Born four days before the Gulf War started, for Tel-Aviv-based Noga Erez, there was never any doubt that, whatever music she chose to make, and whatever she felt about her homeland, she could never ignore her surroundings. Her work reflects the manner in which she’s learned to live.
While the music she makes in collaboration with her partner and co-writer, composer and producer Ori Rousso, exploits many of the more physical, dynamic elements of electronic music, it also embraces a cerebral sensitivity that has made her one of her home city’s most exciting, idiosyncratic artists.
The grainy textures and potent atmospheres forged with her synths and ingenious beats bravely straddle genres, energised further by the environment in which she’s grown up.
2017 was a monumental year for Noga Erez. In June she released her debut album ‘Off The Radar’ via City Slang to high critical acclaim, placing herself firmly on the map as one of the year’s most exciting new artists. She played standout sets at SXSW, The Great Escape, Convergence, Primavera, Roskilde, Siren, Simple Things, on tour with Sylvan Esso, plus her album release shows and many more.
Now, Noga Erez prepares to make her mark on 2018, continuing her uncompromising and unpredictable, sophisticated and bold approach to gritty, truth-seeking alt-pop.
Here’s what happened when Time+Space’s Harry Peak spoke to the Tel Aviv renegade about her ascent from the ashes of the Gulf War to international stardom.
Hi Noga, thanks for chatting with us. How have you been?
I’ve been great! We’ve been working on a load of new music for the last few months once we got back from our tour. It’s great; it’s one of those very rare times where all you do is make music, so that’s my favourite thing to do.
How would you best go about describing your music to someone who’s never listened to you before?
I would not describe it; I would tell them to go and listen to it. Trying to describe music in words is always so weird, and I can understand why you would want to describe it with words, but that’s not my job. My job is to make the music, and I’ll let other people do the describing.
That’s fair enough I guess! A lot of what I believe makes music is the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that go into the writing process. Being brought up in a turbulent post-war Isreal must have provided you with a lot of the above. How would you say those experiences have shaped your music?
Thankfully the Gulf war had ended before I was really old enough to remember too much of it. I was sort of born into it so I only have a couple of photos of us sitting in shelters and me wearing this really weird suit that is supposed to protect you from a chemical attack. I do have the rare feeling that comes up from living in Israel in the flesh and blood and not reading about it in the news.
What’s most interesting about being a citizen of Israel I think is that you’re able to very easily be an outsider and read about what’s going on and hear about it, but not being part of it because for most parts of the state unless you live in parts by the borders you don’t really feel it. Sometimes you know there are the occasional terror attacks that go inside the borders of Israel into the centre of the country, but that is more rare.
I think there is something so unique and surreal about this place and as I go on talking about it because of my music and being asked about it, and the fact that I was never supposed to talk about it (Israel) but I found myself doing that a lot in the past year ‘off the radar’. It’s helped me to sort of process this place and it is a place that I feel very emotional about and very close to.
That’s not just because it’s my home, but also because it’s an amazing place. It’s a very unique place and it has so much uniqueness to it as it brings in so many different edges of cultures and countries into one very very young state. That is what makes it even more sad that it’s just such a complicated place; that it’s buried with problems, with issues, with complications, with violence, etc. It could have been such a crazy amazing place, but it has a very very dark side to it.
It just blends into my life in and out. Sometimes I try to very directly and intentionally put the whole thing aside. I think that now for instance when we are working on music I’ve stopped my habit of consuming news, because I do that, I do that a lot. I felt like I wanted to talk about things from a clean place where I don’t have a certain perspective, where I don’t have a story that is constantly told to me and I’m very much into it.
What was the initial reaction like from people back home in Israel when Off the Radar first came out?
I’m getting a lot of love here because for people from Israel we almost feel like outsiders of the world. Especially Tel Aviv it’s a very progressed place, it’s very open and liberal and a crazy nightlife with clubs and music etc. There is so much talent and potential here, but very few manage to break through. So for people here they see something happening like what happened with ‘Off the Radar’, and it’s something that they feel very close to, and they feel very proud of.
There is a sense of community here because it’s a very small place, there is a strong sense of family. When something happens to someone here, you know about it. So that’s one side of it. I almost never ran into people who commented about how I criticise Israel from the outside. Which is something that I thought about before we released it and I knew the story that I was going to tell.
And I thought ok, maybe there are people here who think about some organisations who work outside of Israel and make a bad name for Israel to try to improve the situation here. You know by criticising the situation. I thought that might happen to me, but it didn’t because it’s not so explicit, people know that I talk about Israel in a criticising way about the government, but at the same time, it’s very easy to think I’m talking about any place else in the world.
That’s a part of the intention. And also we have a habit as human beings to like things and to consume content that helps us to settle down with the opinions that we already have. To resonate what we already think, so I think it’s like “I read this paper because it usually shows stuff and the sides of reality that I like to see”. You’re always kind of on the border of preaching to the choir when you’re doing those things. And that should be taken into account as well.
Definitely, and I think one of the beautiful things about “Off the Radar” is that you strike a balance between not being too political, but having your say. Some say that it is political, do you agree or would you say you are just voicing what everyone else is talking about, but taking the conversation from behind closed doors and putting it on a global stage?
Yeah, I mean I still don’t know what you can define as political music. I’ve been thinking about it; I don’t really know what political music means, I don’t know what political means. If it means being involved in and acknowledging what is going on around you then yes my music is political. But if it means being an actual activist and that the issue is what my life revolves around then I cannot take the credit for that and say that my music is political.
I’m intrigued to find out that when you’re working on creating a new track do you start with the story/feeling you want to show in the music, or do you start with the sound and then allow them to guide you and help shape the story that you want to tell?
I think that in most cases it starts with the sound and the music because that is my best tool for communicating. I don’t know; I think that I find it easier than writing text and writing lyrics. I feel as well with the work that I do with Ori; there’s always something unintentional and surprising that happens when we have the music where we find that the words and lyrics almost reveal themselves.
It does start mostly with something from some kind of sentence or even a sound of a word that we like as we then develop a structure and develop a song that you can relate to as a musical piece and not just a raw idea. Then we start building the actual theme of the song, and it reveals itself in a way as we go along. In the same way that some people refer to a sculpture as it’s already inside of the stone, but you always have to help it to reveal itself, and in a way that’s how to see it.
There’s a lot of content that is just there in our minds, and the music helps that content to reveal itself. We think a lot, and there’s a lot of content and thoughts in our minds about life, and what’s happening around us so that content reveals itself in a more artistic way when we start with the sounds. There’s never really an intention or a message or a story that we’re trying to say, that’s just something that comes later on and becomes what it is.
You mentioned Ori there, how did you two meet?
He was my Ableton Live teacher, Ableton is the software that I use to produce my music, and I just kind of started messing around with it when I wanted to start recording and producing stuff on the computer. I then reached a level where I felt like I needed someone to help me with some technical struggles and also show me the way production-wise and how I use it as a tool to be creative. Yeah, I just asked around and went to him for a few lessons and then it gradually became more of a collaboration.
That sounds like an interesting way of meeting! I’m an Ableton user too. I used to be on Logic, but then found that it didn’t quite work with me so I went over to Ableton and I was like “Oh this is what I’ve been looking for”.
Yeah, I started on Logic too, and I found that it wasn’t logical at all! For me at least it made no sense.
Have you had a chance to try out Ableton 10 yet?
Yeah, I love it! The new features are just wow. It’s making our mixes sound amazing, and I think that the first one that I loved the most was the Drum Buss, I just put it on everything right now, even vocals! I like trying to put a plugin that’s meant for one thing on something completely different to see how it ends up. I did that on my vocals and obviously the drums. What about you?
For me the Drum Buss. I probably spend way too much time tweaking parameters and fiddling with effects, but I find with the drum buss I can stick it on my drums and it just makes them sound good.
Yeah, I love those plugins that you can stick on a channel, and it makes stuff sound good with no fuss.
Talking about plugins, we’ve heard that you’re a big fan of Massive from NI. When did you first discover it?
It was actually one of the first things that Ori and I did together. We started with a couple of cover versions for songs just for a study, but also because we found that we have a very cool mutual musical language, so we were like ok let’s take this song this is a cool song and let’s make a version for it. And then I came up with the first original song when I got the courage to do it, to expose myself.
It was a very old song from my phase of being a pianist, and I had a jazzy period where all my songs were very complex and full of changes and harmony and rhythms and time signatures. It was a very crazy and intellectual part of my musicality that I needed to go through in order to get to where I am which is my much more stupid phase. I had this song which was the only song that I had that Ori was like ‘ok I’m willing to work with that’ because it was the simplest song it was called ‘same things.’
I don’t know if it’s still out there, but we did a live version of it with a looper, and it was great, and it had a great keyboard part with a melody and harmony that always goes through throughout the song the whole time. I used to play it on the piano, and the first thing that Ori did to change it was to take the scale down, so we took the lowest part of my voice which is one of the more important things that meeting Ori did to me.
He helped me to discover the lower range of my voice, but also the second thing was that he showed me this synthesiser and he told me ‘try to find a sound that you like and imitate it’ and that was what I was supposed to do. And he basically gave me no instructions on how to do it, and I found it out by myself, and that was the crazy thing about it because it was extremely easy for me.
That’s why I choose to talk about it so much because it was one of those definitive moments for me as a musician and as a former technophobe. It’s actually in front of me right now; it’s my favourite, it’s my go-to tool my go to synthesiser for sure.
What advice would you have for people looking to replicate what you’ve done and achieve success by overcoming the many obstacles that you had in your way? Particularly young female producers who still have to overcome a surprisingly stark contrast between the number of male producers and the number of female producers?
The only thing I have to say about those things is that a big part of it is a psychological thing. It’s a very personal thing, I can’t really advise people telling do that and then do that, and you’ll get to where you want to be. What helped me and what worked for me is not what will work for other people, but I do know that there is a great need for people to strengthen their belief in themselves and to believe in what they do.
It is one of those clichés that there is always such a loud and intense voice in our minds that tells us really horrible things and things that hold us back and slow us down. I think that a part of doing what you’re trying to do is to work on those voices and to work on how to control them and not let them control you.
It’s a part of being an artist and also a human being in this world, a part of it is training your mind to be very selective towards the things that you let your inside dialogue say. I think that a lot of what goes on in the inner part of your mind also comes out. As a woman especially there are so many things that tell you you have a disadvantage and that you cannot do that, you’re not capable of doing this and that.
This is a filter that you have to have as a women, but also as a human being. To always be very tuned and open to what comes from the outside world, but also selective and mute the channels that are just interfering. You need to know how to recognise them and to mute them.
Wow, that’s a great bit advice!
Thank you, although I think I need to come up with a way to get it into fewer words! I guess just believe in yourself.
You can’t go wrong with that. What have you got planned for the future?
Well, I have two good months here to just work on music, and we have new songs that I’m super excited to share with the world. One of them is already finished, and it features a super cool rapper from New York, and I’m not sure how much else I’m allowed to tell you about that yet! We’re currently working on a video for it.
I think the plan is to keep going and not to create a gap between the first album and the next one. I guess the plan is to stick around and be at the surface the whole time. There’ll also be some touring in the summer.
You’re latest track ‘Bad Habits’ sees you turn it up a notch from your previous releases. What was the thinking behind the song?
Bad Habits is written from a place where one feels they’ve lost all direction and meaning. 2018, so far, feels to me like living in a place that continues to go down a sloppy road that leads to the loss of any core values that we have grown up with. It’s an adult adaption of a ‘teen rage against the world’ song… a raw and instinctive release of negative energy through a passionate and cathartic blast of anger.
Well, that’s it for me, but thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, and best of luck for the future!
No thank you; it’s been a pleasure!