1001 Nights: A Conversation with Ouzo Bazooka

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The smell of a fresh pot of coffee is drifting through the room I’m sitting in with Uri Brauner Kinrot. Uri plays guitar and is the vocalist of Ouzo Bazooka, a four piece from Tel Aviv, Israel. It’s the morning after the band’s first show in Bristol, where they played to a sold out audience at The Cube Cinema. There’s a general sense of tiredness but the band are all friendly and very welcoming. As soon as the coffee makes its way around the room, Uri and I start talking.

“We’ve never played for a seated audience before,” Uri tells me. “It’s strange but it gives people the chance to just sit and listen.” The cinema seats one hundred attendees. It’s perhaps not the environment that you’d expect to see an upbeat psychedelic band in, but it has a sense of charm. The band are only in the UK for a handful of dates and the response to their ethereal desert psych has been promising. In fact, the shows were booked after the realisation that most of the band members were already going to be in the UK to play another show as the backing band for a famous Turkish singer. I wonder if, for them, it’s a strange transition between smaller shows with Ouzo Bazooka and sessioning with another singer in a larger venue. “It is, and it’s not,” Uri pauses. “Her music is a big influence on my music. It has some connections with my music. There was a lot of good Turkish music in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Psychedelic rock. It’s not the same vibe though.”

The Turkish influence may be an explanation to some of the unusual and unique sounds that Ouzo Bazooka experiment with. There’s moments of traditionalism in the band’s music, which stay close to their home country of Israel. “I think it comes naturally. When we want to play rock and roll it just makes sense to add what we grew up on.” Uri respects his upbringing in music and what he was exposed to through radio or his parents. “Throughout our lives, we grew up mainly on British and American bands but there was so much more than that on TV and radio, through my parents and friends. There was a lot of Arab music and a lot of Greek music. Both were always very popular in Israel. It’s just natural without thinking about it too much.” Growing up in a city where Greek or Arabic music is the norm, it’s interesting to look into bands who are also taking that influence but are originally from further afield. One example is Australia’s King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Their 2017 album, Flying Microtonal Banana, takes strong influences from the Middle East in regards to the compositions and artwork. “I think it’s very nice,” Uri states, in regards to more mainstream music taking influence from the sounds of his home. “A band like King Gizzard mixing their take of oriental music with aspects like quarter notes.”

The psychedelic genre in Israel seems to be one that remains underground. “It comes and goes,” Uri admits. “There have been bands that play psychedelic music through the years but there’s no big scene.” Uri finds it hard to determine what psychedelia is, as admittedly the genre goes through many changes and, some would argue, it is currently seen more of as a trend at the moment. “In the past four or five years everyone puts psychedelic next to their genre, so usually when people ask me what kind of music we play I tend to say more Middle Eastern rock and roll but when we need to get some attention or there’s a magazine writing about us, psychedelic is normally added on.”

Ouzo Bazooka are playing off the release of their new record 1001 Nights. The record is beautiful and comes across as a development from the bands previous releases. The band seem to be delving into new and untouched sounds and feels a million miles from the mainstream. “I’m really happy about it,” Uri admits. “It took me a long time to work out how to record the music and even how to play it. Some of it was written before Ouzo Bazooka was formed.” Whilst sitting on this impressive material, the band released two records. The first album being self titled and Simoom, both strong records in their own qualities, but it is 1001 Nights that really showcases the band’s potential. “After releasing two records it felt like it was the perfect time to complete the songs,” Uri tells me. “We recorded it in my old studio in south Tel-Aviv and did most of it live in a small room.” The record was picked up by Bristol label Stolen Body Records. “Stolen Body has definitely been the right label to release through, and we actually just met Alex [Stolen Body’s founder] for the first time yesterday. We knew some of the bands in the roster and it just seemed to be very open minded.”

Playing shows in the United Kingdom is a totally different environment for Ouzo Bazooka. Socially and culturally there is a difference which Uri appreciates. “I think you can really feel that rock and roll is part of the history in England,” he says. “Even just going to concerts here, it seems to be really a part of the culture. People seem to understand what we do and want to talk. In Israel the people who go to concerts that aren’t pop or mainstream are real music fans, whereas here people just go out and see a band and have a beer. They understand the music, it’s different.”

British and American music is having a difficult time reaching Tel Aviv, with a backlash often following artists that perform there. Radiohead’s July 2017 gig in Tel Aviv being a notable example. “I always feel like they’re punishing the wrong people by not playing,” says Uri. “I’m almost sure that people that will attend the concert are pro-Palestine.” Uri seems to have conflicting views on the subject. He continues, “On the other hand, it feels as though people are kind of sleeping on it. I am talking about myself also. People aren’t active enough to change things. It’s kind of hard because it feels like most of the left wing people are giving up because we don’t have an alternative to our current Prime Minister. There was a big movement and protest a few years ago. It felt like things were finally going to change but somehow nothing happened and it felt as if the Prime Minister gained more power after that.” Uri pauses, he takes a moment to think, before finally simply saying, “It’s quite fucked up.” With Uri being a part of a cultural scene, and a music community in such a conflicted country, it is interesting to hear his thoughts on the boycotting. “The musicians can do something, not just not play,” he says in a frustrated tone. 

Ouzo Bazooka are undoubtedly a very exciting group of musicians. Uri is sincere and honest, and it’s easy to see that his heart is very much in the right place when it comes to creating his art. His openness with me has given me more knowledge about a different culture, and I’ve gained a valuable insight into the opinions of an Israeli musician on boycotting and the political movement in the country. 1001 Nights has the potential to be one whilst still leaving the band with room to grow. Uri knows this too and it makes me more excited to see how Ouza Bazooka develop and discover even more interesting and unique sounds.