URI ZELHA (Orphaned Land): “If not for Orphaned Land, I would have taken my bass guitar and played it in the streets so someone else would enjoy it”

– Budapest, 11.3.2018
Interview/photo: Martina Sestic

Weekend concerts are great opportunity to do interviews with bands that are coming to town. Fortunately for me, Orphaned Land arrived to Budapest on Sunday so I could schedule a meeting with Uri Zelha, band’s bass player, at Dürer Kert for a short chat before the show. A day earlier the band played a concert in Cluj Napoca, Romania, and faced some problems with local promotor.
We have a list of things for promoters to do which he didn’t do but OK, it is not a problem… The show starts and we see that he didn’t take care of the schedule. It is promotor’s duty to make sure everyone goes on and off the stage in time. As he didn’t do it, we had to cut our set and, you know, after all people came to see Orphaned Land”.
As a consequence of poor scheduling Romanian fans didn’t get encore set. And as far as I know that was Orphaned Land’s first concert without Norra el Norra.
It was just a bad arrangement. We worked with this guy couple of times before and it was OK. Shit happens”.
When talking about mistakes, I asked him if there is anything related to the band that he wished never happened and he tells about the time they played as a support act for Dio: “That was also really badly organized and after the show we thought playing like that was a very big mistake. Sound check in front of the people… and weather was shit. But now that I think about it and how Dio is no longer with us, I am really glad we did it, even though the show didn’t go as planned”.
Nice moment in Orphaned Land’s twenty years’ long history. Being in a band creates a special bond between the members and I was curious to know how it works with them. “It gets pretty much the same like with family,” Uri begins to explain. “Take for example me and Kobi. We have always had our arguments, we see things differently and we always fight over it. Sometimes you come to a point when you say ‘fuck it, I don’t need this anymore’. But you can’t just leave it. It is not an option. You have to deal with these problems, get over it, relax and move on”.
Hearing him put things that way, made me wonder if differences are the reason behind long breaks between their albums, but Uri disagreed and said that the main reason is laziness. “That’s it. We are just lazy. With Orphaned Land, when we work on a new album, it is very important to get the best. From hundred riffs we get two… It has to be perfect. Every part of it. It takes a lot of time. Kobi sits on the concept, if there is one, and after he finds it, we organize the songs in the best way to tell the story. For us it takes probably more time than with the other bands”.

When you are dealing with such complex and multi-layered music, you have to go for the best. And Orphaned Land always had the complexity both in music and in lyrics. With All is one, there was a change in lyrical presentation – no big metaphors, only plain hard truth about the sad, war-driven reality we live in. Those years marked a change in band’s line up. Yossi left to pursue solo career and Matti decided to dedicate more time to his family. I asked whether Chen with his youthfulness changed the way the band would write about the topics.
Chen is young but I think he is older than all of us in spirit. It doesn’t matter how much we change in the end you will always hear this is Orphaned Land. We take musicians and we shape them into the atmosphere of the band. Take for example the new album. You can’t hear that Yossi is no longer in the band. It is still the same band, even without him. When we pick stuff, we know how it should sound. And you know, people are missing growls, but we are just getting older and angrier with the world. This is basically how it works with us”.
Talking about Yossi, we moved to my next question if he still keeps an eye on him. “He has his solo project. I see him from time to time but we don’t really keep in touch anymore. It happens sometimes when you’re in a band with someone for a long time. You know how it’s with me and Kobi? When we’re not with the band, we’re not going out to drink beer. Sad but it’s true. Sometimes you need some space,” and continues to describe their dynamics, “We have mutual friends. We grew up together. But that’s it. I am mostly staying at home or doing my share of drinking and parties. Pretty much when we meet, it’s band matters. The same with Yossi. I follow him on Facebook and stuff like this. I know he released album now or something. He’s producing bands from outside Israel but truth be told I never heard any of it”.

Orphaned Land is a very prominent band coming from Israel. If you are into metal, you must have at least heard about them. Even after many years on the scene they are still considered exotic because there are not many whose music is crossing the borders which Uri commented: “I believe that we have incredible musicians in Israel, awesome guitar players, and main thing for them is to be a session musician. It is like for me, my opinion… They don’t go with their dreams till the end. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t give you money and you end up poor because you’ve been following your dream. This is the problem with most of our talented musicians in Israel that they are only session musicians. They have done a lot of things but nothing with spine. For me it is this or nothing. If not for Orphaned Land, I would have taken my bass guitar and played it in the streets so someone else would enjoy it”.

He confessed that Iron Maiden was the band that got him into metal. “When I first heard them I said ‘wow this is cool’. I didn’t have that passion with other music I listened as a kid. After hearing all that metal stuff, I said I have to be a drummer. But it didn’t work with space at home, my room wasn’t big enough for drum kit so I went for the second option – bass guitar. And I am happy that I did it because I really love this instrument and I don’t think I would be a good drummer”. On his way of becoming a musician, Uri had his family supporting his dream: “My mother always supported. She gave us a lot of freedom when I was a kid. My father, he still looks at me and asks where is the money. But he is also very supportive. They never told me what to do or not to do”.

Playing live is something that as a musician you can’t really run away from so I ask how he feels about being on stage.
It’s just that it doesn’t matter if you had a fight or there was something bad before, the moment you get on the stage it is the best feeling ever. You tell yourself you have to live this now. I can’t just go home and work on the computer after living things. I don’t have special rituals, I just take my bass guitar, warm up my fingers at that’s it. I’m ready. No mantras. The thing is that I can be sick as hell, but the minute I go on stage it disappears. After two songs you’re in a completely other world. On the other hand, when the show is over it makes it worse after the show. But the adrenaline of being on stage it wipes everything,” and continues telling about how much he likes the experience of touring: “It is really great. Every time it is getting bigger and we meet more and more fans. I love it. This time it is really hard because of the weather. It is too cold for us. We usually take a walk around the city for two hours but now it is no way, I am not going out of the club. In most of the places was really cold when we arrived. First show was at Wacken. Freezing, we couldn’t play. This one was a mistake also. We knew it was going to be cold but this… The coldest we have in Israel is 10 degrees.
If I lived here, I would probably sleep the whole winter
Through the many tours and setlists there were a lot of songs played and I asked which ones are his favourites. “I have a couple. But sadly we are not doing those. We have concerts almost every day on the tour and for Kobi for example it is very hard to sing some of the songs every day because they have very high notes. And singing them night after night you can lose your voice. But there is a couple from the new album that I really want to play on stage like Only the dead have seen the end of war and Take my hand. These two are my first choices. We’ve done them at the beginning of the tour”. And answering my question if there is a theme song of the album that would sum it up he says, “It changes all the time. But I think when we finished the writing part, I think maybe We do not resist. But if I would choose only one, it would be Like Orpheus. That was the first single because we all thought that it was a good one”.

I had to ask if he still gets surprised by how much Orphaned Land’s music affects and connects people and Uri admits that this still comes as a surprise. “Maybe not like in the beginnings but it is so nice to see people connecting over our music. When we first started playing outside of Israel, we went to Turkey and a lot of people came from Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and we thought ‘wow, this is crazy’”. True that, because music keeps doing what politics doesn’t want, keeps connecting people. But nevertheless the things in the world are not getting better. And we all know what is said about the politics. “When we started playing in Turkey, we had a lot of friends out there. I know that things are different now and we can’t play there anymore. Sadly, as much as we wanted to. I guess we lost some of the friends we had there. It is very, very easy to be brainwashed by media. And some people are not strong enough inside to say this is wrong. I guess it is a beautiful thing what you see at concerts, but it can end any day. We even got a couple of awards in Turkey, but you see what is going on now. I wish we could just live on Planet Earth with no borders, rules are OK, you got to have them, but our planet is getting worse and worse”.
But can music really make a change on global level, can it help? My thoughts were confirmed with Uri’s words: “It can help but I don’t think it can really do a change. We have some three hundred people here tonight; these are the people who already changed but it is too little. The problem with the world is bigger than us. If we are the minority, it is only going to be harder to make a change,” and brings up the events from the recently filmed documentary about the band “I am standing at one point of Dead Sea, I can see Jordan and to my right side is border of Egypt. I am so close, standing there but I can’t cross that border. It is a crazy world we live in”.
Leaving craziness aside, I ask him about everyday life in Israel. “I think you would like it. Israel is a very open-minded country, all this propaganda saying that Israel is horrible place… There are some parts where we have some tensions but it is definitely not as seen on TV. Jerusalem is a very beautiful, problematic and very intense. But safe. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Dead Sea, Haifa, Jaffa… Lots of beautiful places”.

As a last thought for this interview, Uri shared an advice for the upcoming musicians who are still wandering if it is all worth it: “It doesn’t matter if you are an amazing musician or just having fun but you should follow your dream. Have spine. Focus on one point and don’t look around. This is what I think. Someone else will think differently. Just give everything till the end. If it doesn’t work at least you will know you tried”.
And as for Orphaned Land there is no end in the near future: “I hope it will last much longer than the Stones but we’ll see. At least Kobi and me, who started the band, we will go until the end”.


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