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"I sit at home and record music in my underwear"

"I sit at home and record music in my underwear"
Atar Mayner © Ilya Melnikov

Israeli musician Atar Mayner has an elusive quality that is extremely rare; when many Israeli musician seem to have a sense of impostor syndrome in trying to mimic American hip-hop, Mayner's production style has an authentic beating heart and soul. An interview with the still-underground homegrown hero

Mayner has a sort of shamelessness and directness that gives him a rare authenticity in the Israeli landscape; his obsession with music started as a kid, growing up in the Amuka community in the Upper Galilee, “As a child I entered this world mainly through obsessively listening to music. I would burn discs that my brother bought and listen to them on my Discman. I started playing music when I was 14, on the guitar and drums, but I didn’t specialize in anything. A few years later, the computer came into my life, I was recording, using music software and producing. When I got to the army I stuck with the computer and it has been my main focus ever since.” 

Last year, Atar came out with his debut album and everything seemed to fall in place; a collection of songs that are a perfect blend of R&B, hip hop and soul music written in Hebrew, garnered rave reviews from the mainstream media and hardcore music critiques as well, and a tight group of followers know every word of his songs by heart. He is the younger brother of Israeli fashion designer Hed Mayner, who was nominated this year for the prestigious LVMH Fashion awards. You can’t help but wonder what secret ingredient the talented siblings were being fed as infants, “Both my parents were artists, but they didn’t actualize their potential, so maybe subconsciously my brother and I decided to go for it. I think that a lot of our talent and hard work came from them. They always worked very hard.”  

Although he inherited his family’s drive to success, insisting on writing, producing and performing most of the songs on the album, Mayner’s attention to detail was not always his first priority growing up: “As a child I didn’t find myself liking school. But I would try as much as I could just to please my parents so everyone would be happy and leave me alone. It was relatively easy for me but I wasn’t interested, at times it got me depressed or I would get in trouble and be sent home.” 

You sing about the difficulty of living and surviving in Tel Aviv. Did the success of your album give you relief? “It has always been hard for me to get along financially, and it’s still hard. At times I could barely stay in Tel Aviv. This whole generation has it more difficult now, the rent is very high, and we can’t buy an apartment. In Tel Aviv, only if you are born here or have rich parents, you can survive, and the rest of us just try as hard as we can. Now I feel relatively fortunate. All my life I’ve been washing dishes, working in kitchens, gardening, terrible jobs. When I arrived in Tel Aviv, I began to DJ, and produce music. The success of the album didn’t give me economic relief, I make a living from performing and DJing but nowadays I don’t have to depend on other people. I came from an era of home studios; I sit at home and record music in my underwear.” Do people recognize you now, heckle you when you DJ? “Yes, people come up to me all the time when I work in clubs, but it usually comes from a good place. It’s all in good vibes, it doesn’t bother me. I have a girlfriend, and it can get pretty awkward with girls, sometimes they send me weird messages but it doesn’t really bother her. I’m honest with her and tell her everything.” 

Atar Mayner © Merav Ben Loulou

Mayner's secret to success lies in his uncompromising urge to create from a place of relevance. Despite all the different influences that emerge from his music, thanks to authentic lyrics, it all comes together in a way that makes sense. While Israeli society has huge gaps when it comes to opinions, religion and lifestyle, it all harmonizes in Atar’s songs: Middle Eastern music with American alternative R&B, and songs that speak about faith and religion alongside his views on sex, drugs and freedom. 

Faith and religion are very present in your songs, where does it connect to you on a daily basis? “I put on Tefillin every day. I’m traditional, but in a basic way. I eat in non-kosher places, but I don’t mix meat and milk. I really try not to work on Shabbat, and for the past five years I have hardly worked on Saturdays. If I’m with my girlfriend at home, or if I invite someone to eat, we say Kiddush before dinner. These are quite small ceremonies but they have meaning to them. It’s cool for people who aren’t from this world. On Saturdays I like to stay home, go to the beach, or stroll through the city. Faith will exist in some way on my next album; not exactly songs of praising God, but it is implied.” 

Are you afraid of “Second Album” Syndrome (disappointment and pressure after an instantaneous successful first album) “I understand why artists go through it, but it’s pretty clear to me what I’m doing. I’m not a fearless person. Today people only want to be famous, but it’s not my goal. I’m no different from this generation; I’m going through the same things, but I want things to work out for me thanks to my music. It’s not like I sit around and wonder what will be on my next album - will I sing about God? Will it be like the first one? I do music and what comes out is what comes out, and I accept it. I’m also limited in my tools; I’m not a professional singer, and I’m a mediocre instrument player. I’m not the best producer in the whole world. There are not many things that paralyze me, but sometimes I have no inspiration, and I’ve learned over the years that it comes in waves. I prepare in advance for the inspirational moments, and try to be mature about it. The music industry in Israel can be really intense, and I have to keep my authenticity.”

Mayner can't make any promises regarding his next release, but in the meantime, you can listen to some of his new material at his upcoming performance, accompanied by his trusty entourage: Eden Darso, Dor3 & Rasta Hai. August 29 at 20:30, Barby. 52 Kibbutz Galuyot Rd, Tel Aviv. Link to Event