Tel Aviv singer Noga Erez has taken the electro/EDM scene by storm; but best not to pigeonhole her, as the grainy textures and potent atmospherics forged with her synths and ingenious beats find her bravely straddling genres. And while the music she makes in collaboration with her partner and co-writer, composer and producer Ori Rousso, and is characterized by the more physical, dynamic elements of electronic and pop, it also embraces a cerebral sensitivity that’s established her one of Israel’s most exciting, idiosyncratic artists.
Erez, who, prior to the pandemic, was booked for the since-cancelled SXSW, the Standard East Village in New York, and Virgin Fest in Los Angeles, sat for an exclusive quarantine interview and photoshoot for BlackBook. She shared what social distancing meant for her, reflected on the philosophies of performance artist Marina Abramovic, and revealed the meaning of her new single and video, “NO news on TV,” which drops today, June 23.
In “NO news on TV,” the lyrics are very relatable to the current state of the world: you sing, “I don’t want to look at my phone anymore, I don’t want to roll like a stone anymore.” What is the inspiration behind this song?
This is the very first time I’m talking about this single and I’m very excited. It is a reference to The Rolling Stones and to the [Bob Dylan] song “Like a Rolling Stone.” As the world started to grapple with the pandemic, everything got cancelled; and I was initially very disappointed because I had a lot of opportunities out there that have been cancelled or postponed. But in some strange way, I felt like everything that happened and all the quiet around me, I actually needed. I didn’t realize that I needed it at first, but I did need it. And I fell into this place of euphoria, I would even say. I really needed a deep place of peace and quiet. Obviously, I had the notion that there’s something crazy and bad happening in the world, but for me, in my home and in my mind, my creativity was in a better place. So, I allowed myself to imagine a world where there’s no pressure and you don’t have to make money.
I call it a “A children’s song for adults” because it shows a naive, utopian reflection of reality. It tells more about a state of mind rather than something real, a place of being able to actually imagine a world with no politics, money, grit, racism, violence. I just needed to have a song like that. An escape song. A song about redemption from everything that keeps us locked in and takes our freedom.
Sometimes being alone time can be therapeutic; but many people who have been in isolation during the outbreak are seeking connection. On a personal level, outside of creating, did you find ways to connect with family or close friends?
Everyone took it very differently, and I do know many people took it as break. I’m talking in past tense here because the virus was contained quickly in Israel, and restrictions have been lifted. Things are pretty much back to life here. During the crisis, I was working the entire time and I was being creative and working on my music. The main difference for me was that we didn’t have to deal with all the rest of the stuff that happens when life is normal; it was quiet. For me, it was a full creative zone—one of incredible productivity that I had never experienced before.
With the death of George Floyd, things have changed virtually overnight, and you have gone from, in a sense, celebrating the quiet of isolation, to feeling the need to reengage with the world, posting on social about racial injustice.
I have given this a lot of thought, and it took me a bit of time to address this subject. When I compare it to how people from the outside observe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I recognized that, like them, I had not lived through or been part the civil rights movement and battle for racial equality. So I had a responsibility to educate myself about this whole topic, because I didn’t learn much about it in school and had no direct experience with it. Black music and culture is such an important influence on my own music, and I felt that I had a responsibility to speak up about racial inequality. I think that there is an awakening going on around the world.
But you’ve taken some flack because you are Israeli, and Israel is often demonized for its treatment of Palestinians.
I wrote and rewrote my social post multiple times, trying to strike the right balance to express solidarity. I am indeed an outsider to this situation, but it is painful to see those things happening in a world that should be much more advanced. I come from a place that has been criticized for what people see as injustices. And I believe that injustice is injustice, regardless of where it comes from; and I have criticized my own government. I have been involved in protests for social justice since I was a child, and my parents took me to them.
What is your process for sourcing collaborations? Your music is very personal, so how do you determine who to work with?
My creative process is personal; but at the same time, I’m constantly working with a collaborator, my partner, Ori Rousso. I’m used to communicating my ideas. It’s about allowing something fresh to come in, it’s always an exciting experience. If it’s a feature, someone being a guest on the song, it’s usually a long distance connection through e-mails, through FaceTime, and a creative experience of back and forth that eventually culminates in the recording. Every time I make the decision to step out of my zone and have other people come in, I never regret it. It’s a learning experience.
Growing up in Israel, who were your musical influences?
My parents are big music lovers, so music was played in the house all the time. Music from Israel, oldies from Israel, classics of Israeli culture, but also a lot of influence from around the world; my main ones being The Beatles, Leonard Cohen, ABBA, and Simon & Garfunkel.
How does fashion play a role in your videos’ aesthetics?
Until I needed to get dressed for concerts, I never really cared about fashion. I would always wear the first thing that I found hanging in my closet. But now my interests have shifted very radically into really wanting to use fashion as a form of self-expression, especially as I became more deeply committed to my music. I’m gradually getting to a place where I know what I like wearing and know what I am trying to present through fashion.
So you are your own stylist, based on how you feel?
It really depends where I am, because I do have an amazing stylist in London, David Evans. In other places, most of the time, I would be styling myself. I recently started a collaboration with a designer here in Israel, Shir Shtarker, we are working together on a collection of suits. My focus now is suits, ties, tuxedos, you know, traditional men’s tailored and formal looks, but with a twist. I think it’s kind of like a grown-up version of me being a tomboy. I never liked wearing girlie things. We designed five suits, so there’s like 25 different combinations.
Tell us about the new video.
Usually, my visuals focus on presenting the beat, the cuts are always timed with the music. But here we were trying to find a way to contradict the upbeat song with longer shots, that serve the meaning of the song rather than the beat. I wanted to play a character that is very different from how I see myself, and the feeling of boredom playing a big part in a subconscious way throughout the video. The bear here is an intruder, a threat coming from the outside world and messing up the utopia, and also salvaging the character from the underwhelming feeling of having no worries or trouble. Once she gets friendly and intimate with the intruder she instantly realizes the outside world is too scary, too intense and she decides to get rid of it and go back to closing herself off from anything outside her beautiful, perfect boredom.
What do you want people to experience through your music?
I just watched the documentary about [performance artist] Marina Abramovic. And I feel like I’m a bit confused after watching it, because everything she says about her manifesto on art is just so different from mine. Her manifesto is, “don’t steal from other artists”…and my philosophy is to take inspiration from wherever you can, and do whatever you can to make space for your creativity. In contrast, she pushes you to challenge your originality again and again. Sometimes I find myself struggling with it when I try to write lyrics. I can only say that it has always been my thing, to be able to just shift peoples’ states of mind.
Now with travel restrictions and music festivals being cancelled, how are you connecting with your audience?
I’ve been touring, and I feel like I’m one of those artists who needs a stage—not only for the connection with people, but also to make each song feel like a different experience every time, even though I might be singing that song for the millionth time. I miss performing terribly; but I am hoping that people just play the new single in their quarantine situations and just shift.