’t hurt, either.