An Interview With Amaseffer
Israeli metal band Amaseffer has wowed listeners around the globe with the first installment of their Exodus trilogy, "Slaves For Life." The band, known for its film score work on both films and video games, released "Slaves For Life" in 2008, and are already in pre-production for its sequel. "Slaves For Life" was deemed Best Progressive Metal Album of the Year, and front man Erez Yohanan, the band’s drummer and narrator on the album, promises that the sequel will be even better. I recently spoke with Erez about the trilogy, and the unique experience of being a musician in a small, but up and coming place like his homeland of Israel.
Nichole Nash: Writing a piece that tells the story of Exodus was your idea initially. Where did you get the idea?
Erez Yohanan: Well, the idea was in my head for a long time. I always wanted to write a Biblical concept album and I knew that once I'll do it, it will be the ultimate story: The Exodus. This is the "main event" in the Bible for all three religions, and to me it was clear that this will be the one.
Nichole: What made you decide to do it now?
Erez: This concept is very deep in its spirituality, and I never felt that I had the maturity as a musician and as a person as well, to deal with that kind of a project. Four years ago, after a major event in my personal life, it was the first time that I truly felt it. I was ready! So I started immediately the first drafts for it, and then got Yuval and Hanan to join me on this Holy voyage and the rest is history.
Nichole: The three of you spent six months in the studio perfecting "Slaves For Life." Is your drive for perfection just a personal trait, or do you think it was because of the subject matter?
Erez: Both! I'm a perfectionist in my blood, and once I do it, it's all the way full guns blazing! I will not do it if it's not perfect regardless the music, but here we have another equation: the concept. Such one needs full attention in a deep and profound way, so we worked twice as hard in order to deliver the story in the best way possible, a way that will respect the story and respect the people who have presented it, us, the musicians. We have rented a place in Tel-Aviv and modified it to be our pre-production studio, and those six months that we spent together working and finalizing "Slaves for Life" was the best experience I have ever had, and I believe that Yuval and Hanan think this way as well.
Nichole: You've said that the album isn't a religious one, and yet many non-believers would probably argue. How have you overcome that obstacle?
Erez: We are not trying to preach for religious life in the album. We are not trying to peel away secular shells from people and turn them into hard core believers. We just presented a Biblical story through our music in a way we felt best to do. The lyrics on the album are a direct interpretation to the events that took place 3,500 years ago.
Nichole: What do you think gives the album appeal for non-believers?
Erez: I think the music and the way we have presented it. Music has no religion and can touch people’s souls regardless of their beliefs. If you are non-believer and like the music, hey, it will still put a smile on our face.
Nichole: Part two is now in pre-production. Do you have an idea when it will be ready for release?
Erez: I hope this year, but it's not sure 100%. The album is written, and we do our best to deliver a sequel that will not be downgraded comparing it to SFL. We will not rush it, and once we will feel it's perfect to our ears, then we will release it.
Nichole: What stories and characters can we look forward to in chapter two?
Erez: We will pick up the story right where we left it on chapter one. The new album will open with the Exodus itself. On the Exodus there are so many stories and events going through it until the parting of the Red Sea, which will be the main event on the album. We also have a war going on after it where the Israelites encounter the Amalekites barbarian tribes. We will also have a Zipporah sound alike named Miriam. She's Moses’ sister who sang a glorification song to God right after they crossed the Red Sea. The album will end with Israelites reaching Mount Sinai, right before the acceptance of the Ten Commandments (which will open the third album).
Nichole: I was a little surprised that you dedicate an entire song on "Slaves For Life" to Zipporah, who plays such a minor role in the book of Exodus. Any particular reason you singled her out?
Erez: The story on SFL is very dark and gloomy, always something bad happening, and we wanted to have a break from all the commotion going on, so we felt that this could be a real pearl on the album. It's my personal favorite if you ask me.
Nichole: Amaseffer has its hands in a lot of different projects. Tell us a little about what other music projects you've been working on.
Erez: Amaseffer is also a film score company. We compose movie and video games soundtracks. But now we are not accepting any jobs, for we want to put our full attention to the new album.
Nichole: You also provided the film score for Altelena. Is that complete, and will it be available to westerners?
Erez: The score is complete, and the movie has premiered a few months ago in the Jerusalem film festival. Unfortunately, it will not be available on CD as a soundtrack unless the producers of the movie will decide to release it. I hope they will in the future.
Nichole: You once lived in New York and played in a band with Rob DeLuca. What made you want to move to America, and what made you decide to return to Israel?
Erez: I have moved to New York in order to experience in person the American music scene. It was a big experience for me playing with Rob, for he is a great musician, playing today with Sabastian Bach of Skid Row. I returned to Israel at a point that I felt my progress as a musician will be best if I return and focus on my personal projects that will be better executed in Israel.
Nichole: All three of the band members are fortunate enough to focus solely on your music, unlike many other Isreali musicians, who have other full-time careers. But if you weren't a musician, what do you think you'd be doing?
Erez: I'd be a race car driver or motorcycle racer. It's my biggest love, and I still do it in Israel once in a while when I have the time and racing team to compete with.
Nichole: I know that Yuval has joined Architect. Has that affected his participation with Amaseffer in any way?
Erez: Not at all, on the contrary, this will only help him getting a better musician and guitar player. He knows that Amaseffer is the main event for him.
Nichole: The main vocalist on the first album was Mats Leven. Will he play the same role in the other albums?
Erez: Yes, sure! Mats will lead sing on all three albums. He has just recorded vocals for a pre-production version for a new song from the upcoming album. It's a killer!
Nichole: Any particular reason you use guest vocalists rather than having a vocalist as a regular band member?
Erez: No particular reason, it's just turned out to be this way. If Mats will decide to be a full time member of Amaseffer then we will consider it in a positive way. We have looked for the best vocalist in order not just to write good music, but also to have the best singer for it. This was something we did not compromise on, and if the price was not to have him as a member of the band, I'd pay this price gladly. I think we could not ask for a better vocalist to sing on our album. Mats is an amazing singer, taking SFL to the a whole new high level, the icing on the cake.
Nichole: The composition for "Slaves For Life" is a blend of English and Arabic. With the difference in language and customs, what do you think is the most important part of the story that westerners may have missed?
Erez: The correct blend is English (Mats lead singing), Hebrew (my narration on key points of the story) and old Aramaic Biblical language (the actual played scenes). People did not miss any of that, for all Hebrew and Aramaic texts have a direct translation in the CD booklet.
Nichole: Too bad my copy didn’t come with the booklet, but I was able to find translations online. If you don't mind my asking, how have the religious tensions and recent fighting in your region impacted you, either personally, or as an artist?
Erez: I don't deal with politics and will not let it affect my music or inspiration for music. I hope peace will come in our days.
Nichole: You're one of the few Israeli bands to make a name for yourselves internationally. What advice would you offer to other upcoming Israeli bands, or any band trying to climb its way to the top?
Erez: I would tell them to just be themselves! Not imitate or try to sound like other bands. I think it's a key factor that will make the difference.
Nichole: Any final words for our readers?
Erez: Thank you all for supporting Amaseffer, God blesses you and all your loved ones! Keep it Holy!
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