We talk to Noga Erez about her debut LP, Off The Radar, which we have in our store now on an exclusive blue vinyl.
When Noga Erez was a little girl growing up in a small village in Israel, she heard the same Arab melodies floating over her house five times a day — muezzins loudly calling Muslims to prayer in the neighboring village. It chilled her. As a kid, the only things she had heard about the Arab towns that surrounded her were laced in conflict and prejudice. Amid the constant turmoil around Israel’s borders, the muezzin’s songs were foreign and scary, symbolizing the possibly dangerous unknown just beyond her reach. They used different notes than the typical Western musical scale, winding mysteriously and exotically through the air as a low-toned singer bellowed something in a language she couldn’t understand.
“Hearing that was something I was really afraid of,” Erez told me about her childhood, calling on Skype from Tel Aviv. But as she grew up, she researched more and more about the muezzin call, its Middle Eastern song structure and its true meaning, discovering that it’s nothing to be terrified of — in fact, it’s something quite beautiful. “I started reading about it. I started understanding what’s happening in their scales and harmonies and how it is, in fact, a very very nice thing. A few times a day, you have someone singing to you.”
Erez folds those melodic memories into her own music today, and on her debut album, Off The Radar, she writes about her childhood paranoia on a song dedicated to the very person that used to haunt her, “Muezzin.” Off The Radar has been a lifetime in the making, mixing bits and pieces of her young life with stuff she’s facing now. As a girl, she studied piano and guitar, eventually making her way to Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. At 18, she was enlisted as a military musician. But she was always drawn to electronic music, and shortly after becoming a professional musician, she met her partner, Ori Rousso, who taught her the ways of different types of production software. Their teacher-student relationship soon turned collaborative, and finally, Erez felt like she had the proper tools to tell her story.
With her LP out now on City Slang, she’s harnessed a different fear — one that lives on the opposite side of paranoia. She has a fear of being misunderstood by those who don’t take a moment to educate themselves.
Off The Radar is drenched in tension, gathered from the political unrest she grew up around. She’s lived half an hour from conflict most of her life — Israelis and Palestinians struggling over holy land while fighting their war with bombs and guns. On “Dance While You Shoot,” which blares through your eardrums with a buzz of distorted rhythms, she details the guilt she feels while creating music and living her life as war boils up around her. She speaks directly to her government as she spits M.I.A.-style: “I won’t miss you, won’t diss you for killing my people / Taking my money, wasting my chances for sanity.” The feeling of hypocrisy also comes through with “Global Fear,” a far chiller song (yet no less creepy). She weighs that sort of duality again about how we let fear dictate our lives, yet doing nothing about it. On the track, sound effects of consumerism — clinking glasses and spritzes of perfume — clatter among her lyrics. “Global fear / Takes us to a narrow trap / And counts us one by one,” she sings about apathy and toxic feelings.
With an album deeply reflecting her environment, it’s easy for critics to peg her as a stereotypical “political musician,” a la M.I.A. or Pussy Riot or U2 or even YG. Erez was warned by other music industry players not to write songs that detail her feelings about her government — not because they were worried about the backlash from Israeli conservatives, but because they thought Erez would end up talking a lot more about the climate in Israel than her own music. That’s true, Erez says.
“Some people just hear the word ‘Israel’ and they assume that you’re a part of this vicious, crazy force,” Erez says. “And people don’t really dive into the details, don’t really read the lyrics or listen to the music before they go ahead and say what they what they think about you as an artist just because they see where you are from.”
“[We have] this very primal need that we have to be heard, to be seen, to be noticed, to be acknowledged for the things that we do or for who we are. On the other hand, I have this need to disappear sometimes.”
As Erez navigates the beginning of her career, with a complicated album out in the world, a label having her back and more press interviews than ever, she’s explaining to the masses who she is — “I have never talked about myself so much than I talked about myself in this past few months.” While she’s had time to craft her album, when she speaks, she feels like she’s not as eloquent on the spot. She wants the music to speak instead. On the title track, “Off The Radar,” she sings about that desire to sink back into oblivion while she weaves intricate electronic textures to express herself instead.
“[We have] this very primal need that we have to be heard, to be seen, to be noticed, to be acknowledged for the things that we do or for who we are,” Erez says about the song. “On the other hand, I have this need to disappear sometimes.”
And she did disappear for a while. While recording the album, she went through a period of disconnection, where she shut off her TV for days and detached from social media and news. For a while, she was out of touch with current events and everything else. It was extreme, Erez says, but necessary. In the end, the exercise helped her realize how unhealthy her media consumption was, and she’s learned to balance that with real life since then.
It’s ironic for someone who makes music for mass consumption to say that they want to live off the radar, but for Erez, it all comes back to the fear of being misunderstood. She doesn’t want her words to come out wrong.
“It’s all talking / Gotta stutter my way out of here,” she sings on “Noisy.” “Hold me / Don’t wanna be misunderstood / It’s so noisy / Gotta shut it, gotta turn it off.”
Like she educated herself about her Arab neighbors, she’s hoping that her new global listeners will take the time to educate themselves about her — that they will burrow themselves into her lyrics and the sounds that swirl around them, and that they won’t seek too much of her personality through media interviews. It’s all about getting herself off the radar from prejudice, while very much getting onto the worldwide music radar.
“Putting my personality and my ideas and my thoughts into words is always something that feels very, like, it really narrows down my world,” she says. “I would like people to listen to the music — that is the only thing I want.”