Carrie Quartly fell in love with the swirling romantic unrest of 2013’s The World Is Well Lost by Tel Aviv shoegaze trio Vaadat Charigim. She interviews frontman Juval Haring just as the follow-up, Sinking as a Stone, drops next month via Anova/Burger Records.
Louder Than War: Do people in Israel relate more to you singing in Hebrew?
Juval Haring/Vaadat Charigim: I don’t think people in Israel who listen to indie music care so much about the language, but in general people in Israel naturally relate more to music in Hebrew, since it’s the spoken language and everyone thinks in Hebrew. Arabic sounds more natural to me than English. I have grown up to watch a lot of TV and used the computer/internet since I was very young, but English still doesn’t move me like Hebrew does. English is informative to me, funny at times, but Hebrew touches me deep inside. I think it’s the same for most people who grew up in Israel. Everything important that happened to me in my life happened in Hebrew. My hope with Vaadat Charigim wasn’t so much to mainstream by singing in the native language as it was to connect with my inner self.
The international response seems positive, and while the messages of the songs are more specific and powerful delivered in your own language, for me there really is no barrier for non-Hebrew speakers. It reminds me of the woozy, unintelligible purrs and coos of My Bloody Valentine, and how a lyric sheet can even sometimes be distracting when forming an initial connection to music in your own personal head space. I never look at lyric sheets on first listens but I know some people who are really bothered by not having something clear to follow along with. Do you think it’s important for listeners to understand your lyrics?
I love good lyrics. I actually don’t really connect with the kind of music that is cooed and purred. I love The Modern Lovers, Lou Reed, Paul Simon, Sonic Youth, and Nirvana for their very upfront approach to lyrics. Nirvana, for example, tends to bend and change words, use gibberish or cryptic word phrases, but there is still something very upfront about their words. If you understood Hebrew you would be able to hear through the “genristic” haze of your own brain turning words into mush because of style context (shoegaze, etc.), and you would notice that what we say in our songs is upfront in that vein. We sing about very specific, at times realistic scenarios, landscapes, histories, and other times super-realistic, but still rooted very much in a unique Israeli experience. Vaadat Charigim’s main aspiration lyrically was to reflect endemic experiences, be those what they may be.
I feel like many Americans rarely look further than their own backyards (with both current events and culture), whereas people overseas are maybe too often looking at the rest of the world, especially when it comes to making it in the music industry. Do you think your focus on your own homeland will encourage western audiences to have a better awareness of Israeli living and culture?
I see the music world as being, ever since modern times, very, very Anglo-centric. The rest of the world used to have a very strong local identity. Music was very folklorish. Instruments were developed by local people and sounds were invented locally. Ever since “popular” music, and especially in contemporary times in which we live in a so called “global-village”, local sounds have been disappearing for the sake of internationality. It was the same with modern styles in 20th century architecture. This sort of “smoothing” out of anything “excess”, and most times it was the excess that made something one of a kind to its time and place. I see the lo-fi movement as a sort of “anti” movement to this. Lo-fi records the sounds of a place, and a time, through hiss, through leaving the rough edges and not polishing everything that is “excess” in the sound. I also feel that by singing in Hebrew and dealing with globally esoteric themes, I am also defying the Anglo-centrism of the indie scene. In order to penetrate it, I still feel I need to use the global language of nowadays’ underground rock, reverb, distortion, fuzz, etc., but wherever I can, I will stick it to mainstream indie thinking. If that raises awareness of an “other” kind of indie, than I have done my job. There are many streams of thought outside the backyard of white-Amercican-British post Hüsker Dü/Dinosaur Jr/MBV, when it comes to shoegaze. Ours is specific to Israel. A Chinese band would probably make something that could only be made in China, but only if they are careful not to “smooth” out anything excess.
Could you talk about some of the local Israeli art you reference?
Paintings by Nurit David:
A Kibbutz in the 1970s summer:
It seems like the band has a love/hate relationship with its homeland and that is the central focus of the songwriting (I know you’ve been pretty outspoken about your disappointment over the recent election result), but I suppose it’s the same for most people to varying degrees. Can you explain how your views and feelings of life in Tel Aviv have shaped your music?
I live in Tel Aviv. So do Dan and Yuval. We have been in bands in the city for a decade. We have run labels. We’ve promoted shows. If you really boil it down, there is no escaping yourself, and where you did most of your doing and living. You can try and be something else. Invent a character and tour the world. But you would still be that character from that place. Even a dream belongs someplace. Suffering, pain, injustice, as well as beauty and nostalgia, love, are all from this place, for me, for us. This is our music.
How do you feel about mixing music and politics? Do a lot of foreign listeners want to engage with you about Middle Eastern issues just because of where you’re from, and do you feel any responsibility as artists about highlighting certain topics in the media?
People ask. I don’t mind answering. I don’t need someone boycotting me to know what’s important and what is right and wrong. Palestinians deserve a place that is their own. People should never be under the iron fist of another people for so long. This is a crazy diseased region because of so little straight up positive political work, stretched on for so many years. Everyone has given up. Negativity and isolation is the automatic answer. Sadness and pain is the default. I think everyone should highlight topics that are important such as this. Not just artists. Everyone. This affects everyone.
Your old rehearsal room was a bomb shelter in an elementary school, and there are definitely apocalyptic undertones on both albums. I investigated and translated some of the lyrics and titles to the best of my abilities, and the overall themes on Sinking as a Stone are similar to the mood captured on your first album The World Is Well Lost. The isolation, uneasiness and alienation is fairly obvious on songs like “Ein Li Makom”, = “I have no place” and “Hashiamum Shokea” = “the boredom sinks in”. What was your mindset like during the making of this record and in what ways did it differ from your experience with the previous one?
This new record is more complex for me. Instead of singing about missiles falling on a shopping mall and naming the missile and the shopping mall, I am taking the essence of that, and breaking it down to its basic mechanism; I am dealing with it piece by piece, as fragments. The first record was an impressionistic painting to me. I was observing the world. In time, I leaned more into inner observation and began a process of recording as expressing. This new album is more abstract because of that shift. I was looking for disaster not outside, but inside, and I found deep “boredom” in the sense of “nothingness”, and I built everything on that.
You worked once again with producer Kyle “Slick” Johnson, sending him the analog tracks for mixing here in NYC. How does his style influence your recordings and how do you achieve that dense tidal of sound on your albums?
We record in pieces for long periods of time, and piece it together later like a collaborative collage between us and Kyle.
In other interviews you’ve mentioned striving for personal awareness by singing in Hebrew and rejecting the escapism of a lot of the local bands there, but I also think it’s interesting the way your music on the surface sounds like a noisy and dreamy fantasy world to get lost in, is this paradox something you’ve ever considered before?
Sure. Like I said, I listened to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins as a kid. You can’t shake that kind of influence off easily and you shouldn’t. The way I listened to SP was unique to me as Israeli because it happened here while I was growing up here. Anything I do after that with this influence is Israeli rock to me. It can be dreamy, but the dream was painted by me, here, surrounded by my life here. I reject there being anything else but local music in the world. International music, international styles are a big lie. Even the most polished sort of pop has roots, production roots, a lot of them from a certain place, let’s say Los Angeles. And Los Angeles is a unique place on earth. Every pop sound coming out of it is endemic to it. Trying to imitate that in order to “fit in” is pissing on your own carpet. I imitate myself listening to music from another place. That is the end of it. I don’t reject escapism as much as I reject people who actually believe that they can escape. I’m a pessimist and my pessimism won’t allow me to believe in “change” of that sort. If you get lost in our music, remember, you are lost in a certain place. It may be a strange place to you, but it is a place.
You made an excellent Israeli mixtape for the WKDU blog, and all of the artists were unknown to me. Do you think your success while being true to your identity as an Israeli band will make an impact on any upstart musicians and how they approach things in the future? Is there any advice you could give to those who don’t wish to follow the international rules route to easy recognition?
People will do whatever they want. I am no teacher, nor is our band any example. I enjoy every song I put on that mixtape, more than anything else I could have put on it. More than Beat Happening, which I love. More than Feelies, which I love. I don’t know why, but it’s just the truth. When I hear Hebrew and crooked, fucked up lo-fi music, I just light up.
Many thanks for your time, and also (of course) your music!
05-09 Austin, TX – Levitation
05-11 Phoenix, AZ – Valley Bar
05-12 San Diego, CA – Casbah
05-13 Los Angeles, CA – Echo
05-14 Santa Ana, CA – Constellation Room
05-15 San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill
05-18 Portland, OR – Bunk Bar
05-20 Seattle, WA – Barboza
05-22 Brooklyn, NY – Baby’s All Right