Q&A: Monotonix's Yonatan Gat Defends His Native Israel Against Bands That Boycott It, Describes Letting Himself Go During His Band's Notorious, Off-The-Wall Performances
Monotonix's Ami Shalev
For astute music fans in the North Texas region, the name Monotonix has become quite familiar.
In the last couple of years, the Israeli garage-punk trio has made a few stops here, including a 2009 NX35 slot that got the ball rolling pretty hard on their Metroplex buzz.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the band, which specializes in acrobatic and even physically profane live shows while wearing gym shorts, is a favorite on the festival circuit--and that much is to thank for the band's upcoming stop at The Loft on Friday night, too. Lead singer/microphone violator Ami Shalev, guitarist Yonatan Gat, and drummer Haggai Fershtman are making their way south to participate in this weekend's insanely-packed Fun Fun Fun Fest bill.
And while the band has garnered extreme amounts of attention thanks to the live-performance aspect of their product, their upcoming album, to be released early next year, could very well make them actual recording stars as well.
Recently, we chatted with lead guitar player Yonatan Gat about the new album, the problems that Israeli bands often face, and what he thinks about big-name acts that have boycotted Israel for their stance against Palestine.
I understand that you and the rest of your band weren't ever happy with
the local music scene in Tel Aviv. What was wrong with it, specifically?
It's a very small music scene in Tel Aviv, and it's pretty problematic because it's a small country and it's very hard for bands to tour. And we're surrounded by enemy countries, mostly. It's not like bands from Israel can load up the van and go to play shows in Jordan or Syria or Lebanon or Egypt. It's also too much of a small-town feel, I think. We kept feeling like we weren't really wanted because of the way we play our shows. Anyways, the goal for us was always to tour like a real band.
You mentioned your neighboring countries. Several big-name bands have boycotted performing in Israel, due to your countries policies on dealing with Palestine. How do you feel about that when you hear such things?
I have a really simple opinion on this, and I don't mind speaking up about it, actually. I will say that we as a band aren't very political and that I don't typically like speaking about my personal political beliefs to the press. But I wish that people who want to know about politics in my country would read about it and really try to understand it. Basically, when it comes to bands that boycott Israel, we know there are a lot of ignorant opinions when it comes to the Middle East. Everyone in Europe seems to have strong opinions about Israel, which, to me, seems a little strange. It's strange that people can have such concrete opinions about something they don't really know that much about. I could talk to someone who wants to boycott Israel and have a five-minute discussion with them about it. Typically, after five minutes, I will know that they don't have a clue about what's going on in our country, because they are reading it from a newspaper in Washington state or somewhere from very far away, instead of a paper here, where it's close to the situation. I don't claim to really know the whole truth about what's going on between Palestine and Israel. I do have some friends that have served in the army and they have told me stories that are appalling and sad, but it really sucks to hear people speak their opinion about something without having any real knowledge at all. I wish more people would learn about it, before they talk about it. I mean, maybe Israel should be boycotted, I don't know?
Your band and The Silver Jews are not only label mates, but also seem to be good friends. Have you bonded with David Berman over his appreciation for his own heritage and for Judaism?
I don't think the thing that made us friends with those guys had anything to do with David's appreciation for Israel or Judaism, really. We played a couple of shows together and just became really good friends that related on many levels. I think David's more Jewish than us in his approach, actually. I mean, we're all proud of our heritage, but we really aren't practicing Judaism. At this point, he practices it more than the three of us combined, so we never really bonded over that. Maybe that's because I had it shoved down my throat as a child.
Your guitar playing always seems to be driven, emotional and hard-charging. What is it that you are trying to accomplish, every time you perform?
My favorite thing about our band, and about music in general, is when I can turn off my brain for a little while and make it about only the music. I feel like some truth can come out of playing that way. My brain is a little restless and I have a tendency to analyze and maybe over-think a whole lot. But when we start a show, I just close my eyes and start playing. Later, I can't remember a single thought I had during the time we played because I just did what was natural for me to do. I'm really just projecting my feelings and emotions at that point. Also, we're just one guitar and one drum, so I want to make our sound as interesting and energetic as possible.
Your new record comes out in a few months. How do you feel about it, now that it's recorded?
It was the easiest record for us to make and we're really proud of it, because it's the best thing we've done so far. I guess that's what everyone says about their new record, though. We booked the studio time with [Steve] Albini a month in advance, before we had any songs ready, and we did it all between shows and tours. It was cool to see Steve put that Albini-sound on our record.
What's the Albini sound, to you?
Well, he's a very interesting guy. He didn't go to school for engineering or anything like that; he was a journalist. One thing that's very special about him is how he's just doing his own thing in a very specific way. It was almost all recorded live, with very little over-dubs, and that fit very well with us. He has a very clean signature that's all over the record, even though it sounds like us, his touch is on there.
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