By B. Simm
BeatRoute is proud to premiere Orit Shimoni’s latest video release from her album Bitter is the New Sweet. Made in Berlin, it’s a jazzy glimpse into her lover’s divided soul. Bittersweet, indeed.
CALGARY — Osheaga, the massive mid-summer outdoor music fest in Montreal, is a tremendous experience. Over a hot August weekend, Outkast, Nick Cave and Lorde commanded the stage with theatrical majesty, playfully bouncing 40,000 fans around in the palms of their hands. It’s enthralling to witness and feel the affects of supercharged talent reverberate across Parc Jean Drapeau, echo down the Metro station and then disperse out along the night-life of St. Laurent Blvd.
The Barfly is one of those rooms that oscillates from post-punk to metal to hip-hop to old-timey folk expanding and contracting with the different kinds of energy performers exude and their patronage embrace. It’s a good room, it’s a great room.
Coming down off Osheaga, I sat at the bar surrounded by fewer than 10 others pleasantly swayed by a young, but worldly woman playing acoustic country tossing in a bit of jazz-swing while her accompanying guitarist added slinky, blues riffs and a touch of twang. Everyone was captivated by the organic honesty of her voice and the beauty of the B7 chord. In wake of Osheaga’s splendor and overwhelming spectacle, Orit Shimoni at the Barfly was the unannounced afterglow party and the perfect, magical rabbit hole to disappear down.
Recalling that night and her first two albums she recorded in Montreal under the wings of Little Birdie, Shimoni says, “Whenever I’m back there, I like to play those songs. They were definitely more rootsy, Americana.”
While attending Western Canada High School in Calgary, Shimoni was already playing small cafe gigs. Inspired by “everything from the ‘60s,” she laughs while describing herself as a “hippy, gypsy chick… A mopey teenager, writing melancholy songs who was intensely quizzical at the same time.”
Following high school she moved to Israel, stayed for six years and completed a degree in English literature. She says that people who reside in a tense, never-ending conflict zone do get used to living with a “very, high state of anxiety, but as soon as you remove yourself from there you realize how fucked-up and anxious you are.”
Fleeing the Middle East, Montreal became a comfortable base. Although she would quit the day job and move to Berlin for a year where she recorded a live album in 2011, Sadder Music. Shimoni says her Berlin stopover totally influenced her music at the time. All ten songs off that record address living in Germany and “all the different levels of that society, its politics, being a woman in a ridiculously male-dominated scene, junkies everywhere and just the down and outness of Berlin.”
Although challenging in many respects, Shimoni says the German experience was also positive. “Musically it’s far more diverse. Unofficially it’s very cabaret, but not like 1930s. It’s just very European, with art and lots of gypsy music. Here [in Canada] the level of musicianship is higher, but so much looks alike with a million guys in beards and lumberjack shirts playing guitars that all sound the same to me. In Berlin the element of wild, theatrical and weird is wonderful.”
Spring-boarding from Germany Shimoni went “totally nomadic” and has been living from gig to gig for the last few years. But each time in Europe it’s back to Berlin where she recorded an EP called If Love Is A Religion that’s on the brink of being released.
“This guy saw me playing a show, came up after and said, ‘I really like what you do, I can record you.’ I told him I have no money, but he didn’t care. ‘I believe in what you’re doing.’
Taking the offer, Shimoni says she wanted to branch out and not do another country or jazz-blues record and be surrounded and supported by musicians steeped in those styles.
“I didn’t want to sound rootsy, Americana. I didn’t want to sound pretty. I just wanted to say my thing. So I played electric guitar on it, for one, which made a big difference. It also has a grittier, rawer sound. Everyone does this patronizing bit, ‘Oooh, she’s a folk-singer.’ Well, I’m a fucking folk-singer because I’m alone with a guitar, but that doesn’t mean everything I do is just that. This is closest to what I think I should sound like, out of everything that I’ve done.” On her other records she loved playing with musicians she calls “phenomenal,” but she felt she was “dressed up in a style that was not necessarily me.”
It’s hard to imagine Orit Shimoni — the gusty, seemingly fearless but compassionate troubadour — to be anything but herself. On her 2014 release, Bitter Is The New Sweet, she recorded a “mock love song, a sarcastic invitation to bond over the shared horror” of love called “Let’s Get Persecuted.” It’s a playful tune, that flirts with how the honeymoon often turns on itself so that love becomes not so lovely anymore. Throw in the term “persecuted” and it becomes a minefield in some cultures. Pretty ballsy for a Jewish girl, and then to perform it in Germany!
“I Lost My Husband To The War” is one of the stark, sentimental but gripping tracks off the new release. With its sweet-sad piano and weeping violin, Shimoni scraps out simple guitar chords and a melody that falls alongside Dylan and Leonard Cohen’s the-world-is-vastly-complex songs.
One of the highlights of Osheaga in 2014 was Lorde’s performance. Not so much the music and her girl-all-alone on the stage dance routine, but that a pre-drinking age teen could hold court with a sea of frenzied concert-goers who hung on to every word. As I sunk into the show that night at the Barfly, I thought about Osheaga’s talent buyers. They could have had Shimoni’s good looks, strength of character, great voice and words of wisdom echoing across Parc Jean Drapeau. Would Shimoni have consented, I dunno. But I can’t she how she wouldn’t have had the same connection as Lorde if given the opportunity.
Orit hosts the Ship’s Open jam on Sat., May 9, plays the Ironwood on May 14 and the Blackbird Cafe in Edmonton on May 16.AB, Alberta, Blackbird Cafe, Ironwood, Orit Shimoni, Osheaga, Ship & Anchor