Rocking in the Western Galilee

The members of the audience at Thursday’s Night Shows at Nekarot will be able to rock, and maybe even do a little rolling, to a selection of Monica Sex numbers.

Western Galilee Festival at Nekarot (photo credit: DORIT RITVO)
Western Galilee Festival at Nekarot
(photo credit: DORIT RITVO)
The Sea of Western Galilee Festival is up and running for the seventh year. It kicked off a week ago, and between now and next month the event organizers have planned all kinds of activities and entertainment across the region.
Tomorrow, for example, the Galgalil Ma’aravi cycling happening features mountain biking circuits for all fitness levels and ages, with hundreds of pedalers due to set off from the Hashayara site at 7 a.m. The three routes are a pedestrian 7.5-km.
circuit around nearby fields and banana groves; a more challenging 15.5-km. trail, which takes in an ascent to Neveh Ziv; with hardier riders going for a full 24-km. route that follows the Ga’aton River, Ein Ya’acov and the Yehiam Castle.
If the fun Independence Day airborne acrobatics over Jerusalem left you wanting more, you can catch more of the same and then some, next Saturday (7 to 9 a.m.). All manner of aircraft will take to the northern skies, leaving multi-hued trails as they speed across the coastline.
As always, there is a rich supply of entertainment over the next month or so. The musical fare kicked off yesterday with the opening slot of the Night Shows at Nekarot, overlooking the Mediterranean at Rosh Hanikra, which featured veteran rocker Shalom Hanoch with longtime cohort pianist and accordion player Moshe Levy. Next up, on Thursday, is long-standing rock act Monica Sex, which has been around – on and off – for more than two decades – and, interestingly, collaborated with Hanoch on the Or Yisraeli album, which came out in 2003. Chicago-born guitarist-vocalist Yermi Kaplan will guest on a few numbers on Thursday.
Monica Sex was one of a flurry of bands that came out of the burgeoning Tel Aviv rock scene of the 1990s, which included such young and hard-kicking acts as Dr. Kasper’s Bunny Show, Hayehudim, Rockfour and Nikmat Hatraktor.
Shahar Even-Tzur is the driving force behind Monica Sex, at least in terms of timekeeping.
He has been behind the drum set since the group’s inception in 1993. He also puts in his pennyworth on the songwriting side, although he notes that all the band members, including vocalists- guitarists Yali Sobol and Peter Roth, and bass player Seffy Efrati, contribute to their success in the charts.
Even-Tzur had some hefty musical lineage behind him as a youngster, which, he suggests, may have been, ironically, part of the reason for his late start in the music business.
“My grandfather and father were drummers – my dad was a jazz drummer – and it looks like one of my kids is heading in that direction, too,” says the 44-year-old skin pounder with a semi-apologetic smile.
So the youngster had the requisite rhythmic gene, although, initially, it was anything but a done deal that Even-Tzur would follow in his dad’s and granddad’s musical footsteps.
“I had a sort of teenage rebellion and I didn’t get into music until after the army,” he explains.
“I was into basketball. I played with the Maccabi Tel Aviv youth team.” That took up much of his non-school time. “We had four training sessions a week, and there were training camps. I was serious about that.”
Once he changed his khaki uniform for jeans and a T-shirt, Even-Tzur reverted to familial type. He also had a buddy or two to call on, to help get the Monica Sex show on the road.
“Yali [Sobol] and I are old school pals,” he says. “We were in the same classes from the age of seven or eight, and I’ve known Peter [Roth] since the age of 14 or 15. This is a band that started out in the neighborhood, jam sessions with friends and that sort of thing.”
In fact, Roth was not in the starting lineup, and replaced Yossi Hamami on bass only three or four years further down the line.
Having delayed his entry into active musical endeavors, Even-Tzur was happy to take a gradual approach to the next step. The same went for his cohorts.
The group eventually hit the stage in 1993 and released its first record only in 1995.
Having paid their dues up and down the country for a couple of years, Wounds and Kisses was an auspicious debut recording.
The album quickly went gold, and four singles from it received generous radio airplay.
Mind you, it could have all ended right at the outset, with Even-Tzur getting some less than encouraging paternal criticism.
“Our first gig was at a place called Bavel near Beit Ma’ariv,” recalls the drummer. “My dad came to the show and he said the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team called to ask if I want to come back,” he adds with a chuckle.
Thankfully, Even-Tzur continued undeterred, and he and his young mates made more than decent progress. Soon after Wounds and Kisses came out, local success notwithstanding, some of the band members decided to try to make their mark.
The 527 trio, comprising Even- Tzur, Sobol and Roth, recorded a bunch of songs in English, gaining valuable experience in the Stateside world.
They returned here for a onetime foray, as an opening act for megastar American outfit Sonic Youth. After a year or so Sobol and Roth tired of the American lifestyle and came home. Even- Tzur eventually followed suit. It took a while for Monica Sex to regroup, with each busily engaged in solo and other projects.
When they finally decided to reunite in 2000, their sophomore recording, Open Relations, was as successful as the first CD, with Sobol responsible for most of the writing. There have been two more Monica Sex albums since then, with a fifth in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, each maintains busy performing and recording agendas of their own, with Even- Tzur about to bring out his fifth album under his own name.
“For me, the main thing is just to make music,” he states. “Some things go better than others, but I am happy when I am playing and recording music, wherever that happens.”
Naturally, solo projects are a very different kettle of fish compared with the Monica Sex stuff.
“I am a sort of one-man show. I am in charge of the recording and I am the producer; I am completely independent in that respect.”
That, notes Even-Tzur, is one of the rewards of his formative period in America.
“That’s basically, what I did over there. Anyway, as far as I am concerned, if you have the vision and ingenuity, you can do anything you want.”
Although the rock world has not had too many drummers who also sing – Phil Collins springs to mind – Even-Tzur takes his creative pursuit a step further and is also a handy songwriter.
“For me it all starts with the words,” he declares. “For me drumming and writing are one and the same. Words have rhythms too.”
The members of the audience at Thursday’s Night Shows at Nekarot will be able to rock, and maybe even do a little rolling, to a selection of Monica Sex numbers from across the years, and possibly some new stuff.
“We can only hope to stay relevant, to keep on growing and developing,” says Even-Tzur.
“There’s something about being a rock musician that keeps you young, and maybe more than a little infantile,” he laughs. • Other shows lined up at Nekarot include Shlomi Shaban (June 2) and Hatikva 6 (16).
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