LIOR ATTAR: Connecting through Music

LIOR ATTAR: Connecting through Music

Lior Attar (known as Lior) came to mainstream music’s consciousness with his debut album Autumn Flow, a collection of songs that evoke memory and feeling through melodic tracks such asThis Old Love and Bedouin Song.

The album garnered Lior accolades including ARIA award nominations for Best Male Artist, Breakthrough Artist and Best Independent Release. Since then, Lior has continued to soar, connecting with audiences and fellow musicians through stories from the heart told through song.

After a year-long hiatus from shows, Lior will soon tour again in a series of intimate performances, previewing new songs from an album currently in the works. The Pin sat down with Lior to learn about what inspires his continued creativity.

THE PIN. Can you tell us about your childhood and coming to Australia?
LIOR ATTAR. I was born in Israel and spent some of my formative years there, before coming to Australia when I was ten years old. It was a really happy childhood in Israel and very much a mediterranean existence. When we moved to Sydney there was initially a bit of culture shock; more than anything, the sense of space was something I found really difficult to adjust to. The whole social glue was very different too. Being quite young, I adjusted fairly easily. I think my brother and sister, who were older, found it a bit more difficult.

Who do you look to for inspiration in music?
L. The first people who really inspired me were bands like Led Zeppelin, The Doors and The Beatles. They really captured my attention and made me realise there was more to music than what was played on the radio. As I got older, in my late teens, the songwriters of the ‘60s and ‘70s shone through; people like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake and Neil Young. All of those fabulous song writers who seemed to bare their heart and soul through music. They were so lyrically magnificent, musically as well.

I’ve listened to a lot of different music, but that era and those artists are my comfort food. I always go back to them.

As you say, those artists tell personal stories. Would you say music is an important part of your identity?
L. Absolutely. My earliest memory was when I was about seven or eight years old, a song came on the television and I just felt this pang. I was like, ‘Woah, what’s that?!’. I was taken aback, even as a child, by the emotional impact that song was having on me.

During the crazy years of adolescence I found songwriting became my go-to place. It was my escapism, my diary, the place where I retreated. It became my element. I never kept a written diary and poured all of those emotions into songwriting. The natural extension of that was to start sharing my words with people. When I realised some of it was connecting with audiences, that was the spark.

You end a lot of concerts with the Hebrew hymn Avinu Malkeinu, can you tell us more about it?
L. The first time I performed Avinu Malkeinu was thanks to a beautiful friend of mine, Tony Buchen, who had a drum and bass band called The Hive. I was doing guest vocals for the band and he suggested I sing Avinu Malkeinu over a really rocking drum and bass groove. We gave it a try and it grew into this ten minute improvisational piece. Afterward we started doing it at gigs and I could see people were connecting with it. They didn’t necessarily know what it was, but there was something about it that drew them in.

When I started performing my own singer-songwriter shows on the back ofAutumn Flow I decided I’d go acapella with it. By that stage I’d also researched its meaning and found it really resonated with me. In particular the line that says, ‘Instil me with a greater sense of compassion so that I can be liberated’. I found the link between compassion and freedom really beautiful and it held a distinct spirituality for me, maybe because it was an expression of my own identity and heritage.

It went on to be the seed of a collaborative work between Nigel Westlake and myself, where I researched and tracked down other beautiful hymns written in ancient Hebrew and Arabic, focused on similar themes of compassion and how humans should treat each other.  

Was there a particular reason you focused on ancient Hebrew and Arabic in creating Compassion, your work with Nigel Westlake?
L. I really didn’t want it to be seen as a religious work. Initially I thought about collecting a similar proverb from various worlds but that felt a bit too superficial. Taking from Arabic and putting it side by side with Hebrew seemed a beautiful way of presenting the depth and richness from two worlds that share a volatile and tumultuous history.

Do you feel like music can sometimes remove those barriers that language alone cannot overcome?
L. Yes, absolutely. Performances of Compassion have had the best, most amazing reaction from crowds that I have had in my career. Both Nigel and I say this.

It’s quite amazing to be able to say that about a piece that is performed in languages your audience may not necessarily speak. It’s a testament to the power of music.

Taken from "Compassion" - a song cycle for voice and orchestra written by Lior and Nigel Westlake. Performed by Lior and the SSO at the Sydney Opera House Sep, 2013. Conducted by Nigel Westlake.

In another interview you talk about your identity a bit and you said you see yourself as an Israeli-Australian and an Australian-Israeli. Do you think identity changes from place to place?
L. I don’t think identity changes in the heart. When I visit Israel I feel a very strong sense of connection with the place and people, and when I am in Australia I feel very much like I belong and that this is my home.

My identity is definitely a hybrid and there are things that I love and don’t love about both places.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you’re in, what would it be?
LIOR ATTAR. Be artistically brave. I feel happy with the idea of being brave and making myself vulnerable. I wish I could’ve had a bit more of that when I was in my twenties. I guess the reality of life is that only experience can teach you those things, so I’m not too hung up about it!

- This interview has been edited and condensed.

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