A few weeks ago The DELI caught a live show at the Sundown Bar in Queens featuring RONI and her band and having seen RONI play solo a couple times before it was an entirely different experience (come to think of it, those two solo shows were pretty different from each other too…) and if you wanna understand how and why these differences exist just check out the DELI-exclusive interview with RONI below, after the jump, and hey let’s hear it for four-letter-long names written in all caps…
…which is totally well-earned in RONI’s case since practically every time she plays a song live it’s like watching a movie projected in Cinemascope—big in emotion and vulnerability and sonic detail and sheer power of voice with seemingly little held back—which is equally true it seems whether RONI’s backed by her band or solo, or whether it’s a rocked-out number or a more introspective, intimate piece of music where even the “smallness” is widescreen if you know what I mean…
…and after having a nice wide-ranging conversation with RONI on the phone the other day I’ve come away with more insight into how she’s able to create this live-wire tightrope-walking energy no matter the physical or instrumental setting seeing as RONI (and her band) are basically walking a tightrope when they play live (or otherwise) with spontaneity being at the core of their music which extends all the way to RONI’s songwriting which starts with free-form improvisations recorded onto a voice app or other device that get further fleshed out later but with as much of the original in-the-moment content preserved as possible…
…with RONI’s most recent single “Don’t Look At Me Like That” (see the music video up top) being no exception and btw it’s on the rock ‘n’ roll "power ballad" side of the things but don’t worry it’s a long way from Winger indeed—building from a faded-in ambient intro to a stark ballad of empowerment to an lighter-waving rock ’n’ roll guitar solo to a brief hushed coda so it’s a journey you see—which is appropriate for a song that’s about how it feels when people look at you that way (you know the way) and pushing back against the patriarchal gaze and whether you know this look or not you’ll have a much better understanding of it after hearing the song…
…and ever more after reading the interview below with RONI providing us with an x-ray level look at her creative process and background and the whole story behind “Don’t Look At Me Like That” itself and to our knowledge this is the only interview with RONI currently available to the masses which we consider a great privilege to bring to you, said masses, so give it a look and learn how not to look at her like that…
On RONI’s formative years…
I was born and raised in Jerusalem, except for being in Paris for three years when my dad got sent there for his job. My father is French-Moroccan. He speaks French in addition to Hebrew and English. My grandmother was born and raised in New York City. So I always had citizenship here. When I was 18 I went into the military, which is mandatory in Israel, and served in the military band. About a month after being discharged I decided it was time to move.
First I moved to London. I wanted to see what it was like—what it’d be like living there and it was closer to home. 2010 wasn’t the best time to be in London. It was before Ubers and the pound was very strong which made things expensive. Nobody would hire me. I didn’t have paperwork, wasn’t a citizen and couldn’t work. But I played music constantly and played lots of shows. But after about three months I was over London.
On moving to New York City…
On September 1st, 2010 I moved to New York. It was an opportunity to play live more often and in front of more people. At that time in Israel, it wasn’t easy making music in English. Hebrew was preferred. It’s not like that anymore. At the time I was already writing songs in English. In New York I could have a broader audience, an audience that could connect with the lyrics.
When I moved here I had around $500 to my name and most of that I found at a transit station not long before moving. The money was money was stuffed in an envelope I found on the ground beside my suitcase. It was about 250 pounds in cash with no sign of who it belonged too. That’s what got me started in New York City.
On making records…
What’s even considered an LP or an EP these days? Is it still a concept or not? I don’t think about it too much. Whatever’s on deck, whatever’s ready to go, I put it out unless there’s a bigger concept at play. We don’t record to make money, that’s why I have my day job.
Recording is just the archiving of your art, which is important on its own. But the most important form of expression for me will always be performing the songs. Recording is an almost museum-like way of dealing with my music. Put it in a frame, be on pitch, produce it nicely—it’s a deliberately displayed piece of work. Then it’s done and it’s on to the stage. That’s where it matters most.
On playing live versus recording…
Playing the songs live, they change over time. Every interpretation is at least slightly different from before and sometimes much more. Either way the songs get updated in that setting. The next songs I put out will be recorded live. That’s my happiest place.
There’s three main settings for creating music as I see it: the studio, what I call the workshop—whether it’s a studio, rehearsal space, cabin in the woods, places were you’re workshopping and writing—and live venues. Which one of these is my happiest place? Playing live is number one. Workshopping comes a close second.
Recording studios can be cold and alienating places. Live performance is the opposite—all about the energy exchange with the audience. I feed off of that, need it to supply anything myself. I don’t go onstage for the attention—it’s obviously part of the deal but still—it’s what I get from the audience, and how we recycle that energy between us, that makes it a memorable experience.
On the audience-performer feedback loop…
If you’re not getting anything from the audience it’s difficult to give your all in return. But that changes 180 degrees if even one-percent of the audience is into it. You can tell just by what their eyes and what their faces are giving you. Everyone has to bring something to the equation.
Live music can be boring if it’s basically the exact same thing you heard on record. I’ve seen some big names play shows like this in the last few years—just playing the album live on stage with no extra long ourtro, no “going nuts” part. I can sit at home with my nice speakers and get that experience.
I like to give people a bang for their buck, to give some extra value. If you’re gonna come all this way, make the time, pack your weed or tobacco or whatever you do, get on the train, travel for who knows how long and then spend 3 or 4 hours of your night at a venue, I’d better bring it.
Where else does anyone get that opportunity—to have people stand there and listen to me for 30 or 45 minutes? Where do you get to experience that? It’s a special setting, a very unique experience. I like to show gratitude to all the people who make all that time and effort to come to my shows. And that’s one reason I make it a different show every time. You’ll remember that it sounded and looked and felt a certain way. I want my records to have that same energy.
The first 2 EP’s after I went back to playing solo were studio creations. I didn’t have band. For me, music is not about always sounding the same. You’re allowed to evolve and explore. With Crown I was invited by a friend to a producer’s studio (Or Visinger). They were working on a beat and I improvised most of what’s now “Stop Motion” along with this beat. The three other songs on the EP were made the same way. The songwriting and guitar parts were mine and the beats were by the producer FortyForty.
The next EP, Afterglow, was created from a bunch of songs that were already improvised and finished. After Crown I started improving songs all the time. I realized that was my favorite way of making music. I don’t tend to sit and write. I don’t journal. For years I was always struggling with not writing enough. Finally I stopped thinking about songwriting that way. I finally accepted it. It’s not my medium.
On songwriting and improvisation…
I’ve been playing for a long time and I’m good at making up melodies and lyrics on the spot. It’s challenging and I like a challenge. I adapted this as my new method—starting with free improv and then forming songs out of the improvs. Afterglow is exactly that—five songs that started off as improvisations. It was produced by Nir Yatzkan, an an old friend from military school since we were 18. He produced it remotely from Israel.
The way I make music now is to sit and improvise and record what I’m doing into voice notes or in a practice studio. I try to improvise everything at once so it comes out as a full formed song with chords, melody, lyrics, hooks, everything already set. The idea is to improvise a song as if the song already exists and I’m playing it live, as if I’m channeling the song.
On her new bandmates…
I want the next album to be recorded live with my new band—Pat DiPaola on drums and Tom Shani on bass. But of course that takes more money, more time and planning versus making an album mostly in the box. I’m really lucky because Pat and Tom connect with the songs.
They’re total professionals. They know how to get the work done. At the same time they’re kind and gentle human beings. Toxic masculinity was never good for me in band environments, acting passive-aggressive and that whole thing. I’m thrilled to have two great musicians to work with who are equally great human beings as musicians. We just toured together for 10 days and didn’t strangle each other so there’s the proof.
I’ve had several bands before and none stuck this way. I feel totally comfortable bringing them my songs and we figure out the arrangements together. They play whatever they’re inspired to play. I give Tom the chords and we go from there. I let them know if anything’s not the right vibe. But more often than not they get it right intuitively, right off the bat. They know my vibe—Know what’s right for me and my songwriting. I know their’s too. We don’t have to change much from how we intuitively feel things the first time around.
On recording “Don’t Look At Me Like That”…
Bass: Tom Shani
Drums: Pat DiPaola
Written by RONI with assistance from Thomas Barranca
Produced by RONI, Jason Alexander Reyes, Jonathon Meier, with assistance from Tom Shani
Recorded, mixed, mastered by Pat DiPaola at 727 Studios (Brooklyn)
Vocal recording and production – Jason Alexander Reyes
It was a perfect team who worked on the new single. Everything was kept very much in the family, in the close-knit tribe. Nobody else touched this song, no one was brought in from outside for mixing or mastering or anything—except for the graphics and art made by Toby Verhines who I met on Instagram. He lives in Ohio. We met in person on the tour I just did, so now he’s part of the tribe too.
“Don’t Look At Me Like That” had existed for about 6 months and people were like you’ve gotta record this song but I didn’t want to self-produce it. Last June I played a show at Rockwood Music Hall and met Jonathon Meier. He introduced himself and said I love that song you just played, would love to work with you on it.
I’ve heard this before and nothing happens but I sent him the demo to see what he’d do with it. All of the sudden two weeks later he sent me his own production of the song. That was a big sign. I thought “let’s do it.” He a little new to production but I thought we could figure out the process as we went. I added my best friend, producer and songwriter Jason Reyes to the mix and both Jonathon and Jayson connected really deeply as well.
We decided to do it the Virgo way, to meet every week and focus on completing one element of the song: beats for the verse (the drums are a mix of drum machine and live drums), beats for the chorus, bass and synths and percussion, synths and pads in general. On week 5 we recorded the live drums and bass at Pat DiPaola’s 727 Studios. Then did the vocal tracking at Jason’s studio. Finally, Pat mastered and mixed it. We set our goal and stuck to the schedule and didn’t linger over anything—just get it done and we did.
On the song’s genesis, meaning, and reception…
“Don’t Look At Me Like That” is a pop/R&B/rock hybrid. It vibes to the catchphrase—there’s definitely sass to it but put across differently every time we play it live. Still it’s good to have a set version of it on record that captures all the elements—but live we take it to a different place every time, especially where we extend the ending, going off to different places and improving what we feel in in the moment. I never want to hear a song played live exactly the same way twice but that’s just me.
“Don’t Look” was written the way I described before. It started with an improv session at home. A friend reminded me that I came up with the core of the song when someone was making a lot of noise outside, honking their car horn so I yelled out the window shut up, stop honking!” which I’d totally forgotten about. That set a mood that ended up triggering lots of other things, lots of other thoughts.
I started improvising, building on the title phrase and life experiences I’ve had. The lyrics are based on living within male dominated fields, worlds I’ve been part of my whole life, and just society overall. And then one part is based on a woman I dated who is in a yoga cult. The second verse of the song gets into that, into the whole experience of her choosing between the relationship and the cult. And choosing the cult—entering into this portal of madness. I’m glad I didn’t fall into it too. It was her world, definitely not for me.
The title can be taken different ways and that’s on purpose. It’s about being assessed in a certain way, largely based on gender. Being looked at a certain way because of it—assumptions being made that aren’t there in reality. Being over-assessed. But it’s also about being under-assessed. Being underestimated and not seeing what’s there.
I switch the pronoun from “you” to “her” at some points in the song to make it clear it’s not just about me. There’s half the population at least that has to deal with being looked at that way, of be assessed in a certain way—toxic patriarchal stares—and reclaiming power from that.
For the tour I had t-shirts that have the title of the song in big script and it definitely provokes a reaction from lots of people. It’s like a kind of litmus test. In Cleveland I walked to a local diner in the morning to get a bagel and there was a table of older gentlemen, probably in their 60s, and one of them leaned over and said “I’m looking at you like that.” It started a whole interesting conversation. It’s an ice-breaker at the very least.