Last updated: April 29, 2013

Shani Peleg: of guts and music

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Shani Peleg grew up with one certainty – her life had to be about music. At the age of 14, when a cousin got a guitar she immediately demanded her own, and quickly started to compose music and putting words on paper.

Fifteen years later, with calm conviction and a staggering amount of talent, Shani Peleg is becoming one of Israel’s most promising musicians and songwriters.

The music of her eponymous first album is rooted in the Israeli rock tradition – unruly melodies with oriental undertones, which according to her, were actually inspired by Led Zeppelin. The lyrics are no mere thrills; they infuse her songs with depth and a force that carries through her voice.  

Since the release of her first album, Peleg is gaining popularity. The positive reviews certainly play a part, but they only account for one side of the story. The rest, she did herself, by following her heart and reaching out to the audience. 

“I always played. I played for years and recorded my songs at home, but this was not something that came out in public,” she told Your Middle East.

“At one point I started to study in Rimon (Israeli school for contemporary music) and that helped me a lot to develop and to go out with my music, whether it is by posting my songs on the Internet or playing in acoustic concerts, alone or with one more musician. It is then that I started to take it more seriously, thinking, this is what I want to do.”

Shani started giving guitar lessons, and eventually one of her students proposed to finance the recording of an album. It would be her very first. Once the album was completed she sent it to a few record labels but none showed any real interest – except for Nana Disc and Nitzan Zaira, the owner of the company who also became her manager.

“He’s the one who’s promoting me and helping me move forward,” she said. That was more than four years ago.

You say you wanted to become a musician they day you got your guitar. Did it really start at that point?

“I was always attracted to music. My uncle and aunt had a piano, and I loved playing with it as a child. I wanted a piano, but they were expensive and big, so I got a guitar instead. I started playing immediately, and this saved my life.

“But it is not always easy. There were years when playing was like a war for me, too. When you get into a learning process with a teacher, without knowing theoretically what you are doing, it can be very tough. Especially for someone like me, who left every formal setting since the age of 16 – I left school at that age and didn’t do my military service (which is obligatory also for women in Israel). For that reason, I’m not convinced, till today, whether or not you need this – whether or not you need to learn. I did have a formal music education, I insisted on having one, and many times I felt it ruined it for me, it ruined something I previously enjoyed. In a way, it took the magic away. It’s like a child who sees a beautiful flower and gets all excited by it, and then they tell him, it’s a primrose, let’s say. Putting it all in a frame can take away the wonder.”

How do you feel about the songs after you’ve completed them? Do you consider them an accomplished piece? Do you go on discovering new things even a while after you wrote them?

“As time goes by, I see things differently. I also change, as a human being, so I can look at things from another perspective. When I then look back at my songs, I can look at them from the outside, because it is no longer me. When you write a song, you are very close to it, it reflects who you are, and now I can look at the songs from afar. It definitely changes the way I see them.”

Are there songs in your album you feel most attached to?

“’Orot kidmyim’ (‘Front Lights’, track 4). I’m attached to it and I’m never tired of hearing or performing it. The same goes with ‘Kav khamesh la’ananim’ (‘Line 5 to the Clouds’, track 5). There’s also ‘Guesher’ (‘Bridge’, track 10), to which I feel close, and ‘Jenna Jameson’ (track 3). I never sang them without enjoying it”.

Can you tell us more about ‘Front Lights’?

“For me, this song reflects the atmosphere of growing up in Kfar Saba. Me and a few other guys who left school, like me, would spend the nights drifting around. We had lots of nightly philosophical discussions. It was an interesting period in my life, but also a tough one. You know, when you are a teenager, a lot is difficult and unclear, and you wonder, what the hell? Now, I live in Tel-Aviv, but I still miss the plane (the Sharon region where Kfar Saba is located). I probably don’t miss the area specifically, but more the period.

“A while ago, I met a friend from Kfar Saba. We were outside, and we could hear coming from the houses the rattle of plates and cutlery. It felt like a real place, unlike Florentine (a neighbourhood in Tel-Aviv, mixing the ‘arty’ crowd and working class people). At that point, I already had the music, and then the words just poured out. It is half reminiscence, half a description of a time in my life”.

You sound full of confidence when you talk about your music.

“This confidence came with time, I guess. People can also give you this confidence, like Ben Shalev’s article about me (in Haaretz). I used to be a very insecure creature. I didn’t dare to go out into the world with my music. First time I read the comments written to reviews about me, it made me cry. I still haven’t reached a point where I’ve stopped reading them, but it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I need to get out what I have, otherwise, I would feel bad, it just wouldn’t feel right. So I’m making the music that comes out of me, and if somebody thinks what I’m making is shit, it’s alright. After all, they don’t know me, they only discuss my music. And that’s a matter of taste.”

How did the success of your album change your approach to the creative process?

I don’t feel there’s such a big success, like some explosion. And if a change did occurred to me, it occurred much earlier. Before I started playing my songs in public, I was shy and introverted. Music creation was a wholly personal experience for me. Now, when I create, I know other people would be exposed to it, even if it’s just my boyfriend. When you create, you are in the most intimate place in your head, but at the same time you are also in front of a crowd, and you know some people would like it, and others won’t. In this respect, I understand why musicians do drugs and alcohol, which I don’t by the way. They need something to get them out of the world, so that they can touch something authentic and intimate, even though they know it would later become public domain.”

Who are the people who matter the most to you, today, as far as your music is concerned?

“As far as artists are concerned, I started listening to Regina Spektor, and I’m very grateful I’ve discovered her. I have all her albums, and this is what I listen to mostly, at the moment. I also like TV on the Radio.

“I’m also grateful to people like Moty Bikovsky. He’s a great guitar player. I got a chance to play with him, and it was wonderful.”

What is the next stage for you?

“I want to write as much as possible, make music as much as possible, and perform as much as possible. I would also like to work on a new album. But that takes time.”

Do you have one wish for the future?

“I wish I would make music all my life, that I would be creative. I wish it will all be alright.”

You can listen to Peleg’s album and buy it here:

Morane Barkai
Morane is a freelance journalist and editor based in Amsterdam.
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