Instinct EXCLUSIVE!! “CROWN” by Jerusalem born Queer artist RONI
It is said that living in a different culture, and learning to live as those people will teach you so much about yourself is a fact that people are constantly discovering. I was able to interview Jerusalem born queer singer RONI and I learned how much going outside of your own experience can change you and teach you to find everything beautiful in other people and situations. RONI’s music is dark, powerful, intense, sensual, and most of the singing was done “improvised,” we were just lucky enough that someone had pushed record. Roni and I talked about transformations, gender, sensuality, self-destruction, and becoming a more compassionate person through it all. Instinct is the first to feature RONI, and the message is one the world needs right now.
“CROWN” has been released as a “visual album” over the last few weeks, and the singles are available in the stores on Wednesday, September 9th.
JH: It’s good to talk to you, I heard your music and asked if I wanted to feature you, and you identified as gay, so I said, “Hey Bring it on”.
RONI: Thank you, it’s good to be here.
JH: So, I understand you were born in Israel but that you live in New York City now, with plenty of other Jewish folks, and Israeli Ex-pats, how long have you been there?
RONI: I have been here for ten years.
JH: I thought it was funny, my list of Israeli born musicians, is Gene Simmons from “KISS” and Ofra Haza.
RONI: Oh yes, Ofra Haza, she is a legend, a great loss.
JH: Oh man, I love the woman, I adore her, I cried for days when she died, I haven’t cried for a musician like that except for Lou Reed. I knew her cousin in college and that’s who told me she had died. (Ofra Haza was an Israeli pop star who succumbed to AIDS in 2000) There was one guy in Frank Zappa’s band born there, so not many.
RONI: There was Yael Naim, she did that song for Apple, right now she is our biggest export. I don’t usually go out to say I am an Israeli artist, I’m not going to deny it, but, I say I am from Jerusalem, it is a little more “open” for people to understand.
JH: So congratulations for the new EP, I loved it, I enjoyed “Stop Motion”, and the litmus test is for me to play it to my daughters, I like a lot of different stuff, but if THEY like it, you know it has passed the test for picky listeners. When I hear an obscure female vocalist, nothing wrong with P!NK, but I want them to hear the stuff that isn’t on the radio. We enjoy the obscure music, and we have listened to it for a week or so. I am glad to be presenting your album to the world.
RONI: Well, I have been playing guitar professionally for 22 years, I got into it at an early age, I went deep, studied jazz, and I was the guitar player at a music school, I started taking voice lessons in secret because I didn’t want anyone to know yet. So when I finished high school, I started performing my original songs, and it was a surprise to a lot of people. It took some time to develop the craft, but I have been performing my songs for 12 years, but this EP for the last two years. Though I have played on other projects. This is fresh, and really different, its more current, and with more synth, and beats, and this is the one I’ve been working on, I also did this one remotely, it all started while visiting my family in Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem after a bad breakup, and my grandmother dying, so I went there for some solace time. And my friend Nir Yatzkan who plays keys on this record, he wanted to bring me to a session with his friend. He explained he did a lot of good production work, and if I wanted to write a song to any of it, so feel free. So I was sitting there dwelling in my misery, and there was this great beat, and core progression and the mic was on, and they were talking about stuff around this beat, and I went to the mic behind them, and basically “freestyled” stop motion. So, 70 percent of the vocal you hear now, is from that original take.
JH: YEAS!!! FOR REAL, the biggest problem with freestyle is that everyone gets caught up in the moment, that no one pushed record are often your best moments, especially being your first take.
RONI: It’s not even the first take, it’s a stream of consciousness and from there on I continued to make music that way. I had so much experience sitting and writing music intentionally, it brought me to this realization that when I write songs in that way, even though some of it may be good, it’s still from a place of what I would want to write, versus what is going on in my head and my heart. When I was in front of these people, it puts a level of pressure, and the mic is recording so, I cant just gibberish it, or “na na na”, I still have to perform and make the words rhyme, or not rhyme, or the hook, or the melody and all of that was the time to do something like that. It was very much straight from the heart, straight from the mind there were no filters at all no thinking in the process, and I think that was what I loved the most about this record, and the two other songs s”Senses” and “Higher Ground”. All these songs were made in that kind of fashion, just hearing something going on like a pattern and I just let it all go, then I take that recording later and I tweak it out. That is the story of “Stop Motion”.
JH: So here is the very personal question then, because I could hear your pain in that one, did it hurt more when you were letting it out? And did it feel better when you finished? I felt it, and my daughter felt it, and she even asked where this was coming from.
RONI: I LOVE YOUR DAUGHTER, she is so sharp. I was dealing with a failed relationship.
JH: Well, you were deep in it, saying “This is how we fuck” but there was more pain around it than just that, there was a self-destructive side in it. More than just a failed relationship, but now I see your grandmother’s death, there was not just a specific theme just a lot of pain spinning around you.
RONI: I think at the time there was this pattern of “self-destruction” which think follows a lot of people’s experiences, not just the loss of a relationship, but also a loss of life, and “Stop Motion” takes that right on, with “Okay, this is ending, let’s just destroy ourselves a little bit, and hopefully come out on top”, and just this bottom line “I MISS”, this is something that people can relate to if something ended badly even in a good way. You are missing someone that you were once so open with. And that was the first thing that I improvised just like “MISSING YOU, MISSING YOU” so many times in that initial recording, I could not filter that out. So when I was done with that take….
JH: Please tell me you were crying by then.
RONI: I wasn’t crying, it was very heartfelt, I was just “IN” it cause there was a lot of anger in this song, and it was good. Everyone was silent and just looked at each other for about a minute. And the guy who I was introduced to, “Fortyfour” is his artist’s name. He said “Okay, we are going to work on a record together” because this is a hit, and that’s why it took two years, and it was between us back and forth between home in New York and him in Tel Aviv.
JH: This is the jerk question, do you hope she hears it?
RONI: She heard it already (Laughing), I don’t have any beef with exes, I don’t do that unless they did something shady. I don’t do that with people I had a love connection with, but she heard the song but didn’t ask “is this about me?” It’s all good, but also it’s not about just her.
JH: Well two years for a record bouncing between countries, is difficult I’m sure. I would imagine not being in the studio in person for “the jam” just to have that feeling and being in it.
RONI: Most of the recording and the jam happened when I was there, most of the time that happened without me was the mixing and mastering it, my producer has a full-time day job, and it was just “We’ll get there”. Every time he sent something to me, I sent it with notes back, it took a lot of time. And there were things in my life that took away my focus. But it’s a 2020 record, the sound is 2020, I’m happy as long as we can RELEASE it in 2020, and there is no better time than now so that makes me happy.
JH: Hey 2020 is a shit year for everybody man, 2020 can fuck off and die. So anything good that you can give us is really appreciated to get us through this.
RONI: I hear you, but there are some things we can think about, 2020 gave us the ability to see things that we took for granted for so long, it’s like live music will never have the same meaning to us when we can experience it again. And seeing our family, especially older people, it’s going to get this enhanced meaning to it. I don’t know when I will see my family again, because I would have to go into quarantine for 14 days, and it’s not worth the travel at this point, so I am waiting for that to end, so it will be a long time till I see them. So when I see them I will appreciate it so much more. So we can look at 2020 and see what it taught us.
JH: I get that, I skipped concerts because I knew they would be coming back around later, and now, do I have that regret? Sure, but I also know that when I get to see them again, it will mean that much more, and be just fantastic to be there and seeing them live again. How is it in New York for you now? Are you still in lockdown?
RONI: I am so happy to be here dude, I was in Arizona for two months, and Arizona, you see what they are going through now, but they weren’t wearing their masks or distancing in the supermarket, and I thought maybe I’m in the woods on this one, but in New York, I am surrounded by people who respect one another, it was still on lockdown when I got back. But as the city re-opens, we have celebrated a few days of no COVID deaths at all, I think we are setting an example to the world. In terms of people respecting each other, this city is doing so well, and I am proud to be a New Yorker more than I ever was.
JH: Sure, but I’m not seeing a Broadway show, or shooting a show at Irving Plaza any time soon.
RONI: True, but those things will happen differently, Broadway I think is in may ways fucked, I was never a Broadway person, but I understand this is the loss of a great artistic outlet. I think that performing outside is happening, we just need to have more areas where that can be done. There will be different ways of going about life.
JH: Well, I’m sure you will be seeing a lot more people busking on street corners. You will see an artist out there, giving a free show, selling a CD. So, your song higher ground, that was pretty harsh as well, but do you remember “Sade” you have a lot of her in your sound.
RONI: I never heard that compliment, thank you. Higher ground is the softest song on the record, “Foreign is all around, on your left the dunes, gleaning over Mars curves in the sand, why don’t they shield me from the flaming rays from above as I descend on a while veil”. I did a major US road trip, I went to 42 states, I drove for 2 and a half months. I was so in awe of how diverse in nature and people this country is. I have only lived in New York, I was so shocked that from one state to another I was in the jungles, and I was literally on Mars, especially in Utah. All of those places, I started having visions of White Sands National Park and the white sand dunes. And it showed me how beautiful the world is, and I met people from all walks of life from all political backgrounds. I was surprised at how kind people were, I had conversations with, and stayed with people who voted for Trump, who was very different from me. And as a queer person it is a challenging thought to think that I could spend the evening talking to them listening to music, I mean coming from this progressive city, it was a pleasant experience. And after the “self destruct” feeling of “Stop Motion” and the new sensual experiences of “Senses” I felt that this was humbling, we are all in this together and we spend so much time fighting over political views, and land, and human value that we sometimes forget that we are all in this together. This song was also an improv thing that I later tweaked, I had visions of my trip in it, trying to remember when we get to the point that drugs, substances, and violence are less of a vice than compassion. I look for the day that we use compassion as a vice.
JH: Wow, “Compassion as a vice” that’s beautiful. I remember Bob Geldof out of anger, put together Live AID, just to say FUCK IT, if no one else will, it was his anger and compassion that made him change the world, at least feed the world. So, can I ask, because you are gay, and in Israel either people are fine with it, or they want to have you killed because of the old laws?
RONI: I identify as queer, I do not see myself identifying as a lesbian, because in my life I have been attracted to and dated men, but I am 100% queer, all my serious relationships were with women. I come from a progressive secular family, so coming out at the time seemed stressful or scary, I was never in danger of being kicked out of the house, or risk of being shunned, my family is supportive and accepts me and always have. I had that time where my hair was shaved, and I remember visiting my parents who are still in Jerusalem and I felt alienated in the community where they are ultra-orthodox, and I never belonged. Tel Aviv is the haven is where all the gays go, Jerusalem is a city of polarity, you need to take what works for you, and leave the rest. You just smile at the people who look at you funny. Hebrew is a language of male and female.
JH: I get that, the whole “Ma Sch’lom Hech” and “Ma Sch’lom het” was always a problem so I think it would be even harder in your situation. (“how are you?” to a man or a woman)
RONI: Wow, VERY GOOD!!! yes, I have been addressed as male out of spite. The solution was to smile “ok, Sir today, Maam tomorrow”, It’s just not worth having that kind of discussion with people. Mostly it’s just about having compassion for people that are not yet in a place of full acceptance, I was once there too, so you just have to be understanding. What New York did to my mind expanded on such a level cause that’s what New York is. I never grew up around non-binary people, not very many black people and certainly not any Latino people, being present with such diversity is a beautiful thing, I am forever grateful to this city for exposing me to all of that because it helps you understand yourself so much more to see society. But my experiences abroad have also made me want nothing more than sheer peace, love, and acceptance for my Palestinian brothers and sisters.
JH: I think that’s great that you did that, and had that happen to you. I think that everyone should go live in a place not their own, just to experience that. I did in Paris, Rotterdam, Montreal, I lived there, and loved what was different. I say this to Trump supporters today straight from the Bible,
RONI: YES JEREMY BRING ON THE QUOTES!!!!
JH: Well, you know they all claim to follow it, but I see so little of any of that these days, Leviticus 19:34 “But the immigrant that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Jesus made it a point to do that as well, but yeah, I loved being the “Stranger in a land, not my own”, funny for you that it was New York. So, let’s move on to “Senses”
RONI: Yes that was the sexual, sensual song.
JH: I was getting that sensual vibe… Let’s hear it.
RONI: Senses is another one that came out of improv, I was tapped into this feeling of when just met someone and things are going down, and how that feels. In all levels, sensual mostly, intellectual, soul level, FUCKING MOLECULAR LEVEL, it all buzzes. That’s where this song is, when I improvised the chorus, the beat was going insane, I was thinking about you hear a song that reminds you of sensual experience with someone. Senses is a throwback song to those first time sensual feelings and love crawling into your body, and you are touching someone’s skin, and it’s HOT, and you know something is about to go down. With that, I think its fine to identify as “Queer” because I am not obliged to any orientation or gender, so everything can go.
JH: See, as the dumb straight American white guy, I always appreciate people’s patience with me about this. I am continually trying to understand and make the world just that much smaller, but it takes the curiosity and desire on my part to reach out and do that. So, now I’m talking to a “Queer” artist who’s music I hope the world loves. But for me, it makes my life interesting to have these conversations. I have one last question here, so, in Utah, we have the highest rate of LGBTQ suicides among teenagers, what would your message be to that kid who is afraid, in the closet, or suicidal?
RONI: I think knowing yourself is irreplaceable nobody knows you better than yourself, if you are not able to leave cause of your age, it is really important that you reach out online in whatever way, or call centers. Some organizations are here for you, when people who see you be true to yourself, it sometimes wakes them up a bit. If you are suicidal, you must talk to someone, anyone who is there to listen, an organization to help you. You will eventually get to a place and place in life where you can live your true self, because it’s 2020, people have to understand that there are people out there that are different. Please reach out to your friends, having one friend that understands you and accepts you can save your entire world. It helped me when I came out, that I had friends who were queer or not, but could love and support me.
JH: That’s the longest answer I have ever gotten, and it’s very powerful, Thank you Roni.