You travelled a lot when you were younger. You lived in Israel as a child. What was that like? Well, as a child, it’s all you know. It’s like when you start travelling you get out of a certain bubble and that’s when you can start comparing and value anywhere. I had a great childhood but, looking back on it, Israel is a pretty intense place. The fact that it’s sitting in this crossroad between east and west makes it immediately an interesting place. If we look at it from a music angle it was awesome. Israel is on the pulse with the Western world, you get all these scenes – I was listening to psychedelic rock and all these bands I can’t find in Australia. On the other hand, because it’s an immigrant country, you have Arabic and Eastern music; this melting pot. It really opened up my influences and interests in travel.
And you spent your time in the army? I did, it’s compulsory over there. The guys do three years and the girls do two. That’s another thing that’s hard to describe because it’s the reality over there. I was possibly too lazy or too stoned to get out of it at the time. I was never involved in combat, but that was enough, I was an artist, I was 18, it’s the time you wanna take off. You don’t want to take orders, shave your head or have a gun around you. It was tough for me. The first year I was miserable and depressed and then something happened. I had the realisation that even though crazy shit was going on around me, the freedom that was in my head was untouched. If it’s experiences that form you, it’s the bad ones that really shape you up. So when I got out of the army I was really good to go. If you asked me if I’d do it now, I’d say no, no fuckin’ way. It’s a lot of time to give away but I learnt a lot from it.
How important is travelling as inspiration for song-writing? Travelling is the best school in life. I’ve learnt much more from backpacking than in any school. You get to experience and feel it on your own flesh. Any place I went I was curious about the local music. So in New York it was country, Americana and roots stuff. And then my travels took me to India and there I fell in love with the sitar and Indian music. All these things you come across become part of your DNA. So when you write a song it filters through your DNA and then the song will have a flavour of all the things you went through. My album Good Morning is like a mixed bag – it’s a musical journal.
You music has a ’60s sound. Is that because your experiences are like those of George Harrison in India with his sitar, or Bob Dylan on the road? All these people were open and the minute you open yourself to the world you come across insights. The main one I picked up was it’s all the same. You might see differences but you see all these similarities, the culture and the colour is different but you see the essence and that’s the main experience. It’s easy for someone who has grown up in one place to develop a theory of us versus them. You have to step out and see the world and then you realise it’s all the same.
In Italy you’re massive. You played a concert to 20,000 screaming fans, all singing along to “La” – that must have been spine-tingling… That was incredible, dude. And that was the first day after landing in Italy and getting reports about how well Good Morning was doing there. The first thing they did was drive us to this festival called Festival Bar and we shared the stage with Enrique Iglesias, James Blunt and Natalie Imbruglia. All of a sudden I find myself in this pop scene playing to 20,000 people and it was broadcast live to 10 million Italians. As the van was parking I got out to 500 crazy Italian kids screaming “Old Man River”. And then to have 20,000 people singing along, it’s an overwhelming feeling.
So how’s your Italian? Can we expect an Italian album? Well, I really tried to learn the language, especially as most of them don’t speak English. I was doing this radio interview in Milan, and everyone was listening. And naturally you start picking up the swear words first. The interviewer asked “Have you picked up any Italian?” And I blacked out, I couldn’t remember any of the words I’d picked up, any civilised ones. So I just started mumbling Italian gibberish and I could see all these guys in the control room leaping out of their seats saying “Nooo!” and waving their hands. When we finished the interview and I asked someone what I said, I had no idea. He said: “Well, Ohad, you said something that sounded like ‘I like cock’.” That’s my Italian.
Old Man River’s Good Morning is out now on Sony/BMG. He plays http://www2.fallsfestival.com/[Falls Festival] this NYE in Lorne, Victoria, and Marion Bay, Tasmania.