Genre: middle eastern folk metal, progressive rock / world music
Questions: Ježura, H.
Live photo captured by Michael Jagla.
Hello! Let’s start with some questions about Orphaned Land… Last year, Matti Svatizky left Orphaned Land after twenty one years of being a founding member. It’s not unusual that two guitarists who play together for such a long time develop some sixth sense between them which helps them to predict the other one during composing a new material or during playing live. Was it similar between you and Matti? And how does it work with new OL’s guitarist, Chen Balbus? Wasn’t it difficult to get comfortable with Chen since you were – as I suppose – used to Matti’s style of playing? Did you yourself have to change anything in your own style of playing guitar in Orphaned Land because of the new partner? Or everything went smooth and you got used to Chen right away?
Indeed after 20 years of guitar playing as duo, Matti and I developed some “6th sense” and a lot of mutual understandings in terms of sound and emphasis during playing. I am a strong believer in the long term of things, especially in bands, where players are not just instrument holders, but with time over the years create a very special formula that is original and hard to imitate. Truly Chen is a good guitar player, he was my guitar student, but still it’s different. Not for better or worse, just not the same. I miss Matti’s playing sometimes. he had his own sound. Chen has a similar sound to mine, kind of imitating what we already have. It’s not a bad thing, just different. Anyway, I look for the future, so we’re still good friends but we moved on, sadly.
Between “El Norra Alila” from 1996 and “Mabool” from 2004 there was a gap of eight years when Orphaned Land seemed to be inactive. I have to confess I don’t know exactly what was the reason of this seeming inactivity… could you please tell what there was such a break and what were you doing in the meantime? When and how did Orphaned Land get back together and start creating “Mabool”? How long did the process of making “Mabool” actually lasted?
O.Land of the 90’s is quite different from the 2000’s. In the 90’s we were teenagers, I did a lot of the ongoing efforts, not just in terms of music. we had a big gap because people had to try some other things, some travelled, some discovered god, I became a father… and since we came back, we are in constant rise. I hope this continues into the future, as founding member and main composer/arranger of the band, I wish to see it grow.
Next year will mark tenth anniversary of your breakthrough effort, “Mabool”. Are you planning something special to celebrate this anniversary? In later years, many bands play some of their albums in their entirety. “Mabool” is very long album but despite this, have you considered an option of a special tour, where “Mabool” would be played from the beginning to the end?
Yes :) we do have some special “Mabool” annviersary plans and we will update soon about them.
“Mabool” and “ORwarriOR” are conceptual, very narrative and epic albums. On the contrary, “All Is One” is much shorter, songs are mostly based on the ordinary verse-refrain scheme and the whole album is basically much more approachable. Was it your intention to make something different just for this time or did you abandon the original epic/progressive/narrative face of Orphaned Land for good?
I always do what I feel is the right thing in that time, for me personally as composer and multi-instrumentalist, and for the band, as much as I can, being part of a group. In “Mabool” and “ORwarriOR” I loved the emphasis on concepts, and playing-wise we did take it to the extreme. In “ORwarriOR” I composed and arranged some stuff that I wouldn’t be able to think about 10 years before. And now in “All Is One”, the decision was to make a more approachable album, simple in some ways. Sure, after “Melting Clocks” (my Solo debut) and producing other rock/pop artists, I had easy time composing a more “simple” album, but still, sometimes I miss the old conceptual themes. It has a theme, but it is simple. So yes, I am pleased with the result, but can’t say it’s our best ever. for this point in time we succeeded to make the “best sounding” creation up to date.
After the musical journey which has begun at doom/death metal, came through vast epicness and progression and ended up at symphony, choirs and more approachable music, which way do you think Orphaned Land will continue? I know it’s too early for such questions but still, do you have some yet uncharted teritories which you want to explore or do you even know how the next album should sound?
I always look beyond, the present fades quickly and I move to the future. that’s not to say I am not nostalgic, I am very much in love with “old school” metal and old time albums, of myself and others. but when it comes to creating something new, I go to the horizon. I invest a lot of time for research on new sounds, new instruments, new ways to play familiar instruments out of my 17 (!) types and 30 guitars at home. I can’t tell what will be next, but you’ll hear it in my next Solo album in 2014! :-)
Now I’d like to ask something about your very beginnings in music, if it’s not a problem… It is not a secret that you come from musical family so it’s not much surprising that you started playing your first instruments in young age. I wanted to ask whether anybody from your relatives led you into playing music or you discovered about your musical passion on your own?
My Dad, David, helped to shape a lot of Orphaned Land spirit, from “Norra El Norra” through “Sahara” intro up to many other tracks. He comes from a family of 10 brothers and sisters, all of whom play an instrument, sing, or do both. My grandfather (Yossef Sassi R.I.P, died age 94) played the Oud and chanted traditional religious songs. At age 7 I learned to play the flute, and later sang in the school choir, but my interest in music grew only when I encountered the guitar around age 14 during a visit to my uncle. I borrowed the nylon-string guitar from him, took some lessons from local guitar teachers, but eventually decided to teach myself, practicing for 8 to 10 hours per day for years. So you can say I am a mix of genes and heritage of musicians family, as well as finding my own path in my right time. Later I dropped out of high school at age 17 to focus on my band Orphaned Land, and began to fuse middle-eastern elements with metal music, which is something my family (or anyone else, at the time) did not think to do even remotely. so it’s a mix of both, my core and my family, East and West, acoustic and electric. With creativity and innovation leading the way always, as a curious musician! ha ah :)
This might be a little bit of a cliché question but I’d still like to ask it because I really like this kind of questions… do you still remember when and where your very first public performance took its place? And how was it?
Professional performance or any public audience? Ha ha! First time was about age 4, and I was telling some dirty jokes, I think :) But seriously, 1st real concert was with the O.Land boys, when we were still called Resurrection, at early 90’s. Matti was not in the band yet. Real metal with Bolt Thrower cover, real funny days.
How did your first contact with rock music look like? When did you realize that metal or rock music is exactly what you want to do?
When I came across my 1st guitar a bit before age 14 I was already listening to Iron Maiden, G’n’R, Metallica etc, so naturally, even as a child who grew up on traditional acoustic oriental music, I grabbed it as a metal teenager. This fusion of my teenage spirit and my acoustic folk traditional childhood triggered what would later become the pioneering of Oriental Rock (as solo artist) and metal (with O.Land).
How was it like to start a metal band in Israel in early 90’s? This genre is still quite rare in the region (at least compared to Europe or North America) and it would be definitely worse without Orphaned Land in business so as a central European resident, I cannot really imagine the circumstances of such act in 1991. Could you somehow describe us how do you remember the early years of Orphaned Land?
It was much less easy then today, it was all underground in dark clubs and little amount of followers. Although even now metal is not totally a valid music genre in public radio and T.V, still the cultural landscape is much more open than before. We did some national T.V performances in Israel lately, something we wouldn’t imagine achieving in early 90’s. So it’s improving and getting better with time.
As we have already mentioned, Israel is not a typical metal country which was even more obvious in the times when the whole world was not so globalized, when Orphaned Land was found. Metal band from Israel had to be something quite unusual and exotic in the early 90’s. I would dare to say that most metal fans from those times weren’t really open-minded (and some of them unfortunately still aren’t)… have you or anybody from Orphaned Land ever experienced any negative approach because of your origin?
Gladly, we usually encountered positive interactions. Sure, we had a Nazi symbol on our tour bus once, and yes, we get people writing online or Facebook we should disappear from the face of the earth, but that’s opinions of few, and the majority are peace loving and music loving people.
After years of playing various guitars and native instruments, you introduced bouzoukitara – a very specific instrument combining electric guitar and acoustic bouzouki of Greek origin. When did you realized for the first time that you could use something like that? Apart from quick option to switch two different sounds, what other benefits for a musician it has to offer?
It all began with a need. I really needed an efficient way to move between my traditional Bouzouki (sort of Mediterranean mandolin) to electric guitar, on my 2011 recordings and first shows with “Melting Clocks”. After trying some unlucky combinations, I went to a guitar luthier with plans to fuse the two instruments, and he said it wouldn’t work! So I went to another luthier, with vast background in piano restoration and more open-minded approach to guitars, and we went to the moon together :) today I hold the first and so far only Bouzoukitara in the world, as an embodiment of my musical journey – East and west, Acoustic and electric, the tradition and the future. I did almost 100 shows with it in dozens of countries, it’s a really great guitar, and recorded both “All is one” and other productions with it. my story with the instrument can also be found in this short talk on creativity and innovation:
You are long time endorser of PRS Guitars. Why did you asked Israeli guitar maker Benjamin Millar then to make you the bouzoukitara? Has PRS Guitars anyhow cooperated on its creation? And what was your part on it apart from the original idea?
I adore PRS guitars, they build amazing instruments, and truly they have been since 2005 my no.1 choice for everything, from clean to solos. Still, they are a mainstream business company, and cannot fulfill any crazy idea of ANY endorsing artist of theirs, and hey, I’m a crazy Mediterranean dude :) Ha ha. So I respect that, but I have to follow my needs and my dreams. I dream it so I know I can build it, I hoped with PRS, but understood it can be only with a smaller workshop, at first. Now we can move it to larger scale, possibly.
You’re mainly known for playing on guitar and many others string instruments. However, do you play any non-string instruments? As far as I know you have made also some piano parts for Orphaned Land albums or keyboards on “Melting Clocks”… are there any other non-string instruments? I’ve found an information that the very first instrument you started with wasn’t a guitar but a flute, is that correct? Can you still play it? Anyway, how many instruments can you actually play in total? I’m asking because list of instruments you provided on every Orphaned Land album is quite long…
Well, they (the instruments) come to me, not me to them ha ha :) But yeah, seriously, I’ve love to try and play every instrument that I feel attracted to. So I end up doing piano and keys from time to time, as well as some flutes and even non-instrumental stuff, like weird chants and exploring my vocal range. But my main love goes for the stringed fellows.. damn, from Oud to Bouzouki to Saz to Chrrango or even Yukaleelee, I just adore the feel of a string over a piece of wood… it breathes, it’s alive. I am so addicted to it!
As you stated many times, one of the greatest musical influences on you has had mr. Joe Satriani. And few weeks ago, you finally met him personally at his show at Loket, Czech Republic. I suppose that Joe doesn’t meet with everybody who wants to so how did you convince him to make an exception (laughs)? How did you spend your meeting? What did you talk about? Was it an ordinary chit chat or did you close a deal for possible future collaboration?
Oh yes, Satriani is definitely a major influence on my guitar playing. and it’s been my dream ever since to meet him. Sure, I’m friends and in touch with many great guitar players, but I waited to meet him only when I was ready, which was something about 23 years, ha ha! It was long (~30 min) and magical. We spoke, we even played a bit, he loved the Bouzoukitara and tried it out, and I truly hope we can make something together. That would be a huge dream to make a reality. Working on it :)
As a Czech, I have no other option than to ask – what made you choose particularly the Czech Republic for your meeting with Joe? I guess your stay was longer than during an ordinary tour so how did you enjoyed the visit?
I love Czech Republic! It’s a beautiful country, and really, I hate it that people know only Praha – what about Cesky Krumluv? and Kutna Hora (kostnice)? Or even, for less renaissance lovers, even Karlovy vary? you have a great country, and I adore the people. So beautiful inside and outside :) and Loket venue was something not of this earth (for Satriani concert, it suits! he he)
You’ve played a lot of gigs during your career but are there any concert highlights you still recall as an extraordinary experience? Something like the best shows you’ve played so far, or concerts you’d like to remember forever. I wouldn’t be surprised if you said the anniversary show of Orphaned Land in Tel-Aviv where the DVD “The Road to OR-Shalem” was captured. Was this such memorable event? Are there any more shows you consider to be unique and unrepeatable moments and why? And on the other hand, are there any concerts you would like to forget about and why?
True, I performed hundreds of global shows and festivals worldwide, but I’m still very excited about small and intimate shows. I’d say opening for Metallica was one of the top moments of my performance career, together with my Guitar Universe Tour alongside my good friend, ex-Megadeth guitarist, Marty Friedman. The Guitar Universe Tour is Marty and mine initiative of a G3 like tour of guitarists from around the world giving their own interpretation to the guitar, but with exotic emphasis (Middle Eastern, Japanese etc.)
Playing both at an open air festival and in a club undoubtedly have its own pros and cons but which type of concerts is closer to you? Do you prefer playing in small clubs only for people who came to see Orphaned Land, or at big festivals in front of a lot of people where some of them might not be interested in your music and are just passing by or waiting for another band?
True, I am used to performing around 80 shows a year in many countries, and Open-Air festivals have their special magic. I don’t know, it’s something in the air, that breeze on your face… maybe they should put big fans in small venues :) Ha ha! But really, somewhere I just crave for 50 people and an acoustic set. This makes me more excited than 120,000 people.
Last year you released your first solo album “Melting Clocks”, which is – in musical way – relatively different from everything Orphaned Land have ever produced. Was it your intent to express various ideas and influences that wouldn’t fit into Orphaned Land’s music through this album? For how long were you gathering ideas and writing music?
I am very proud of “Melting Clocks” and the process that led to it. Indeed, I had a direct intention NOT to create Orphaned Land no.2, it’s so easy for me, to do the same thing I’ve been doing for 3 decades now. Instead, I moved to new horizons that would include my sound signature and my soul’s internals, but in a brave new rock journey, trying to redefine what you might think as Oriental Rock. and by fusing many cultures and instruments into a semi-instrumental concept album, I managed to make a journey that was recognized by many, to my big content. It was voted ‘top newcomer of 2012’ by Rock Hard magazine readers last March, a fact i’m very surprised and happy about :)
On “Melting Clocks”, you have combined many different musical approaches, styles and melodies which are typical for various ethnical and cultural units around the world. Do you have some personal bound with these typical melodies so they could come out of your mind naturally and fluently or are they the outcome of many guesting artists that participated on “Melting Clocks”? I’m asking because I can’t imagine that someone, in whom the particular melodic expressions don’t live for some time, could compose such colorful album that feels completely casual.
Thank you for the lovely phrasing :) Truly, “Melting Clocks” is a unique journey, unsimilar to anything I’ve done before with O.Land or others. It mixes so many styles and genres that I met on my way, as a musician. And I gave expressions to them all, everything that makes me the vibrant artist that I became to be, that annoying guitar-addict! Ha ha. Although it is a concept album on our routine, and everyone can find himself in it, it is really a personal journey into myself.
I’ve noticed that one of the guests on “Melting Clocks” was your father (I hope that I’m not mistaken with that – if so, I apologize). Have you ever done any other musical collaborations with any members of your family? And do you plan to do so anytime in the future? Something like family album maybe? :)
It’s true! I am used to collaborate with family members of mine. in fact, in O.Land alone, we’ve included throughout the years singing and playing from my father David Sassi, my sister Hadas (who sings in all 90’s releases), my uncle Avi on the Oud, my grandfather and other uncles as choir tape recordings, and even my grandmother! Ha ha. So my dad is a great inspiration and natural choice, when it came to pick talented guests to “Melting Clocks”, joining a respectful credit with artists such as Marty Friedman, Marina Maximilian, Roy Zu-arets and many more.
I have to confess that I’ve always seen Orphaned Land’s music – and your solo work on “Melting Clocks” as well – as something optimistic with a lot of positives vibes within despite sometimes very serious or sad meaning of it. However, there are many bands with absolutely opposite aim – to make music as dark as possible and to depress people. What do you think about this misanthropic or purely aggressive music?
It’s funny that you felt it! It’s true, exactly who I am – a very happy and positive person, but with a deep soul that knew some sad as hell moments in my life, and it is my natural composition to go for sad tunes in happy content. That’s what I “specialize”, in a way. And as main composer in O.Land, as well as sole composer on my releases, it can be felt…
I guess that Orphaned Land will still be your main priority in the future but… do you think there might be any more solo albums? Should we expect anything new from you alone in the foreseeable future? Maybe some collaboration with Dave Lombardo as he spoke of a possibility of making such thing happen in some interview?
You bet! In fact, I just began working on my next Solo release these days. I can say for now that it’s a diverse and full of surprises album, it is a concept album with very rich layers. And it will feature some amazing guest musicians from around the world. I can’t wait to record it! Arggg… now it’s stuck in my head for months till it’s birth :) Stay tuned for a mid-2014 release, or even sooner ;-)
When speaking about Dave Lombardo, the two of you participated on a show called Thrash Meets Oriental in May. Whose idea was it and what was it all about? I can’t really imagine what’s happening on the stage of such event. Did you play some Slayer stuff? Or your solo music? Or was it a pure jamming session? What is it like to play with such titan like Dave?
Well, Dave is a cool guy and a none believable drummer. We both find many similarities – we both are in bands that are quite established (needless to say, I don’t compare the amazing work of Slayer to O.Land, but still, 22 years of hard work..), and still we both are the only ones in our bands that do solo projects and express our musicality in more than one way. He does Fantomas with Mike Patton, Philm etc, so I really adore his approach to open minded and full-flowing musicality. we did a special jam that incorporated my Bouzoukitara and oriental rock along with his crazy unreal drumming, followed by my truly so talented band members from my solo group, Or Lubianiker on Bass guitar, and Roei Fridman on percussion. we hope to make something bigger in the future, maybe, we’ll see. We’re both VERY busy ha ha!
Playing with Dave Lombardo wasn’t your only collaboration with well-known musicians. In October 2012 you embarked on the Guitar Universe Tour together with Marty Friedman and Stéphan Forté. From what I found on the internet, this tour was something like a smaller G3 and it should bound together music of various cultural backgrounds. How did it work together? And how can such experience influence one’s creativity? Do you think that events like this will have some impact on the music you’re going to write in the future?
Guitar Universe is exactly that – it’s sort of a G3-like experience, with exotic guitar styles from around the world. the collaboration in the 1st tour with Stephan was great, and we look to try more tours like that in the future. next time maybe with more open jam and mutual songs (as we did occasionally on the tour).
I have the very last question for you which is a little break from music at the end. Are you interested also in other forms of art? I mean… are there any authors, filmmakers, painters etc. whose works your really like? Thank you very much for your time and for your answers!
I love nature. Life is art for me. I look at butterflies and I’m amazed how they become so colorful from their initial boring phase of caterpillars. They fulfill their colorful dreams. If people were only more like that, we’d have a more healthy and happy humanity.