For the record, Temim Fruchter and Eli Oberman don't know me. And I don't know them. That's why I was pleasantly surprised when Temim responded to a request for an interview. Back in oh, let's say, June, the three of us met at The Tea Lounge on 7th Ave. and 10th St. in Park Slope to talk about their music. I first read about them playing in Williamsburg in a local newspaper, a trek I am not willing to make from Sunset Park on a school night. But it did prompt me to want to be their Myspace friend and learn more.
They befriended me, after all it is a place for friends, is it not? And before I knew it, they are showing their clever marketing skills and leaving me comments with upcoming show dates. In response, I head to Living Room Lounge one night, a haunt in the vicinity of my neighborhood and end up taking a few pictures at their sparsely populated, but well-loved-by-those-who-were-there show. A few weeks later, looking at the photos and when the guilt of not introducing myself still lingered, I left a comment on their page. Then I messaged them and asked for an interview, describing the kind of writing I have done, as to not seem like a complete freak. Temim responded with interest, even though 14 Karat Living is underground and they had no context as to which to describe it or check it out. The sole fact that they were willing and communicative and open during the process of setting something up says much about what they believe, and, how they live.
This is what you should know about The Shondes: they live in Brooklyn (Prospect Heights), they are punk, DIY, Jewish, Queer, classically trained and yes, adorably hot. There's violin and Klezmer thrown into the mix and they talk political, specifically about the movement to get Israel's claws out of Palestine. The quartet isn't messing around, and like most who push the envelope, have heard their fair share of shit talk which they proudly display on their Web site. Self-proclaimed, "shondes" which means disgrace in Yiddish, the band continues to play shows around the NYC area and is working on a studio recorded album in the fall. Half the band (Louisa Solomon and Temim) graced the cover of Curve's August music issue and a solo Temim is slated to appear in an upcoming issue of Heeb. The following is from a conversation with Eli and Temim on a beautiful summer day, sitting on a vintage green couch drinking coffee and eating bagels.
The band is:
Ian Brannigan - Guitar/Vocals
Elijah Oberman - Violin/Vocals
Louisa Solomon - Bass/Vocals
Temim Fruchter - Drums/Vocals
How did you all cross paths and start playing music?Elijah: Louisa and I were in a band together before for about two years and that broke up. She and I had always loved making music together and that was a really awesome way for us to connect in our friendship. It was really important to us. So we found ourselves without a band and were really dying to be in a band together again. We had known Ian when we were in school, started to get to be better friends with Ian, then met Temim through doing activist work around the Republican National Convention. So that’s how all of us met and starting becoming closer and closer friends. We knew Ian played guitar and then we needed a drummer so we asked Temim.
So you didn’t know how to play drums before?Temim: Nods "no."
Wow. That’s pretty impressive. How long ago was this?Eli: Our first show was March 3, 2006. It’s been just over a year for us.
Did you meet Louisa in high school?Eli: Louisa and I met our freshman year in college. I think we were all just really excited about the fact that we all were such good friends and really cared about each other as people and connected about a lot of political stuff with each other. The idea of making music together was just something that made us all really happy. The idea of having music as a way of talking about things that were meaningful to us, as a way of connecting with each other, as a way of putting out a lot of our thoughts and feelings into the world.
Do you all bring different kinds of musical training?Temim: We’re excited about making art that’s political, but I think specifically music speaks to us in different ways. Louisa and Ian come out of more punk traditions in certain ways, I think. I grew up in an orthodox family.
How did that go over?Temim: It’s going. But you know, for me it was a lot of the traditional Jewish tunes and for some of the other people in the band it was more Yiddish secular theatrical melodies. Klezmer...we all relate to music and relate dramatic. Music plays a big role for all of us in different ways. So when we get together it was important to us to say we have a punk ethic, we have a queer politic and we are rooted in all of these traditions that we come from including Klezmer, Jewish literagy, classical and punk rock.
What is queercore?Eli: Queercore is sort of the Riotgrrl, punkish time with specifically queer bands that were overly political. So I think we appreciate that as part of our collective music history because it was overly political and passionate in a way that we all relate to.
Temim: And as a band moving in the indie world in NYC it's important to us to say we do this because we’re passionate about it and there’s an intelligence to it and that’s in addition to just loving playing. And it’s important to us to identify with that.
Is it a way for you to spread a message?Temim: Yeah, it’s a way for us to talk about the things that we care about.
Eli: I mean it’s certainly not about prophesizing. We write songs about things that we’re so emotionally moved about and feeling about, that's important to us. And because we are political often those are political things, but it’s not like we’re going to tell people about our message. We write songs about what’s important to us and things that move us and we hope that it will move you, too.
What has been the response that you’ve gotten? I know you went on a tour. I’m interested in how you funded that, number one, because that probably wasn’t easy to do, and number two, what was the reaction? Was it all positive?Eli: For the most part. My experience is people who find out about us and who are interested in us and come see us play are needing something and are looking for something. The same thing I feel I want and need when I go to see a show. I listen to music because it moves me and because it helps me get in touch with how I think and feel and the way that makes me feel alive.
I think that people who care about what we are want to come see us it's like they want to feel something and they want to be moved and they want people helping them do that. So I think for the most part, people who came to see us really reacted positively because they were looking for something that was the same thing we were looking for.
Temim: The answer to number one is that we just went broke. We’re very committed to the project and we all have nine to fives and took two months off and we were like we’re going to use whatever we have.
Eli: We used as much personal money as we could and people in the music community are very generous, especially if you’re a touring band. When we play shows and people are traveling we always give our money, because that’s the kind of ethic that the DIY community has, so people put us up and fed us and usually gave us their cut of the money at the show. A lot of our expenses were paid for from our shows. The rest was personal.
Can I ask what you guys do for your nine to fiver?Temim: Louisa and I are secretaries at a Jewish institution (Note from 14K: they wouldn't disclose where). It’s pretty conservative and it's a very nine to five situation. Ian works at the National Lawyers Guild and Eli, just started a new job at also a Jewish organization.
We’re all very committed to making work support the band. And it’s working pretty well. I’d say getting two months off to go on tour and then being able to come back to your job is pretty amazing.
Where do you want to go musically? How do you see yourself continue doing this?Temim: We’re looking forward to recording an album in the fall, which is the plan.
Eli: If you know anyone who wants to help fund it, let us know. Temim: I think that in some ways we’re just starting. I feel like we have a bunch of songs and we’ve played a bunch of shows and we play as much as possible and we promote the hell out of ourselves, but in some ways we’re just starting. We’re just starting to develop our musical language and get really excited about the possibilities of what’s happening now that we’re actually building this stronger vocabulary as musicians together and what’s working and what’s not working and how our different musical influences are coming together. I feel like we’re at that moment where we’re all pretty excited about tons of new ideas coming and different types of fusions of things that we thought of in the past.
Eli: I think we all take a lot of pride in the actual craft of our music, I think that it means a lot to me that some of the compliments we’ve gotten from press people, which I think is some of the best compliments you can get, is that we’re really good song writers. Not just like this is an okay band, but our actual craft of how we write our songs is really thoughtful.
How do you do that? What’s your process? Does everybody write them?Eli: Yeah, we usually start with a general idea of what the song is going to be about. Usually the person or people who have written lyrics for the song will have some idea about what kind of different tensions they want in the song and what the mood should feel like and we just work from there and revise.
Our song writing process is really collective so it tends to be a little bit slow but I think that we all feel that the results we get because of that process is so worth it. Both because of how good the song is and because of how it creates community between the four of us and how the four of us feel.
So you know, Temim’s right, we’re on such a fast learning curve, it’s like every three songs or so we feel like we’re in a new era of our songwriting because we’ve figured a bunch of new shit out. But I certainly never feel bad about our old songs, like they’re not well done or whatever. And we also are always revising our old songs based on what we are learning from each other.
When I was at your show and Louisa said something about how you're all leads, that really struck me. I thought that was kind of interesting. Eli: We all switch off, except for Ian who is mostly on harmony right now. Louisa, Temim and I all switch off singing lead vocals and then we have a couple of songs where Temim and Louisa are singing lead at the same time. It’s like co-lead. Instead of a melody and a harmony it’s two melodies. If either one of them stopped singing, we’d still sound like someone was singing lead vocals.
Temim: We just like the idea of our songs feeling like they're a conversation.
You actually put up people saying shit about you on your Web site, which I thought was really good. What better way to get discourse going than to put people on there who are saying 'what the fuck' out there. What’s your response to that, to people who are saying 'you’re too this,' or 'you’re too that?' Temim: We’re called The Shondes and you know, shonde means disgrace and for us it's both a funny and poignant name that describes all of our experiences in different ways. Coming out in one way or another and also just the idea of anyone who’s identity looks different or who's speaking out for justice can be called a shonde or whatever version that is in another language.
Have you heard that word growing up personally?Eli: Not necessarily the word exactly but the...
Temim: The sentiment. I think for us it's important, a lot of our music comes out of wanting to speak to that experience. And so when people respond to our politics badly or poke fun at us in the press or whatever, I think for me at least, it resonates with the feeling of your grandfather being like 'you're such a shonde.' It makes me excited about, sure there are people who think what we’re doing is offensive or they don’t like it, but we’re in a strong enough place to put their comments on our Web site and kind of laugh at them.
Eli: We kind of treat it as a joke. If someone that we really respected made a comment about us that was really negative that made us feel really bad, we wouldn’t put it up there. The things that we put up there we think are really funny. Someone criticizing us by saying, 'we get it already, you’re Jewish,' is just like funny. Again in the tradition of whenever women have made rock music, it's like the male-dominated culture of that; there’s such a long history of women musicians being attacked. No one takes your musicianship seriously...it’s like 'oh, you’re so stupid, or they’re not even hot'...we’re like, sorry.
As a band, what has been your best moment and what has been the most disheartening?Eli: For me, not to sound cheesy, it's like the little moments, when someone comes up to you after the show, at any show, it doesn’t matter how small it was, and says how moved they were by it and you can tell in their face how much it meant to them. Or when a young girl says 'I didn't know I could ever play violin in a rock band and now I want to start one with my friends.' Any of those little individual personal moments with someone who has taken the time to make it clear to you that it meant something to them. 'Oh, I didn’t know that any other Jews thought this about Palestine' or whatever, those are always the most incredible moments for me and those are the moments I think all of us feel like, okay this is worth doing.
Temim: That and an another answer would be, we just did a tour in the Midwest and we did a lot of DIY promotion and we didn’t really know how well it was working and we got to the club we were playing in Minneapolis and there was an enormous crowd and people just had done grassroots promotion with and for us. I love playing energy packed crowded shows, there’s nothing like that. Moments like that are pretty incredible. Oh, this is a show and it's a community event and everybody’s into it together so of course we are going to kick ass on stage.
Eli: When there’s lots of people there and they’re into it, I can’t even say what it does for you. It's such a back and forth, the first show when I looked down at the audience and people were singing out loud, we were like oh my G-d, we flipped out. We kind of freaked out.
Are your parents supportive or is it kind of touchy?Eli: It varies.
Temim: It's been harder for my family and I think generally sharing this type of thing with your family can always be touchy.
Eli: It's human, you're proud of what you do and you want your parents to be proud of you even if you’ve come to a place in your life where you don’t need their approval.
What activism are you doing on Palestine right now, aside from the band?Temim: Louisa, Eli and I are members of Jews Against The Occupation, which is a local group. Basically we do Palestine solidarity work and Jewish end the occupation work. We organized a really large Passover seder. It brings us a lot of new Jewish rituals talking about the history of the occupation and the year 1948, which is a really important place to start when you’re talking about Israel and Palestine. It was really awesome and it brought together a large number of people who weren't all necessarily comfortable with thinking or talking about the issue. It made a space for a conversation.
I think Passover is a huge holiday and I've always wanted to do a really big collaborative seder.Eli: One of the things that people say the most often is 'oh, you’re self-hating Jews, oh, you hate Jews,' all this sort of stuff. I think that something like that, it really hits home how much we value Jewish tradition and Jewish culture and how much we do identify as Jews and how much for us working for justice in the world on so many different fronts including working for justice for Palestinians is a part of what we feel like our Jewish values are. Using something like a holiday that means so much to different people and means so much to us and to have the space for talking about it as part of our tradition and not separate from it, I think that’s what makes it so meaningful. People who are open and asking the tough questions even if they’re not in the same place, that can be a really great way to think about it and engage.
Sometimes that's hard. Even though you might consider yourself progressive and really open and wanting to try to understand oppression I think sometimes it's hard because there is a language that some people don’t have. There’s a language that is intimidating when you talk about oppression and consciousness and I think sometimes people struggle with getting their feelings out because they are scared they are going to offend. That’s a huge wall, and I think it's about the intention behind it. If someone’s being malicious obviously that’s offensive. But if somebody says something and it doesn’t quite come out right, where do you go from there?Eli: I think that brings it back to what our music is about. The potential for people to engage with themselves on the issue of Palestine and lots of other issues in the world. I think that music is such an amazing space for that to take place because it's emotional, not that it's not intellectual, but it's not like reading an academic book, it's not like you have to have all the right words, you’re having an emotional experience. To have something that allows you to tap into all of the various and conflicting and empowered things that you feel about something, I think that’s potentially a really amazing place to start a conversation. We’re all feeling about this and how do we start from there. I think it has the potential to put people in a common place. I think that is one of the things that gives me the most hope about doing music to deal with something in our lives.
What’s next?Eli: Making the record is our number one priority and continuing to try to let people know that we’re out here. Play really good shows and try to get more people out to them. We’re all going crazy not having an album. People are asking us for it so all of our energy is around trying to make that happen. It’s hard because money is a really big issue, but we also don’t want to take the cheapest option because to pour our heart and souls into this music and then make a record that we’re not proud of is going to be really really devastating so we won’t let that happen.
What's your opinion on mainstream gay media?Eli: Almost any chance you have where somebody’s willing to listen, do it. If that’s in a mainstream lesbian magazine, then so be it. It doesn’t mean I think it represents me and I read it whenever it comes out, but it still access to a community that I feel that I have some relationship to. And if they want to hear about us, then I want to tell them. I’m not going to be above it.
What’s your opinion on Heeb magazine?Temim: I think in terms of my feeling about Heeb, I think that it's really good that people are doing stuff to push the Jewish culture off a little bit, I really do. I think I also have a critique of stuff like that because sometimes it doesn’t push as much as I think it should and it doesn’t articulate a politic as much as I think it should.
A lot of stuff in that category of Jewish culture-making is afraid or not interested in articulating a politic that represents radical Jewish community and radical Jewish opinion and I think if you’re going to represent yourself as sort of progressive and edgy you have the responsibility to be political about it.
I’m excited that they wanted to represent The Shondes. I think there’s a lot of new edgy Jewish culture-making and a lot of it certainly lacks a sort of an anti-occupation anti-zionist politic that I would love to see represented.
Eli: I’m Jewish and I identify as Jewish but if I were going to devote my time to make a Jewish cultural space then I would want to know why I was doing that and what it's for. For us, in the band, we are almost always talking about being Jewish in relation to Palestine activism.
How does the queerness come into it all? How does it affect the dynamic?Eli: It's just who we are. We don’t set out to write a Jewish anti-zionist anthem. We don’t set out to write a queer anthem. I feel that it's who we are. I think when you see us live and the way that our energy relates to each other I think it changes your experience of something.
I think that listening to and watching a band perform a song that’s about being a surviver of sexual violence and how it changes your perception of that when that song is being sung by me, a trans person. I think that affects people in a different way.
We saw ourselves get really pigeonholed and we’re here to talk about our music and we’re here to talk about our politics and we’re not going to shy away from talking about our queerness or our gender or whatever but I don’t want it to be the first thing someone sees when they read about us, to be an itemized list of our gender identity. That is what was happening and we figured out we had to talk about it differently if we wanted people to take our music seriously.
Check out The Shondes live at the Birthright Unplugged Benefit, on September 29 in New York City. Click herefor the latest Shondes news.
I took myself out on a date. I read about an exhibit focusing on the sexuality of the disabled and was pulled by the photo depicting the show in this week's Time Out New York. So I decided what better way to spend an afternoon than to go look at sex as art...or art as sex?
Oh, man. I learned a shitload about the variety of fetish out there, in the museum's ongoing exhibit, "Kink: Geography of the Erotic Imagination." Everything to BDMS, to furries, to pony girls, to those who get turned on by very obese women. I LOVED looking at the stereoscopic slides of the glamorous and sexy pin ups photographed by Harold Lloyd between the years of 1953 to 1965. There were home-made sex inventions that included attachable dildos on cleaning appliances and other machinery.
I watched clips of old movies depicting various sexual themes and stood through a documentary on Ellen Stohl, a paraplegic hottie who wrote Hugh Hefner a letter in 1985 which resulted in her own photo spread. "The reason I chose Playboy for this endeavor is that sexuality is the hardest thing for a disabled person to hold onto," she wrote. "This is not to say that they are not capable, but rather that society's emphasis on perfection puts a definite damper on self-esteem."
Stohl's story was intermingled with the exhibit: "Disability & Sexuality...Intimate Encounters, photography by Belinda Mason-Lovering...the photos are striking, not just because of the subjects, but because they are not straight-forward portraits. Montage & trickery come into play to produce a kaleidoscope effect in one photo of Mat Fraser and his partner. Fraser, who has short arms, wrote in his accompanying story, "Fuck your denial. Here we are."
George Taleporos asked Australian Big Brother star and "perfect-bodied" hunk Gordon Sloan to pose with him in his photo, set in a junkyard. Sloan is stepping on Taleporos shrunken body, George's head looking oversized and awkward, while simultaneously holding George above his head.
"Is my body the antithesis of the masculine ideal?" Taleporos asks in writing about his photo named 'Friend or Foe.' "How do we treat the trash in our visual landscape? Do we toss it in the dump or do we use our greater strength to lift it into the sun and the blue sky above? Would you choose to lift me up and be my wings or will you crush my spirit and leave me in a heap of garbage to rot?"
The first photo, struck me hard. Kath Duncan, a beautiful and curvy woman naked among rocks, reaching for the sky--with her left arm and right leg missing. She is totally beautiful and undeniably illustrating major strength and confidence. "My dream is to see all us cripples, no matter our age, body shape, sexual preferences or rationality, show our sexuality and our pride and our ability to love and be free, and shout it outloud," she wrote about her photograph, named "Embracing Life." I'd say.
Go check it out. You have until September 16 to see Mason-Lovering's photos. MoSex is located at 233 Fifth Ave at 27th. 212-689-6337.
I had the opportunity to visit NBC studios right there in Rockefeller Center, sit where “Saturday Night Live” is taped and be entertained by six very funny ladies, and one not-so-funny guy on speed who was infatuated with Barbra Streisand's voice pitch.
Number two on the line up was a gal Robin Gelfenbien, whose credits include driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile (in which she is currently writing a solo show about) and writing the monologue/speech for Rosie O’Donnell during the NYWICI’s(that would be the New York Women in Communications) Matrix Awards in April.
Funny, the comedy program didn’t say that. It said, she worked on scripting the NYWICI awards, but on Gelfenbien’s Web site, she gets a little more specific, rounding out just who’s script she was busy writing. If you all don’t remember, Rosie got some flack from grabbing her crotch when referencing Donald Trump, and made a few ladies almost choke on their salads with some of her elbowing at Rupert Murdoch, the owner of News Corp. the parent to The New York Post and now, sadly, Dow Jones & Co. which publishes the Wall Street Journal.
ANYWAY, Ms. Gelfenbien was funny with her electronic keyboard singing about being the only Jew at a Catholic camp, and wearing menorah socks during a one-night stand, but she really blew it up in a sketch with another comedian, Andrea Alton. They go back and forth as women waiting for men; Lynne is an old colonial penning her love, letting him know she’ll be waiting for him forever, even after 17 years. Robin is on her iBook, e-mailing, IMing and texting the day after a hook-up and when she doesn’t hear back from him immediately, continues to descend into a paranoia state of rejection. When she does finally hear back from the guy, after writing him e-mails addressed as “fuck face” he writes her “sorry I didn’t get back to you, our server’s been down all day. I see you’ve left me like 30 messages, I guess I’m just forced to post them on my blog.” I was laughing so hard, between Robin’s binge eating camp-out in front of her technology, to her compulsive desire to hear back from this dude immediately, along with the juxtaposition of the colonial lady’s desperateness…it was damn timeless and very well-executed.
Yeah, there were other good comedians there. Another favorite was Karith Foster, who has a very cute Web site and self-proclaims she’s a Huxtable. Hailing from Plano, Texas, the lady jokes about spinning class (where she describes instructors as Satan, and well, they are), dieting and dating. They may be common themes, but she’s pretty hot to look at and can shoot a joke off with ease.
The headliner sucked. Sorry. Lynne Koplitz was supposed to be funny. I mean, she’s certainly hot in that blonde, perfect body, soccer mom sort of way. But she ran her jokes too long, (sometimes it just gets tiring when they are stretched beyond the life they should live in air, up on stage) and she made an unfunny racist slur about Arabs, in the context that she would understand better why they would be on belt buckles rather than the Nazi decorated ones she sees around the city. What? I didn’t get the joke, in the first place, and then when she added the Arab bit, it was just time to go home. She is probably funny, perhaps she was having an off night. G-d knows we all have ‘em.
Cheers to her, and all the comedians that night and every night who get up there in the goal of pure entertainment.