Stepping out with Ivri Lider

Ivry Lider: I want people to listen to my words and therefore I must give them honesty.Israeli singer-songwriter Ivri Lider was already a huge star in his native country when he came out of the closet three years ago. The …

Ivry Lider: I want people to listen to my words and therefore I must give them honesty.Israeli singer-songwriter Ivri Lider was already a huge star in his native country when he came out of the closet three years ago. The move, which artists ranging from Elton John to Ellen Degeneres have undertaken without knowing how their fan base would react, has only made Lider more popular.

“Lider first became successful then, as they say, came out of the closet,” Gadi Gidor, head of A&R for Helicon Records, told ISRAEL21c. “He had already become an established artist. It happens very rarely in the Israeli music scene that someone can establish a long-term career in the rock-pop field but Lider has done just that. Because of his unique signature style, whoever followed him from the first album is still a fan today. He is one of the few artists to enjoy a constant fan base.”

While his lyrics always implied that he was gay – a number of songs are sung from the female perspective – Lider officially ‘came out’ while promoting his third album, 2002′s The New People.

“Because I was one of the first to come out, I think people have been very accepting. It’s important to be truthful with your audience, I want people to listen to my words and therefore I must give them honesty. And it’s proven itself,” Lider told ISRAEL21c. “Anyone who listened to my lyrics would have known anyway.”

Based on the number of web sites dedicated to Lider’s songs, people are paying attention to his words. “It’s a compliment that people offer their own definitions to my songs. That people are interested in what I write is great. I like to hear meanings that are completely different to what I believe. A good song allows the listener to understand his reality,” said Lider, who counts artists Sarah McLachlan and Alanis Morissette among the musicians he admires.

“Demographically speaking he’s more of a Gush Dan artist,” said Gidor, referring to Israel’s area of cities in the center of the country. “That’s like talking about the New York area – it’s an open minded region, a more yuppie place when it comes to lifestyle choices. Ivri appeals to these regions and this is where you have an acceptance of the gay community.”

Lider is often described as having a Midas touch. His four solo albums have all become hits, his film scores have topped the charts, and his concerts are almost always sold out. Having just returned from a Hillel-sponsored performance in Toronto to coincide with the attendance of hundreds of young North Americans at last week’s the General Assembly, Lider is now gearing up for a full-scale winter concert tour in Israel.

“People can understand my music even if they don’t understand the Hebrew lyrics. In Germany and Japan they play my music and people there don’t speak Hebrew,” said Lider.

“A lot of Israeli musicians go to Canada and the US because people there are interested in the Israeli culture scene. I think it’s important for them to see what’s being done in Israel culturally. And I love playing to new audiences.”

Many Americans have already heard his music, although they may not know it. Lider is behind the musical scores of such popular Israeli films as Walk on Water (Official selection at 2004′s Toronto International Film Festival), and the 2002 international hit Yossi and Jagger (Best Actor award at Tribeca Film Festival).

“Before I knew I wanted to be a singer I knew I wanted to write for film,” said Lider. “I wanted to study at UCLA but I didn’t have enough money, so I decided to work in Israel for a bit. Things snowballed and I never ended up leaving to study. My dream to compose music for films remained and I am happy I get to both sing and compose.”

“It’s a different challenge than writing for one’s self. You write music for something that has already been constructed; the scene and set are already there. You can ruin a scene or help it. And it’s great to work with Eytan,” he said, referring to Eytan Fox, who directed both films, and with whom he is collaborating on a third project.

Lider began his professional musical career as a composer for works by the renowned Batsheva Dance Group and the NDT Dutch Dance Group. In 1997, at the age of 23, he broke into Israeli consciousness with his romantic solo debut, Stroking While Lying (Melatef veh Meshaker). Within 12 months the album achieved gold status. Three top-selling, gold-status albums followed including 1999′s Almost Better Than Nothing (for which Lider won Best Israeli Music Act Award), 2002′s The New People, and 2005′s It’s Not the Same.

“I derive inspiration from everyday life,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll hear something, or I’ll see something that sparks my interest.”

While his first three solo albums were heavy on electronic beats – “I’ve been doing electronic music since I was about 11″ – his latest album is more old school rock.

“There was always a mix of rock, acoustic sounds with computer and synthesizers,” Lider said. “In the last album I decided not to use synthesizers, but rather a live orchestra. I really like the sound.”

And it is Lider’s unique sound that his record label hopes to capitalize on in order to market him abroad. “We’re trying to promote Israeli artists overseas,” Gidor said. “Lider’s output is pop-rock with local flavor. America is brimming with pop-rock groups, but Lider offers local elements. The gig in Canada was a step in the right direction,” he added, hinting that Lider might try his luck with English-language material in the near future.

The slew of publicity shots Lider sent out when promoting his album earlier this year showed him wearing a T-shirt with the words, ‘I love my country.’

“Back in the ’60s and ’70s Israeli music was very Zionistic; there were many songs about love of Israel. Later musicians were more self-critical. I think criticism is good. For me and my generation; at the end of the day even if we criticize this country, the fact is we really love this place and it if fun to work and live here. The t-shirt was a statement that holds within it a lot of different meanings. It’s not on a political level at all. It’s human,” said Lider.

While his concert in Toronto was not an official ‘hasbara’ trip, Lider said he felt like a diplomat nonetheless.

“All Israelis who go abroad become mini ambassadors. But I played in Toronto because people want to hear my music and because it will be an experience,” said Lider, who has previously performed in Germany and the US.

“I have no special message other than to show people there a little bit of what’s being done in Israel.”

About Viva Sarah Press

Viva Sarah Press is an associate editor and writer at ISRAEL21c. She has extensive experience in reporting/editing in the print, online and broadcast fields. Her work has been published by international media outlets including Israel Television, CNN, Reuters, The Jerusalem Post and Time Out.