We had the pleasure to meet one of our all-time favourite singers and songwriters – the one and only – LIOR. We met backstage at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney, and we’re going to talk about his music, his life and his career.
Hope you enjoy!
What inspired you to start playing music?
Lior: I picked up the guitar at age 10 or 11. I actually started a few years with classical guitar, because that was a teacher I knew and then started singing and then just became really interested in songwriting which became my form of expression. Because I’d learnt classical guitar, and I had the grounding for finger-picking, I was getting more out of the guitar and more interesting accompaniments. And then as I was discovering music I found myself really drawn to the late 60s, early 79s era of songwriters. Both the rock bands of Led Zeppelin, and the Doors and The Beatles, but also James Taylor and Joanie Mitchell, and all these people that wrote really interesting songs that had really engaging lyrics. And I think that I just felt that’s what I want to do, I want to make people feel the same thing these people were make me feel.
Thinking about it now, what is it about the guitar that really grabbed you?
Lior: I don’t know, I don’t think I realised this at the time, but I think there’s a certain earthiness to the guitar. It’s an imperfect instrument. It’s never perfectly in tune and the sounds of moving your fingers. I don’t know, there’s just something about it that’s very organic and earthy and it just feels very real to me.
And you said you had a few lessons. What was the learning process like for you?
Lior: Yeah, I had formal lessons with a teacher and it was really grounded in classical guitar, so it was about learning to read music and learn to use both hands on a guitar. And then I just sort of hit a point where I felt that I’m not going to be a concert artist and I’m more into contemporary music than I am into classical music. But I feel like I’ve had a grounding to make up and explore. And that was around the time I was just getting into singing, and singing was really self-taught. I just sang a lot of Blues, and just found my own voice. And it was only later that I got a few lessons with a teacher to help me with my breath and – because I was losing my voice at gigs and – just to get a of those technique notes so that I could actually have some endurance. But it’s an ongoing learning process. I’m still discovering things about my voice and the guitar that I don’t know.
In those early learning days, what were some of the songs you learnt?
Lior: Well my party trick was “Crying Shame” by Johnny Diesel, which was the first song I kind of learnt and performed. I was really into The Doors and Led Zeppelin. I remember getting the Led Zeppelin songbook and was really inspired by Jimmy Page’s guitar playing. Nick Drake, later on in life. He’s lesser known, but the way he used the alternate tunings for the guitar and particularly embellished them with really lush string arrangements. That really spoke to me as well.
Obviously you’ve got so much performance experience now, but what about your early performance experiences?
Lior: Through the late teens to early 20s I was still playing in bands and that was great just to learn how to lead a band, to compromise, to communicate, all of that sort of stuff. It was only at the age of 23 where I felt like I was courageous enough to go out on stage on my own and play my own songs, and it was terrifying initially. But also I remember my first gig playing solo and I remember it having this real intimacy and resonance with an audience that was very powerful, and was one I hadn’t experienced before. And that was what gave me the affirmation, like this is your path and that was how I best communicated with people, musically. And I think that’s what takes a while to find out, for everyone, is to explore. What are my strengths? Let’s play to that because when you’re young you think you can do everything and then when you’re old you go, oh actually it’s about doing one or two things really well.
What were some of the challenges for you when you were first starting out?
Lior: Well playing in the bands, my biggest part was always that I was writing the songs and bringing them. So just to compromise. And I think when you lack the maturity to listen to other people, and its all about respecting and trusting other people and not thinking that you’re always right. So that was probably putting a test to the friendships. That was probably the biggest challenge.
Is that the reason you like going out there by yourself, because you can go back to just having that absolute control?
Lior: I think so. I think I ultimately did want creative control, and being the songwriter, I wanted to drive it. But also the older I got, you know I have a band that have been mostly been with me from the beginning. And I’ve learnt to really just open things up to them and I very much value their input, and they have a lot of creative input that goes into the arrangement and recording of the songs, and the performances of them live, as well.
When you’re writing something, is it a collaborative process, or is it more you who puts them together?
Lior: Yeah, I’ll generally bring a finished song. So for me, it’s very important for the lyrics to be finished. Because I feel like, if the lyrics say what I want to say and the idea is succinctly put in that song, then the music feels to me like trial and error. If something’s not working, we’ll try something else. So we’ll try it that way until it works. But for me the lyric is number one – that has to be right.
In our work with the music school we have so many people just starting out with instruments and I was saying to you earlier that they just hit this wall. They get a little while in, and they often get discouraged or run out of momentum. Can you speak to us about that for a little bit, in the way of advice that you can give to someone in that stage of their music.
Lior: Being an artist is a challenging road and it has to be driven out of passion and curiosity and inspiration. And it’s ok if you run out of that and you decide that it’s not something you want to do anymore. But if you do want to do it, but you’re feeling stuck that you’re not moving forward, then it’s learning and opening the boundaries of what you think your knowledge is, because our knowledge is always confined to the boundaries that we put around it.
So, learning from as many people as you can, and also the creative process I think – I run a lot of songwriting workshops, and one thing I talk about is approaching a song or something a piece of music that you’re writing, like a film, and storyboarding it out and just stepping back and looking at the big picture. As to what you want to express – almost drawing a map of what you want to say and then getting into the detail because I think with a lot of young songwriters, they have an idea and they’ll write a line, then they’ll write another line and its filled piece by piece, but because they’re doing it in such a small step by step way the message kind of gets lost. Then I think that’s when you can lose heart because you can just feel like it’s just a random fumbling in the dark kind of process.
Have you had times in your life where you’ve sort of lost the meanings of your cause or steered away from it?
Lior: Sure, and I think that’s also the thing of getting a bit older and looking back at what you’ve done and realizing that your career has just gone like that, and any artist’s journey just goes up and down. The luxury of being a bit further down the track is that you can just go, oh I’ve been here before, and it’s come up, and I’ve just got to keep going. In all the time that I’ve been doing it, all the things I’ve been doing. The only mantra I ever come back to is ‘just keep going’. It’s just the three words that I keep coming back to.
In those times, do you have a way that you bring yourself back up or is it just an ebb and flow.
Lior: You know it sounds really simple, but quite often I’ll just go back and listen to some of the music that inspired me, or search for new music. As soon as I get that feeling I go, ah that’s right. That’s why I started doing it, because it has such a profound impact on me. And then I feel that fire kick in again. It sounds simple, but we just forget and we need reminders.
You mentioned something about artists that inspired you early on, what are the modern artists that you really love at the moment?
Lior: There’s a singer songwriter by the name of Fiest – Canadian singer/songwriter that’s just great. A guy called Rufus Wainwright, he’s great. I’m just really into songwriters that write interesting songs both lyrically and structurally as well. There’s a band called The Bahamas I just saw that are really great. Yeah, there’s something about Canadian songwriters that just speaks to me. I don’t know why.
What does music mean to you?
Lior: Without sounding over-pretentious, I think music has probably always been my spirituality and I’ve been interested in certain traditions to do with religion but I’ve never really been drawn to be an observant religious person. And I think that’s because music has always held that place of spirituality for me, that escapism, that feeling that there’s a higher plane in life, there’s something beyond the everyday routine of what we do and what we get caught up in. Something that gives you the feeling that yes, there is something greater.