Interview with Israeli bluesman Lazer Lloyd, music and songs through the deep spirituality and soulfulness

"The blues to me means the struggle to find out what life is really about and struggling for survival in this world physically and emotionally and all the challenges that come with that."

Lazer Lloyd: Jammin with King David

Lazer Lloyd is a blues, rock, and folk guitarist and singer, songwriter who has spread love of the blues across Israel with constant touring playing both acoustic solo blues shows and electric gigs with the Lazer Lloyd Blues Band. Lazer has recorded several solo albums, acoustic and electric. Lazer Lloyd announces a self-titled album of all new electric and acoustic material to be released on CD and vinyl on June 9th.  The Lazer Lloyd album (2015), releasing on the Chicago-based LL Records label, is packed with 11 new original songs and a cover of Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay.” It follows on the critical success of his 2013 stripped-down acoustic solo album, Lost on the Highway (Blues Leaf Records) and his 2012 electric CD, My Own Blues (on Helicon, chosen by the Israeli Blues Society’s for best 2012 blues album). The new album was written and recorded in two Tel Aviv studios (Sonic and Papa) during a period of intense songwriting throughout 2014. Lazer has toured around the world and opened for such artists as Johnny Winter, Prince, Snowy White, and Olie Brown.

Raised on the roots of rock and blues growing up in Connecticut in the USA, at age fifteen Lazer was playing in night clubs along the Connecticut shoreline and in New Haven with his group Legacy. At eighteen, Lazer went to study music at Skidmore College where he played and studied under famous blues men such as Milt Hinton (bass player for Louis Armstrong), Randy Brecker, and Gene Bertoncini. After college, Lazer returned to Connecticut to form his own rock and blues band called The Last Mavericks. The band became very popular and their first demo gained them a showcase with Atlantic Records. Toby Mofet from A&R at Atlantic took Lazer to Manhattan to record more material and wanted Lazer to go to Nashville to work with producer Gary Talent. At this point Lazer was given a gig with the legendary Shlomo Carlebach. Shlomo invited Lazer to play with him in Israel; he did and quickly decided to move his life and his music to Israel. For a decade Lazer toured around the world as lead guitar player and second singer for legendary Israeli jam band Reva L’Sheva. Then he formed the power trio Yood and produced the record “Passin’ Over” in 2007. The band toured Israel as well as US college campuses for three years. In recent years, Lazer has shifted his focus to a new project, the Lazer Lloyd Blues Band, which has successfully crossed over into the Israeli mainstream music scene. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what do the blues mean to you?

What I learn about myself from the blues is when you sing the blues and write the blues it's like a magnifying glass looking inside your heart.  If you want to find something real than the blues help you do that. What I personally learned from the blues is that unfortunately I have a heavy load  in my personality and it takes a lot for me to keep myself functioning without getting too down about the imperfections of the world and myself.  I wish I could learn to be a bit simpler and settled but the blues keep me fluctuating which is always exciting yet challenging. 

The blues to me means the struggle to find out what life is really about and struggling for survival in this world physically and emotionally and all the challenges that come with that.

What were the reasons that an Israeli New York musician started the Blues/Rock searches and experiments?

I started my blues search at a very young age when my father always had BB King on the stereo. At age 14 he took me to a Stevie Ray Vaughan concert and from there the search began. After college someone put me together with a Jewish blues Rabbi hippie called Shlomo Carlebach and he said we have to play the blues in Israel so I went.

"Why do I feel that folk jazz and blues still continue to have such a dedicated following, because it's real art and it's about everyone's life story and it heals."

How do you describe Lazer Lloyd's sound and progress, what characterizes your music philosophy?

I would describe Lazer Lloyd as unproduced. I just want to give over something down to earth. I really don't want to try to say anything or play anything that's going to impress people... just maybe will release some pain from someone's heart, will make someone feel good or ask a question. I'm always changing because I haven't found who I am yet and even if I did, I would still hope that I would be growing. 

I still haven't figured out what the world needs me for, so I keep looking for it in my music and in the words.  On my last two disks I felt that I started to really come into contact for the first time with what I really want to say in a few of the songs, "My Own Blues", "By Your Side",  "Been Trying",  "Back Porch",  "Higher Ground",  "World Falling". These songs are who I am.

I don't really think I have a music philosophy, I like to just play the feeling of the moment while recording and live I want to try to reveal some real emotion.

Are there any memories from studio sessions of The Lazer Lloyd album which you’d like to share with us?

The memories I have from the studio are that I felt a certain magic that you really have to feel to make it happen in the studio. It doesn't always happen. It's the hardest place for me because my favorite thing is to be with the crowd and play live and to create on the spot, so the worst place for me is the studio where I have to be thought out.  But I went in with some ideas not fully formed and with a great band and it just came down. Things that I don't really know how I did it and I can't even re-create live came down in the studio for this album - which is the goal.

"The Israeli blues scene started back some 3500 years ago when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and they've been singing the blues ever since. I think the highlight was King David's time when he wrote and sang the psalms and played them at night."

From the musical point of view, what are the differences between: an acoustic and electric blues album?

For me in an electric album you want to try to reach that energy level of some serious power some strong crying out in the loud way. In an acoustic album, it's kind of like meditation. Everything's done - for me - in the soft way, play as little as you can play with as much space as there can be.

What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas for songs most frequently?

The scenes in my music are dealing with the experience of not getting caught up in the world and not being afraid to realize you've messed up. These things are what helps keep you humble and helps to be able to connect with other people and see their blues. There is so much pain in the world these days especially where I live in Israel and living with life and death in your face, up-close, gives plenty of material for songwriting.

Which memory from Milt Hinton, Randy Brecker, Johnny Winter, Prince, and Snowy White makes you smile?

Milton Hinton was like a grandfather figure, he gave you the feeling like the music is going to make you someone deep and good.

"What I personally learned from the blues is that unfortunately I have a heavy load  in my personality and it takes a lot for me to keep myself functioning without getting too down about the imperfections of the world and myself. "

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

The most interesting time in my life is right now as I have started to become successful and at the same time I am married and raising five kids and trying to be a sort of spiritual mentor to many people. My own spiritual struggles seem to always get deeper and more challenging as I learn more about myself and the world.

The best moment in my career was when I met Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and played with him in Manhattan. He helped me find my own blues and gave me the spiritual strength to deal with my own struggles without having to rely on physical pleasure alone to gain my inner satisfaction. Rav Shlomo taught me that music is really about loving people and giving them hope.

I don't know if I have had my worst moment in my career. I don't recall any really bad things happening except maybe when I made the first demo that got me to Atlantic records. I had used money from down payments that people paid me to go on their vacations when I had this small vacation company during the day in my early 20s. I used the down payments to make the demo and then the first war with Iraq started and everyone cancelled their vacations and I didn't have the money to pay it back... That was pretty hairy.

Why did you think that the Folk, Jazz and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Why do I feel that folk jazz and blues still continue to have such a dedicated following, because it's real art and it's about everyone's life story and it heals.

"What I learn about myself from the blues is when you sing the blues and write the blues it's like a magnifying glass looking inside your heart. If you want to find something real than the blues help you do that." (Photo by Haim Ravia, 2013)

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

The best jam I ever played in was the 18 minutes of the song 'The Hope' that we recorded on the spot in the studio for the album 'My Own Blues'

My most memorable gig was when I played for the first time with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach in Manhattan. Also, when I warmed up for Snowy White in Israel, that's when the media really said that I stole the show and it put me on the map in Israel...

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Which meetings have been the best experiences for me, ... again meeting Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach also Milt Hinton gave me some real good advice about not playing a lot of notes. Milt liked that I played simply and taught me to listen and to be minimalistic.

Are there any memories from recording and show time which you’d like to share with us?

Some show experiences that I really enjoyed were in Moscow this past summer. Somehow I had to play much deeper because I wasn't sure if people were understanding the words and I really felt a special connection to the audience in Russia. They really love the blues and I was impressed by the people.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would make it that musicians wouldn't get paid money to play. It would simply be that musicians get free electricity, food, water, housing all the basics paid because they're supposed to really be the people giving over the spirituality from the music and that should not be for monetary gains - yet they have to live.

"Our mutual struggles in the world and discrimination are the connections between the Afro-American music in America and the Israeli scene."

Make an account of the case of Israeli Blues scene. What are the differences between local scene and American?

The Israeli blues scene is small but growing. It's very fresh because it's new and it has a lot of other spices in the pot.

Which is the most interesting period in the Israeli blues scene? What advice would you give to new local blues generation?

The Israeli blues scene started back some 3500 years ago when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and they've been singing the blues ever since. I think the highlight was King David's time when he wrote and sang the psalms and played them at night. He included all the broken hearts that ever were and will be. To the new local blues generation, I recommend trying to do something new - trying to find your own thing.  Really learn what was before you but then try to sing exactly what is your own pain. If you don't have anything you have to really be worried about, it is because you're not feeling the world's pain.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Well what do I miss of the music of the past, obviously people are changing in the world. It is becoming a fast-moving place and I miss listening to people who just could sit on the back porch.  My hope is that people will go back to being people.

What are the lines that connect the Afro American culture and music of USA with Israeli people and music?

Our mutual struggles in the world and discrimination are the connections between the Afro-American music in America and the Israeli scene.

"The scenes in my music are dealing with the experience of not getting caught up in the world and not being afraid to realize you've messed up. These things are what helps keep you humble and helps to be able to connect with other people and see their blues." 

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the world today?

Buddy Guy always makes me laugh and my children are touching me so deep. The suicide bombings and terror are things that obviously cause a lot of pain in the world today and for myself personally these things are extremely difficult emotionally.

When we talk about Blues, we usually refer past moments. Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Unfortunately - in the sense of the causes - there are real, real deep blues today. Blues music is needed and vital as a healing force now more than ever.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

King David was the original bluesman. For a whole day I would like to be with King David and to see the instruments he played, to hear the notes, and to see his face and his eyes when he wrote the Psalms.

Lazer Lloyd's Home  &   EPK @ Sonicbids

Photo by Yuri Gersh

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