This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jamie (vocals/guitar) and Jon (bass) of Israel’s Man Alive, along with my good friend Justin Prendergast. Through our discussion, I discovered one of the hardest working, kindest, most sincere bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. They pay for everything themselves, including getting themselves and their equipment over to America and back. They’ve toured the U.S. 5 times—not all that easy of a feat, especially when you’re not from the same country; they’ve paid for their own recordings; they set all their shows up themselves. They haven’t quite had the success they’re capable of—and after touring for many years despite geographical and other such barriers, one thing is evident: Man Alive is in it for the music.
(Dave, the guitarist, is one of the funniest people I’ve ever seen on a stage: Jamie was having technical difficulties with his guitar, and David blamed it on the “lack of falafel on set.” Guess you had to be there. Anyways, he seems to like falafel (and has an awesome foreign accent!) a lot, as he mentioned it non-stop throughout the show—so maybe go to their concert and bring him some. He’s just fun to watch too.)
Aside from playing awesome music, Man Alive are great people, and I hope that this interview reflects that a little bit. Of course, the written word is not quite like conversation, but just imagine the most grateful, down to earth guys you could think of saying the following words. Please give their music a listen—I like it a shit ton. I don’t see myself driving without Open Surgery for a very, very, very long time.
AP: Thank you guys so much for doing this interview, we really appreciate it.
Jamie: Thanks for doing it man.
AP: How’s the tour been so far?
Jamie: We’ve been on tour for like a week. It’s been on and off—two of the shows have been notably good, two of ‘em notably bad, one of ‘em whatever.
AP: What’s it like compared to when you guys play in Israel? Like, what’s the scene like there and how does it compare?
Jamie: In Israel, one might get the impression that we’re a successful band, which is not the case, in a global sense. In Israel, when the bigger bands get together, hundreds of people come out and it’s like this big thing, everybody’s singing along, and it’s a big deal. In America, you come and nobody knows your music at all. And we’ve only had our record out here for about a week, and our records have been coming out in Israel for a long time. So, yeah, it’s quite different.
AP: You said this is your fifth tour earlier on [we were talking before the interview]—what do you guys think about America?
Jamie: America is the land of opportunity. We love America. When we get stuck in one place, then we kind of get bored. Like, if we’re stuck in one city for a week for some reason, it gets kind of rough. I dunno, we got stuck in Atlanta, for example—no offense! We got stuck here for a week—it’s not that it’s a bad place, it’s just that we don’t know them, and we’re far away from home, we don’t have the food that we’re used to. But we’re on the road; we love the road. We love to wake up in a new town every day, that’s like a dream for us. And being in America is like being in a movie. The road, it’s magic.
AP: How many shows have you guys played here, having toured here 5 times?
Jamie: Probably a couple hundred.
Jon: Yeah, probably over two hundred, cause our first two tours were over 60 shows at a time. Right now, we’re here September 15th through November 9th, so we’re doing about 50 shows. Then we’ve got Europe for 40 days, so this is a straight up 92 show stint or something.
Jamie: It’s cool though, cause it’s what we love doing. It’s our favorite thing in the world to do.
AP: Did you guys have to book your own tours the first few times?
Jon: We still do here.
Jamie: We have help from other people, but we still pretty much do most of it.
Justin: What about relationships? Do you guys have relationships back home that suffer because of this ridiculously hard job?
Jon: Dave, our guitar player, the oldest member of the band, who’s 28, has a girlfriend that lives in the US. Basically, Dave’s the only one with a girlfriend, but all of us have had girlfriends that have been in the States.
Jamie: I think it definitely affects me personally, and part of the reason I don’t have a girl right now, is because I’m scared to let someone to get in the way of the band.
Jon: I’m not!
Jamie: People say I’m scared of commitment.
Jon: I’m not, but there are apparently two reasons why I don’t have a girlfriend right now: the first thing is that I’m arrogant, and secondly, I’m in a band, and I’m never home.
AP: You had mentioned that there are like hundreds of people at the shows you play back home in Israel. What’s kind of the state of the Israeli pop punk scene?
Jamie: The Israel scene is pretty similar to the scene here. It’s not like necessarily a pop punk scene, or an emo scene, or a metal scene. A lot of the scenes, they’ve merged together. You have the old school punk rockers there, and the people who are real purists, and you have the anarchists, and you have the straight edge [people], and you have emo kids now, and you have pop punk kids who are kind of from the rich area and stuff like that. But at least emo and pop punk and posi-core, they kind of stay together. They’re like the same scene, and then you have the metal, and then you have the old schoolers.
AP: Besides Useless ID, what are the big bands over there?
Jamie: There’s another band called Betzefer, and they’re on Roadrunner Records, and they’re like a metal band. [To Jon] How would you describe their music?
Jon: Whatever Pantera was.
Jamie: Yeah, they sound like Pantera, but they’re really good. And so they’re getting big. And then there’s another band called Soon In Here, and they play like posi-core, and they’re really good. They actually just broke up, but they’re re-forming with a new singer and stuff.
AP: So how’d you guys get in touch with The Militia Group?
Jamie: I’ve had a personal relationship, at least through e-mail, with Chad, the guy who started The Militia Group. I’ve known him since he used to run The Militia Group Booking Agency way back in the day. They booked bands like Slick Shoes and Element 101 and Tooth and Nail bands like that. So I just sent a bunch of demos out to all kinds of labels and everything, this is in the year 2000, and Chad was the one person that actually really took interest in our band, and he sent our stuff to all kinds of labels. Nothing ever worked out with these labels, but Chad always really liked our band. And then Jon managed Brandtson last year, another Militia band, and through that, we built a better relationship with them. Then when we did the record with Ed Rose, and they finally listened to the record. We got them to listen to it like a year later.
Jon: I gave it to them in November, and Chad calls me up in July and was like “Dude, I’m sorry, I just listened to the record, you guys want us to put it out?”
AP: I read that you guys had to save up for the recording yourselves?
Jamie: Yeah, we did everything ourselves. We still do everything DIY. We pay for our own plane tickets, we get everything taken care of ourselves. Because we paid for the record, that way we can license out the album to whoever we want. The Militia Group is not our only record label. The Militia Group is our American label. But we have The Militia Group here, we have another label called Turned Out records in Europe—they’re out of Berlin, they’re actually a really big label with awesome distribution—we have another label in Japan, which is the same label as Useless ID and there’s also MxPx and 7 Seconds and Flogging Molly, and then we have a whole other label in Israel as well. So, I advise bands, especially in America—we pay $4000 just to get here—so if you live in America, just save up $7000 or something, make your own record, and then try to get it around the world, if you want to be an international band, which we definitely do.
AP: Speaking of, one AP user was saying that you guys have an international fan base?
Jamie: I wouldn’t say that we have an international fan base. What we do have is—this is the first big record we’ve put out. This is the first record that we’ve done that’s really professionally produced, and is actually gonna be in stores. And actually America and Israel are the only places where it’s come out yet. It comes out in Europe next week, and it comes out in Japan next month. So what we do have is we have a lot of buzz going on about us in places like Japan and in Europe, but I wouldn’t say fan base yet, cause the record’s not out.
AP: How’d you guys go about getting in touch with Ed Rose to do the record?
Jamie: About a year and a half ago we made a demo of 13 songs. Recorded the whole record basically in Jon’s apartment in Israel. And we sent it out to all kinds of producers, including more punk rock ones like Ryan Green and Bill Stevenson and people like that, and everybody responded. Everybody said “Yeah, we’ll do the record, just give us the money and we’ll do the record, we’ll work it with you.” But Ed Rose really came towards us, like he was excited about the record, and we’re fans of Ed Rose, and we knew from what he said that he was really into the record, that’d he’d do a great job. So, as soon as we saw that he was actually into it, we said “we’d better do this.” So we found the money—we called up all of our friends, we emailed all of our friends, all of our families, all of our family members, and basically told them about the story and a bit about Ed Rose and about the opportunity, and we managed to raise about three or four thousand dollars that way, and then we raised the rest ourselves.
AP: The CD’s kind of got a raw sound—were you guys shooting for that or did it just turn out that way?
Jamie: It kinda turned out that way—I mean, I’m definitely happy that it turned out that way. I mean, it’s just because we recorded it in such a short amount of time.
AP: I like that mix, because usually when you hear music like yours, it’s just way over-produced and extremely processed.
Jamie: Well that’s one of the things about Ed Rose that really got us excited. We were excited that he does indie rock. Like, Ed Rose wanted to produce a band that’s basically a punk band. And we knew that that was gonna give us, or at least we were hoping that it would give us a bit of a unique sound, because it’s a punk band that’s produced by an indie rock guy. That’s the way we sound live I think, and that’s the way we’ve sounded for years. So we knew as soon as Ed wanted to do it, we’re like, “Let’s do it. Let’s make a raw album.”
AP: It’s refreshing. Everything these days is just so, I don’t know…
Jamie: We appreciate that man. Working with Ed was an awesome experience, and our encounter with Ed Rose—he was very much a pleasant guy with us, and we had a lot of laughs and just a great time. He creates an awesome environment. And just the studio there is amazing, it’s beautiful. We want to do more records there, for sure.
AP: Did Ed do any arrangement work or anything like that?
Jamie: He had one thing that he said. He took this one part out; we had a metal part in “Say What You Want”—we’ll play it live for you tonight, just for fun. He took that out. Everything else, we did everything that we do, and he just made sure we played it as best as possible, but we arranged it all.
Jon: He had demos four months in advance, and said “These are great arrangements.” That was the only song he even touched. He just thought that as far as the pop, we kinda had it down.
AP: So you guys recorded the album and then The Militia Group picked it up?
Jamie: Yeah, we recorded the album and then, way later, The Militia Group—The Militia Group, it took them like a year to listen to it. I think that they were scared of liking it, that was the problem. Because they didn’t want to sign a band from Israel, they didn’t want the logistical headache.
AP: I read in the biography when I got the album for review that other labels had turned you guys down because of that.
Jamie: Exactly. They were scared of putting it out, and then finally they just wanted to put out a record. They had some sort of gap in their schedule, and they told Jon about it, and Jon was like “Listen to the record already” and as soon as they listened to it, they said they’d put it out.
AP: One AP user was wondering what you think about The Militia Group’s bands and what Man Alive brings to the label?
Jamie: I don’t know what we bring to the label. We do like the label very much. I can see that Militia is definitely changing their image slowly, cause they’ve been known as like an emo label. We really like Copeland, and Lovedrug, and Brandtson—we just heard some Let Go, and we really like Let Go. I haven’t even heard the new Cartel yet, but Cartel being signed to The Militia Group is already a change for them. I dunno, I just think we offer fun music. At least, I hope we offer something that’s more crowd oriented and just kind of bring it back to the way music was ten years ago, where everyone gets all sweaty in a crowded room.
AP: I can definitely see “Give Me a Sign” being that way, with everyone chanting “Hey! There’s always a reason”
Jamie: That’s the way the songs are written. We think about that—when we write a song, we think “How can we make this song as fun as possible? How can we get the crowd to participate as much as possible?”
AP: What did you guys listen to growing up, and what are you listening to now?
Jamie: Growing up, we had a very eclectic—err, eclectic…spectrum of music—there you go. Our new drummer is ALL metal, he listens to bands like In Flames and Pig Destroyer. He loves that kind of stuff. He comes from that kind of a background. Jon here listened to the Smashing Pumpkins, and him and Dave also listened to Megadeth and that whole scene. I grew up listening to bands like Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam and Weezer. And then eight years ago or something like that, then I started getting into punk rock. Then I started listening to bands like Face to Face and MxPx and Green Day. Everyone listens to Green Day in Israel. But then some Canadian friends of mine started playing Lagwagon and NOFX and stuff like that for me, and then I was like “OK punk rock is what I like.” Especially Face to Face.
Jon: That’s a collective band statement. Everybody LOVES Face to Face.
Jamie: The drummer’s the new guy in the band, but me, Jon, and David, we listen to Face to Face. We love that band.
Justin: What’s your favorite Face to Face album?
Jamie: Self titled. He [Jon] likes Ignorance is Bliss.
Jon: I don’t know, I think David likes Reactionary. I don’t know, I have a hard time, Reactionary and Ignorance is Bliss are just…
Jamie: Actually, I like the live album the most, because the live album has all the hits. Like Don’t Turn Away has probably the best songs, but it just sounds kinda bad and doesn’t have as much of a cool live vibe like the rest of the stuff does. So the live album—killer. I love it.
AP: I read one review for you guys where the guy was like “This is the best album Face to Face never wrote”—that’s quite a compliment, I’m sure!
Jamie: Yeahhhhhh, that’s right. That’s awesome. That was a huge compliment—that’s our favorite “quotable” line.
AP: One AP user was wondering what you guys think about the whole Israel pulling out of the Gaza strip thing.
Jamie: I mean, we’re not so much of a political band in the sense that we want to tell other people what to think about things or say “these people are right and these people are wrong.” Even our lyrics, when we talk about political things, we focus more on the human aspect of it, and how it affects your daily life. When I personally see the Gaza pullout, my heart goes out to the people who had to leave their homes. There were a lot of people who were causing trouble in Gaza, but I don’t think it was the actual settlers. The people that lived there went there peacefully and they were just settling the land and farming, and the people were just removed out of their homes.
Jon: With no compensation.
Jamie: Well, with not enough compensation. That’s for sure. And it’s their homes, you know? A home is not something you can buy with money. It’s something that’s built with blood, sweat, and tears. So my heart goes out to those people, that’s all I can say right now. We could say a million things, but it’d take forever. [To Jon] You want to say anything?
Jon: Honestly, it’s a huge political question, but definitely on a personal level, it just hurts man. People lost their homes, and they don’t have enough money to settle with their children in new homes. It’s just insane. It makes no sense.
Jamie: One political thing we can say is that it’s disappointing to see that Israel has to pay the entire price for this whole unfortunate situation that’s going on in the region. It seems that Israel is always made to pay the price, and that’s unfair.
Justin: It’s terror winning.
Jon: I dunno, I think this record’s totally political, haha.
Jamie: It is political, but we don’t want to tell people what to believe or anything like that. We don’t want to come out and say “these people are right and these people are wrong,” because honestly, we’re not historians, and we’re not politicians. It’s not our job to do that. Our job is to kind of—
Jon: Educate people.
Jamie: Well I don’t know if even to educate people. I just want to let people see that there’s a human side to this story, and that you can’t come and state “this is the way it is, and Israel needs to do this, and the Palestinians need to do this, and the Arab leaders need to do this.”
Jon: It’s open surgery, man.
Jamie: Exactly. That’s what the name of the album is. The name of the album is Open Surgery, and it’s about the fact that the whole world is telling Israel what to do, and telling us personally what to do, but they’re not people that live there, and they can’t know the situation. They’re not qualified. The lyrics [on the title track] are: “This isn’t open surgery, and if it were, you’d be most underqualified.” It’s not their place to come in and say that “this is the way it is.” We live there and we understand the situation. We’re not going to tell the whole world the way it is, because people need to educate themselves, but don’t tell us what to do. And also on a personal level—
Jon: The best way to explain it, really, is when you’re thinking about an open surgery—the body on the table is our country. And the surgeons are people that have no right to be telling us what to do. They can’t fix the problem. They can’t come in from the outside and—
Jamie: But the name also, it has dual meaning. That’s the one meaning of it, but also on a personal level, where there’s people all around you that don’t know you, and they’re trying to change you personally. Like they’re trying to perform spiritual surgery on you, or any other kind of social surgery on you, but really, the person that needs to deal with it is you.
AP: That’s really, really cool.
Jon: I think if you go into “Catch Phrases, Slogans, and Chants,” and “Against the Wall,” and “Hold On,” a lot of those songs are politically motivated, but not as like “this is what we believe and this is what you should believe.” More like, this is our life, man. This is how things for us. This isn’t you watching it on news entertainment—there are actually people involved in this.
Justin: I think the more people that—even though you’re not a political band per se—I think the more people that understand that message would probably relate to that and agree with that in a lot of ways, because the media can only tell us so much. But at the same time, I mean, watching that, from over here—and I have never had an opinion on the matter, although I see things differently from 4 or 5 years ago—I think that it was disheartening for a lot of people to see that happen. And while they can’t relate to it, there’s a sizeable and vocal native Israeli population in America that was making it heard. And I think that the more people that understand that, the more people will dig it.
Jamie: We really like talking to people about it. That’s probably the thing we like talking about most. Like when people come up to us at shows, sometimes they think they’re bugging us or something like that, but they’re really not. We love talking about it. When people come up to us after and ask us what it’s really like, or they come up to us with their political questions—we love to just give a different perspective on it. Like last night, Chris from Stretch Arm Strong was at our show in South Carolina, and we talked to him for like two hours about it.
Jon: He’s a great guy. Awesome band. Buy their record.
Jamie: Buy the new Stretch Arm Strong!
AP: How’d you guys meet him?
Jamie: We’ve known him for a long time. I don’t know, we’ve just been in contact with him for a long time, and played a few shows together.
AP: Jamie, you said you lived in Canada: how’d you get in touch with the rest of the guys?
Jamie: Well, I moved to Israel when I was four years old, and as soon as I moved there, I got plugged into the Israeli system. I was born in Canada and just moved there.
AP: So you’ve pretty much lived your whole life in Israel.
Jamie: Yeah yeah, I’ve lived there all my life. We’ve known each other since we were 13 or so, just going to camps together and stuff. Actually, Dave, he taught me my first chord on guitar. One time I went into his room at camp and he was playing Pearl Jam or something like that, and it sounded just like the record. I’m like “Dude, that’s amazing! I didn’t know normal people play like the stars could,”—that’s what I thought as a little kid. But yeah, as soon as I heard that, I was like, man, I gotta try that.
Jon: It’s kinda ironic cause his mom’s like this huge producer.
Jamie: My mom produces adult contemporary music.
Jamie: Haha, adult contemporary-core.
AP: Well, that about wraps it up. Thanks so much for the interview, we really appreciate your time. Anything you’d like to say to the readers of AP.net?
Jon: Please come to shows guys.
Jamie: Give the record a listen—go to our Myspace page, and give the songs a few listens, and if you like it, get the record, or come to shows and talk to us and buy the record from us. We think you’ll have fun.
Jon: We think Militia are great, and we’d like them to not lose money on the record, haha.
Jamie: Yeah, we don’t want to be the band that bankrupts Militia, haha.
Jon: Which we won’t be no matter what, but still.
Jamie: Yeah, I know, I say this in jest.
Jon: They’ve been good to us, and we want to at least—
Jamie: [Laughing] Shut up! It’s totally selfish. We want to sell records, haha.
Jon: But we want Militia to make money.
Jamie: Thank you AP for all your support, and pleeease come to shows—we look forward to seeing you soon! Come say hi!