Spotlight: Noga Erez

Justin Jacobs on January 24, 2022
Spotlight: Noga Erez

photo credit: Shai Franco


When Noga Erez feels trapped inside the machine, she takes a walk through the majestically crumbling, tree-lined streets of her native Tel Aviv, Israel, and winds up facing the Mediterranean Sea.

“When I lock into a pace, I start to get ideas,” she says, calling from a hotel room in Nashville, on a quiet morning following a particularly raucous show. “It’s when I’m not trying to create, that’s when the ideas come. I fool myself to believe I’m not aiming to find something new—I’m just taking a walk.”

The ideas that do come—whether in her loft apartment in Tel Aviv’s most beloved hipster neighborhood or in the studio or on one of those winding walks—have made Erez one of the most exciting names in pop music. Working alongside her partner and producer Ori Rousso, Erez has long zeroed in on a set of songs that are as nuanced, funky and clever as they are undeniably catchy. It’s pop for the thinking fan, exemplified by her hit 2021 album KIDS. Now, just a few months later, Erez is back with KIDS (Against the Machine), which boldly poses the question: What happens to electro-pop when you unplug the computer?

During the past five years, Noga Erez has reached heights that remain mere fantasies for the overwhelming majority of Israeli musicians. Raised in an Israeli town most famous for Roman ruins, before moving to artsy, metropolitan Tel Aviv at 18, Erez wrote songs in English—preferring her second language’s angular rhythms.

“I think and dream in Hebrew. So writing in English lets me detour my own psychic process, and my songs take on a new life. Plus, Hebrew is a multi-syllable language, with every word using three or four. But in English, you can go almost a whole song without a two-syllable word: ‘I went to see my friend and we ate lunch…’” she trails off, then laughs. “To-ge-ther.”

That rhythmic singing—matched with quick-witted and political lyrics and Rousso’s staccato, rapid-fire beats—helped Erez’s star rise quickly. In 2017, she dropped her debut, the aptly titled Off the Radar; a few months later, her glitchy “Dance While You Shoot” was featured in an Apple Music ad. Erez had arrived. By the time they wrapped up KIDS, Erez’s off-kilter dance[1]floor jams had not only made her a mega-star at home, but also turned her into a rising pop star around the world.

And that’s when they decided to try something new— completely new. They tore the whole thing down.

The duo’s songwriting had always unfolded in tandem with their production, with Rousso laying down the atmosphere—a smattering of beats, bass, programmed percussion, some chords—and Erez weaving in her words, braiding it all together into a song. But a true[1]blue radio pop star inspired them to change.

“We saw this video of Bruno Mars playing a hit live, with all this hand clapping and snapping. And there was more harmonizing. We said, ‘We have really good songs on this album. What would happen if we destroy the production?’ We wanted to see how well the song would hold up without the strong DNA of our production,” Erez says. “So we went back to something that was never there before.”

Erez and Rousso called on local Tel Aviv players— including two more singers, a trombonist, a saxophonist and more—to lay down KIDS single “VIEWS,” all acoustic, all live. The resulting clip garnered nearly as many YouTube views (over 2 million) as the song’s official video. They knew they were onto something. To promote KIDS, Erez and Rousso began releasing other live, one[1]take versions of the album’s singles, dubbing the series KIDS (Against the Machine)—each song stripped of its metallic beating heart and replaced with a decidedly human one.

In early 2021, they hit the studio again to rerecord the rest of KIDS—and their experiment became a full album. KIDS (Against the Machine) is a different beast entirely: The songs are looser and smoothed out, filled with call-and[1]response vocals, blaring brass and woodwinds, splashy live drums and Erez’s far-more[1]soulful singing. “We had a basic set of rules: No layering the sounds, no samples, no computer[1]generated instruments. And if we couldn’t actually record something live with everyone in the same room, then we still recorded it as if was live. We didn’t want any overdubbing,” she says.

But to complete the record, Erez needed a sound from when she was a kid. Her old choir director got in touch at the perfect moment.

“She called me after years and years and said, ‘Noga, it seems like you’re becoming kind of famous in Israel. If you ever need anything, let me know,’” Erez says. “We hung up, and I called her back a minute later. ‘Actually, there is something you could help me with.’”

Soon, Erez and Rousso were on a kibbutz in Northern Israel, recording her teacher’s children’s choir in their own rehearsal space.

“And now we had that sound,” says Erez, triumphantly. “The signature sound of the album.”

KIDS (Against the Machine) sways between tight Motown jams and darker cabaret grooves, with the joyous voices of Israeli kids adding a pervasive playfulness. And, despite being dressed up a little bit, all of the LP’s tracks remain excellent pop songs.

“I learned that the most important thing is just songwriting,” Erez says. “We love production and sound, the craft of making something beautiful and interesting. But if you don’t have a good song at the center, you don’t have enough.”

Erez says she hasn’t disavowed the machine entirely—her eventual fourth LP is likely to return to her jilted electro-pop sound. But after the success of this experiment, there’s no going back: Noga Erez is a pop star, sure, but she is also a true songwriter.