It's a Beloved Israeli Indie Band, So Why the Muted Reception?

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Buttering Trio members (from the left) Yuval Havkin, Keren Dunitz and Beno Hendler.
Buttering Trio members (from the left) Yuval Havkin, Keren Dunitz and Beno Hendler.Credit: David Bachar
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev

The vocalist for the indie band Buttering Trio Keren Dunitz (aka KerenDun) sings that you and I won’t change the world. In “Love in music,” the opening track of the trio’s new album, Dunitz invites someone, a partner in music or love, to come, spend time and play with her: “Are you free today? Do you wanna maybe come play?” A few seconds later she intones: “We can make something beautiful, it won’t change the world, but surely make a swirl.”

“But that’s the best thing we can do, it only takes me and you,” she continues. So this beautiful thing that she and he are creating (or maybe it’s she, he and he, if you take the human makeup of Buttering Trio into consideration) will not change the world, but will only make a swirl. On the other hand, a minute later in the same song, Dunitz sings: “The revolution starts right here, if you’ll listen you will hear me breathing in your ear.”

The revolution starts here! So what are Dunitz and Buttering Trio really saying? Do they believe they can change the world, or not?

Dunitz laughs when she hears the question. “This contradiction exists for me,” she says. “On one hand, it is important for me to prepare my own dishwashing detergent, but while I’m doing it I tell myself, ‘What does it matter? After all, it won’t change anything.’”

“Or to save the cat,” says the trio’s bass player, Beno Hendler.

“True,” smiles Dunitz. “Next week there will be another cat. It never ends. Every time I wonder where the revolution will start from, my answer is the same answer: From me, from the little things. But until you reach the situation where you act the way you believe everyone needs to act with the little things, you’re already done with your life, you will no longer make a big revolution. So how will this revolution take place? Who is supposed to lead it?” she asks.

In the same way a band needs a wavering soul, it also needs someone who will close all the open ends and bring these thoughts down from the clouds to the ground. It’s likely that in Buttering Trio this role belongs to Yuval Havkin, known as Rejoicer, the band’s synthesizer and beats man. He listens to Dunitz’s struggles, and when she finishes speaking, says: “There’s no contradiction here. The little thing will have a little affect, and together with other little things that will do their own little bit, they will start some sort of something here.”

The mix between the clouds and the earth, between introspection and the bottom line, can also be found in Buttering Trio’s music. “Love in Music,” the song with the revolution which might change the world but will do so in tiny steps, is a great example. Like a number of the best songs on the new album, called “Threesome,” it’s based on open jazzy harmonies that are very inconclusive, but it’s careful to strive to hit the pop sweet spot.

In France, the group’s members say, the song has achieved great success in the past few weeks and is played quite a bit on the radio. Hopefully the same thing will happen here when “Love in Music” is released as a single in the next few weeks.

The short chorus, which ends with the line: “There’s no better way to spend this precious day,” unintentionally tells the story of making the new album. “Threesome,” which will be launched on December 26 in the wonderful open space of Beit Romano in Tel Aviv, was recorded in a few short sessions (a day or two of recording), some of which were done while Buttering Trio was on a tour in Europe.

“We went into a studio in Berlin and played there for a day, we went to a studio in London and played there two days,” says Dunitz. Once again the word “played” shows the childlike pleasure the trio draws from their musical work. “What can you do, we are not shopping people,” says Hendler. “When we have a free day between performances on an overseas tour, our fun is going to a studio and working.”

One of these vacation/work days was especially fertile. It was the day the band members played in the studio in Berlin, where they recorded no less than four songs. This may not be particularly surprising in the case of musicians who arrive at the studio with written songs in order to record them, but Buttering Trio doesn’t enter the studio with prepared songs; it comes with an empty slate. The songs are written in the studio. Four good songs that were both written and recorded in one day is a major achievement.

Buttering Trio in 2015.Credit: Ben Kirschenbaum

Maybe the explanation lies in what happened the night before. “We came into the studio after we had a great performance the previous night,” says Hendler. “I remember there was a song in the show that put us and the audience into a sort of high, and in the studio we tried to recreate that feeling, to create a song in a similar atmosphere.”

Sometimes, the incentive that the shows provide is actually related to what they’re missing: “You feel during the performance that something is missing, and then in the studio you try to create it,” adds Hendler.

In the performance that introduced me to Buttering Trio, nothing was missing. It was three and a half years ago at the Menashe Forest Festival. Buttering Trio had been performing for some two years already and had released an EP (in its original composition, with Dunitz, Havkin and bassist GYMBass) followed by its first album (with the present trio). But as opposed to other bands, it did not elbow its way into the center of the local indie arena.

This tolerant and calm spirit characterized the fantastic show in the Menashe Forest in 2013, too. In open-air festivals, most bands, even the best of them, tend to emphasize their energetic dimension at the expense of their aesthetic side. Buttering Trio had excellent energy, but even more so it has aesthetics – an easy mix that made you dance to wonderful beats, a deep but floating bass, and clear and brilliant singing. The music had a clear quality of “cool,” but cool in the best meaning of the word, not the inferior cool of artists who are trying to be cool and hide the fact that they really have no feeling or content in their music.

Since that show in the Menashe Forest, Buttering Trio has come a long way and has become one of the most loved and successful indie groups in Israel. Two years ago they had a big hit on the radio, “I Cried for You,” and have been appearing on the big stages at prime times at the latest indie festivals. So it is a bit surprising to hear the band members talking about the cool reception they get here in Israel.

“I learn a lot from this cool response in Israel, or the warm responses in other places. It’s an amazing sight,” says Dunitz. “Why don’t they play us more on the radio? Why are we not [the popular band] ‘Hadag Nnahash?’ Is it because we don’t sing in Hebrew? I’m not sure. It’s not a good excuse.”

Are you disappointed with what has happened to you in Israel?

“Disappointment is not the right word,” says Dunitz. “Disillusionment. To understand where we are compared to the rest.”

“Our music is not music that says to you: ‘Buy me,’” relates Havkin. “A lot of music being made, the minute you hear it’s clear to you what shelf it’s on, what sort of product it is. And music that is made in an atmosphere of ‘buy me,’ usually people really buy it. We are transmitting something totally different. The three of us are not ones to attack, and the same goes for our music. Instead of saying ‘buy me,’ we say something like: ‘Maybe think for a second?’ This music does not shout ‘me, me, me; now, now, now.’”

“I like that,” says Hendler. “We have a band and we treat it like a long-term project. Until we are no longer alive, in fact.” Dunitz and Havkin smile when he says it. It is not at all clear that they too have thought of the group as such a long-term project.

“And if it’s forever,” continues Hendler, “then what’s the rush? I don’t want to pick all the fruit now. Every time, I want to take down a nice fruit from the tree and eat it. Not to be piggish. Not to lose the creative interest. To be together. To make something better than what I can do alone.”

Or in other words: You and you and I, even if we don’t change the world.

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