News Oren Barzilay: ‘My Shows Started As An Experiment Combining Monologues & Music’

A solemn but ultimately refreshing live experience, DIY went to Tel Aviv and found a hidden gem at a house show.

These days, you can find great bands, artists and musicians anywhere you look. Such is the strength of this connected word that in the same morning you could have come across a thirty-three piece Eastern European orchestra, Damon Albarn’s favourite band from Mali and the “next big pop thing” from some cool Scandinavian city before you’ve even had your second double espresso.

Being invited to Tel Aviv to soak up the musical climate (and the fine weather, of course), we were introduced some special things going on in the Israeli cultural capital. Whilst we witnessed many exciting musical happenings occurring in the region, there was still that underlying sense that in this day and age anywhere you go in the world, you will experience the same things. Whether it’s a McDonalds on every roundabout, Starbucks on each street corner or a middling rock band cropping up mid-billing. These things are simply unavoidable.

But rather than being a bad thing, we should embrace this fact as a breaking down of cultural and language barriers. With Western acts infusing more World music than ever, music from regions not of the same mother-tongue is swiftly losing its taboo. The first time I listened to Beirut, years back and early on one summer’s morning, I thought they were from somewhere in the Balkans - and this neither increased or distracted from my attraction.

Preparing for the trip to Tel Aviv, I didn’t truly think I would stumble across an artist that I’d be able to place amongst my current favourites. We’d discover some fine acts, sure, but ones to place in the A-list of my iTunes folder? Surely not. But one night nearing the end of the tour, this is exactly what happened. Stuffed full of falafel, we ventured to a house show where Oren Barzilay was playing and I’m sure by now you’ve realised that I was instantly won over. Part Jens Lekman, part Elliott Smith; Barzilay throws house gigs up and down the country with just a guitar and a tape deck, blending his monologues which recall his sad past (Barzilay became seriously ill a few years back) and songs based on this period of his life.

In the aftermath of the gig, one local - and slightly tipsy - attendee tells me how some people may like rock music, some pop but that he likes “authentic music” like Oren’s; unaware that he’s somehow managed to drunkenly describe Barzilay’s genre tagline perfectly. A sorrowful but ultimately refreshing live experience, we spoke to singer-songwriter Oren Barzilay shortly after the visit.

You have a very interesting and touching backstory, could you tell our readers a bit in your own words?
In July 2008 I was diagnosed with a syndrome called Gillan Barre, which gradually left me paralyzed from head to toe. I was left like that in the hospital for about a month. Soon after I was released to a recovery centre and while there I was taught how to stand walk, talk, eat and drink all again from scratch. My album [‘Sorrow Demons, Joy Blizzards’] is a string of thoughts, diaries and vows that were influenced by this period of my life.

And were you actually working on the album while in hospital?
It all comes from there, yes. Soon after I was released, I wrote all my memories on every piece of paper I could find. None of the songs have anything to do with being sick though, it’s just the thoughts that are going through the mind of a person trapped in his own body.

What song stands out to you from the rest, as being the most intimate and personal?
‘Dear Mother’, definitely. As far as I’m concerned, it’s my best written piece on the album. Simple words that describe an awful state of mind and a melody that follows it. I love that song.

You played a house show for us in Tel Aviv, when did you start doing these kind of shows?
The house shows have been going on for about two years now, starting as an experiment of combining monologues and music. To my surprise it turned into a success. I really didn’t think that people would be into that type of a show.

How many of these shows have you done so far? Does one stand out in your head as being particularly special?
I have played about 180 shows already and still going strong! Any one of those stand out to me really because I see it as my own personal victory. Still I have to admit that a specific one in Stockholm was one of my best shows ever. There were about 400 people in the crowd and yet it still seemed intimate.

Do you still do normal concerts as well?
It’s sometimes a matter of budget, as travelling with a band costs more and may prevent you from doing a lot of shows. Still if I had more budget for this project I would most definitely have a band with me as well.

What would you say you get differently from a house set-up as compared to a normal gig?
A house set has a different vibe to it, it has so much more potential to get into people’s hearts and souls. No other platform has given me that type of positive feedback through the years.

Yeah, it seems very inclusive. Like the barriers have been broken down between artist and audience. When you played for us you told us about your time in New York. How was that?
It was an amazing time. I was making beats for rappers, basically as a producer. I did an internship at Def Jam Records the same time as Jay-Z, Ja Rule and Foxy Brown were there.

Now your new album is out, what’s the plan? Any intention to tour Europe or the UK?
Yes, I would love to. But I would need some help from locals to organise a tour. Hopefully it will all happen soon.

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