Erez Yohanan of Amaseffer
INTERVIEW WITH EREZ YOHANAN
According to your Myspace page, Amaseffer is a Hebrew word meaning “People of the Holy Book.” Is that name something that is important to you personally, or was it something chosen to simply fit the concept of the "Exodus" trilogy?
Amaseffer is the phonetic translation for the Hebrew word: "Am-Haseffer", means, People of the Book. It is an ancient name given for the Israelites in the bible, referred to them as people that follow the holy book. We chose this name because of the concept we’re dealing with, the ancient atmosphere that we have in our music, and we wanted a name the will symbolize who we really are and what we are all about. This name is a direct link to to what we stand for in Amaseffef-the band.
Could you give a little bit of information about your prior experience as a musician?
Nothing really major. I have played drums for a few bands. Mostly I played in my studio just for myself. The thing is that I rather sit home and do nothing than play in a band that I’m not relating to their musical vision. I had a lot offers from famous Israeli artists willing to pay me very good money for that and I have turned them all down just for that reason. I’m total to my art and I’m not just doing it for fun.
Could you explain in a little bit of detail the story that unfolds throughout the tracks of EXODUS SLAVES FOR LIFE?
On tracks 1 and 2 the album starts with the slavery period of the Israelites in Egypt (Sorrow+Slaves for Life) it’s also the first chapter in the Biblical book of Exodus. Then we move to track 3, the birth of Moses (birth of deliverance), a very optimistic intro to the song but in a blink of an eye it turns to a very dark and gloomy atmosphere after the Pharaoh orders to throw all born sons to the Nile. On track 4 comes the twist in the plot where Moses is killing the Egyptian officer and flee to Midian (Midian) where we have a direct link in the plot to track 5 where Moses meets by the well his future wife (Zipporah). Track 6 for the first time Moses meets God face to face, being ordered to go back to Egypt to free the Hebrew slaves (The burning bush). Moving from there to track 7 we have an instrumental piece (wooden staff), it is about the mysterious wooden staff of Moses who did all the great wonders and magics in our story. Track 8 is a short instrumental connecting piece where Moses leaves his home and returns to free the Hebrews (Return to Egypt). After his return, track 9 is the darkest song on the album portraying the great plagues God inflicted on the Egyptians through Moses and the wooden staff (Ten Plagues). Finally track 10, which is the last piece for the album, which marks the aftermath of the Ten Plagues, the day after it all crumbled down for the great Pharaoh (land of the dead). This sums up the first chapter story line.
What was the process like for you guys obtaining a record deal? Did you have a complete album fully produced before you were signed?
Yes we did. We wanted to deliver the best product possible for the record label and it was then decided to go all the way and give them a finished product including all art work for it and this is exactly what happened. We have finished the album including the Mastering and sent it through Markus Teske to Oliver Mensing (head of A&R at InsideOut Music). After a few weeks we got an Email from Oliver offering us a record deal for the whole trilogy. It was clear to us since day one that InsideOut is the perfect label for Amaseffer and we are very happy being a part of this visionary company.
What is the writing process like for Amaseffer? Is it a group effort with writing in the studio, or does one guy handle all the work for each song and have complete ideas before presenting them to the rest of the group?
It is one guy writing the whole piece and then presenting it to the rest of the group, it could be Yuval, Hanan or I. Once he played his work then it is going under our microscope for deeper and thrall inspection of all three of us together. We found this system very useful and productive to us for this way the person who writes the piece is 100% focused on the composition and not being pulled by the other two guys, each to his own direction. We give total credit and respect to each other and we are coming from a non-egotistic approach.
How disappointing was it to have come so close to having Andy Kuntz (Vanden Plas/Abydos) as lead singer for the project only to have him leave the project due to scheduling conflicts?
It was not disappointing for we looked at it in a clear and realistic way. We had a time schedule that we needed to keep and Andy just didn’t have the time for it so we could not do anything about it. It was a fact and we had to deal with it and find a solution for this situation we got into. We did not have the time to sit and cry about it, we just moved on. Regardless, Andy is a dear friend and we are still in touch so we truly hope we will collaborate with him in the future.
Could you say who were some of the other ´leading names in the business´ that were considered for the vacant singer position but did not work out?
We were asked to respect the privacy of these persons so you will have to forgive us for we just can’t give you their names.
What was it about Mats Levin that made him the perfect fit for the project?
The thing we really loved with Andy Kuntz is his presentation. We looked for a singer that will bring an acting approach to his singing and not just sing the lyrics. This is a very deep concept and we needed a very deep vocalist. From all the singers we had auditioned Mats was the only one that brought this acting style of singing, besides his remarkable vocal abilities which are truly amazing. It was clear to us that Mats is the perfect man for the job and we are very happy that he has decided to do it for us.
Is Mats committed to working on all three albums of the trilogy, or will there be other singers on the future releases?
Mats Leven will lead sing on the whole trilogy and not just the first chapter. He is very interested in keeping working with us and we feel the same way, so we can’t wait to hear some Mats on the new songs we are working on these days.
How much work has been done on the next two discs of the trilogy and when do you think that they might be released?
The rest of the trilogy is already written but not produced. We are now setting the dates for the pre-production in which we will finalize the next album by early next year and then fly again to Germany to record it. It won’t take a few years between each installment and we want to release the whole trilogy by 2010. It is also the reason it took us 4 years to work on it for we have written the trilogy and not a single album so the hard part is behind us and we are looking forward for the next release.
Are there any plans to take this music out on tour? If so, do you think it will be challenging to convey the highly theatrical elements into the live setting?
Sure we will play it live but not at the moment and I will explain: We have made a decision before we even recorded the album that we will not play live a part of the story. The ideology behind it is that we want to present the whole story and not bits and parts of it on festivals around the world. This decision is way beyond all financial or promotional calculations and we look at it in a bigger grander scale: a big musical with the philharmonic, choirs, actors on stage just like the album including all SFX in surround sound.
The album has an epic, movie-like feel to it. Are there any plans to produce any videos to enhance the experience of any or all of the tracks?
Yes we do have plans for that and we are checking a few options being presented to us these days. This is one of the visions we had before we started it all and we hope for the best regarding that issue.
The album seems to have a real world music flare to it that should appeal to an audience outside of the strictest metal circles. Are there any plans to try and market it to other audiences?
This album is for all music lovers on each and every corner of the world. We are not a metal band! Yes, we combine metal elements in our music but it is not solely based on that. The album is being presented in Christian magazines and radio stations, religious Jewish media, Arab countries and magazines etc. we get responses from all over the world from people who are not even into rock or metal music saying to us that our album has touched them in a deep and profound way like no other album they heard before and this is exactly what we wanted to achieve, we wanted to touch people’s souls with our music regardless who they are, what music they listen to or what religious group they’re affiliated with. So far we are very happy to see that we had succeeded with that.
What types of music influence the sound of Amaseffer? Who are some bands that you feel have had an impact on your choices as a musician?
To be honest, NONE! That is why we think we have created a unique album and a unique sound to the music we write. When we sit down on writing sessions the first rule is: "black out and forget all you know of!", this is our motto in the band. Yes, we do listen to Jazz, classical, rock, pop, metal, Arabic and so on but no chance we will bring this to the table when we work. We start with clean sheets and just switching to "Amaseffer Mode" and we found that this way we write the purest music from the deepest corner of our soul and at the end of the day when we listen to what we have created, it is for us a true moment of achievement.
Is there a viable music scene in your part of Israel with other bands like Amaseffer?
The Israeli metal scene is relatively small but we are starting to see more and more Israeli bands being signed by European or American labels.
Those labels starting to show interest in our region for they see something really refreshing in it and people want something new.
I understand that you have just completed work on a film score for the movie, “Altalena.” Do you find doing film score work as satisfying as producing an album like EXODUS SLAVES FOR LIFE?
Ho this is a big part of who we are in the band. Film score is our biggest love and therefore we have formed our soundtrack production company. It is a dream come true to write a full score for a film and we hope that we will continue doing that for long years to come. It is not that much of a difference between the Exodus album and a film score, we combine the two so this is why "Slaves for Life" is so soundtrack oriented.
It seems like you are located in such a turbulent part of the world. What effect does living in an area with so much conflict have on your creativity?
Music and art is a great refuge from this violent area we live in, it is only contributing to our creativity.
What are your expectations for the success of the album and the future of the band?
We want this trilogy to leave an historical mark on people’s souls and be remembered as a musical epic milestone reaching all four corners of the world!
Are there any last thoughts you would like to convey at the end of this interview?
On behalf of Yuval, Hanan and myself I would like to thank you for this opportunity to present our visions behind the album and thank you for your support.
KEEP IT HOLY…!!!