Yonatan Gat - Interview with The Deli Mag

a psych all of his own

By: Paolo De Gregorio and Brian Chidester

March 07, 2016

" ...crossing the border from Canada back to the US, when the immigration officer asked our drummer what style of music we play he jokingly said “psychedelic rock”. They searched the hell out of our car, thought we were all stoned out of our minds. "

NYC-by-way-of-Israel guitarist Yonatan Gat performs and records as a power trio. The band's unworldly instrumentals are unleashed live with a rare combination of energy and precision, so much so that the group's performances have garnered a semi-legendary reputation, in particular in the DIY circuit, always welcome to artists that push the creative envelop without giving up punch. We asked the Gat are a few thoughts on being a nu-New Yorker and being psychedelic - or something. Here are his answers:

Given that your album pulls from so many sources, how do you feel about being labeled "psychedelic"?

It’s an interesting question, I actually had a conversation about that with my band. We figured that’s the genre we feel least insulted being called. Then later that day, crossing the border from Canada back to the US, when the immigration officer asked our drummer what style of music we play he jokingly said “psychedelic rock”. They searched the hell out of our car, thought we were all stoned out of our minds. Genres by definition are a mistake, and a shortcut into a not-very-real understanding of music and how that organism works. “Psychedelic” is just meaningless enough for me to be semi-comfortable with. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to use these terms. 

Are there particular artists or movements from the past that are especially relevant to your sound?

So many. I think rock’n’roll is the foundation for what I do, because I grew up listening to a lot of American and British rock. Then touring so much throughout my twenties and seeing so many parts of the world opened me up to the idea of how incredible music really is. How concepts of beauty and aesthetics are so different everywhere. When I was twenty I thought rock’n’roll was the only thing that’s exciting. Now I think a true taste in music means finding yourself—as a listener—in every style, whether it’s soul from Chicago or gamelan from Java.

Every new style of music I manage to somewhat grasp, in a way, transforms me, and adds a layer to how I look at music and life. Some examples are African guitarists (bands like Orchestra Baobab, Orchestra Poly-Ryhtmo Cotonou, Bembeya Jazz), the wild studio nature of Jamaican music from 60s-80s (ska, rocksteady, dub, early dancehall), how jazz legends like Miles, Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp would constantly push the limits of their instruments and music in general, particularly towards the late 60s, and more.

Why (mostly) instrumentals?

A friend told me “you get to go around the problem of human communication and talk with your hands”. As moving as singing can be, sometimes it feels very specific. A singer in pop music is like a plot in a movie – so many times it serves the role of telling you where you are, how you’re supposed to feel. With instrumental these things are more often left open. And like films that don’t rely solely on their plots – you can watch them again and again, in different periods in your life. Instrumental music is blessed in a way that it can be a bit more abstract, doesn’t have to hit you over the head with a hammer like so many pop songs do. It can leave even more of the interpreting to the listener. It’s deep stuff, it’s a different relationship with the audience that I’m still wrapping my head around.

In terms of music and art, what differences stand out to you between Israel and the U.S.?

It’s very different and also very similar.  Israel is financially dependent on the United States, so American culture is particularly strong there. On the other hand the climate, the people, the vibe – it’s very different. It’s direct, rude, no-bullshit kind of place, sometimes more similar to Russia, sometimes to an Arabic country. That’s how Israeli music sounds like when it doesn’t try to just-mimic the American influence.

What brought you to NYC exactly and what might keep you here?

It’s the most versatile place I’ve seen. Even if it’s in risk of not remaining the “coolest” or most multicultural anymore, it’s a city that celebrates how much it has to offer. I can play shows with Moroccan trance bands like Innov Gnawa, Guinean guitar legends like Mamady Kouyate. It doesn’t serve the role of a comfortable place, it’s a place people come to look for new things. It’s mind-blowing everything you can witness here, an incredible thing to be a part of.

Do the geographical or quasi-historical song titles comes first? Or are they a result of what you hear after laying them down?

I don’t know what comes first, the title or the song. Everywhere we go, everything we see, everything we know finds its way into our music in one way or the other.

Who are some unknown contemporary musicians that inspire you today?

I’ve listening to a couple of artists from Niger lately – Tal National and Mdou Moctar. There’s probably more amazing stuff going on over there that I never heard about. These bands sound a little bit like the type of African guitar music you would hear in an outdoor music festival in Europe, but they hit hard and gnarly, they would be a perfect fit for a show at Market Hotel or some crazy Todd P show in 2008. I think they sound like punk bands partially because they play a lot of outdoor shows (like weddings) with small sound systems. They blast so hard and loud. It’s beautiful.