Israel has always had a flourishing music scene, but one band to break out of the Holy Land and find success elsewhere are indie rockers Izabo.
The band, who have been together for 13 years, released the five track EP Morning Hero in the UK in 2004 (to great reviews), and played a string of dates in cities including London and Cardiff. This year they've scored a hit in their homeland with the track Hu.
Lead singer Ram Shem Tov talks about the band's slow but steady rise to fame.
How did the band come together?
I formed the band with my girlfriend Shiri, who plays keyboards – the band have actually been around for 12 years with various line-ups. Then five years ago another drummer came in, and this is the new Izabo. There are four of us now.
Where did the band's name come from?
It was taken from a film called Ladyhawke with Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer. Her character was called Izabo, and I remember 12 years ago we didn't have a name for the band – then Shiri came up with this idea and we immediately thought it was a good name.
What's the music scene like in Israel at the moment?
I think it's more or less the same as anywhere else in the world – although it's going to take some of the bands a while to break through because they've only just started singing in English. But in terms of bands to look out for, there's a band called Rockfour – they're friends of ours – they're touring the US at the moment, they have a deal with a record label in the US. There's also a guy called Aviv Geffen, who's doing a project with an English guy called Blackfield. More and more bands are trying to do stuff in English now.
What sort of music are you influenced by?
It's a big range of music, but I'm influenced first of all by rock n'roll from the 60s and 70s, by disco music, by music from the action movies of the 70s, especially Bruce Lee films, by Arabic and Middle Eastern music. So it's almost everything and I mix it into my own milkshake, you know?
Would you ever consider singing in Hebrew as well as English?
I know this – I'm Israeli in every sense, I like everything about Israel, including my language, but when I sing rock n'roll, English is best. I think it's because when I was a child I listened to great bands on the radio singing in English and part of what made them great was the language. It seems very natural for me to speak in Hebrew and sing in English. I probably know how to speak Hebrew more than speak English – but I'm getting better!
What's your own background?
I grew up in Petach Tikva, which is a small grey town near Tel Aviv. I bought my first guitar in high school, but originally I was more interested in painting – I always liked to create big things from nothing but then I thought 'why don't I do music?' So I began to write songs and slowly I left the painting behind. I never actually learned music, I learned from the bands I admired – lately, I don't listen to a lot of music. For me, I want to be a little disconnected from that world, because I think being original is very very important.
What does your family make of your music career?
In the beginning when I was playing my guitar in high school and didn't pay much attention to learning, my father was quite mad – he was like 'what's going to happen with this guitar'? But in the last seven years, especially when I became a well-known record producer in Israel, he's realised I've done the right thing. They're really happy for me and they like the music.
For more information, visit the band's website: www.izabo.co.uk