Having come up together, in parallel travels through the London electronic scene. Having both been born under Jewish heritage. Having both developed an interest in Middle Eastern and Jewish music. Having both studied a musical instrument in a classical aspect. It's a wonder Zohar as a whole, both Andy and Erran, didn't fully come into being until 1997. Read below to learn about this extraordinary journey that is still continuing to many new things.
AV: How did you two initially meet up?
Z: Well there is an album before the recent one called Elokainu. At that time we had actually first met through other musician friends. During the writing of that album we started playing at big festivals in England and that let to networking with other bands and parties and then Erran jumpstarted it all and thus came the beginning of the OneThreeSeven album.
AV: So you guys were working on separate bands before this?
Z: See the thing is that we both had come through the funk and dance scene in London. So we had met a real mix of musicians, gotten involved in different clubs and events with guys like Charles Peterson - who is one of the major Dj's over here. So there was a lot of hanging out and a lot of playing together in different things and doing sessions for different people. At that point we hadn't made the choice of who we wanted to work with or which direction you wanted to go in - it just kind of happened.
AV: So there was no set band or group you were part of.
Z: No, we were both doing sessions with different people - some of whom quite well known.
AV: Ok then with this dance background that you are coming from - why did you pick the sound that you did in OneThreeSeven?
Z: See when you start writing your album you try to focus your album to a sound. On one hand we had our dance, jazz and drum n bass influence from being in London and working viciously, before this I was releasing vinyl which was mainly drum n bass, but on the other hand we had influences that we both have grown up with and have been very into - which is a very strong Middle Eastern influence. The fact is, from our perspective that is soul music and music of the heart. I am half Israeli and have spent quite a bit of time in Israel. I heard a lot of Israeli pop singers that were very influenced by Arab music. Even at synagogues whenever you heard the cantor the best bits were the one with an oriental influence - it gave it a spiritual dimension. So we were trying to focus that and combine it with the dance elements. So we came to this album in various ways - it was just a matter of combining everything we do.
AV: So being that your music has oriental aspects to it - would you at all liken yourself to the "Asian Underground" music that has come out of UK and now from US? If not that then what would define yourself and your sound?
Z: Obviously there is some connection just because that scene and us are both fusing dance with some "ethnic" influences. But, the main difference is that, that scene is built around Indian music. It's a similar thing but we are more of an oriental Middle Eastern influence. Then you ask how would you describe our music? And that's that hokey thing where for example, would you describe Missy Elliot and her song "Get your freak on" which has a tabla beat as World Music? We are a point that music in general is much more open than its ever been. So we are coming from what a lot of people call world music i.e. non-western music but it's our background so we are just combining the two as one.
AV: Also, being that your sound has a very classical and jazz touch to it - were you guys ever trained in that aspect?
Z: Well Erran has a degree in classical music and I actually started off by playing session bass in a symphony orchestra. And as far as jazz is concerned we both came up playing and performing very heavily in the jazz scene.
AV: Ok, turning to your OneThreeSeven album - first off is there a significance to that album name?
Z: There is but, I can't actually remember what it is! (laughs) - No Just Kidding! - Actually both the name Zohar and OneThreeSeven are Kabalistic derived from the Kabala. Which is this mystical, medieval text - originally a Jewish thing but its much more widespread and open then that - it brings in a lot of esoteric codes into it.
AV: You talk about Jewish culture when referring to the album; are the lyrics in Hebrew and Arabic also?
Z: Yes, we mainly used a lot of Arabic singers and a lot of great Hebrew singers. For example, Om Kultum is a revered legendary Egyptian Arabic singer and she is on the track Angel. There is a also a lot of old recorded vinyl of Jewish cantorial stuff that we took - a bit like what Moby recently did with the old blues - we took some of the recordings from 1930s and 1920s. For us using this added that extra religious and soulful dimension to the music - which we were looking for.
AV: So for someone who can't speak Hebrew or Arabic - how would you relate your music to them?
Z: Well that is actually one of the first things we thought about before we started to release this stuff. But, once we started taking the sound and playing it for people and playing it at festivals - each individual responded to a different element of the music. The fact is that the songs contain very powerful vocal phrases and lyrics - people just seemed to respond to them without necessarily having to understand them. Also, how many times have you misheard the lyric of a song and gotten the complete wrong meaning but you still sung along to it. The album was not meant to be about sing along melodies - it was more about the music. The words are relevant but we have taken them and put them at a place where yes they are quite powerful, but the song requires them to be taken as a whole and not separate from the music.
AV: Shifting gears here, what are you working on now? Any new projects?
Z: We are right in the middle of working on a completely different new album. We have a guy here from America actually - Breathe from Def Poetry Jam. He is a rapper and spoken word lyricist. Since we have been playing live at a lot of festivals and parties all over Europe - we have been developing this sound, which is moving more and more towards dance and rap. It's something that is constantly developing for us through the live element since the live shows are what we believe to be the strong point in being musicians.
AV: Talking about live music, when you are working with dance music - how do you emulate that sound through a live set up?
Z: Well we have spent a lot of time developing our live sound. First off the set up is very conventional, in that it has drums, a live singer, I play keys, Andy plays the base but we combine that with quite a bit of "technology." We run samples live, we have live instrumentalists - the stage show ends up being even more danceable than the record because it's a bit less ambient and a lot more in your face. It gets people up and dancing. Also, what it is that, as musicians we are playing with the attitude of DJ's in terms of the way that we are building the set and the way we are dropping the breaks in, and at the same time we have a live DJ as well and he has the attitude of a musician because he is playing his own stuff into the mix. We are almost trying to reverse the roles and think differently about how we are presenting music.
AV: Finally, since you working with an American guy, any plans to do shows out here?
Z: Hopefully. None yet, but we want to. We know that we got a pretty good response from the US, especially from New York and Los Angeles in particular, for the last album so we would definitely love to come out.
AV: Guys thanks a lot for your time - I hope to be dancing to your new music soon. To all the readers - enjoy Zohar's music at their website