August 27, 2006
Golem (in this context) isn’t the character from Lord of the Rings, but is a 6 piece band from Brooklyn, NY who is not only schooled in traditional Klezmer/Yiddish Muzak, but kick-ass live performers too. I had the chance to see them play at the Beachland in Cleveland, and I am really glad I went. It was by far one of the best shows I’ve seen in quite some time.
The musicianship amongst the members of the band is very tight and spot-on, and at the same time chaotic. Everyone was so animated and engaging, let alone talented. The tiny Annette Ezekiel (ringleader) is such an adorable little lady, and can play the fuck out of the accordion (FYI: I LOVE the accordion, and rarely ever see women playing it… which is one of the main reasons this band piqued my interest!)
Aaron Diskin (the other ringleader) is fucking hilarious! He’s a great singer, but he’s got stage charisma… and when he and Annette duet… it’s larger than life! Alicia Jo Rabins is a virtuoso with her fiddle… her technique literally made me drool! When you see musicians that skilled with their craft, you respect and envy it at the same time… its beautiful, but it makes you want to kick yourself in the ass for not giving a musical instrument that kind of dedication.
Curtis Hasselbring on the Trombone… what can I say… anyone who can play a trombone all night and not pass-out from oxygen deprivation is the bomb! Taylor Bergren-Chrisman the red-haired bassist (or as Annette stated that the Yiddish term for a redhead is a “Gingey” – which I might just adopt this as my new nickname since I share the same MC1R gene variant) just seemed to be in orbit whilst playing the upright contrabass… he made it look like a fun instrument. And Tim Monaghan on the drums… that guy just straight-up rocked! Between the drummer and the redhead, they were a great backbeat duo not to be contended with.
The band as a whole, are perfect! In fact, they pretty much sound like the band I always wanted to form, but since I don’t know how to play the accordion, fiddle, brass, etc… and I am not multi-lingual… it just was never meant to be for me… but I am so very glad another band has made that beautiful sound their reality (and this is not the Slivovitz doing the talking… and if you are wondering what that is… let’s just say it was a complementary beverage served at the show that had the burn of rocket fuel and the taste of turpentine. It was HARDCORE, but a nice gesture!)
To give a bit more of a background on the group, I interviewed the lovely singer/accordionist/linguist/founder of the group, Annette Ezekiel:
JF: Who are all of the members of Golem, and how/when/where/why did Golem form? Do the members of Golem have previous discographies?
AE: Me… Annette Ezekiel (vocals, accordion, bandleader) – no previous discography. Aaron Diskin (vocals) – was in a rock band for ten years with Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and now has a rock band called Lycaon Pictus; Alicia Jo Rabins (violin) – has solo bluegrass and old time appalachian CD; Curtis Hasselbring (trombone) – has a huge amount of jazz recordings, avant garde jazz, etc.. his own group (he is the composer) is called New Mellow Edwards ; Taylor Bergren-Chrisman (contrabass) – jazz and traditional music, plays with Las Rubias del Norte (latin jazz); Tim Monaghan (drums) jazz and rock.. in a rock band called Jack.
I started Golem about 4 years ago.. my brainchild and dream! I went to high school with Aaron (the singer) and was lucky enough to find the others through word of mouth. Most of us live in Brooklyn.
JF: What does GOLEM mean?
AE: The Golem is a legendary Jewish Frankenstein-type monster from Prague. The story goes that a great rabbi in the 17th century formed a clay monster, a golem, and brought it to life in order to protect the Jewish community. The golem had a good heart but went a little crazy, so the rabbi had to put it back down to clay. I think our group is a kind of golem – we have a good heart and love and respect old Jewish music, but we play it like a big out-of-control monster, without being delicate and careful.
JF: How did Golem become what it is today? What led you to this path of crossover genres?
AE: I have always been interested in Eastern European folk music, since my early days as a Ukrainian folk dancer. I got into klezmer music and was fascinated by the crossover of Jewish and all kinds of Eastern European non-Jewish music (Ukrainian, Russian, and Gypsy, Balkan). As for mixing this traditional music with a rock and roll contemporary feel – I wanted to express the energy that the music has within it to the fullest – and I feel that that energy is a very contemporary one…
JF: How did Klezmer work itself in the equation, and for those who don’t know what Klezmer is, what is your definition of it?
AE: Klezmer is the name given to Jewish party and street music from Eastern Europe. The word “klezmer” actually refers to the musicians who played that kind of music – a klezmer. Klezmer musicians weren’t considered very respectable – they wandered around from place to place, playing weddings and parties, and had a reputation for partying a lot themselves. The rockers of their time! When the huge Jewish immigration to America happened, klezmer music crossed the ocean too.. and the music continued to evolve in the States, mixing with jazz and the street music that was going on here, getting a new energy. We’re taking it one step further.
JF: How long did it take to learn the accordion?
AE: I played classical piano from the age of 5 (my grandmother was a concert pianist), and I started accordion because I wanted something I could carry around (and also I was in love with the accordion sound from Ukrainian dance). It wasn’t that hard because I already played piano. But I had to practice in front of the mirror for a while!
JF: Are the tunes of Golem traditional songs, traditional variations, or original creations (or all of the above)?
AE: Most of our songs are traditional, from the early 20th century or even earlier.. but we do our own crazy arrangements of them. One song on the album is an original: “Warsaw is Khelm” with guest vocalist Amanda Palmer from the Dresden Dolls. I was inspired to write the lyrics by an old Yiddish folktale.
JF: With bands out there like Golem, Gogol Bordello, Balkan Beat box, Shotnez, etc who are making Eastern European traditions accessible to a broader audience, do you think there are more bands up starting in this vein, or have they always been around, and now the music industry has finally taken notice?
AE: I think it’s a new trend in the last few years – mainly which a greater audience has started to dig this kind of music and realize how cool, dark and exciting it is. People have been playing it for centuries, but suddenly, more mainstream America is into it…. partly a return to roots, partly a pure newfound appreciation of the Eastern European sound.
JF: You’re band is from NYC, is there an Eastern European music scene there? If so, is it scary to perform outside of your home base to audiences in other US cities that just don’t ‘get it’ so to speak? Do you find it difficult to present your music outside of your neighborhood so to speak?
AE: Yes, there’s an Eastern European music scene here, but that’s not really what we cater to. “Purists” tend to think we’re too wild and take too many liberties, though many of them do appreciate what we’re doing. But we tend to play for rock club crowds that are not necessarily familiar with it. Not scary at all – exciting!!!
JF: Has Golem performed in Europe, if so, how was it received?
AE: Not yet – looking forward to it.
JF: What should the audience expect from a Golem show?
AE: A wild, energetic, passionate performance with a lot of personality, humor, crazy energy, and a streak of darkness…And of course, a beat you have to dance to!
JF: You have a new album coming out soon, would you care to talk about it? IE How long has it been in the making, etc… anything you want to say about it?
AE: The release date was Aug 22! We are so excited – it’s called “Fresh Off Boat” – that’s a name (F.O. B. for short) that immigrants call newer immigrants than themselves… This is our first album with amazing record label, Jdub Records -they put Mattisyahu on the map, and have been doing amazing stuff for us – they put out Jewish music with mainstream interest and they really understand what we’re trying to do. They found us an amazing producer for this record – Emery Dobyns (Patti Smith, Antony and the Johnsons, the Battles) who did an incredible job with us. Also, we have 3 guest stars from the non-eastern euro rock world on the album: Amanda Palmer, Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith) and Mike Gordon (Phish).
JF: A typical question: what are some of your favorites musical acts? Do any contemporaries influence your work?
AE: The band has all kinds of influences, from reggae to punk to rap to everything in between. It all shines through in the mix of all our different personalities and musical backgrounds. I myself am stuck in the last century, listening mainly to old Yiddish, Russian and Gypsy folk music… however, I love the Pogues, Austrian folk/punk band Attwenger, and stuff like that.. great influences.
JF: Any last words???
AE: Check out Fresh Off Boat, and definitely come see us live!! And as they say in Yiddish: Be healthy and strong!
Golem Tour Dates:
August 29 – Washington, DC – Red and Black Bar
August 30 – Philadelphia, PA – Khyber
September 3 – Pittsburgh, PA – William Pitt Union at U. of P
September 4 – Toronto, ON – Harbourfront Centre
September 6 – Newport, KY – Southgate House
September 7 – Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
September 12 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel
September 13 – Blacksburg, VA – Lyric Theatre at Virginia Tech
September 14 – Philadelphia, PA – NXNW
September 15 – Baltimore, MD – Fletchers
September 17 – Ithaca, NY – Castaways