Quiet and somewhat shy, Geva Alon doesn't paint the picture of an internationally acclaimed solo artist. Sure, he's got the ridiculously tight jeans and a trendy haircut, but there is none of the arrogant bravado and swagger of a front man and therein lies his muted charm. Modest, yet hard working, he talks fondly and openly about those close to him, his home and, crucially, his music. DMG caught up with him at the Hoxton Underbelly to find out about his passion for music, why touring can take it's toll and how a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers inspired him to cover a Bowie track.
So how has your touring been going so far?
Pretty well. We've been to Germany and Holland and Belgium, France and now the UK. It's been going really good.
What was it like on your American tour supporting Paul Weller?
It was an amazing experience. I mean he's a great artist, I know you love him here. I used to listen to him when I was a kid so it was a great honour for me to do that. What can I say? Big venue, a lot of people, Paul Weller…what can go wrong?
Indeed, not much that can go wrong with that combination! You seem to have a strong reputation in Israel, but do you feel that you are now building up a much wider following, especially with all the touring you've been doing internationally?
Yeah, that's the intention. We've built our crowd in Israel very well and it's been a long road. I began as a self-contained artist doing it all by myself and then started working with the manager Carmi and then worked my way up step by step. It's been going really well the past few years and we've been meaning to spread the word in different countries so we're doing it.
How did growing up in such a conflict ridden country influence your musical development?
That's a tough question. Obviously the surrounding that you grow up in affects everything that you are. But I can't put a finger on something that says, ah it's because of this that I write like this. It's kind of all together. I'm not a political artist. I don't sing about politics. I'm more of an observer. We've got our reality, it's got its good side and its bad sides and I'm trying to find romance in everything y'know. So, it's a tough question for me to answer actually.
What was it that first drew you to becoming a musician?
What made it a dream? Actually, music was always around me. My parents used to have records and my older brothers used to bring records to the house. Back in elementary school, we had to choose an instrument to play, so once I picked up the guitar I knew it. I was eleven and I knew it was the thing for me. It wasn't my choice, it kind of happened and I went with it and went with the flow. It's a place where I feel comfortable to say everything that I have to say. No one can stop you when you're singing a song. You can shoot it out there and hope for the best. It felt good for me, because in my day to day life I'm a pretty quiet person, I don't like to make too much noise. But when you're on stage and when you play a song, that's the right place to do that. So it felt right for me.
So music's your way of communicating with a whole lot of people at the same time ?
Yeah, I suppose it is. You know it's a good place to let all your emotion out. You've had bad experiences, you've had good experiences, you collect them along the way and then we put them together to a song or to a melody and throw them back at the world.
What does it mean to you to have been nominated for Israel's Male Artist of the Year?
Well, at the time when it happened I didn't put much thought into it because I was working. You just keep doing your thing and alright, this happened and this happened, it's all good and we'll keep doing it. But after a while, when I came to think about it, it's a pretty big deal, because like I said it's been a long road. My progression in Israel was really slow over the course of like ten years or something. So to be able to come from places where I've played in front of like four or five people, to be nominated to best artist of the year is a big deal. I'm pretty proud to say that I made it my way and I didn't compromise anything in the way. I stayed true to my music and never felt like I was doing anything to succeed. I'm just doing my thing and I keep doing it and keep doing it and try to be good at it as much as I can. So I'm pretty proud of that.
You definitely should be. There are so many artists that will change and adapt themselves, in perhaps a negative way, to achieve commercial success.
Yeah, I've always said I won't adapt myself to anything. I'll just be true to myself. Because at the end of the day when you look back on something that you did, you want to be able to say, wow I did this my way and it's good, it's still good today and I'm still proud like five or ten years later to say that I did that you know? So it was a really important thing for me, to go that way.
Speaking of things that you might be proud of, tell us a little bit about the new album, Get Closer.
Get Closer is a special album for me. I wrote it in the States, when I was there on tour, over the course of almost a year. It gave me a really good perspective about home. I was alone, with my wife, over there touring, and we had a lot of time to think and a lot of time to be with ourselves. It brought a lot of emotions up about family and about home and the place that I come from and I grew up in. It's funny, because I had to go all that way to get closer. That's why I named the album Get Closer, because it's only when you go far that you realise what's close to you. So it's a really personal album for me. I've written songs about my dad and my family, my brothers, the kibbutz that I grew up in and the country that I've lived in all my life. It's a very personal album for me and I think that's the big difference in that album from the other albums that I've made before. I think that's also what made the change to the crowd. Because a lot of people come up to me and say 'Wow, I can really relate to what you're singing about. I can see it in my own life' and there's no bigger compliment than that. So that's a big thing about this album, it's very close to the people, it's very close to myself and every time I'm singing the songs from this album I feel really connected to them.
Why did you choose to do the Bowie cover 'Modern Love'?
I've always loved that song, and the album Let's Dance. It's been around since I was a kid. A few years ago, I was in the States, and I went to go see a John Frusciante concert. It was in a small pub, maybe fifty people were there, he played that song, and I said like, wow, this is great. He played it very different from the way I play it, but it was different from the original also. I thought, what a great cover, to take it to a whole new area and genre. So I started playing with the song, and started doing it on shows. It went away with me on shows for a few months, and when we came to record the second album, The Wall of Sound, we had some spare time in the studio after everything was finished, so my manager told me 'Why don't you lay down that song? It's a good cover, you should do it.' I didn't have any arrangement in my mind. I didn't know how it should sound, we just started to record it. It really happened in the studio, in one hour or so. We told the drummer, 'ok you use the tambourine and the bass drum', we told the other guitar player, 'you do like this' and we just went for it and that was it. We were so happy with the way it came out that it became the single that pushed the album. It was really cool that it came from a point where it wasn't even meant to be on the album to becoming the one song that pushed the album.
So it was really a hidden gem that came to the fore. That's nice. Your music seems to strike quite a melancholic tone at times. What do you think the reasoning is behind that?
I always say that when I'm happy and everything's good, I don't have any reasons to write. It's the strong and, if you want to call them that, bad, experiences in life that affect you. You feel the need to get them out of your system in some way so you write a song about it. It's a way that doesn't harm anyone and you can get it out of your system. I don't know another reason, other than that. Also, music that I listen to from different artists are usually connected to heavier stuff, to the melancholic. I want to hear real things you know? I want to hear people speak from the heart and from the stomach, that's the things that touches me most I think.
Which artists would you say then have really influenced you?
There are many of them, obviously, but I used to listen to a wide-range of genres. If it's folk then it's Nick Drake and Neil Young, Bob Dylan…Tim Buckley and people like that. I listen to heavy rock, like psychedelia rock from the 60s, and then to grunge and punk and new wave, so I listen to many things. But it was always the darker and heavier stuff that drew me. I like mystery and I like honesty in music. You won't find a lot of happy CDs in my collection.
Do you not think that there is also happy music that can be honest?
Yeah, of course there is. But also, happy music is different when you ask different people. The Rolling Stones, for example, have many up-tempo songs, like with a good rhythm, but when you listen to the lyrics it's serious stuff you know. I dunno, I guess it's different from one person to another.
So it's not just pain that makes it through?
No, no, no. I didn't want to sound like my life is a misery.
It's interesting that you say so many people have influenced you musically. You're described as being blues/folk/rock, is that how you'd personally categorise your music?
I think that you never should ask the artist something like that, because it's hard to categorise things. If you listen to my albums, they are very different from each other, I think. Obviously, I made them so I'm not so objective about it. My first solo album is very folksy, very acoustic, very mellow and country-ish melodies; then my second album is more progressive and trippy, there's longer tunes and progressions in arrangements and stuff like that. This album, the latest one, is really more simple and basic and personal. I try to stay out of the way of the lyrics and make simpler arrangements. It's all very different to my band that I had before, The Flying Baby, which was really heavy rock and even grunge. So, I can't really categorise myself, I'll let other people do that.
Do you think the different shifts in your music relate to the different stages that you go through in your life?
Yeah, it's gotta be. I don't see how it can happen any other way. Things affect you all the time and you have to keep your eyes open and your ears open to be a part of them and then create something new out of it. I've been through a lot in the past few years and every album that I went to I thought, ok, this is it, this is myself, you know? But then came a new thing in my life and then I thought, alright I don't know anything.
Where do you think the next stage is going to take you?
Well, it's hard to say. I'm opening a new page here in Europe and in the UK and hopefully it'll bring a lot of good experiences. I just want to keep doing good stuff and, like I said earlier, be able to look back and be proud of the way that I went.
How much longer are you touring for?
We have five more gigs in the UK and then we're going home. A few days after that I'm going to Canada for a few shows, then home again and starting working on the album. We're recording in Spain in April. So yeah, there's a lot of work.
Wow, one album out and then the next one's on its way. It seems like you never stop, do you get homesick when you're away from Israel for so long at a time?
Yeah of course, yeah. Usually I travel with my wife, this time she stayed at home. But yeah, I miss her, I miss my home. I like being at home
What's the UK release date for Get Closer?
It's released April 4th (2011), it's going to be released all over the place.
Will there be any singles coming out in the UK off of the album?
There was one single that came out already, 'The Wind Whispers'. There's another one coming out I think in about two months or so, with the album.
What's the title of that, so we know to look out for it?
The second one? I think it's going to be 'Come Race Me'. We haven't really decided, but I'm aiming for that song.
Well, we'll definitely keep our eyes peeled for it. Thank you very much for your time.
No problem, thank you.