Continuing our theme of spotlighting Israeli artists, duo Water Knives produced one of my favourite albums of last year – the very late discovery of their genre-bending melting pot ‘Contents Hidden’. Heavily inspired by jazz, krautrock and electronica with psychedelic notes, the debut album also takes influence from Middle Eastern spy movies, large cinematic soundscapes and truly showcases their thirst for curiosity and creativity. Bringing acoustic elements to the dancefloor environment, Water Knives are a unique outfit that brings the sounds of their upbringing to a global sphere.
Having previously performed in separate projects, Water Knives is a rebirth of their musical discovery, giving them a fresh chance to explore their style and sound. We catch up with Yair Yona and Ofer Bymel to get the lowdown on how they got into music, their journey together as Water Knives and how they created ‘Contents Hidden’.
How did you both get into music? What were some of your early experiences with it?
Ofer: I started playing classical piano at age 8. My father was born to European Jews in El Salvador, so he listened to (and still does) to lots of classical music. and my mother, an Israeli born Yemenite, listened to a lot of Yemenite music while I was growing up. So I had quite a large spectrum of influences. After a few years playing the piano, I decided to switch to the drums, after hearing some punk music (I don’t even remember what it was, but it definitely left a mark). My parents bought me my first drum kit at age 14 and I fell in love with that instrument. Played a lot of punk/nu metal/heavy stuff during my high school years, and eventually moved to jazz and electronic music, but the punk always stayed somewhere in my soul.
Yair: I was into psychedelic rock from a young age (15). I was a classic sixties guy, ancient soul etc. I only cared about the Beatles, the Byrds, Pink Floyd etc. a few years later I discovered the world of British folk and became obsessed with it – switched to acoustic guitar and tried my best to be the best Bert Jansch I can. I released two instrumental acoustic guitar albums during that period that lasted about ten years. Then I had enough and went all in to free jazz, experimental and Mudhoney.
What is the music scene like in Israel? Have you seen it change over the years as tensions grow?
Y: It’s more or less like everywhere. Trashy pop rules the radio, there are terrific indie bands and a great diversity of styles, being a country of immigrants. It’s totally possible to find a band that plays a blend of Iraqi influences and Johnny Marr, on Giorgio Moroder arpeggiators
How do your surroundings influence your sound?
Y: we grew up listening to others that were inspired by the surroundings so I guess we have many indirect influences, but overall Israel’s mainstream is ruled by the west. Which means you’ll hear 99.9% western music or music that was inspired by such. You have to be a real crate digger to find what is played in other countries around. Of course, the hipster culture helps to spread these bands from neighbour countries. After all, every new single is the best new band that ever existed ?
How did you both meet and what makes this collaboration work so well?
Ofer: Yair was playing in a band called Farthest South (they were a trio) – an improvised psychedelic krautrock-ish outfit. I was playing lots of free jazz during that time, so when they approached me to join the band, I felt it was the coolest combination I didn’t even know I was looking for – free improvised playing combined with repetitive krautrock beats. I remember during the first rehearsal, after a few minutes of playing, I realized the bass/drums connection I had with Yair was something very special and unique one does not find in every band. So when the band eventually split up, we couldn’t NOT continue playing together. We formed Water Knives and started jamming together not even knowing where it would or should go. We found we wrote music completely egoless, without any particular attachment to ideas if the other side wasn’t into them. It was such a smooth, easy, and lifting experience, producing Contents Hidden was as much fun as [insert fun inducing activity here].
You were both previously part of a project called Farthest South – how do you differ Water Knives from that band?
Ofer: well, for starters FS was 100% improvised music (at least the music I was part of). Water Knives’ music was produced using some randomness on the computer, whether it being an effects plugin in Ableton being tweaked randomly or jamming to a loop until something cool comes up. We love the concept of Random in our music making, it’s just part of who we are.
What did you learn the most from creating in a four-piece collective?
Y: Mainly, we each discovered our own way to express ourselves and to have that expression blend as smoothly as possible with the others. Somewhat of a zen masterclass, we found ourselves in.
Your method for recording includes hours of improvised live jams. Why do you prefer this method of recording rather than planning before you head into the studio?
Ofer: I guess the Random element in jamming is part of why we love doing it. You can never know how your real-time decision is going to affect the person in front of you, who are making their own real-time decision. Eventually, you end up with so much musical clay you can mould however you like, it’s creating substance from nothing.
Y: I guess that for me, I try to know as little as possible. Because what I already know is anyway so limited and narrow, that the unknown must be the place where it’s all happening. This approach never failed for me.
Late last year you released your debut album ‘Contents Hidden’, a collection of work that is a combination of all your favourite genres including rock, avant-garde, free jazz and soundtracks. What is your method for bringing all those sounds together?
Ofer: We kind of lose ourselves like little children in an amusement park without parental supervision. One of the most spoken sentences during the making of this album was “what if…?” giving ourselves the “permission” to be as adventurous as possible with the music.
What is the story behind ‘Contents Hidden’?
Ofer: It’s the story of two guys playing together who went through some serious life-changing, consciousness-changing psychedelic experiences, fusing their love of an insane amount of music and their love for the club dance floor.
Y: I just wanted to create our next favourite album. It was missing in our world – so we created it. Call it ‘responsibility for our own leisure’? ?
What would you say is the ideal environment to listen to the album in?
Ofer: I’m reminded of that Rick & Morty episode where they’re watching inter-dimensional TV, and they’re switching channels like crazy and you switch between moods and atmospheres quite abruptly – I guess the album is in a way kinda like that… but smoother.
Outside of music, what would you say influences your creativity? Is it art, films, poetry etc?
Y: For me, it wouldBuddhisthist talks and lectures, entrepreneurs who share their stories, and honest people who are willing to share their vulnerability. I’m inspired by soundtracks mainly. I care about mood creation, regardless of the sound picked, or the genre.
The last track on the record pays homage to Joe Meek and his Tornados – talk us through your love for their music. How do they inspire you?
Ofer: actually I never heard of the Tornados until Yair asked me “why don’t we cover Telstar?”. I was super skeptic it would work at the beginning, but the melodies were so beautiful, putting them into a disco techno vibe was an amazing experience.
What does music mean to you?
Y: the legitimacy you give to yourself to be a 5 year old heart in a 35+ year old insights and knowledge.
Where do you hope to see the Water Knives project go?
Ofer: Me and Yair always have this joke we say to eachother (but it’s super serious): “See ya at Glastonbury main stage”
Y: Ofer is right, but in the end, I want to see a room full of people dance their asses off. Eventually, it’s a band playing music you should dance to, like the 20’s, like the 40’s, like the 60’s. We’re here to provide entertainment for people. Wherever we can entertain the audience and create the best psychedelic party we can – that’s where we wanna go.
‘Contents Hidden’ by Water Knives is out now – buy here.