Israeli Singer Tamar Eisenman Takes Some Time for Creation

If the time comes when people are no longer surprised by female guitarists, Eisenman will be able to take some credit for it.

Tamar Eisenman and her band were guests on Yoav Kutner's Army Radio program two Sundays ago. Two hours before the show, as they were sound checking and rehearsing the song "My Dreams," into the studio walked a bunch of children accompanied by reporter Hadas Shteif. These were children whose fathers had been killed in the Second Lebanon War. They watched Eisenman and began to move slightly to the beat of the music. Then a boy of about 10 turned to one of the adults accompanying the group, and asked offhandedly: "Since when do girls play the guitar?"

Singer-songwriter Eisenman was intent on her playing and did not hear the comment, but when asked about it, she sighs and says she's heard it many times and is tired of the whole subject - although she immediately adds that it has a psychological importance. For the future generation of local music lovers, too, she predicts, the sight of a woman with an electric guitar is still not going to be totally natural, and thus the issue remains on the agenda. And when it is no longer an oddity - soon, it is to be hoped - Eisenman will certainly be able to take substantial credit for it. In the meantime, however, despite protestations that she no longer has an "issue" with the gender issue, it still preoccupies her. Indeed, in her excellent new album, "Time for Creation," which is coming out in a few days and will be launched on August 20 at the Barby club in Tel Aviv, Eisenman sings:

Tamar Eisenman
Noa Yafe

If I was the electric boy

I'd be brave and I'd never get old

I would have died 27 years old

I would have met the electric lady.

"This is an homage or reply to Hendrix's 'Electric Ladyland,'" says Eisenman, all of whose albums have been in English. "Clearly people are always asking me about the woman with the guitar and by means of this song, in which I transform myself into an 'electric boy' - who, incidentally, isn't necessarily a man - I am in some way letting go of this whole fraught issue. I describe all the things I've taken for granted about it. Maybe I still feel I'm not good enough relative to male guitarists, but this doesn't interest me any more. I am liberating myself from it."

At a certain point in the radio show, between songs that Eisenman performed with her band, Kutner asked if she could describe what her new album is about. Instinctively, she put her left hand on the neck of the guitar and with her right hand, strummed a resonant chord before she started to reply. Asked whether the guitar is a means of protection for her, she says later: "I don't think it's a defense. It's a place where I feel very comfortable. Because, really, before everything else, I come from the guitar, and in a situation where there is a potential for pressure, the guitar can be a kind of safe haven for me. In concerts lately I've been performing one song without a guitar. It's the first time in my life that I'm doing this, and I didn't notice at first, but it turns out that when I sing it, I play air guitar with my fingers. My hands just go to there naturally."

Eisenman, 31, began playing the guitar at about the age of 12, but unlike the average teenager who discovers the world of the guitar, she didn't worship Jimmy Page or even Jimmy Hendrix. Only at 17, she relates, "I discovered what I had been looking for during the years I was learning guitar." This was the American singer-guitarist Ani DiFranco, who combines the styles of folk and punk.

"In retrospect I'd say I was looking for a female guitarist to get inspiration from," says Eisenman. "I didn't try to imitate her but she completely changed my playing and also my outlook. She showed that it is possible to do it alone. Not to wait for record companies [DiFranco has her own independent label, Righteous Babe]. It's unreasonable to be dependent.

"The question of what I was going to do with myself was never asked - not by me and not by my family," she continues. "Not long ago, I asked my parents why they'd asked my little sister that question, but didn't ever ask me. And they said: 'Because it was obvious. There was no need to ask.' That's true. Without seeing it with my own eyes, or maybe seeing it most of all, I just went and did it. I wasn't interested in anything else ... and that's how it should be. I am hoping that in a few years I'll really begin to understand what I am doing now."

During her military service, Eisenman began to write and record songs, and also played in the band of Jerusalem singer Hadara Levin-Areddy. In 2003, after her brother asked her why she wasn't recording her own songs, she independently released her first complete album, "5feet4."

Veteran singer-songwriter Danny Sanderson was a guest at the album launch event; he was given the CD by a mutual friend of his and Eisenman's father, and was enthusiastic about it. After the performance he invited Eisenman to join a new ensemble he was forming and for six years, she has been one of the pillars of that wonderful band.

Breakthrough album

Eisenman received increased exposure when she began to play, in the late 2000s, in the house band on Lior Schlein's comedy show on television. At first she hesitated about accepting the offer, "But I'm really glad I did it. I never studied music in an orderly way," she says. "I didn't go to Rimon [music school in Ramat Hasharon]. And this work was like a school. Arriving in the morning, working with scores and of course meeting amazing instrumentalists." She also owes to this experience her strong affection for wind instruments, which lend special color to the music on her albums.

She recorded her second album, "Gymnasium" (2009 ) independently, but distributed it with NMC United. The CD's first single, "Hit Me," became a radio hit here. It was the record company that decided to issue it.

"I wasn't thinking at all in terms of singles. I was surprised it was successful," she explains now. "I remember the performance when I realized this: It was at the Ozen Bar [in Tel Aviv] and for the first time I felt people were singing all the words with me - not because they had been at previous concerts, but because they had heard the song on the radio. This was stressful: I realized that if I got the words mixed up, people would notice."

"Gymnasium" was Eisenman's breakthrough album. And what about her latest one, we ask. Is her aspiration to broaden her circle of fans even more? To sell more CDs than "Gymnasium" (which despite its success didn't reach 10,000 copies )?

"Forgive the naivete," says Eisenman, "but those aren't an artist's concerns. I am not worried about those things and I don't think I need to be. The aim is to continue to develop, musically and creatively, to peel another layer off myself and to reveal another side that has been hidden until now. This is what the new album documents, I hope."

That does sound a bit naive. It's okay to be concerned about the impact an album has as well, and about its sales.

Eisenman: "Of course, it's important. Of course, I want the album to have impact. When you're starting out as an artist you need this impact as a certain kind of affirmation. But the affirmation is changing its shape for me. If I become entirely dependent on the world's reaction - if I don't maintain some kind of basic 'kernel' of confidence, which is far from being absolute, but nevertheless I feel it - then I will be in trouble. I don't think this is so naive. It's simply a [way of keeping a] certain measure of sanity, of keeping the right motivation."

'Strong self-discipline'

The main difference between "Gymnasium" and "Time for Creation," she explains, is that the new album is based on what she calls a "band experience." In the previous CD she recorded the songs with an ensemble in the studio, but that was just a sketch. The songs received their shape in Eisenman's own home studio.

"I built the songs not entirely from the beginning, but almost. I sat in front of the computer, I played a lot of instruments and I built it like a Lego tower."

In the new album, however, Eisenman says her approach "was combined: both serious work with the band and additional work at home in front of the computer. I knew I wanted the input of the band members [bass player Mickey Warshai, percussionist Aviv Cohen, saxophonist Gal Dahan and trombonist Maayan Milo]. We built the songs together, we found the right arrangements, we created a sound, we recorded the songs and then I took everything home, but this time I had a lot more information than on the previous album.

"After the recordings with the band were completed, I listened a little to what we had done - not too much - and then let it go. A month later I did the farewell performance for 'Gymnasium' and then every morning I got up at 8:30 ... covered the one-step distance between my bedroom and the studio room, which is the rest of my apartment, made coffee and got to work. I would sit from the morning until I don't know when. Very strong self-discipline. At first I forgot to take lunch breaks. I put blankets over the speakers because I was afraid it would bother the neighbors, but then I realized no one cared and I increased the volume. I got into a kind of loop, as though I had put a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door for the rest of the world.

"I didn't cut myself off entirely, but inside I did. Even when I was away from home, there were thoughts about the songs running through my mind. I just wanted to finish whatever I was doing and get back to the computer."

"Gymnasium" was written during a period when Eisenman was living in Jerusalem, but spending most of her time in Tel Aviv, and this traveling seeped into the songs. "I don't know what Tel Aviv music or Jerusalem music is, but I know what the music is that is between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv," she says. "'Gymnasium' is an album in motion, an album in search."

In "Time for Creation," recorded after Eisenman moved to Tel Aviv, "I am continuing to search," she says, "but also to some extent finding."

In contrast to the previous CD, which contained a lot of love songs and feelings of conflict and pain, in this one, there are only two of what Eisenman calls "perfect love songs": "Day and Night" and "The Way You Say It." She isn't referring to their quality, she explains; rather, she means these are songs without conflict, songs that speak in the warm language of the feeling of falling in love, of being in love.

It's rare to find an album in which all the love songs, even if they are few, are what you call "perfect."

"I know. It's also rare for me. The love songs I wrote until now have conflict and drama in them. These two were written intentionally as love songs without conflict. It isn't that the conflicts have disappeared or that I've repressed them. The process was like this: I was writing songs for the new album and at a certain stage there were 10, and none of them was a love song. A plan to issue an additional album, an acoustic one, on which there would be love songs, was shelved, so I was left with a CD without any. I said: 'Impossible. It can't be that there won't be any love songs at all.'"

You could have written the love songs you are accustomed to writing, ones with conflict. But you chose to write different ones. When I listened to the album, I thought: Maybe in the previous album she was looking for love and this time she has simply found it.

"Because there is something a bit more complex about the rest of the songs on the CD, I thought if there were going to be love songs, too, I should aim for a kind of perfection; to stay within the dream that aims at the good and the positive. And of course I had someone to whom I could write this in a precise way, whom I didn't have last time around."