The singer and songwriter Roy Dahan makes music which slips right under your skin and directly into your heart. There, it’s beating, streaming through your veins, becoming purest happiness. In the interview he talks about Germans, Israel and of course – his music.
[DE Version: hier klicken]
Roy Dahan is sitting outside a café in Akazienstraße, Schöneberg. He’s happy about the dogs that are walking by; he’s rolling his cigarettes quite casually; he’s very much there. It’s chilly, the coffee tastes like vinegar. But that’s okay. His dark glowing eyes make up for it, his smile. That’s charisma, ladies and gentlemen, it’s charm. And it’s not just in his looks, it’s also in his voice. When Roy Dahan laughs, you think the whole world laughs with him.
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Roy Dahan, who are you and what are you doing?
I come from Tel Aviv and I’ve been here in Berlin for maybe two months now. I used to play and perform in Tel Aviv for the past six years. I had a band and started doing music at the age of 30. I did my first concert on my birthday actually – I thought that would be a good milestone to start everything at the age of thirty – and I published two CDs. The first one is called: Some of this life, the second one: The man in my head. I also teach piano and I produce music and I’m here for my Berlin tour now, just to explore some of Europe and find new places to perform, to meet new people.
What did you do before your 30th birthday?
I did nothing which had to do with music back then. Music was a habit. I used to play the piano ever since and I learned music in school for 4 years. Before that I was looking for myself and I really didn’t do anything.
How did you discover your need for making music for an audience?
I think it came out of a standard thirty crises in which you ask yourself who am I, what am I, what am I doing here. (laughs) It was kind of a bad time and I decided to make a very big decision about what I wanted to do, so I thought about the biggest dream I could have in my head. Ok, I said, I want to be a singer and musician and songwriter. And I started with my first show and I’ve done it ever since.
Like an addiction?
I don’t think so, no. But it was like a revelation. So this is it what makes me really happy.
How long did you actually work on your debut?
I’ve been working on it for seven months. Seven very intense months.
And it was quite a big success in Israel, right?
Well, it’s like to ask: Wow, you’re looking really nice, right? – Yes, I am. (laughs) No, I am joking. The radios accepted it very well and a few of the songs —
State of mind was the most played song in Israel in 2012.
Yeah. There was a great success in terms of content. I mean people really liked the content of the LP. It was such an exciting time when the first CD came out.
Did you expect this kind of success?
Actually I wouldn’t have started it if I didn’t think that I could make something valuable or good. I was expecting people to like it but I couldn’t measure how much they would like it. I could have put my dreams high and hope for the best, but you never know anything before you distribute it, before you spit it out.
What’s your opinion on the music industry in Israel?
I would rather say something about the music industry worldwide.
Well, that would have been the next question.
Ah, okay. Well… I actually think it has the same answer. Many, many good things are hidden and out of reach. You know there is a lot of good, amazing, beautiful music that is under the radar and it’s not pop and sometimes it doesn’t have the platforms it deserves. The music industry in Israel is quite small. It’s a small country and you have a lot of artists and you have a lot of competition and I think you have to stand out really strong in order to get some attention.
That means a lot of fighting?
Yes, you have to be a really good fighter, willing to fight for your art for a long time. But for me I need to admit that it was very rewarding – I mean everything I had with my audience in Israel and the radio platforms and the television, everything. They gave me a really nice treatment. I appreciate that.
Speaking of platforms. When I did the research on you, I checked Spotify first —
Was I there?
And YouTube, yes. But what do you think about platforms like Spotify which provides the possibility to stream your music without actually buying it? People pay for the mere service, but basically they can have everything. The artists just get some cents out of it if their songs get played thousands of times.
Spotify doesn’t work in Israel. But anyway. For the last couple of years, when it comes to music, people listen to music for free, and I think many artists are selling themselves really cheap because they are willing to use any opportunity – to be big, to be discovered by someone, and they are willing to do a lot of things to get people to hear their music.
You also did a lot to get yourself out there, didn’t you?
You can listen to both of my albums online for free on Bandcamp and you can watch all the YouTube videos for free and you can hear it everywhere. So I guess every musician has this little spark in him that says: Ok, it’s worth it because someone will listen to it, that will be important to my career or whatever. And I do think the companies definitely take advantage of this.
You see… I could listen to music for free all day long, too. But when I really like something I want to buy the CD, download all of it, so that I can also have it and because I want to contribute to someone. I do believe in Karma, more than anything in life. If you do something good you get something good back. I actually believe that you have a consequence to every action you do, either it’s bad or good. Even if you steal something from someone and you know that there’s no chance ever that anybody will find it out – someone already knows about it…
Who are your favorite singers and songwriters?
As a kid I never liked someone so badly, I never admired any band or group, I was never a groupie, that wasn’t my thing. I used to listen to so many kinds of music when I was a kid, not because I’ve chosen to listen to that music but because this was what people were playing around me. So I guess I have a little bit of everything in me.
I can cry my heart out listening to a Rachmaninov piece which I like and at the same time I can hear some very oriental arabic song that touches me as well. I can take something from here and there. I do appreciate the amazing charisma that Beyoncé has for instance and I can look at her and say: Wow! I wish I had like 10% of this charisma. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I like her songs or the content or what I think of it.
I can find beauty in pop and I can learn something from it and at the same time I can express myself in a way after listening to a classical piano piece. It’s a mixture of so many things. But in the end, I really like Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake because they’re doing something which is 100% true and real and this is what music should be all about: Truth.
And where’s the truth in pop music?
Yeah, well, and sometimes it’s not just about that. (laughs) Sometimes it’s about amusement or entertainment. You don’t have to look into music as one thing. You can see it as many things, a big spectrum. It doesn’t have to be the deep or touching one or the one which is full of emotions. I don’t hear pop in my spare time, but if I switch on the radio I will hear Beyoncé. For sure.
I’ve read that you sing your songs in English to reach a broader audience and to overcome the limits of borderlines. Do you think English is really necessary to get big and famous?
Mostly – and to be completely honest – I sing in English because… I do that. Because this is what comes out of my head. I felt my whole career I was apologizing for that. It is kind of an issue in Israel if you’re singing in English. Many people don’t really like the idea, because they’re thinking you’re trying to be something you’re not. And that wasn’t the deal. When I started to write it was in English and I can’t really explain why, but I have to admit that I was charmed by the fact that I can reach a big audience that actually hears what I have to say and understands it – and not just the music.
But isn’t Hebrew something important to you?
Of course… You know, there was a very surprising thing that happened to me here in Berlin: During my shows I always put Hebrew songs in-between and not once and not twice, but a lot of times German people would approach me in the end of the show and tell me that when I was singing in Hebrew there was something differently happening to them. They said they really liked the show and they liked the English songs as well, but they said that they felt charmed by the Hebrew songs.
Why did it surprise you?
It was a big surprise for me, because when I sing songs in Hebrew I feel my body shivering and my heart is expanding, this is my nature, you know? I speak Hebrew. And it’s more than just a language. Therefore I will definitely make a Hebrew album soon.
How do you write your lyrics? Do you need a certain atmosphere for it – like you put yourself in a room and lock yourself in?
No, I don’t lock myself in chambers so far, but when it comes to lyrics writing has many forms. Take for example my first song on my first album, it’s called Falling like a stone. First I was just improvising with the guitar, the melody, and I was gibberishing like: press my dresden-flapper stretch – like this, stupid words without meaning, and suddenly I had only one phrase in my mind, the only real sentence: I’m falling like a stone and when I had this phrase, I felt exactly what I wanted to say.
A lot of my songs are fiction, they talk about situations I’ve put myself in because I wanted to feel something or it’s about dreams I had. So I kind of pretend to be in a different situation, in a different place with different people and so a song comes out. There’s not just one way.
How do you imagine your fans?
This is the beauty of music and the most exciting thing about it: You never know who’s listening and when and what’s the situation this person is living in. Some girl met me here after a show and told me: Thank you for being in the soundtrack of my life for the past year. I didn’t know her, but this is a moment to treasure.
I think this is why many people tell me when they’re listening to my songs – people from all over the place, from Israel, Germany, England or even Egypt or Honolulu – that they sometimes feel like they ARE the song, or at least a part of it. That they could slip into the music like into a costume. They hear something in it I never meant but they hear it. For me, it’s perfect. When people ask me what did you write about I occasionally say: About you and they laugh, they’re really laughing and they’re blushing and they know it’s kind of a joke but in a way it’s true. Because I wrote it for you and you and you and everyone who will listen to it and find something related. I mean… Everybody has a beautiful state of mind.
Why did you choose Berlin?
First of all Berlin, because I’ve been here on a trip a year ago when I had my first performance – and this show, well, it was a huge success for me. The audience was really, really nice and I liked them and I liked the atmosphere and I mostly liked that Berlin has so many kinds of people and characters that are not necessarily Germans. It’s a big mixture of so many cultures and people ran from their countries to be here. It’s like Tel Aviv for me, but bigger. I just like it.
How long will you be here?
For ever and ever. I am gonna die on this land. (laughs) No. Actually I am planning to be here for maybe one year. I just got the contract for my apartment signed for one year, so I will use it. And you never know where life takes you. I don’t have a certain plan for that.
Sometimes musicians, they always have a constant battle and fighting for something and I think the most amazing thing that happened to me when I first came here was that I realized: I’m not running away from something. I just want to do my music. This is my life routine. I will do it for the rest of my life. I will sing and perform and I don’t think that success or a lack of success will change what I do. So everything that will come will be a bonus. You know I still want to perform in Wembley in front of 1,000 or 100,000 people and actually I think I’ll do it someday. But I won’t die if it’s not gonna happen, I wouldn’t feel that I failed or that I didn’t succeed or that I didn’t achieve my dreams because I’m living my dreams now: I make music. (pauses) So romantic. (laughs) Ohhhh…
Do you already feel at home here?
No, I have just one home and it’s the only place I feel home and it’s in my country. I don’t think I will ever feel at home at a different place. I still feel like a visitor, like a tourist in a way – even though I have my apartment and I have my piano and my guitar and I have some really nice friends here. I am still floating. I still don’t really feel: Wow, I moved to Berlin.
What’s home anyway?
Earth. (laughs) Well, I have to be honest: My answer of this question is very, very boring and not unique, but it’s family and friends. They are my home, the place where I grew up, it’s my environment. It’s the people, it’s always the people.
What’s your opinion on Germany?
Well… I have a lot of opinions. (laughs) Starting with Berlin, the city —
Berlin is not Germany.
Yeah, this is what I get to hear a lot. This here is not typical German. It’s the poorest and the best – how did your former mayor say? Poor and sexy?
I don’t like him saying this because I want to be sexy and financially stable. (laughs) I don’t want to be rich, you know? I am not looking for millions, but I want to finish a show and get some money for it. But Berlin is really sexy though, it gives you the atmosphere of freedom and the ability to be what you want to be and feeling perfectly comfortable about it. If you want to be eccentric you can be eccentric and it’s okay and I like it that everybody can do whatever they want as long as they don’t interfere with anyone or harm anyone. I really like the freedom people here are giving each other.
Do you think this freedom is some kind of not caring?
I don’t think it’s not caring, no. People care a lot about their environment. I don’t know if they care about each other but they have respect for each other.
And the German culture… ?
There is something about the German language which is kind of fascinating. Sometimes you say a sentence and you don’t understand the meaning of the sentence until you finished it, like you can say: Ich liebe dich – nicht, right? On one hand, this is a catastrophe because imagine you tell someone Ich liebe dich – nicht – there is this fragile moment between the words, right before the not. And this is heartbreaking and not particularly a good thing. But on the other hand, you really need to listen until the end. You have to finish what you have to say and then you can have a real conversation, so you can talk and you can really get to know a person and you can shut the fuck up and listen to what the other has to say.
So people hear you and they care about you and they’re interested in your story which is nice. And about the people themselves, well, I have to say that I really like the German people.
This is a bigger picture. It has something to do with their humor. You know, there’s a bit of a problem with the sense of humor. I mean I’m trying a lot to make people laugh and sometimes I fail but when I fail I just try harder and when it works you see something about the German people that I really like.
What is it?
When you managed to make them laugh or to make them happy or to make them feel something there is a point when they’re melting a bit inside. Compared to the Middle Eastern people, like the Israel people – it’s really easy to make contact with them and to make them laugh, to have a conversation and the chitchat. You don’t know a person, you never met him in your life, but you can bond really easily after a second. They can smile at you or give you a kiss or hug you even if you met them just shortly before. It’s about the mentality and the way people were raised, it’s a culture of thousands of years. For Germans it takes just a longer time to open up, but when they do it, it’s charming. Because you see something that is special… Germans are a bit shy of that. And this has its magic.
So Germans aren’t the cold-hearted, distant people everyone in the world thinks they are?
No. You wish you’d be, but you’re not. You’re warm like everyone else. (laughs) You’re nice people. Even though I heard things would change a bit as soon as winter’s coming. But I won’t prepare myself for that. It will be very cold, I know, but I can assure you that my sense of humor won’t change and my needs for attention and happiness and warmness will be exactly the same.
But Germans might change when winter’s coming.
Ok. So I change them back. (laughs)
Talking of change. How important is politics to you?
What do you mean by that?
A lot of artists don’t really care about the things that happen in the world, the political side of it anyway. It’s also not their business in particular, they have other things in mind. Right now, there are many, many crises going on though, not just in Israel but in the Ukraine as well. Do you feel involved in any of that?
First, this is an issue which has been very delicate, especially in the last few months. In Israel we had a war, we still have a war, and I had my part in it – speaking of empathy. I was a part of this country, and my friends and my family live there and they are under attack. What I generally think about politics is – well, sometimes it feels like a bad joke, because when you’re switching on the TV or the radio today or five years later or ten years later or 25 years later, somehow you get to see the same news, the same issues and the same corruption in the governments, the same fighting against each other, the same atom missiles and nothing has really changed.
Second, when I look closely onto the politics in my country I can actually say it hasn’t changed much during the last couple of years. I feel sorry for all these people, they get killed, and they’re people that are not involved in politics, that have no power. They don’t have the things politicians have which is kind of absurd. You chose someone to protect you and in the end you die because of so many things that have nothing to do with you. The other thing about politics is that it never ends. You always have arguments and they always go into all directions.
But you have the discussions anyway, right?
When I find myself within a political argument I try to take a step out of it because I feel a bit lost in it. I’m not such a political man and I don’t know much about politics, so it’s a bit complicated. Because even if I’d want to take a side and part I realized that I’d have to learn another ten years to understand all conflicts in this world. One thing leads to another and one thing affects another. It’s like the song I wrote – Maze, it’s from the second album. It’s a rock song and not characterizing my music, my vibe on this album, but anyway. The lyrics start with: It’s a never-out-maze. It never ends. And there is not just one solution.
So what needs to happen?
I don’t know what needs to happen that the world would start to be a better place right after a few years. Right now, I don’t see any future in which people don’t fight each other or in which people don’t get cheated by their governments, I don’t see it. That’s the nature of human beings.
That’s not really optimistic, is it?
No, it’s not. But the only optimistic thing that I can say is that people who fight for freedom and fight for right – it also never ends, it’s even increasing. Something is happening all the time. There’s a fight between good and bad, if I’d put it in a very naive way. But I don’t think that it will ever have an end. Unfortunately.
Do you think, you as a singer and songwriter – or anybody who’s doing music – have a certain responsibility to put a political vibe into your music?
Definitely. I think this is influencing people. Music touches people on the highest level. It’s important to say the things others don’t mention and to sing about it and to write about it and to fight for it. Because even as a musician you have some kind of power. You’re not just here to make music or to make money out of it. You’re here to make people feel better. People sometimes tell me my music is comforting, it caress their hearts, it can be sad but it’s also doing something good for them. It has some influence. So yes, I do feel that I have this responsibility. For sure.
Last question: What’s necessary to be happy?
I can’t really answer that question. No one can. No one is really happy all the time. Of course, right now I’m feeling some kind of happiness. I am sitting here with you, doing this interview, it’s happiness. I am enjoying it. And of course I am a happy person, I have my moments like everyone. Many things might lead to happiness – you need to have compassion and you need to have good self-esteem. You have to be good and not to harm anyone around you. Just be, love yourself. Because most of the people don’t love themselves. They hate something about themselves. About their characters, about their looks – I hate a lot of things about myself, but I am just – it’s funny, I am in a new relationship with myself since I came to Berlin. I’m trying to learn things about that. How to be happy. (pauses) Ah, no, just fuck it. Forget everything I just said. The only thing that is really, really important is (pauses) — uummm, (pauses a longer time) I actually forgot it now. It was the most important thing. (laughs) That sounds like a really bad joke now.
It’s the last statement you get, you know? It’s the last thing that people will have in mind after reading it.
Ok, well, there’s a recipe for the best life ever, seriously. It’s not a joke and I’m not cynical either: Be happy with what you have. That’s it. Be happy with the friends you have, be happy with the money you have, be happy with the flat you have. As simple as that. Be happy with what you have.
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Listening to his music is not just experiencing melancholy as the happiness to be sad. It also expands your heart in all directions. Roy Dahan’s voice takes you away. His lyrics float between thin air, between beating hearts, endlessly. Listen to his songs and you’re able to dream, you remember all the things you’ve lost – and sometimes even found again. His songs make you smile – and sometimes they make you cry. Music can’t be truer than that.
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