Having recently completed a number of sell out performances in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, Lior spoke to Australian Stage’s Brad Syke ahead of his appearance next month at the Adelaide International Guitar Festival.
If I may, you've such a gentle, laid-back way about you, which is palpable, through your songs. Is that the real Lior? Is that how you try to live your life, or just your musical life?
Laid back....mmmm...not so much. I can actually be quite intense and am pretty driven and energetic. I think a lot of people think I go for a laid back kind of approach production wise because I am mellow, but its more about not cluttering the vocals and the lyrics which I see as the centre of my musicality and self expression. I would however say that I am gentle, even since I was a kid I remember having a real sensitivity towards other people and their feelings and I pride myself on forever trying to be a more compassionate human being as that is the single greatest trait I believe a person can possess.
What influence do your Israeli roots have on you?
Well it’s the core of my heritage and identity, both culturally and musically. Growing up in a Mediterranean country where you are immersed in a strong community and have a strong sense of neighbourhood leaves a strong imprint on a child. I have mostly really happy memories growing up there. I do however remember the Israel-Lebanon war and the feeling amongst the people during that time. You learn about and live with the concept of war from very early on, and I remember that saddened me even when I was a young kid. Musically I was exposed to so many different styles because of the multi cultural chaos that is Israel. I remember walking down the bustling streets where the Tel Aviv marketplace used to be and hearing Boy bands, Yemenite music and Eastern pop all blasting from the one corner. The musical melting pot that makes Israel such an interesting place musically was positive in the sense that it enriched my ears from a young age and never gave me too much of a stylistic bias. I try to be open minded musically and I think it harks back to my experience growing up there.
What's more important: eating, or writing and playing music?
You can't write and play music if you don't eat, but you can eat if you don't write and play music.
You seemed to emerge from nowhere and be launched into the stratosphere; after all, from a public point-of-view, it's only been about 4 years. How was that possible?
It's that old thing where no one knows about all the years of hard work that happened before it. Putting together good albums and doing great live shows takes years of crafting and experience. I think what worked for me was that I was patient and didn’t record my first album until I was 26 and by then felt that I had a collection of really good songs, and had found the right producer, etc. So I suppose that when I finally revealed my cards there was a depth behind it that was a result of years of work, rather than a sort of slow growth in full public view. In saying that, the connection was completely unexpected and blew me away. I never dreamed that the songs off the first album would resonate the way it did. The last 4 years have been a dream come true in many ways.
How long did it take to get to the point of releasing Autumn Flow, your debut album?
It depends when you start counting. I picked up the guitar at age 11, started singing and writing songs from the age of 15, played in bands from the age of 16, went out solo when I was 24. A year and a half later I recorded it. You choose! It did take me a year to save up and borrow the money to record Autumn Flow, so technically the album was ready to record six months before I actually got stuck into it. But in that time I wrote the song Autumn Flow which obviously ended up as the title track so perhaps it was a disguised blessing.
How important was the critical and popular acclaim for that? And how important has it been since?
I enjoyed the acclaim for Autumn Flow because I had no expectations whatsoever of the album, and the way I recorded it and released it was completely independent and organic. So I knew that validation was based on a true and genuine connection rather than hype or fanfare. I was proud that I managed to cut through the saturated and often shallow music industry with something honest and sincere. The more you progress, the more vulnerable you become to criticism and you learn that success is about being satisfied with your own sense of creativity and output. Fame can be often shallow and cruel.....it is all about being a creatively fulfilled person, that's the essence of being a happy artist.
What's more vital to your health, wellbeing and equilibrium: writing, playing (guitar) live, recording, or singing?
I get a real kick out of all of those facets of being an artist, and too much of one makes me pine for the other. I do feel a sense of emptiness if I don't perform live for a while, so I've realised that I depend on that connection with people that happens in that setting. I would say however that for me singing is the ultimate escape and serene sense of freedom. That is when I am at my freest. When I am singing, caught in that moment, it's like I'm exactly who I want to be.
Critics and others, it seems, are determined to put musicians into smaller and smaller boxes. Where do you see yourself fitting? Jazz? Acoustic? Indie? What? Do you set-out to follow a particular style or direction?
Epic Folk, how's that...... When I had the demo of Autumn Flow no record company wanted to touch it because they saw it as being too diverse and not fitting neatly into one category or genre. That, I believe, was its greatest strength. I don't want to stick to one genre or style; why would you place those sort of limitations on yourself ?
You seem to enjoy many and various collaborations: can you name the most memorable ones and what occasioned them?
I loved working with Sia (Furler) on I'll Forget You. I met her while I was doing shows in LA and it was so spontaneous. She mentioned that she loved Autumn Flow and I said "well why don't you come and sing on the second album." We ended up recording the vocal together looking at each other through a glass dividing screen of the vocal booth. She has always been one of my favourite female vocalists so it was a real buzz.
Which is your favourite 'child' (song)?
Keeps changing...at the moment its Lost in You off the latest album.
Who and what influences your guitar-playing?
Certainly starting off with classical guitar meant that I saw guitar playing as a real interaction between the two hands, and use finger picking to get greater harmonic richness and movement. Jimmy Page and Nick Drake were two very big influences.
Who, for you, is the greatest of all guitarists, living, or dead?
I love Jimmy Page's guitar work. He was so diverse, so melodic. Never afraid to keep it simple but had the chops to boot. Rain Song is simply stunning, and his solo on Since I Been Lovin' You is probably my favourite guitar solo of all time.
What are you most relishing about The AIGF?
It’s actually seeing and hanging out with the other guitarists / performers there. When you tour a lot, you rarely ever get a chance to go and see live music so to have all these amazing artists together at once is perfect.
Where to next?
Really looking forward to recording album # 3 next year which I think will be quite different from the previous two...oh, and world domination of course.
Lior is performing December 2 as part of The Adelaide International Guitar Festival. Further details»