Lola Marsh – charming Israeli indie band or international stars?

The tuneful popsters are one of the standout acts in this week’s IndieCity Festival, which will take place in Eilat, for the first time, after six Jerusalem-based editions, Thursday through Saturday

YAEL SHOSHANA COHEN and Gil Landau of Lola Marsh: We come from different worlds. (photo credit: MICHAEL TOPYOL)
YAEL SHOSHANA COHEN and Gil Landau of Lola Marsh: We come from different worlds.
(photo credit: MICHAEL TOPYOL)
Lola Marsh has paid its dues at bars and other small-time spots around Israel, but all that is now way in the past for the band. Today, the internationally acclaimed indie group spends as much time wowing audiences across Europe and the States as it does performing in Israel.
The tuneful popsters are one of the standout acts in this week’s IndieCity Festival, which will take place in Eilat, for the first time, after six Jerusalem-based editions, Thursday through Saturday (November 21-23).
The rest of the three-day program features a bunch of celebrated veteran acts, such as Dudu Tasa and the Kuwaitis, and Victoria Hannah, who will line up alongside newer, lesser known, groups the likes of the Water Knives duo, pop vocalist Daniel Sun Krief and Floor 8.
Lola Marsh certainly belongs to the former category, and has been making waves across the globe for a few years now. The pop indie band is built around vocalist-guitarist Gil Landau and vocalist Yael Shoshana Cohen, who began their shared creative life back in 2013. The twosome did the obligatory rounds, of venues large and small – primarily the latter – up and down the country, gaining professional experience and building up a steadily growing following in the process.
Their first EP, You’re Mine, came out in January 2016, and a debut album, Remember Roses, was released in summer 2017. The record drew enthusiastic responses from listeners and industry professionals, and in the meantime the pair swelled their ranks by bringing in bassist Mati Gilad, guitarist-keyboardist Rami Osservaser and drummer, sampler operator Dekel Dvir.
The band’s international profile has grown in leaps and bounds over the years, and it performs mostly abroad, packing in crowds throughout Europe. It is making inroads in the US as well. Landau and Cohen were chosen to record an icy rendition of the Frank and Nancy Sinatra 1967 hit “Something Stupid” for last year’s season of popular American TV series Better Call Saul.
“It was really cool that they got to us,” says Cohen. “They’d heard some of our songs and thought we could get the job done.”
That was an exciting prospect for Cohen and Landau, but there was still some way to go before the Israelis could enjoy the global exposure that such a prestigious gig would give them.
“The people from the series were totally up front with us, and they told us they were considering other groups,” Cohen recalls. “We kept on progressing through the different stages until there was only us and one other group, and then they told us we had been chosen. It was really moving because we felt we expressed ourselves completely in the song. It is the best bit of work we’ve done so far. And it was great working with those guys. They were so professional.”
The American experience also had some beneficial knock-on effects, for all concerned.
“The episode was in the running for an Emmy. That was great,” says Cohen, adding that they brought some of that enduring vibe back home with them. “That stayed with us and inspired us for our work on our second album. It was an amazing opportunity.” There may be more where that came from. “It is something we enjoy doing. We want to do soundtrack work, for TV and movies.”
The pair have ridden their serendipitous road from the off. That ebb and flow resonates in their music, too. Numbers like “Echoes,” “Wishing Girl” and “Sirens” seem to offer a sense of definitive indie intimacy coupled with a far more expansive ethos. There is something delicate, almost fragile, about the band’s sound, but you also get the feeling that there is something pretty feral lurking just beneath the appealing surface.
I WANTED to get some idea of where the band name came from. There’s no one called Lola or Marsh in there, and, other than Jerusalem street band Marsh Dondurma, which took its name from a Turkish ice cream variety, there don’t seem to be too many clues for the moniker motive.
“We just liked the name, the way it sounded,” says Landau.
Five or six years later it turned out that Landau and Cohen may have unknowingly tapped into some subliminal inspirational seam.
“Six years after we founded the group we were on a tour in China, and someone there told us that Lola Marsh, in Chinese, means ‘romantic poetry,’” Landau laughs. “We both went ‘Wow!’ We chose well.”
The band leaders also chose each other well. Again, their confluence was simply a matter of being just where they were supposed to be. Landau had a birthday party to which Cohen was not invited, simply because she wasn’t part of Landau’s social hinterland. “I crashed the party,” she recalls. “I saw Gili playing his father’s old guitar, and I asked him if he knows [Dolly Parton 1974 hit] “Jolene,” because I remembered the lyrics,” she chuckles. The musical chemistry was patently there. “We met up a few times, and by our fourth meeting we had our first song.”
Still, they had to do some work to find their artistic and personal interface.
“We come from different worlds,” notes Cohen. “We brought our own baggage, and we had to see what the two of us like, together. It takes a while to get onto the same page.”
Judging by the evolving Lola Marsh body of work – the second album is almost done and dusted, with singles due to be released over the coming months – they managed to splice and fuse their individual likes, dislikes and accrued life experience, to great effect.
“We come from very different places, but we discovered that, first and foremost, we both really like good songs that are exciting and move something inside you,” Cohen continues. “We also appreciate the production elements that complement it.”
That is crystal clear from the band’s video clips, which are, of course, the result of a fundamentally choreographed and proactive project. But, somehow, with Lola Marsh, the visual bottom line comes over as fresh and even spontaneous. There is plenty in the way of state-of-the-art technology in the “Echoes” video, for example, as the two strut around a cavernous hall, squaring off while also exuding a sense of tenderness and caring.
That comes through in the music, too. There are gentle, folksy acoustic numbers, and songs that tend more toward the rock end of the sonic energy spectrum.
“We started out as a band of two people, and we added more people because we wanted the sound to expand,” Cohen explains. “We wanted each song to be given the right treatment.”
Emotion is also integral to the Lola Marsh output.
“It is not so much a matter of volume. It is more about the feeling,” Landau adds. “That does not necessarily come from the volume or the sound quality. It was important to us to create a sort of wall of sound, that you don’t really know what you’re hearing. It is a combination of everything we do.”
And they do what they do pretty well. Since the band’s formation, half a dozen years ago, they have toured the world and cemented their place on the global circuit.
While they don’t exactly shy away from technological embellishment, the core of the Lola Marsh sound is organic, acoustic and pretty elemental.
“Yaely and I had two initial meeting points,” says Landau. “First of all, there are melodies. It doesn’t make any difference whether you are influenced by American folk or Irish folk or Israeli folk, or pop, psychedelic rock or musicals. You have to see whether there is a meeting point in the melodies themselves. Forget the production side. As Yaely said, let’s see whether there are melodies that move us.”
Indeed, one of the most appealing aspects of the Lola Marsh sound and presentation is the sense of simplicity, and of a throwback to the early days of rock and roll, and pop.
“We both like the old sound,” Landau continues. “We both like classic songs. When we realized that, we thought about how we can bring that together.”
Their natural continuum also led them straight into the English language indie sphere.
“I think if I’d met Yaely five years earlier, the chances are we would have written songs in Hebrew,” Landau notes. “In those five years I listened to a ton of music in English.”
“Me too,” Cohen chirps in. “It just seemed perfectly natural for us to write and perform in English.”
There are technical benefits, too.
“When I was a singer in an army band, and we did stuff in Hebrew, it was much more challenging for me to sing all those guttural sounds you have in Hebrew,” Cohen says. “It’s a lot easier in English. It flows better.”
The Lola Marsh bandwagon seems to be moving pretty smoothly, too.
For tickets and more information about IndieCity: