Paul Weller's favourite kibbutznik
Indie rocker Geva Alon reveals how his ‘hard, stressful and tense’ life as an Israeli fuels his hit albums
Geva Alon met his hero Neil Young in LA. “It was shocking how friendly he was"
Geva Alon has been called "the Israeli Neil Young", his plaintive voice soaring above gentle acoustic guitar or the fuller sound of a band.
His newly released third album, Get Closer, was produced by Thom Monahan, who has worked with alternative folkie Devendra Banhart, Americana types such as The Jayhawks, and the grungier likes of Dinosaur Jr.
There are elements of all these artists in Alon's music, helping to make him one of Israel's most popular, and credible, acts - Get Closer is close to being awarded a gold disc. Success means big audiences - he recently played to 50,000 people in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, where famously, during a concert by left-wing rock star Aviv Geffen in 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered.
Not that Alon is as politicised as Geffen. "I try not to mix music with politics," he says. "I appreciate everything that Aviv has done - he tried to change things - but that's not me. I'm just in it for the music."
The tension is there, no matter how quietly I play
The effect that Alon has on his audience, however, is similar to that of Geffen, and in Tel Aviv he is regularly approached by fans. "I get it when I walk down the street," he says, "especially since this album, because it was pretty big on the radio here. It can be hell. But I can't complain. I just try to be nice and remember where I came from."
Alon was born and raised on a kibbutz, Ma'abarot, in the centre of the country, and after travelling abroad, including a stint in Los Angeles, he now lives on another, HaMa'apil, near the coast, an hour from Tel Aviv. Does he get special treatment because he's a celeb? "Not really," he laughs. "I'm not part of the kibbutz; I'm just renting a house there. It's like any other place. My whole life is being a musician. This is everything I do."
He admits that life on a kibbutz has its pros and cons. "You grow up together, and it's like one big family. But it's like a big bubble, and when you leave you don't have the tools to handle basic stuff like paying the rent and dealing with taxes, because there's always someone else to do it for you."
Live, Alon has supported one of his favourite musicians, Paul Weller, in San Francisco, and even got to meet his all-time hero, Neil Young, in LA. "It was shocking how friendly he was," he says.
It was while on tour in the States that he wrote the songs for Get Closer, where tracks about family reside next to tracks about his homeland.
There is not much "Jewishness" in his music, although, as he says, "I mention God from time to time, though not in a religious way, more as a cosmic power that drives me forward."
He is not particularly religious and, like many kibbutzniks, he did not have a barmitzvah. "Kibbutzim don't do anything that has to do with you being Jewish, because they're based on being part of a team and not an individual. Shocking, isn't it?" He explains that Jews in the diaspora are often more diligent in their adherence to ritual than Israelis because, in a sense, they have to be.
Nevertheless, Israel is, he admits, "the one place in the world where I feel connected to the ground that I'm walking on", even if conflict - actual or impending - is "like a shadow over your life". Israel is, he adds, a "hard, stressful and tense" place.
That tension can spill over into his music. "For sure," he says. "People often say about me that, even when I'm playing acoustic guitar, you can feel the tension of a band. The tension is there, no matter how quietly I play. It's something you project."
'Get Closer' is available to download from iTunes. Geva Alon plays at Hoxton's Underbelly, London N1 on May 4. Tel: 020 7613 1988