Israel We Are Strongis the latest chapter in the story of Lawrence Dermer, a Grammy-nominated, BMI Award-winning producer for big time acts such as Jennifer Lopez and Gloria Estefan. Although his name is not well known, a quick search on the internet reveals his hand in a huge number of pop hits starting in the 1980s. But that all changed several years ago when a life-altering personal crisis lead the Dermer family to temporarily give up music and turn to Judaism.
Can't see YouTube player above? Click here for Israel at 60 Music Video.
With a little help from Chabad, Dermer returned to music with Third House Rising, a full length album with Jewish themes. Recently, Dermer visited Israel to produce the single Israel We Are Strong for Israel's 60th anniversary. Israel We Are Strong is a power-pop radio-friendly anthem with English lyrics and backing vocals by famous Israeli singer Shlomo Gronich. The accompanying video features Dermer and his family singing with groups of different segments of Israeli society. Proceeds for sale of the track go to the S.O.S. Sderot Emergency Fund.
Dermer talked with Israel National Radio's Ben Bresky on his full length album Third House Rising and his spiritual journey.
Question: Tell us about the songs on the Third House Rising album.
Lawrence Dermer: I wrote all the songs with my wife Robin. It was a family project for us. The message is that we all have a higher purpose here and a divine purpose and our purpose is to heal the world and create inspiration in each other and lift each other up and make the world a better place.
Question: What about the music? Why did you make it a dance track?
Lawrence Dermer: We wanted to make this whole project mostly danceable. I felt it was going to be an interesting combination of elements. Dancing brings joy and elevation, but usually when we think of dance music, usually the message is very lightweight. There's not a lot of meaning in the lyrics. It's just kind of "let's jump up and down and dance and have a party with a great beat". So we wanted to try and combine the physicality of dancing with an uplifting positive spiritual message. The bulk of the album is definitely up-tempo. There are some ballads as well. As far as the music, sometimes things just kind of channel through me. Where it takes me is where it takes me.
Question: Let's talk about your past. You produced hit songs for Gloria Estefan like Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.
Lawrence Dermer: Yes. That was off Let It Loose. That one was nominated for a Grammy.
The response was so overwhelming..., Robin and I said, let's go ahead and devote ourselves and write a whole album of pop music with great Jewish lyrical themes.
Question: So you're famous.
Lawrence Dermer: Well, I wouldn't say all that. As far as my history, I met Gloria and Emilio. It was the combination of elements of traditional Latin roots mixed with an American pop sound and it became very successful and then from there it just kind of opened the door to me working with a lot of other wonderful artists.
Question: So how did you go from that to the Jewish album?
Lawrence Dermer: Well, it is a long story. I can try to squeeze it in. Robin and I have been writing together for years and a lot of the cuts we got with Gloria Estefan and Jennifer Lopez. And I produced Madonna. We did a lot of work production-wise in the secular world.
A few years ago we had some life changing events that kind of led us on a more faith driven spiritual path. Our daughter is now seven. But when she was born, she was born with some significant health issues and that really kind of changed our life dramatically, and we didn't even want to write for a while, and we bowed out of the music industry all together. It was really our belief in G-d and faith that got us though everything. Our daughter had the odds stacked against her, and she came out of it beautifully. Her name is Leah Rose and she grew up to be wonderful, and she has no problems. We were on our knees doing a lot of praying and that kind of gave us a renewed sense of what's important in life, and we discovered Chabad along the way, believe it or not, in Tennessee.
Our rabbi found out that we had a musical past and one day he said, "hey, you can always come in and play for us". So we looked at each other and we said, "we don't have any Jewish music". So we put together a small set, and I performed with our teenage sons. Robin and I wrote a couple of songs. They actually made it to the album. Neshama and Souls Live On. Those were the first two songs we tried to write that were Jewish lyrical themes.
The response was so overwhelming to this little show that we did at Chabad, it bloomed and blossomed and Robin and I said, let's go ahead and devote ourselves and write a whole album of pop music with great Jewish lyrical themes. That, in a nutshell, led up to where we are at now. Now it's just taken off and we're performing it and writing more and its become a beautiful journey.
Question: You sing and play keyboard?
Lawrence Dermer: Yeah pretty much all the sounds; keyboard, drum programming. We mix it with live instrumentation as well. Both my sons are on the record. My son Jaxson plays guitar and mandolin, and my son Harrison plays percussion. Robin and I wrote all the songs together.
Question: Do you still see Gloria Estefan or any of those other people? Have they heard your new album?
Lawrence Dermer: I'm still in touch with them. We do projects from time to time but honestly, right now for the last year and a half, Third House Rising has been our focal point of what we want to do and the direction we want to take with our lives personally and also the message we want to carry creatively and musically.
Question: What does Third House Rising mean?
Lawrence Dermer: What it means to us is the Third Temple. We're talking about the Beit Hamikdash. But we're talking about it not only in a physical sense, the Third Temple being rebuilt, but also a state of mind and reference to the coming of Moshiach and how we don't feel like we're waiting for that day to come. We feel like it's in all of us to do our part to bring the new era to the world and a new era to Israel and where everybody is elevating themselves and G-d and preparing themselves for a new way of life - a better way of life - where there's no more evil and no more terrible things happening in the world. No more greed and everybody is just living a great and enlightened existence. It sounds a little idealistic but that's the message, and we know a lot of people share that message and we do our part and we feel if everybody tries to do their part this will bring a better day in the world.
Question: Did you listen to any Jewish music before?
Lawrence Dermer: I listened to a little Jewish music but basically I was listening to a lot more just pop music. From the little bit that Robin and I both researched we knew that there's new Jewish music out there in the market place. And I think it's getting better with new artists but we felt like we wanted to give our contribution to creating a record that was representative of my various production styles and include a Jewish message, and we didn't feel that there's really that much in the market place that's out there today. So we wanted to hopefully bring something that's a little different with a Jewish perspective in a great contemporary pop record.
Question: What concerts have you done? Where else have you performed?
Lawrence Dermer: We've been doing shows all over Florida in Chabad houses and JCCs, We're going to Corpus Christi, Texas for a big JCC fundraiser over there. We were actually in Crown Heights for a big Shabbaton. There was about 800 or 1,000 people there. We've been going all over the place.
Question: Any final word you want to say about music?
Lawrence Dermer: I think it's the kind of album that lyrically each song threads beautifully into the next and you can listen to the whole album with headphones on and read the lyrics and I know you're going to have a beautiful experience in doing that. It's a cool, diverse project.
Question: What is the song Jerusalem about?
Lawrence Dermer: Our return and why Jews from all over the world feel such a kinship. In my case, I've never set foot onto Israeli soil until recently but I had a strong feeling my whole life. So why do we have that feeling? Why do we need to return home basically? The songs could say it better then I ever could.
To find out more about Lawrence Dermer visit: www.israelwearestong.com and www.lawrencedermer.com
Ben Bresky is a music journalist and the host of The Beat on Arutz Sheva - Israel National Radio. His blog and show archive can be found at: