"We Have Such A Huge Responsibility" Clash Meets Noga Erez
Noga Erez is sitting on the rooftop of her apartment block in Tel-Aviv. After weeks of a crazy storm, the sun has finally come out, and she’s making the most of it as a small luxury she’s worked years to achieve.
Diligence is a trait that has been instilled in Noga since birth, but that just comes with the territory when you’re from a country of conflict. Born and raised in the North part of Israel 31 years ago, Erez moved to Tel-Aviv when she was 18, serving in the Israeli army as part of the government’s mandatory military service.
“I would never choose to be part of it, if it wasn't something that I either do, or [don’t and] go to jail,” she says firmly. “Even if I don't go to jail and find an excuse, you get educated from a very young age [that] if you don't have army service in your resume, people will ask you why. Besides being mandatory, it’s already a norm. Israel is a country that has been in continuous conflict for so many years, violent conflict. If you're not a part of carrying that burden, people look at it. It’s not accepted socially.”
Though a harrowing experience, it’s one that allowed her to refine her craft. “I was a musician in the army, which is an incredibly weird concept and situation to be in. Most of the time when it happens [soldiers] have just come back from doing whatever they were doing, and they're about to go home. The one thing people want to do is go home, [it’s] the only thing that they can think about, and forget about whatever it is that they had to go through. But then no, now you have to sit down and watch these motherfucking clowns, who don't really serve the country.”
“We were just playing the music and being happy, and it was awful. I would perform to people who in the best case would eat and talk amongst themselves, and in the worst case, they would throw stuff at the stage. I had to go through the worst show experiences. But you know, nothing can touch me anymore. Being in a venue now that has 30 people who are really into it, but the rest of the venue is empty, for me, it's easy. That experience was so influential.”
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Consequently, this hardened personality has naturally fed through into her art, more so than ever before on her second full-length record ‘KIDS’, due this month via City Slang. It’s an album that a year ago was 90% complete, but evidently postponed because of the pandemic.
Instead of writing off what they had made, Noga and her creative and life partner Ori Rousso decided to refine what they had created, resulting in an album that sounded more accurate to their vision. In hindsight too, they ended up grateful for what this forced obstruction had brung; a significant progression from 2017’s debut ‘Off The Radar’.
“I kind of feel like ‘Off The Radar’ was the beginning of our exploration of our sound. I really wanted [‘KIDS’] to be very cohesive, but the moment I let go of that idea, I was able to actually make songs. I feel like sonically, we've improved, it ended up being poppier. You can tell by people's reaction that this album is doing so much better than ‘Off The Radar’. I feel like ‘Off the Radar’ had a tendency of darkness in the lyrics, but [with the new album] everything became broader. It’s much happier and dense on the sonic side, but it’s much darker and more personal and really touches the root of the emotional state that we're in on a much, much heavier level.”
‘KIDS’ takes Noga’s unique brand of worldbeat and exerts it into the pop sphere. It’s an album filled to the brim with experimental beats and samples that will jolt at any random moment, an M.I.A meets indie dancefloor work of art that isn’t afraid to pair a killer pop hook with lyrics and monologues that confront the depth and breadth of morality. ‘KIDS’ is undeniably Noga Erez at not just her most ambitious to date, but her at her most authentic.
While each song on the album explores a different aspect of morality, be that war and peace, life and death, insecurity and ambition, there are two tracks in particular that exemplify the different emotional boundaries explored within this theme: the album’s creeping title track featuring BLIMES, and the swaggering ‘VIEWS’ featuring Reo Cragun and ROUSSO.
“‘VIEWS’ is basically a song that started out as a joke.” Noga explains. “Ori and I were just humming to ourselves walking in the streets. It started with the conversation that we had about this photographer that I was supposed to work with on some promo images. We were scrolling through his Instagram profile, and made this genius comment about how whenever there's more skin, and whenever there's more boobs showing, people are liking it more. He said, ‘People love boobs, and that's old news’. It all started with a really stupid conversation that we had between us, but Ori has this thing where he catches themes and hooks in real life... he's continuously creating music. He taught me how you never stop making music or thinking about ideas. He was just obsessively saying those lyrics and putting them into a rhythm. He came back from the studio with the beat, and that’s how it started.”
“We wanted to search for something that would replace boobs... so that's what brought us to the idea of views, because I cannot not see that on a day to day basis. The phenomenon of fake views on YouTube or fake likes. That is something that is so disturbing. I find it unfortunate that we can't really know the truth about it. I don't want to be that person who continues to criticise that, it's just a part of the world and we have to get our way around it. [The song] ended up having a deeper meaning, which is, how to get around in a world where you don't really know what's true and what's not, that money can help you fake your success.”
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“That's one edge, and the other edge, the opposite of that is such a premeditated song [‘Kids’]. I had a vision in mind, this huge funeral, a parade of people walking towards something, walking together. I pictured this song as a movie in my head, and then when only they get to the cemetery, you realise that what they're burying is the concept of peace. This is something that has been so strong where I'm from.”
“Back when I was a child I used to talk about peace all the time... there isn't an option like that, that it is possible. Something about what happened in the past 15 years, I feel like intentionally made us all stop believing in that concept. When I say us, I don't just mean the Israeli side of the conflict. I also mean, the Palestinian conflict, I think we're all in that same idea, that idea that is just not existing anymore. I feel like that is so unfortunate, but I've imagined that funeral being the one thing that can unify the conflicted side of the situation. It really talks about how moms keep losing their children to war, and how people keep losing their lives, and their mental health. It’s an extremely dark one for sure.”
Anxiety is a huge part of Noga’s life. As someone whose past was so concerned with self-destruction, it has allowed her, in her own words, to touch upon those subjects in such a specific and exposed way. “I feel like I'm in a better place...I think that while we are in the midst of all those things, it's just so hard to talk about, [but] I've discovered the ways to live with it, so I can talk about it. I felt for the first time with this album that I have a need, because I have new fans that are teenagers, and they can hear something from me that would be helpful,” she explains.
Noga’s anxiety can be traced back to inherited generational trauma, a topic she addresses throughout the layers of ‘KIDS’. “I feel like I live in a traumatised nation in a traumatised country. My grandparents went through the Holocaust. They went for the shittiest stuff. My dad fought wars and saw people getting killed in front of his eyes. He is very traumatised. That kind of goes into my life and how I was brought up and into my childhood in such a strong way. I kind of feel like there's always this need to remember the trauma, to have ceremonies and talk about it, because it's so important to remember.”
“At the same time I feel like the one thing that we're not doing really well is what I'm talking about in ‘KIDS’. Speak now, don't talk about ‘67, which is one of the major wars in Israel. Those are things that we carry with us, they just don't allow us to focus on how to solve issues. When I talk about ‘KIDS’, I feel like an alternative name for this album could have been ‘HUMANS’, and it could have been ‘BABIES’, but you know, kids are babies that already have consciousness. They’re already aware of their sense of self, and that is when we start injecting ideas and thoughts and traumas, and good things as well into them. We have such a huge responsibility, even if we're not aware of where it was from.”
Between the release of ‘Off The Radar’ and ‘KIDS’, Rousso’s mother passed away from cancer. It’s an experience that forced Noga to assess morality from a new perspective, explaining “I realised that I want to make [death] something that is present in my life, because it's just going to happen. There's something about knowing that and making that present, that makes me a better person, and that makes me more focused. It's just a small magic that can happen about how appreciative you are of other people, and also appreciative of your own life concept.”
As a result of these traumas affecting her from such an early age, when Noga speaks, she feels omnipresent, persevering through whatever life has thrown at her, coming out the other side a headstrong, realistic and robust individual. At the start of her career she adopted the alias ‘Dasha Snow’ as an alter-ego to help her through the uphill struggle of life; a nod to American artist Dash Snow, who documented the extremities and hedonism of New York City.
She references the alias throughout ‘KIDS’ saying: “When I started performing my music I was dealing with [performance anxiety] really bad. It took me a long time and many shows to get to a place where it feels natural to me. [Dash Snow’s] work is extremely wild, I wanted to have a spirit of someone that just does not give a fuck about anything.”
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Noga’s relationship with her inner saboteur is bittersweet, even providing the inception of her signature vocal style that shifts with effortless cool between soft purrs and swaggering raps.
“I never wanted to rap on my own songs, because it felt like that was not for me to do, being a Jewish, white woman in Israel, I felt like it was not appropriate,” she admits. “But so many things came along that just made it feel so right to me. When I was in therapy, I was having serious anxiety issues, and one of the things that my therapist told me to do was whenever you're starting to feel that feeling just walk around the house and start mumbling gibberish to yourself, so I started doing that and I realised that it was really helpful because you're controlling your breathing that way.”
“I figured I have so many verses that I've learned throughout the years because I’ve always been a hip-hop fan, and I just started doing it more and more and more each and every time that I had to deal with that. So it just got me better. I think it's crazy how the struggle can just make you find something for yourself.”
Though there may be many stark differences between Noga’s life as a musician in Israel compared to that of her Western counterparts (it should be said she herself doesn’t feel part of the incredibly small music scene in Tel-Aviv, instead preferring the comforts of her home and her studio, describing herself as a loner) - one thing the two sides have in common is the lack of support the government has given the arts during the pandemic.
The creative industry in Israel has been closed for a year, with the exception of a few days when cases dropped, which Noga was at the heart of. She played two shows in 2020, with her final show occurring the same day the government decided to go back into lockdown again as cases spiked.
“I just want as many people as possible to get a chance to listen to it.” Noga reflects when asked what she wants to achieve with the record, now that it’s finally ready to be released. “‘Off The Radar’ did pretty well in Europe, I was touring a bunch, and was getting massive amounts of press, and people's attention. But when it came to my homeland, people were kind of ignoring it. Now, it's made a detour because people here are noticing it. It’s kind of like an experiment. I think Israel is a good place to experiment with things because it's a very small place. It has a very kind of Middle Eastern atmosphere, but it's incredibly Western and incredibly influenced by the American culture. I just feel like with this [album], I just needed to get to people because I feel so confident that it would resonate with more people, and make that push so that people are able to get exposed to it.”
It’s apt then that ‘KIDS’ is being released just as the world is getting over the final hurdle of one of the most tumultuous periods it's ever seen. As an album that reflects the yo-yo of emotions felt during the pandemic through upbeat ditties and solemn slow burns, ‘KIDS’ couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time, when people don’t just need music now more than ever, but music that hits right to the core of a kaleidoscope of ubiquitous pain.
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'Kids' is out on March 26th.
Words: Jasleen Dhindsa
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