Interview: Noga Erez On Empathy & New Album ‘KIDS’

Israeli hip-hop/ pop artist Noga Erez projects confidence through tumult on her catchy new album KIDS, available now from City Slang.

In an organically free-flowing fashion, the album features an impressive array of sounds, and the whole venture feels grounded in a kind of earthy and meditative haze. Tracks like “No News On TV” and “Fire Kites” feature particularly pointed instrumentals, while as a whole, the album seems tied to rather personal feelings of anxiety and catharsis. The crisply produced tracks, which Erez crafted alongside her partner and collaborator Ori Rousso, feel like an active dialogue, with Erez’s emotively wavering vocals at the center.

“I had that mission after my first album to make this album as cohesive as possible, and while I was on that mission, I wasn’t able to make music because I was so stressed about making something that would have some similarity to it,” Erez explains. “And then once I let go of that concept, I was able to create music, and I really decided not to box anything in. I think that when you’re talking about and trying to find an emotional core to this whole thing, I think a lot of it has to do with dealing with anger through seeking empathy. This is the whole concept of KIDS, basically — it’s an exercise in empathy, basically.”

This underpinning of empathy poignantly shines through the album. While the instrumentals and Erez’s singing sometimes come across as confrontational, there’s also a just about ever-present shimmering sense of resolve. The music delivers a subtle but persistent swagger, like the sound of finding a way to dance — even if alone — through an emotional haze.

Fittingly, some of the real-world background for KIDS involves rather personal contemplation.

“The album started as something completely different,” Erez explains. “Myself and my partner, Ori Rousso, who makes the music together with me […], we started this album thinking: This is gonna be an album that talks about mainly death and grief over someone close and someone that you love, and that kind of led us to writing a line of really heavy and emotional songs about losing someone that you love.

But for me to witness a situation where the person that I love the most, who is Ori, and he’s also my partner in life — he lost his mother, so it gave me perspective about this whole thing because I started to think about what would happen if I lost my mother. And then this whole thing about being somebody’s child started resonating with how much anger I was dealing with in the past years and how much I’ve dealt with it with Off The Radar, my first album, and all those little things kind of came together.”

More broadly, Erez adds that she finds it “relaxing” to lean on empathy in tough situations instead of relying on anger.

“So when it comes to a very, very basic and personal level, you have to let go of some things, and some things that happened in my past, like past relationships, and that kind of stuff,” the artist shares. “I had to kind of deal with my anger with empathy, trying to understand that even if some things were done to me that were hurtful, the intention wasn’t always to be hurtful, and that when people hurt other people, many times it’s not because they wanna hurt somebody.

And then when it comes to a broader level, when it comes to a global level, a lot of my anger used to be about what is happening in my country politically and what is happening in the world and how everything kind of started to feel so blended and weird and confusing and fake. And instead of just being angry about it, I was really trying to figure out why it tends to be like that and what is the nature of these things, and I find it to be a very relaxing concept to think how people are brought to the situation that they do awful things, you know?”

KIDS relates some of this journey towards replacing anger with empathy via songs that feel comfortably self-assured, even while simmering with passion. While Erez, Rousso, and their collaborators leap across the spectrum from the smoky and understated drama of moments like the title track to the more aggressive rhythms on “VIEWS” and elsewhere, the music always feels emotionally accessible. Aggression isn’t the only point that the songs hit — there’s also melancholy, hope, uncertainty, and more.

The album often seems quite finely tuned to provide a backbone for Erez’s storytelling. There’s plenty of breathing room within the songs to really move along with the rhythms, like smiling — or dancing — in the shadow of some looming tension rather than getting consumed by the malaise.

“For me, it always feels like: Why not try to emphasize the meaning of the lyrics through sound?” Erez says. “It’s the same thing that happens with videos: Why not use the meaning of the song to create a beautiful visual? And I know that there’s a different approach to those things — sometimes you just create an atmosphere, and you don’t necessarily have to choose the moment to always paint the picture so clearly with your sound or with your visuals.

But for me and also for Ori, I feel like we’re both so connected to the sonic sound of how we create music. It’s the only way to kind of capture an emotional moment, because even though our lyrics could try to attempt to do that, it’s not the same as capturing a moment or an emotion or a state of mind through music. Music is just so much more accurate to those things.”

For Erez, her connection with Rousso helped grow her creative process.

“I was exploring with music for a very long time before I started releasing music under my name,” she explains. “And I released music under my name before Off The Radar, which was my debut album, but it was all kind of like just a very raw experiment. I was always kind of making music in one way or another, but it took me awhile to be confident enough to say: Yes, this is the type of music that I wanna make, and a lot of it has to do with me meeting the producer that I work with right now.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of luck if you’re able to find that person who will help you get your artist out, get your true vision out — then you’re able to do the things that weren’t possible to you. For me that was the case. I was just searching and searching, and Ori was just that person who helped me find it or continue searching.”

These days, Erez shares that she’s very keen on developing a multi-faceted presentation for her work after the songwriting and recording stages. 

“I’m not the type of artist to say: I just make the music, and then everything that has to do with bringing it out, releasing it, marketing, making it something that as many people as possible could listen to — I don’t walk away from that part of the process,” she shares. “I feel like we make music that at times could be edgy. […] To some ears, it could feel very poppy, but I think it is a very important and also interesting process to make the music accessible to as many people as possible.”

Ahead of the release of KIDS, Erez, Rousso, and collaborators produced acoustic versions of a selection of tracks and shared live performance videos showcasing these renditions — and some of the footage made quite a splash. A video featuring “VIEWS” in an acoustic format — complete with, among other elements, a live trombone performance — easily hit a view count on par with other work that Erez has released.

Erez planned to continue this effort to reach listeners via a livestream performance celebrating the release of KIDS that was described on its ticketing site as set to feature “an army of dancers, band members & crew.”

The acoustic performance videos, Erez observes, helped folks see the songwriting at the core of the tracks.

“For every single that we have put out, we created an acoustic version, and it became a series that we call Kids Against The Machine,” Erez explains. “And basically the concept is that we took out the machines from the songs, because the songs are so heavily produced, and we felt like there were proper songs to reveal when the production is not as heavy.

So we created a bunch of videos, and some of them were exceptionally more viral than the original, because for some people, it just takes the good song and then something that sounds softer for them to go to the original version and like it as well. So this was an artistic move. It was an artistic thought. But it also had a lot to do with how do we make this thing relatable and how do we get more people to have a better, softer entry to our work.”

Thanks to the album’s smooth passion, KIDS ultimately feels a bit cinematic, and the scope is pretty grand. The music feels focused more on the open-ended journey than any particular end destination, and the songs feel warmly inviting. 

“I basically was born an angry person,” Erez shares, adding: “It doesn’t lead to many places. […] When you think that empathy is a way to connect with the wrongness of the world, I think more productive things could come out of it, on so many different levels.”

KIDS reflects this experience. “I don’t feel like anything is solved,” Erez observes. “I didn’t reach the end goal when it comes to how I want things to affect me from the outside world and how I wanna reflect that over to the world, but I do feel like it helped me to go through a process, and to move forward. Making music has a lot to do with therapy for me.”

Purchase this album at this link.

Featured Image via R604M

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