Interview with Israeli artist Noa Bentor

Recently, Israeli indie artist Noa Bentor spoke about dealing with cancer and recording her album simultaneously. She called dealing with cancer while recording her third album a very wise decision that allowed her to experience “a true healing process.”
Photo Credit: Yoav Etiel

Noa Bentor's latest album Love and Darkness came out a few months back and her next single and video are set to be released around next month. Her recent single, a Radiohead cover, was praised by some of the biggest music sites and blogs. Bentor worked on the album while dealing with cancer and finishing another degree. Her wits and fragility make the album heart-staggering, soulful and sensitive. As the title shows, it shifts between intense sorrow to blissful beauty. 

Bentor grew up between Israel and Australia and at age of 21, she moved to New York where she studied at the American Music Academy. Her debut album Waiting on a Shelf came out in 2005 and was produced by Assaf Spector at Yellowpop Records, Brooklyn. Coming back to Israel, Noa became part of the indie music scene in Tel-Aviv. In 2009, she was chosen to be the opening act for Suzanne Vega. 

In 2011, her second album Modern Grace got great reviews and she was the opening act for Asaf Avidan on his Israeli tour. Due to cancer, Noa had to cancel her performances at SXSW and Toronto music festival and was on leave for 2 years. At the beginning of 2014, she found out that her illness was back but she felt the urge to go back to write, sing and perform songs that capture the pain, the struggle and the questions of life and love.

In July 2015, your 3rd album Love & Darkness came out. How was it to work on the album? How was it in terms of your recovery process?

I started writing the songs for the new album a few months before I found out that I was sick again. The choice to continue the work on the album- writing, recording, producing and performing- wasn't clear: a part of me just wanted to do nothing, put all my energy on the treatments and healing. But I also knew that I have a rare opportunity here: to write about these crazy things that I'm dealing with- the pain, the heartache. I mean, how many people do you know have had cancer twice in 5 years?

It turned out to be the best decision I ever made- a true healing process: the singing, the writing, working with my great musicians and best friends Ben Golan and Itai Zangi and really creating an authentic and heartfelt album.

A few months ago you released a new single- True Love Waits [Radiohead Cover]- how did you choose that particular song? 

I've always wanted to do a cover song. I felt that singing/producing a song that isn't mine can showcase other sides of my creativity and my singing skills, but I also knew it has to be the right one- a unique and original choice. Anyway, for many years I couldn’t find something that felt right until one day I saw a video of Thom Yorke performing this song live- just him and a guitar. I immediately fell in love with the song [I'm already in love with Thom Yorke] and I also found out that it had never been recorded before- so I kind of had a clean canvas.

Watch: Noa Bentor- True Love Waits [Radiohead Cover]

Tell me about the choice to write and perform in English? Was there or is there a phase when you wanted to change course and sing in Hebrew? To translate?

My family moved to Australia for a few years when I was 7 years old so my English is perfect. Also, my first real experiences with music happened when I lived there with music in English: Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Michael Jackson, George Harrison, Janis Ian and more.

I would sit every Saturday in front of the top 20 countdown singing all the songs. When I came back to Israel, I still always sang in English so I never saw it as a conscious choice and then as a teenager, I also started writing my songs in English. [It just] felt more natural. When I moved to New York at age 21, me singing and writing in English made sense.

Do you find it easier to break the barrier and reach a wider international audience today? 

The obvious answer is yes, with social media and all, but the truth is that there's so much good music and good musicians out there and the exposure is overwhelming so that it might be even harder today.

Photo Credit: Tamar Karavan

What are your thoughts regarding the Israeli music scene? What albums do you think were best this year? 

The Israeli mainstream music scene is not my cup of tea but there are amazing stuff in the indie scene: Benjamin's Brother; Totemo; Hila Ruach; Tomer Yeshayahu; Alon Eder and more

Do you find it hard to perform songs you wrote in a certain, different state of mind or circumstances?  

It's a really good question. I actually remember when I wrote each song- what was the circumstance and the level of my heartache. When I perform the song, I kind of find the balance between remembering that state of mind and not going all the way to that memory. There are a few songs that are a bit harder for me and still make me very emotional when I perform them.

What was the most emotional/difficult moment while working on the album? 

I can't really think of anything specific. Some days I would come to the recording studio straight from the hospital so it's all a blur but basically, I had so much fun working on this album. There was one day that was especially exciting: when we recorded the strings quartet. I always dreamed of having a strings quartet!

Are there any cases when you think the cover is better than the original? Which?

Oh, definitely: half of the songs Nirvana did in their MTV unplugged are amazing covers; even Sinead O'Connor with Nothing Compares to You; Bjork with It's oh so quiet; Johnny Cash with Hurt; one of my favorites- Jimi Hendrix with All Along The Watchtower.



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