Salute to Shalit: Hassidic Rockers "Yood" release new album
The Jewish rock group Yood has released a second album entitled Real People. The Israeli based trio's bluesy hard rock sound is similar to Jimi Hendrix and other power rock groups of the late 1960s and 1970s. They released a debut album Passin'over in 2007.
Singer and guitarist Eliezer "Lazer Lloyd" Blumen turned down a potentially huge recording contract with Atlantic Records in Nashville when he became religious. Bass player Yaacov "Dr. Jake" Lefcoe works as a psychologist in Israeli's north. Drummer Moshe Yankovsky plays in various other ethnic and world music bands, but Yood is his real passion. They spoke to Israel National Radio's Ben Bresky about their concept of combining ripping electric guitars with hasidic themes.
INR: Tell us about your new album Real People. What is different about it compared to the first album?
Eliezer: It's along the same lines. There might be a little more depth. Like the song Rependrix. We had Tzamu Lecha Nafshi on the first album. This is a Chabad Yom Kippur "niggun" in the Yood style. There is also a song relevant for today, called Straight to You, on the importance of Eretz Yisrael and how you can feel the closeness to HaShem. The last song is a nice acoustics song called Land of Dreams about the whole concept of making aliyah to Israel.
INR: What does Rependrix mean?
Eliezer: It's combining repentance and Jimi Hendrix, like repentance Jimi Hendrix style.
INR: There's a question I try and ask every musician which is, what is Jewish music or what is Israeli music? I think you might have an interesting answer.
Yaacov: I think any music that comes from the Jewish soul is Jewish music. Although there are particular forms that are associated with Jewish music. Unlike visual arts, which we don't really have in the golus [Diaspora], we have Jewish music in the golus. But it's not necessarily the way it was done in the Bais HaMikdash [Holy Temple]. Back then the Jewish visual arts belonged to the craftsmen and artistry. In the exile we lost that. But Jewish music still went on in exile. It's much more fluid in the types of musical forms it can take on. So I think that makes an opening for a project like Yood, where you're using an entirely new and different style of music and using that as a means of expression for the Jewish soul. And then it becomes Jewish music to me.
Moshe: Jews in exile living in different places absorbed the vibe and style of the place. They transformed it and they elevate that style. A person living in Syria - his niggun will sound different than a person living in South Africa or Russia. Jewish music is now global.
Eliezer: Our whole idea with Yood is to get out to places in the world that have not yet heard the ideas of the Lubavitcher Rebbe [the leader of Chabad]. We are like shluchim [emissaries] of the Rebbe and the whole concept of hassidic thought is that holiness can be found everywhere, even in the lowest places. We want people to yell out for Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu [the Almighty] and for the Torah and for the Jewish people.
INR: Maybe you can tell us a cool story about Mike's Place or a concert you performed.
Yaacov: One thing that I thought was pretty symbolic was when we started going to Tuesday night open mic night at Mike's Place in Tel Aviv. We played a little bit here and there together but this was the beginning of the idea of playing in the heart of Tel Aviv. Basically anybody can get up and play on Tuesday nights. As we were walking up - three religious guys with guitars - this waitress looked us up and down and said, "Play something all of us can enjoy."
I really remember that night. We strapped on our guitars and what came out of us was different than what was expected. We saw the eyes widen and the jaws drop. I can imagine it was quite a sight. We like to pound out the rock and roll. For some people it's a surprise. Over time, as we kept going out back to Mike's Place, we got to know the audience and they got to know us and we built a connection.
Now it's like our home base with Assaf and Gal and Dave and all the guys down there. That for me was an important state in forming Yood. We made a transition from these guys who landed from Mars to people that just love this music. G-d fearing Jews who enjoy rock and roll and talking to people like anyone else. It was like a revolutionary thing.
INR: What do you think your audience is? Are religious people buying your album? Who came to Mike's Place? Religious people or tourists or what?
Yaacov: Mike's Place is diverse. There is an international crowd, a lot of Israelis and a lot of Israeli-Americans. Our fan base in general is also very diverse. We play all kinds of venues. We did a tour on campuses in the States so there are a lot of students. In the religious world, there are a lot of people who like what were doing and a lot of people who don't know what to do with us. We don't slide into a category too easily. And that's fine with us.
INR: How about you, Moshe? Do you have any stories?
Moshe: Sure. We could be here all night. Except for Mike's Place, we have a favorite place to play in Haifa that is mostly Russian speakers. The funny thing is they all know me from before I became an observant Jew. When we came with Yood, they saw me and were like, "What happened to you!" They asked, "Is this okay for you to keep Torah mitzvos and play this kind of music?" I tell them I keep Shabbos and kosher and all the holidays and that it even helps me to play this kind of music now. And the music helps me keep mitzvos. They all think we play like ZZ Top. But we have nothing to do with ZZ Top.
Yaacov: Well, it's sort of similar. Like blues rock.
Moshe: Well, it's more sort of pop.
Yaacov: Which one, ZZ Top or us?
Moshe: ZZ Top is more pop. But I just tell them, ZZ Top, they only have two beards but we have three so we're better. Like Yaakov said, rock music is a good way to connect people.
INR:: What did you guys do before Yood? Where you in different bands?
Moshe: I was in all kinds of bands. I played percussion in a lot of ethnic and world music bands. I was living in Grenada and in Spain and playing with a lot of Flamenco guys. I played some Persian music. Here in Israel I also have some ethnic bands. But there is no other band like Yood that is rock. In New York, I had a cover band that played Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Cream. That was 15 years ago.
Yaacov: My story is quite different. Both Moshe and Eliezer are fully trained professional musicians. I started playing bass as a teenager. I was in a band in Canada that had some decent local success. It was called White Punks on Funk around 1987. It was similar to old Red Hot Chili Peppers. That ended when I became religious and came to Israel at the age of 21. I quit the band, went to yeshiva and sold my bass. It was really Eliezer who resurrected by interest. The three of us were all living in Beit Shemesh at the time. But Yood is my only musical project. I am a psychologist. I still need to defend my doctoral dissertation. I'm a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology. I need to go back to Canada to defend my thesis. I work in Kiriyat Shemona with adults in psychotherapy. That's part time. The band takes up the rest.
Yood Bassist Yaacov Lefcoe. Before he moved to Israel
he was in a band called White Punks on Funk.
INR: Tell us about the song Wasting Away. It's a tribute to Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier being held captive in Gaza.
Yaacov: Well, I told Eliezer, you know, you don't have to make all the songs happy. He's a Hasid and he's upbeat and optimistic. But art has to reflect emotions and inner experience. When I saw Eliezer getting frustrated about the difficult times, I encouraged him to write about it. The beautiful thing about him is you just push a button or tweak him a bit and out pops a song. I'm sorry Wasting Away isn't getting more airplay.
INR: So the whole band is Chabad? How did you get to that?
Moshe: Everybody in the band got into Chabad in a different way. Many songs talk about Chabad. For me, I lived in New York for seven years and never went to Crown Heights [the headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch]. I heard something was going on, but nothing got to me until I got to Israel. How I got to Israel is also a long story. It was like coming out of Egypt.
INR: So you were born in Russia...
Moshe: Yes, and at the age of 9 we tried to leave the country because my uncle left. But they didn't let us go. After this they took me out of school and didn't let us go. When I was 18, the country totally changed because of Gorbachev and they let us go in 1988.
My parents really wanted to go to Israel, but my uncle was in New York. In Russia I was playing in progressive bands similar to Yes, Genesis and Gentle Giant. But when I came to New York that all changed, and I started playing blues like Willie Dixon and playing Jimi Hendrix. But music was only a hobby. I thought I couldn't get a job in music. I was in Union Local 94, doing building maintenance across the street from The Twins. It was a miracle in 1993 that I left. I saw the first explosion and saw the people evicted.
Then I came to Israel because my friends from Russia were there. I was in a band called Ein Sof, even though I didn't know anything about Hasidus. Then I started living in Tzfat and it blew me away - the people and everything. That's where I first met Chabad and music became a main thing for me.
Even before, in New York in 1993 I was looking like Kurt Cobain or something with long hair. These two Chabad guys, I don't know how they figured me out. but they said, "are you Jewish? Did you put on tefillin today?" I never saw tefillin in my life until then. They showed me what I thought were two little cameras with straps. I said, "is it a Jewish holiday today?" I was late to this rehearsal to this heavy metal band, and for some reason I put on the tefillin. I just really wanted to do it. That was a start.
Also in Russia we had this band in about 1980 that was like undercover. If they found us it would have been big trouble. I was like 10 years old and there were a lot of adults. They let me play drums. The band was called L'Chaim. It was in St. Petersburg. It went for about a year. We sang songs in Hebrew. I didn't know what we were singing. I remember the Purim. They told me, "Don't talk about it in school." When we heard the name "Haman" we were supposed to make a lot of noise, and whoever makes the most noise, gets more lemonade and cookies. Then we brought some Jews from London to the concert and already that was too much because foreigners were involved. So they put a stop to it. But, baruch HaShem, no one got sent to Siberia - because there was a chance of that.
INR: Any final words you guys want to say?
Yaacov: We really appreciate Arutz Sheva. They've supported us all along. Tovia Singer interviewed us in New York at the Salute to Israel parade. And I have the Arutz Sheva sticker on my amplifier. May all the news be safe and victorious.
Moshe: With what's going on right now in world, we should bring immediate redemption. Everyone should come to Israel. Moshiach now.
For more information on Yood, visit http://www.yood.org
Ben Bresky is a music journalist and recording engineer living in Jerusalem. He hosts The Beat Jewish Music Podcast live every Tuesday from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Israel time on Israel National Radio interviewing a wide range of Jewish and Israeli musicians. His blog and archives can be found at: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Radio/Author.aspx/1180