While the Tel Aviv singer-songwriter and producer doesn’t know what happens after we pass away, she does know how to craft catchy, colorful flows and punchy, pounding electro-pop hooks. But a new Succulent Session—out today and featured below—proves once again that Erez doesn’t need lush beats to make her music slap.
Erez’s live version of “End of the Road” arrives as the fourth installation of her Kids Against The Machine series, following Volumes 1-3 for previous singles “VIEWS”, “NO news on TV”, and “YOU SO DONE”. In her latest performance, she’s joined by her partner and co-writer / co-producer Ori Rousso (AKA ROUSSO), plus Itamar Lobestein on drums, Matan Egozi on bass, Dani Ever Hadani on synths, Yair Slutzki on trombone, and Arthur Krasnobaev on trumpet. “Some people who’ve heard it have said it’s kind of better than the original,” Erez recently told American Songwriter over the phone, speaking from her apartment in Tel Aviv.
“End of the Road”—like “VIEWS”, “NO news on TV”, and “YOU SO DONE”—will appear on Erez’s forthcoming album KIDS, the long-awaited follow-up to 2017’s Off the Radar.
“We had all the songs a year before we actually finished the album, and we kept postponing the album, and then as we were postponing the album we were just reopening the mixes and changing things,” says Erez, reflecting on the final stretch of the three-year period during which KIDS came together. “Up until the very last second we were adding things and taking out things,” she explains. “So we had a fully written and produced album for one year that we were just constantly perfecting. I feel like it made a huge difference for me, because we were supposed to be already touring last March, and if that would have happened, it would not be the same album, and I’m so grateful to have the time. Sometimes you just need time.”
We caught up with Erez about the live version of “End of the Road,” how she taught herself to rap as a coping mechanism for anxiety, and her suit-forward fashion style, which was inspired by her dad’s business attire. She also told us what to expect from KIDS, which is due next month via City Slang. Check out the full interview and watch Erez’s Succulent Session below.
American Songwriter: Can you tell us a little bit about your latest single “End of the Road”?
Noga Erez: ‘End of the Road’ is the one song that was pretty much the hardest one for us to write on the album. It took us the longest time, and it had I don’t know how many versions and different verses and pre-choruses. It took a really, really long time to figure it out because we felt like we had a really strong production and beat—and we had the hook all along—but we wanted to have something precise for it.
Talking about ‘End of the Road’ is basically talking about this dark concept of death, but this is a song that talks about death and the end of life as something very optimistic, something that takes that one thing that we know for sure, which is that we’re all going to die, and puts life in a very positive perspective. [It’s about] being very grateful for having the life that we have, and also letting go of control and letting go into the unknown. That is a big part of life, especially nowadays.
AS: Since your Kids Against The Machine version is a Succulent Session, I have to ask if you are a plant mom yourself?
NE: I am! Absolutely. I have many, many plants in my house. Kids Against The Machine is this series of acoustic, no-computer versions of our songs that we wanted to do with the release of each single because we felt like we had really, really strong songs [and we wanted to show] that they could stand on their own without all this production around them. When we were trying to think of what we could do for ‘End of the Road,”’it was more or less when Succulent Sessions reached out to us, and they are doing a bunch of live sessions here. It allowed us to do it with drums and bass and a brass section and all of that. I feel like some people who’ve heard it have said it’s kind of better than the original.
AS: The instrumentation is so beautiful and colorful.
NE: Thank you so much. It was also so much fun to work on, because we had no idea what we were going to do, but we were meeting up with the musicians individually, or by section, and they all brought something so fresh to the table. We were literally just like, ‘Yeah, do your thing.’ It was so incredibly easy.
AS: Were you already connected to these players, or did you find them for this project?
NE: Two of them—the guy who plays drums [Itamar Lobestein] and the guy who plays bass [Matan Egozi]—are really close friends of ours, and what happened with those two is that when we were working on mixing the album, we were closed in our studio for two months. In the end of an album, when you’re mixing an album, you’re hearing the songs so many times and you kind of lose perspective on how they sound. They both [suggested] that they would come around to the studio and listen and see us work, but at some point they became a huge part of the process, not only with the mixing but also they added so much to the production. So they are a huge part of the album KIDS. And the other guys are people that we know from the scene. Dani [Ever Hadani], the keyboardist, I always dreamt [of working] with her because she’s an amazing keyboardist and she was just on board. Everyone was on board. They are a bunch of really talented, amazing musicians. It was a dream come true.
AS: Speaking of wrapping up the album, how long was the period from writing through production?
NE: I would call it three years. But we had all the songs a year before we actually finished the album, and we kept postponing the album, and then as we were postponing the album we were just reopening the mixes and changing things. Up until the very last second we were adding things and taking out things. So we had a fully written and produced album for one year that we were just constantly perfecting. I feel like it made a huge difference for me, because we were supposed to be already touring last March, and if that would have happened, it would not be the same album, and I’m so grateful to have the time. Sometimes you just need time.
AS: Do you usually start with lyrics or flows or beats? What’s a usual starting point for you and/or Ori?
NE: Well Ori is the beat maker, and for me, it is easier to write over something, like some sort of atmosphere. So usually the beat comes first and then the flows. But we do have songs that [start] in the most classic way of guitar and vocals. We were really aiming to do more of those with this album because we wanted to have songs that were more structured, and it really helped actually. You can really tell which songs were [us] spilling over a beat and which songs were like, ‘We’re just going to go back to the basics and play chords and write melodies over them.’
AS: I read in a press release that your mom actually features in a few spots. How’d that come about?
NE: When we started to think about the album as a whole, we wanted to have something to tie the album together. We always like to have those little things. But also, the concept of the album… When we’re saying “kids” in the title of the album, we’re talking about ourselves. We’re talking about who we feel like we are in the world, but also the perspective of human beings in their most fresh and innocent form. And at some point I was reaching out to my mom and asking her to send me [recordings] saying a bunch of things, and those things were always about how the older generation feels about the newer generation. So that perspective [is] all over the album.
AS: What are some other themes that animate these songs, either lyrically or musically?
NE: The album has pretty much three or four repeating themes… Definitely there are some songs that are about the political and social situation of where I come from, Israel, and the world, and also some songs that are very, very personal and about my personal relationships. Some songs are about what it [means] to be an artist, which was something that we were talking about.
When it comes to the music, what we found with this album—the more I think about it—is how do you know that very specific line between melodies and flow? That was something we were really exploring, and also sounds of synthesizers combined with beats that are taken from hip hop and basslines. Basslines are very, very strong in this album.
AS: Vocally, you pivot between rapping and singing. Does one of those modes come easier to you, or have you always done both?
NE: I mean, I was a singer before I was rapping, or whatever it is that I’m doing. But rapping—I started rapping way before I allowed myself to release anything with me doing it. At the beginning, for me, rapping was something that I did to deal with anxiety. I was in this time in my life where I had multiple panic attacks and I was going to this therapist and one of the methods that she taught me was, she said, ‘Just walk around the room and [say] gibberish things,’ because there’s something about it that has to do with breath control, that relaxes the amount of breathing, because I would breathe very heavily and would not control my breath, and that would get me to a very, very stressed state.
So at first I was just gibberish-ing, and I noticed that it was really, really helpful. At some point I got bored of it, so I started learning all these raps… It’s something that I still do. I got better and better at it and I stopped being ashamed of rapping. For me it was always, ‘Don’t touch that’—it was always for me this taboo of ‘Don’t touch that, white girl.’ It’s extreme but that is why I don’t consider myself a rapper. I just think that I’m a vocalist and I try to do whatever I can do with my voice. Sometimes it’s kind of spoken-word or flows of raps, sometimes it’s melodies, sometimes it’s just whispers, but I try not to limit myself with what I do with my voice.
AS: Was Hebrew your first language?
NE: Hebrew is my first language, but I very much prefer singing and writing in English. I tried for a while, in Hebrew, and there are issues with that… it’s hard. The issues are, first of all, I didn’t want to stay in Israel with my music—I wanted to be able to get to other people, and I grew up on music in English. The Hebrew language is just so incredibly hard to rhyme and to put on a rhythm.
AS: I totally misheard a lyric in “End of the Road” when I first listened to it. Instead of I ain’t finished, I got loads, I heard I ain’t finished, I got looks. But it made sense because you do have looks. Can you tell us a little bit about your style?
NE: Looks—that’s so cool. You know what happened to me yesterday? I was featured in someone else’s show, and we played one song of theirs and one song of mine, and the song was ‘NO news on TV,’ and the guy was learning the lyrics on Apple Music and all the lyrics were just completely off. It was so hilarious because if you just change one word, all the meaning and the intention just goes to waste. But instead of hold your horse in ‘NO news on TV,’ it was ‘hold your hose.’ I immediately called my manager, like ‘You have to call Apple Music. Something’s wrong.’
My style… Basically, when I was a kid, I used to go to my dad’s closet, and he had this time in his life when he was a businessman. It ended very early but at some point I would watch him get dressed to work and he would put on suits with ties and I just remember that it felt like almost a religious ceremony—him cleaning his feet, wearing the socks and the shoes, putting on his jacket and tie. I always had that thought in my mind that I wanted to wear suits. I was very much like a tomboy.
I tried on a suit one day and it was with this stylist and I was just like, ‘Can we try on this suit? I just want to wear a suit.’ And he was like, ‘Listen, suits for women, you don’t have the shoulders for them.’ [But] I was wearing this suit and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this whole time this is what I was meant to be wearing,’ because something about my personality was finally able to be freed. Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with suits and trying stuff around that. For me the discovery of suits and following my dad’s lead on that is how I define myself through fashion.
KIDS is out March 26 via City Slang. You can pre-order it here.
Photo credit: R604M