Itay Mazilo has something to say, he has a message, but he doesn’t want to tell you, he wants you to feel it through the music – and I think you will. I first heard Itay perform at a tribute concert to Nick Drake, singing and playing the piano. As it turns out, that soulful fellow is the B side of this musician, the hidden, reflective aspect. Tearing up the stage and playing rock guitar with seriously wild intention, Itay Mazilo launched his debut album So Far, the View this week at the Barby, in the kind of hard-rocking concert that makes you want to dance, with songs that linger in your mind.
Where does he come from and where is he going with his music? I sat down with Itay in Tel Aviv the day before the concert, to talk about music, life and dreams.
“Music was always there, Itay told me, and he has been playing guitar and composing music since he was about 16, his influences mainly 90s rock (Crunch, Oasis, Radiohead) and classic rock. Like many music-loving teens, he started a rock band during his last years in high school. Unlike most high school rock bands, some of these guys are still performing with him today – Ori Levi-Ganani, who helped produce the album, and Amit Elfassy. Having spent most of his youth attached to a Walkman, Itay shared with me one of his strongest music memories: the free compilation CDs that used to come every now and then with the newspaper when he was just a kid. While his own style of alt-rock with lyrics in English is far (very far) from the Israeli songs on those collections, he remembers that feeling of anticipation he had as a kid, waiting to hear a new song. Perhaps it is that energy, that sense of anticipation, the fervor that fills the singer/songwriter, that makes it hard to believe he is not a kid anymore, already 30.
Unlike many independent musicians these days, who seem to have an album out even before they’ve settled on a name for their band, Itay has taken the time to develop and change as a musician. Unmute, his first band, performed steadily for about 12 years, releasing an EP before finally dispersing a few years ago. Moving to Tel Aviv, the hub of Israel’s indie music scene, five years ago, Itay experienced a shift in focus.
“For the past few years I’ve been playing many acoustic performances,” said Itay, “discovering different sides of myself, and that led me to realize that I wanted to record an album, to express those different aspects.” At the same time, he was also making the transition from front man and vocalist for his own band, to playing lead guitar for other musicians, like Ofir Somberg and Yair Rubin. As 2013 drew to a close, after 6 years of working as a video editor, he made the decision to quit his day job and take the plunge, going deep in the music that had always been there, and make an album. It’s been quite a ride.
“It’s an important process for a musician,” Itay said, “you want people should hear the songs at that moment when you are burning to make them heard – you shouldn’t wait so long and let too many years go by. Yes, you need to develop, find out who you are as a musician and what you want to say in the songs, but the understanding that these songs need to go out into the world is also part of the creative process. It makes the songs somehow more… more alive.”
That fire inside, the desire to take the songs out to the world where people can hear them, is perhaps the secret to the success of his funding campaign on Headstart. Inviting everyone to join him in making the album happen, he really meant it. In February 2014 Itay embarked on an intense performance tour in six different locations throughout the country giving free concerts during the month-long campaign, inviting everyone to come and listen, and take part. Gaining fans and supporters, it all came together at the launch concert this week which resonated with a great feeling of community. Onstage with Itay was his band: Ori Levi-Ganani (bass), Amit Elfassy (drums), Idan Katz (guitar) and Eran Sela (keyboard). Joining them on the song Protected Space was Omer Leshem on harmonica, and Kobi Farhi – the ultimate producer of the album, played sax on Hometown.
The album is a seductive pleasure, a sweet ride on a rock sound. Yet it is also enigmatic, an album of songs that starts out with an instrumental introduction: Ignition, a short track mix of voice and sound; and the title piece So Far, the View. When I told Itay that I found this instrumental track at once idyllic, almost pastoral in feel, yet at the same time, with a bit of an edge – he smiled and told me that I was on the right track. Readily acknowledging the influence of albums like Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, he told me, “I knew from the beginning that it would be a concept album, but I didn’t know what would connect the songs.”
“Some of the songs on the album are timeless,” he said, “they will be with me forever. Flickers (the closing song) was written in about 2006, I had my guitar in hand and notebook open. The song emerged in about five minutes, and I barely edited it afterward… I remember the song as writing itself.”
Other songs, like Stop Time and the bittersweet Maybe from a Treetop are new. When I commented to Itay that many of the songs relate in some way to time, he responded, “Changes, nostalgia for innocence, memories – these are things I think about a lot. The essential questions: where was I, who am I now – we’re always looking at ourselves in hindsight, involved with time and it’s rare to find that moment when you simply say: Yes, I’m alive now. I’m trying to say – go with your ambitions and dreams, live in the present.”