We had a seven hour difference between us – them in Tel Aviv and myself in Boston. Tim and I had been corresponding for a couple of weeks trying to decide when we could find some time to talk in a chain of emails titled “Privet! We’re a Shoegaze/Garage duo from Tel Aviv.” We decided on a Tuesday evening, I would call them at 7 PM (2 AM for them.) I was surprised, but happy about their flexibility as they assured me they were night owls.
I learned about them through various articles they had sent me, describing the sound of their music and their releases. Tim plays guitar and Shura can be found singing behind the drums. They had released two albums, Realise and Montefiore (2015 and 2016 respectively), and recently, a single and video by the name of Narasvette. The word means “At Dawn” in Russian, and the video is like a minimalist painting in motion. The star of the clip is Giulia Piana, and Italian dancer who had spontaneously agreed to choreograph the video. It was enchanting and strange, so I couldn’t wait to talk with them.
Now I knew all about their sound, but I wanted to know about them as people – as individuals. Where did they come from and how did this shape them? As artists and as thinkers. What did they want from music? And what did they want from life?
Anastasia: You are living in Tel Aviv now, when did you both move to Israel? As I understand, Tim, you are from Estonia, and Shura from Murmansk (Russia).
T+S: Yea that is right. I (Tim) moved at the age of six, and Shura moved when he was 13.
A: What made you come here? Your families? It’s interesting for me as well as I moved around a lot when I was a kid throughout Europe, but finally came to the states when I was eight years old and that was a big shock to me.
T+S: Our parents were looking for other horizons. Why was moving to the states a big shock for you?
A: It’s really different from Europe – Europe as a whole, even including Russia. the buildings are big and square, it seems there is importance on different things (it’s more about comfort than charm…) Europe is very charming I think. and the people too, they are very friendly here, but at first it seems intrusive because they like to talk so much and know everything. do you find a difference between where you grew up and where you are living now? or it’s not so much ?
T+S: Yea for us it was a shock coming to Israel, it’s a completely different climate, everything is different, the language…Before leaving, I couldn’t even image where it was.
A: Yea Shura you were a bit older so I image it was harder to adjust to a “new world.”
T+S: Ye for sure
A: And now, do you feel there is something missing for you? like a fragmentation? for me, when I moved to the US, I didn’t realize until much later that I lost most contact with Russian music (which I listened to all the time when I was little) – so this was missing for me.
S: Yea, I was really missing home a lot, and when I visited St. Petersburg a couple of years ago, I was surprised that Russian has really cool cities.
T: I wasn’t really connected to the Russian/Soviet “vibe,” I remember missing the snow and “Novyi God” (New Year’s) as a kid, but not much apart from that. I guess I felt more connection to the states, even though I hadn’t been there at that point.
A: What is it about the states that you feel a connection to?
T: The music and the culture mostly. I grew up in Israel and in the 90’s probably more than now, it felt like a “forgotten” state of the US.
A: That’s interesting. because the music and culture was similar? Or was it that you had access to a lot of US music at the time and this popular?
T: To me personally it was mostly the music. But there were lots of American channels on tv, and I think Israel really wanted to be like the USA in some ways. Financial, commercial, and whatnot. I remember seeing an evangelical preacher on CNN (I think) and i was kind of obsessed about it for a while. It was both entertaining and weird at the same time.
A: Hahah what about him made you like him? Was he like an inspirational figure?
T: No haha definitely not an inspirational figure. I was nine or something, I didn’t really understand what he was talking about. But it was really impressive how he was yelling and crying and the people in the audience were going mental about it.
A: And this was like an idea of the US for you?
T: I think my idea of the USA was that everything about it was big and vast
A: Yea that’s pretty accurate. Did you come and visit the states at some point?
T: Yea I’ve been there three times.
A: Whereabouts? And what do you think of it? Was it just vacation?
T: I’ve been to New York , LA, Atlanta, the virgin islands. I liked it a lot, it was exactly what i thought it would be. But I’ve never lived there for a long period of time, so don’t think I’ve fully experienced it.
A: Do you think it is someplace you’d like to live? And what about the US vs Israel in terms of being a musician? I know you haven’t lived in the states, but maybe your ideas of it. What is it like being a musician in Tel Aviv?
T+S: Yea I think I’d definitely like to live there someday. The difference between the USA vs Israel in terms of being a musician is huge. Israel is a small country, there’s really just three and a half cities for concerts, and just a few venues in each city…It’s like an island with planes flying by, where your favorite bands rarely come in. Maybe now the situation has improved.
A: You do see it improving in the future? I have never been to Israel, it is hard to imagine for me… though I was living in Spain a year ago, and babysitting/teaching English to a little Spanish girl and the family was going to move to Israel (Beer Shiva) but then finally I came here to Boston.
T+S: Now it’s better, there are more well-known bands coming by, more underground, more places, and even Israeli groups have started playing more in other countries…underground bands are traveling to Europe, to Russia…
A: I do have a lot of questions about your music, but I still have a few about culture that i’d like to know about. it’s especially important to me and the website Blue Bardot because it is what I wanted to have when I was younger (access to music that came from the former soviet republics, because I felt like the US was very foreign to me) and it is a bit different now, with the internet…it’s all kind of becoming one world but I still think it’s interesting, like history through music maybe. And I know, Tim, you moved to Israel when you were quite young – do you still identify with being Estonian?
T: I don’t speak Estonian. I’m not of Estonian descent I was born there and my parents live there. The last time I visited there was in 1997.
A: so you identify completely with being Israeli? Or is there something else that you feel makes up part of your cultural identity?
T: I don’t really identify with either cultures. I feel like me I guess. I felt Israeli when I was growing up
A: Yea. I remember going to school and always being asked to explain and write about my identity and my culture so I guess I wonder what other people say who have moved around, especially other musicians. What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
T: One of the first memories I remember about music was Nirvana – smells like teen spirit, I clearly remember seeing posters of the album cover everywhere and the song being played everywhere. I started listening to goa trance when i was 11 or so, oddly enough it what lots of kids listened to back then. Then i started listening to heavier american and metal, prodigy, some rap. The last time when I visited Estonia, my older cousin and his mates were all listening to drum n bass and jungle, and I really liked it. But couldn’t really find it back in Israel and none of my friends were listening to it, obviously before the internet it was more difficult to find music. I listen to all kinds of stuff really.
S: I listened to my friends’ cassettes. Metal music…I bought a lot of cassettes and brought them to Israel, and I shared them with all my friends. Now I love all kinds of music, different accents – the styles remain as a sort of backdrop, but what makes an impression is the performance and the talent.
A: Do you have some recent favorites?
T: I’ve been listening to a lot of Jungle and Reggae for a while. As far as newer music I really like Sonic Death from St. Petersburg, Russia. I like the last White Lung record a lot, as well as the new Aesop Rock.
S: Recently I’m listening to a lot of radio. I rarely go on the internet, I like underground music, which I follow in St. Petersburg and Israel. I love David Bowie, Black Mountain, Neil Young, and of course, I love listening to my Black Metal classics.
A: And how did you get involved in music, as musicians?
S: We began playing with friends from school, then got into groups with people who were musically close to black metal…concerts, meeting people, new rhythms came about, and the search continues…
A: And what are your goals in music? As a profession? And…personally?
S: Music is like a guardian angel who pushes you and dries you off. The experience of an artist and the stage, recording, and inspiration. There’s a desire to do good work, meet interesting people, and further down the line, be a snail on a hill or incline.
A: And do you have plans to tour in the near future? have you had any interesting or strange experiences playing a gig before?
T: Yea we have plans to tour in the near future. Russia and Europe are the closest to us. Unexpectedly to us we’ve had a couple of reviews in Brazilian blogs, as well as an interview. So Brazil could be a neat location to visit and tour
A: that’s interesting, I have found most of my readers to be in Brazil as well! so no crazy gig experiences to date as of yet?
S: Our first concert at our place where we put on shows, we played four times that one night. First for friends, then two groups walked in who came to visit us from a town called Balashikha (Moscow oblast, Russia), Gryaznyi Pol and Vtorye Vorota (Dirty Floor and Second Gates). Then, incidentally a friend showed up with a music journalist from Norway, and then some people from the street.
A: That must have been long night! And where is it that you play most often.
T: We played gigs in local underground spots in Tel Aviv, we’ve a gig coming next month in Jerusalem. But really, most of the time creativly since we started this band in late 2015 was spent on writing songs and recording them.
A: I noticed some of your lyrics are in Russian. is that the case for all your songs? do you both write lyrics?
S: We have a few songs in English, one in Italian. Many of the songs are based on previously written poetry. Of course in Russian I can sing more openly, and like in a more touching way.
A: That makes sense, i think different languages represent different parts of our personalities (I feel the same way about Russian too, but I think it’s easier to express myself in English now). Is it based on your poetry? or other writers’ poetry? how do you choose the poems then…and the music to accompany it?
T: Yeah absolutely.
S: It’s my poetry, I love poems, writing them, reading them. I choose poems that seem appropriate, Tim approves on some, not on others. We began writing music for the poems. For Tim it also brought out some unexpected guitar riffs.
A: Do you have some favorite poems or poets in particular? maybe some poems you haven’t used yet because you haven’t found the right music for it?
S: One song we wrote for Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping by Woods (on a Snowy Evening). This girl performed it, Sanda Budinsky from Providence, Rhode Island…
A: How did you find her?
S: Yea of course, Dylan Thomas, Arthur Rimbaud, Rilke. I feel very close to some translations of David Hume, and of course a great deal of Russian poetry…The girl now lives in Israel.
A: and you worked with another performer for your Narasvette video who was visiting Israel. how did that come about? how long did that take? it looks really beautiful too, with all the elements that came together
T: Thanks. We met in an exhibition up north, she was visiting Israel from Italy, her name is Giulia Piana. We have this connection with Italy, the culture, language, coffee etc… 😉 We had plans to shoot a video for a different song but once we met her we decided to write a completely new song, it was spontaneous, the song and the video came along together. It was shot by Sergey Maydin in one day. The location was chosen intuitively, it is located in a park in Tel Aviv. The sculptures are by famous Israeli artist Dani Karavan.
A: Was there something in particular that sparked your connection with Italy? maybe a film or a song? It sounds like you also speak a bit of Italian ?
S: The connection with Italy of a spiritual nature, but it’s equally pretty random. I was learning Italian, with the house coffee in the machine…and then, the name of our group is the Italian saying Santo Dio. Everything there is so good and beautiful, it’s kind of ideal.
A: Do you ever think about yourself in the future? Like maybe 10 years from now, and what you will be doing?
T: Personally or musically?
S: It’s difficult to look into the future, how will it be? Of course you want to record, play, shoot videos, and live creatively.
A: Yes that’s true. what’s been the most difficult or frustrating part in making music for you?
T: The tunes come together rather quickly and easily, so as far as music goes I can’t think of anything difficult or frustrating. We don’t always agree, and sometimes when Shura suggests something I can go “NO!! We’re not doing that, no way,” and maybe the next day I’ll sleep over it and say “Okay…Let’s give it a try.” But mostly the process is rather smooth.
A: And beyond the actual creative process? Music as a business? Once it leaves your privacy.
T: Obviously it’s easier when someone outside the band takes over the business side of things, but in the music business climate of today it’s not a given thing. Most unsigned bands can’t afford that luxury.
A: Do you take care of everything yourselves these days?
A: Aha. And sorry I missed it during our video, are you occupied with things other than music during the day?
T: I work in a recording studio. Shura has his own place called Etzabotz. Its an art studio that is also a concert venue. Apart from that he’s also working part-time in Pasta delivery.
A: Oh that sounds great. ok I have one last question for you guys. Why do you make music? Do you feel it’s something you have to do? Is there something you are trying to accomplish with it, for yourself or for others? Beyond expression?
S: I’ve noticed from myself, that if I’m not playing, then I’ll begin air drumming, or somewhere on a table. Music is a road that we chose above many others, there is a lot to that: pluses and minuses, people, meetings, adventures, just like on the other roads. It’s a language, and you want to be understood, or to hear something for yourself. The entire world, that has the power to change reality, erase borders, make somebody happy, and maybe most importantly, to feel yourself walking on this road, breaking, and in awe. The sun has begun to rise now where we live…thank you for the cool questions.
A: Perfect ending, narasvette! It’s been such a pleasure.
As we said our goodbyes, a rush of energy flooded me quietly. I ran downstairs, hungry for something. There was nothing to eat, and I realized it was almost midnight and I had to wake up early for work in the morning. It felt like dawn was here too, that I would look out and see flashes of the morning light peaking through the dissipating night. But it was just starting here. I would have to find a lullaby to put me down and get through the hours until the same sun would greet me.