Unsung Israeli Musician Ruminates on Why He Hasn't Made It

Not cool enough for indie, not slick enough for mainstream: Roy Dotan, 33, who just released another single from his first solo album, is coming to grips with being shunned by Israel's music scene.

Tסmer Appelbaum

“For 14 years I have released albums, this is the fifth album I have been a partner on, and despite that I have no real right to exist on the Israeli scene, and that’s hard,” says musician Roy Dotan. “If only it was a matter of taste, but I release albums that are high quality on the level of production and sound, are written well, not embarrassing. I invest everything in them and I don’t think they receive the appreciation they deserve.”

With some hesitation, Dotan was labeled here as a “sensational find.” Not just because he really isn’t that loud (which we will return to later), but because he is not really a find either. His past includes membership in three bands: Pancake, Malkat Haplakat (Queen of the Placard) and Hamoadon (The Club), which he was at the center of. All three bands earned their few minutes of fame. Nonetheless, Dotan, 33, from Tel Aviv, remains anonymous. To music fans, his face may be familiar – he has been on the stage quite a bit over the years – but his name is still largely unknown and it is doubtful his voice would be identified by listeners in blindfolds.

His first solo album, “Ma’agalim” (“Circles”) – from which his second single, “Ir Hama,” was released on Wednesday – came out at the beginning of the year but did not exactly make waves. “A lot of people who I thought would connect to it, including music critics, ignored it,” says Dotan. “Why doesn’t [radio station] 88 [FM] play it? Maybe it’s my singing that’s hard to digest?”

True, Dotan’s voice is not for “A Star is Born,” but he makes up for it with his catchy tunes, which are wrapped up in rich pop arrangements and orchestrations (which he produced himself with the aid of guitarist Or Bahir). The overall sound is like retro of the Israeli ‘70s, something like what Alon Eder does successfully, only with Eder there’s a bit of irony in his voice; Dotan – and this stands out relative to the light and humorous materials of Pancake and Hamoadon – sounds amazingly serious.

‘What did I do wrong?’

“I fall between the cracks since I like something that’s in the middle,” he says. “On one hand I am not cool enough to be indie – it’s not that it’s just me and a drummer ... and on the other hand I’m not appropriate for the mainstream since it is not strong acoustic with singing at an insane volume. “I understand why I’m not in the mainstream,” Dotan continues. “It demands an approach that requires rubbing up at the right places. And even though I know people, I don’t have it. As for the indie side, I’m very disappointed. I sit and ask myself, What did I do wrong? Why are others succeeding and I’m not? Why didn’t they accept me at InDnegev and others were?”

Dotan was definitely cool at the start of his career. He entered the music world 14 years ago with Pancake, where he played bass guitar and a co-writer of the songs, putting out two albums with the band.

“We were together from age 17 until after the army. We signed with [record company] NMC and I really think that if the third album we recorded – and which was filed away – had been released, it would have been a mad success.”

His last band experience was with Noam Vardi and Yonatan Harpak in Hamoadon, also a pop punk group. As opposed to Pancake, the band tried to take itself seriously, a style that is very popular in the United States but never really caught on in Israel. Even though the band never broke up officially, and there are plans for another mini-album in the near future, Dotan decided to make his latest album by himself. He says the songs weren’t right for Hamoadon.

Looking ahead, Dotan says for years he has insisted on making his music in Hebrew, but now understands that he’s had enough and is thinking of singing in English.

‘I’m sick of it’

“I’m sick of it. To limit yourself to this market is stupid. There are 8 million people here, out of them some 70 to 80 percent are people without any chance of hearing your music. The remaining 20 are divided between so many musical options, so what chance do I have?” he asks.

But you see artists such as Shay Nobelman and Geva Alon have switched to Hebrew after years of making music in English.

“They went through a reverse process, they were people who matured, they reached a place of acceptance, said, ‘Okay, I live here, I have a family, I want to have the ability to make a living from my music in Israel, so the time has come for me to sing in Hebrew.‘ I think that like everything in this country, something in the system here still has not found itself, and that is one of the reasons I want to switch to English. When I put out my first single from the album, “Levad” (“Alone”), I went to 88 and met one of the editors. He asked me, ‘Ah, you’re Roy Dotan? I’ll get to your album in another six months.’ I don’t think that editors ever get to listening to your album unless you have a name. Roy Dotan doesn’t say anything to them, my single is stuck between a lot of singles on the table. No one is waiting for you.”

And the dreams of making it big outside Israel are not naive?

“Right, but everything is a matter of expectations. All I want is that if I put my song on YouTube or some blog, there will be a potential of a few million people liking it, not a few hundred. I understand that I won’t be a star. I don’t want to make money, I want people to listen to my album, that’s all.”