Category Archives: Interview

Interview: Moshiach Oi!

As previously reported, Breslov punks Moshiach Oi! will be releasing their long-awaited third album Rock Rabeinu later this month. In anticipation, I reached out via email, and the band’s co-founders, guitarist Menashe Yaakov Wagner and lead vocalist Yishai Romanoff, were gracious enough to answer some questions about the development of the album, its attention-getting title, and some of the live gigs they have in store.

Jewish Music Underground: It’s been six years since your last album, This World is Nothing. What’s changed for Moshiach Oi in that time?

Menashe Yaakov: I got married in September.

Yishai Romanoff: A lot has happened for the band members personally, as we have all started families. We also do not live as close to each other as we used to, which is part of why we have not played as much the last few years. But Baruch HaShem, we are still going strong, and we are very excited about this new album which took over three years to record. And we still maintain the same outlook and mission, to spread the light of Torah and of Rabeinu Rebbe Nachman in the world and bring Moshiach. Na Nach!

What made you decide that now was the time to go back into the studio? What was the mindset going into this record?

MY: We have actually been working on this album (writing and recording songs) since 2014. Once I felt we had enough songs, I decided to put out the record. As has been the case from the beginning with this band, Yishai set the tone, came up with the title and wrote most of the songs.

YR: Some of these songs were actually written around the time This World Is Nothing came out. Numerous factors held us up, but we started recording in 2014 and finally finished this year. Things really picked up the last eight months or so when we really started getting this finished. The mindset for me was that these songs all have a common message and that this is something the world needs to hear, especially now. Getting this done has also given me a lot of encouragement and strength in continuing on this path of Rabeinu and doing what I can to bring it to the world.

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Yishai (L) and Menashe in 2013. Credit NY Times.

You guys are primarily a hardcore punk band, but you’ve experimented with styles like ska, folk, and alternative rock on some of your songs. You’re also obviously influenced by Rabbi Nachman and the teachings of Breslov. Are there any new influences, either musical or spiritual, that people can hear on Rock Rabeinu?

MY: Rock Rabeinu is highly focused on Moshiach Oi!’s core sound (hardcore punk) and core message (teachings of Rebbe Nachman). In addition, one song has a country feel, which transitions to reggae, then back to punk. Another song has a 6/8 rhythm.

YR: This album definitely has a few musical styles mixed in. Obviously a lot of punk, but also some ska, folk, even a little country. For anyone who was put off by some of the repetitiveness of our last album (especially with us saying “Na nach” over and over), there is probably at least twice as much Na Nach on this album!! (Maybe Michael Croland will be up for the task of counting how many times we say Na Nach on the album.)

What is the meaning behind the title Rock Rabeinu? Is it thematically significant to the record or just a cool-sounding name (because it does sound cool)?

MY: “Rock” is a play the Hebrew word “rak,” meaning “only,” which is definitely the theme of the record.

YR: It’s the title track of the album and has a double meaning. The word Rock in Hebrew means “only”, so Rock Rabeinu means “only Rabeinu.” As can be discerned from the lyrics,  we believe only Rebbe Nachman can truly heal the spiritual sickness of this generation and lead us into the Complete Redemption with the coming of Moshiach.

What do you hope that people take away from the record?

MY: Hopefully, people will feel inspired to delve deeply into the teachings of Rebbe Nachman.

YR: Rock Rabeinu. Get the books of Rebbe Nachman and read them, talk to God in your own words, and follow this path till the Redemption, both our own personal redemption and the ultimate redemption of the whole world. Na Nach!

You’re also doing a record release show on Wednesday, August 16. What can you tell us about that?

MY: It’s an all-ages show at a Long Island venue (Creative Corner, 482 Hempstead Ave, West Hempstead, NY 11552) that has hosted us in the past and whom we have a good relationship with.

YR: We are playing the record release show August 16 at Creative Corner in West Hempstead. Don’t miss it! Who knows when we will play next? Also my dad, Andy Romanoff, who’s an acoustic singer-songwriter, is playing before us. It’s gonna be awesome.

Now be honest: Which conspiracy do you blame that you weren’t asked to play The Camping Trip this weekend?

MY: Beats me. Yishai, Mitch and I will be playing The Camping Trip with our band Blanket Statementstein.

YR: Three of the four members of Moshiach Oi (including me) will be at the festival.  Maybe some Moshiach Oi songs will be performed? Who knows? Na Nach!

Anything else you want people to know about?

YR: Na Nach Nachma Nachman MeUman!!!!

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Interview: Klunk, Klezmer-Punk from Paris (Michael Croland)

Guest Post by Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk

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Photo: KRISS PEEKS

Klunk (short for “klezmer-punk”) released their debut EP on March 23. Klunk takes Old World, klezmer songs in Yiddish and mixes them with punk rock and metal. It’s fusion of klezmer with punk (or metal) rather than klezmer with punk elements (along the lines of Golem) or punk rock with klezmer elements (along the lines of Di Nigunim).

The EP’s best klezmer-punk song is “Daloy Polizey.” The title/refrain translates to “Down with the Police.” According to the Jewish Music Research Centre, the song dates back to at least 1905 and “the chorus was shouted rather than sung.” The Centre explained, “The text of the song tends toward anarchism, even anarchist terror, especially in the verse that calls to bury Tsar Nicolai along with his mother. These verses may be connected to more radical sections of the Labor Bund or to smaller groups of Jewish anarchists.” Klunk’s “Daloy Polizey” features raspy vocals, with shouting at times, in addition to crunchy guitar chords and a fast tempo.

Klunk mines Yiddish music of yesteryear for radical/socialist/anarchist songs, reminiscent of Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird. Klunk’s music is definitely heavier than Kahn’s. I recognized one Klunk song, “Arbetlozer Marsh,” from Kahn’s version. Whereas Kahn added English lyrics to the Yiddish, Klunk added French, so that their audience would understand.

Here is my interview with Jean-Gabriel Davis, lead singer and pianist of Klunk.

In “Daloy Polizey,” I hear Klunk taking a klezmer-punk approach. In “Sha Still” (with the slower tempo and especially the guitar solo in the bridge) and “Yiddish Honga” (especially the metal/metalcore breakdown), I hear a klezmer-metal approach.

I feel they are different approaches. Bénédicte [violinist] and I are punk music fans. Julian [guitarist] and Roman [bassist] are metal fans. So we play both styles. Depending on the song, the story, and the arrangement, it may be more punk, more metal, or a subtle blend of the two. What links everything is the Yiddish language, the violin, the electric guitars, and the drums.

In “Daloy Polizey,” “Barikadn,” and “Arbetlozer Marsh,” you’re playing old, radical, traditional Yiddish songs. Do you identify as a socialist, communist, anarchist, etc.? Do you find punk messages in Jewish tradition from yesteryear?

We identify as very close to the left-wing political ideas. We don’t bear a specific label. We believe in peace for everybody, equality, justice, love . . . and we are angry about how the world is turning now. All this anger and hope for a better world were already there in the old Yiddish songs (“Daloy Polizey” and “Barikadn” against oppressors, “Arbetlozer Marsh” against poverty, unemployment, and inequality).

We play songs with messages that we agree with, but also just the fact of singing Yiddish songs, in Yiddish, is a claim itself. I consider myself a Yiddishist, and I try to promote the Yiddish language and culture by all means possible. This band is another way for me to promote Yiddish language and culture to people who wouldn’t know about it.

Why do klezmer and punk fit together?

They have the same energy basically (concerning the fast-tempo klezmer songs). Klezmer and punk are festive in a way. They make you want to dance, jump, smile, laugh, and drink beer! I loved the 2 styles of music, and I strongly desired to play in a klezmer-punk band.

In “Arbetlozer Marsh,” you had some lyrics in French. Were you trying to make it relatable for your audience at shows in France? 

Yes. That’s kind of a dilemma: We want to sing in Yiddish, to make Yiddish sound, but most of the people won’t understand what we sing, although the songs tell messages we agree with, such as peace, tolerance, and equality.

We incorporate French lyrics, translated from Yiddish, in order for people to understand a little bit. It’s true that in many punk or metal bands, even when they sing in English, we don’t understand anything. So it’s not that important—we explain a little the meaning or context of the songs during a live show. Most important is the energy.

It’s a difficult time to be Jewish in France. Is there a statement that you’re making by playing such overtly Jewish music in Paris today?

We do not claim to be a Jewish band. Yiddish is a language, and klezmer is a musical tradition. Klunk plays traditional folkloric songs with social themes, of a people who were oppressed, poor, and almost completely killed: Eastern and Central European Jews at the beginning of the 20th century.

Personally, I am not at all religious. And when I discovered the Yiddish world, I found a history of a culture of a people, not necessarily religious, but still Jewish. That was very strong for me as nobody told me about that, and I personally found myself. So it’s the Jewish culture that we claim and not the Jewish religion.

Klunk says F*** all oppressors, dictators, and mean people. Institutionalized religion, politicized religion, is a kind of oppression as strong and fatal as other ideologies. Punk is anti-religious in its essence.

Michael Croland is the author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, which was published in April 2016 by Praeger (an imprint of ABC-CLIO). Check out the book to learn more about other Jewish punk artists!

Gangsta Rabbi Battles Cancer, Wonders “Has the G-d of Israel written a scorching rocker for me to play in Heaven—but not until I get there?”

Guest Post by Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk

In January, Steve “Gangsta Rabbi” Lieberman released The King of Jewish Punk, his 30th album (68th if you count his 38 prior cassette recordings). He worked on it while battling cancer, and it came out while he was in a medically induced coma. Now he’s plugging away at his 31st album.

The Gangsta Rabbi has ended his musical career and revived it, and he has used his music as a forum to discuss his struggles with cancer. In this July 2016 interview, he explained where he’s at with his musical career and his health.

On multiple occasions, you’ve said that you were playing your last show and releasing your last album, only to come back for more. What inspires you to keep going?

In 2011, for the “My Last Rock Show” tour, it was a good time for me to go. I barely got any reviews for the companion CD, My Magic Last Days (2012), and needed one [more] big tour to finish it up. The day after I opened for the Misfits, I went on my 1st round of chemotherapy. It didn’t work and I started downward in 2013. I signed in at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and they determined I had progressed to early myelofibrosis. I went on my 2nd round [of chemotherapy]. I went every week for 6 months during 2013–2014, most of the time too sick to record.

I needed to tell this story, and by the end of 2014, I released Cancer Ward. During the recording of Cancer Ward, I was hospitalized 11 times and received 36 pints of transfused blood. As 2015 came, the disease progression slowed down and I became extremely prolific on the musical side, releasing the 4-part, 77-song monster, Return of the Jewish Pirate #1-4. And then the partially original Blast-O-Rama and Terminator V617F… then the Dementia Series…

You just put out the song “Where the Hell’s My Nurse?” (from the album Down with a Bang #29), and in recent years, you’ve released albums titled Cancer Ward and My Magic Last Days. Do you find that making music about your struggles with cancer is cathartic? 

For me, the cancer is not a crisis. I feel I’ve been again chosen by G-d, this time to let me know that my time will be limited and there are great things to follow. He, in dreams, brings me to places where my parents (both deceased) and my puppies (Buttons, Midnite, and Mori) are. It could be at a breezy afternoon baseball game, an amusement park, a ghetto I lived in—it’s all wonderful.

But the most wonderful one happened on 5/11/2016. I was going into severe leukemic crisis for days by then. At the hospital that night, my HgB [hemoglobin] was 3.6 (normal is between 13 and 16). My cancer doctors told me under 4.0 is pretty certain death. I lay down, and I feel a hand closing my eyes. Then I suddenly appear on a pristine, white stage—playing every instrument I ever knew, all at the same time, but not as a freak, as a slight built older man with really good hair! I’m up there playing alone. The crowd is very noisy, but their faces are all hidden. Then I feel the same hand opening up my eyes. Awake, I stumbled to my recording board and tried to record what I just did. In one minute, it was gone from my memory. Has the G-d of Israel written a scorching rocker for me to play in Heaven—but not until I get there?

I use the lyrics of these albums, from My Magic Last Days to Down with a Bang #29, to proclaim the miracles I get blessed with each day. And I provide detailed references to each stage of suffering so no one forgets me too soon.

The new one, “Where the Hell’s My Nurse?,” is a protest song against the sponsor of my chemo-therapy trial. I was pretty much told it won’t help me, nothing works, but maybe I may give hope to others. … I plan to leave this study soon and suspend any and all treatment of myeloproliferative leukemia.

You’ve always drawn on many musical styles. In 2016, you released albums covering The Who’s Quadrophenia and Tommy and Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. Were your Jewish and punk approaches part of the mix even in these projects? 

This trilogy was of course Jewish punk records because it was me who did it. I wrote the official Jewish Punk riff in 2003, and it appears a lot in my records. I’m doing a 2-octave D-harmonic scale, tremolo picking the bass with my left index [finger] through distorted power chords. It is best represented at the end of the “Bombshelter” medley on Jewish Riot Oy! Oy! Oy! Since neither Pete Townshend [of The Who] nor Ian Anderson [of Jethro Tull] favored this riff, I used their chords and melodies as I had to.

In the years to come, what do you want people to remember about The Gangsta Rabbi? 

That my career was totally successful, although in 15 years I have but 120,000 sales, for revenue of less than $5,000.00. I was a greater than minimum footnote in the history of rock, thanks to bipolar disorder, leukemia, and great journalists such as Michael Croland and the like. Your book is fantastic.

Michael Croland is the author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, which was published in April 2016 by Praeger (an imprint of ABC-CLIO). Check out the book to learn more about the Gangsta Rabbi and other Jewish punk artists!