In-depth Interview With Orphaned Land Vocalist Kobi Farhi

By Andrew Bansal

Hailing from Israel, Orphaned Land have gained a reputation around the world for the audacious message they convey and their efforts towards making peace with some of Israel’s enemies in the middle-east through their music, but at the heart of it all lies a talented and unique progressive metal band that continues to deliver compelling albums. Their fifth studio effort ‘All Is One’ takes a step forward and strengthens the music as well as lyrical message, and is set to release via Century Media Records on June 24th in Europe and June 25th in North America. Recently, I had the pleasure of talking to the eloquent and articulate vocalist Kobi Farhi to discuss this new album and many more topics. Check out the conversation below, along with some music off of the album, and visit the band online using the links at the bottom.

Firstly, I have to ask you about the new album ‘All Is One’, which is coming out very soon. What can people expect from it? Only a couple of songs have been released so far for streaming, so most people are still curious about how it’s going to sound.

Yeah, we released three tracks from the album for streaming online so far. I think this is one of the most upfront albums we ever did. When I’m saying upfront, I mean in terms of the music, the lyrics, the song titles, even the album cover. We really wanted to make our message and the theme of our concept even stronger this time. People sometimes tend to see the front cover on advertisements and they might think that we’re trying to be one of those bands that spreads peace and love, preaching people, being missionaries about religion and saying things like ‘church is good for you’, but that’s not really the case! The thing is, we titled the album ‘All Is One’ and we made all these signs on the cover but as a matter of fact what’s going on with the music inside the album is the complete opposite. So the album title and cover have been a kind of a dream that we wish for, but the songs are the harsh reality and tragedy that we’re living in. It’s important for people to understand that, and with that said, the songs are very tragic, very upfront and I think this is definitely the best Orphaned Land album. I’m singing clean vocals throughout the whole album, and I think every song is really great.

That’s awesome to hear. Yes, I was going to ask you about the variation in the actual music. As you said, you’ve used clean vocals and a lot of orchestral elements in this one. You hired a big group of musicians to help out with the album. Was that a very deliberate effort to bring new elements into the music?

Yeah, that was really a lot of work. We got a decent budget from Century Media this time. It was like getting a lot of money from your parents to buy candy, and that’s exactly what we did. We included all the things we wanted to achieve in our music, whether it was the ability to fly to Turkey to record with Turkish violin players, or to record the album in Sweden with one of the most acclaimed metal engineers Jens Bogren who works with Opeth and many other great bands. It was a lot of work to do, a lot of logistics, a lot of rehearsing and managing nearly 40 people. But we always like to make ambitious albums and we always like to motivate and challenge ourselves. We want to top the last album that we did, with something better. So we had high expectations and our fans are also expecting us to give them the best. So I really think that we put our heart and soul into this album.

Talking of the permanent lineup of the band, I think you had a change in guitarist recently. Is it a solidified lineup now with the new member?

Yeah, we changed our guitarist. Matti Svatitzki was with us for 20 years. The four of us were there from the beginning of the band and Matti was in that group. It was an unfortunate moment to say goodbye to a friend of 20 years but he kept growing tired from the touring and being in a band, he wanted to invest in a family life and start his own career. But the switch was very fast because the replacement guitarist Chen Balbus was already familiar with the band on a personal and professional level. He brought good things to the band, with new motivation and new blood. He was really thrilled to work with us and was very much involved in the writing and arrangements. I think the departure of Matti was good for him and the band because it was probably inevitable. We’re still good friends and he actually called me 20 minutes ago to congratulate me for the new songs. So everything is cool, we’re good friends and we moved on. That’s the great thing about it.

In terms of touring, I saw you open for Katatonia in 2010 at the Whisky in Los Angeles. That was great, but when are you planning to come to North America next?

I’m going to sit down with the Century Media people and talk about how we can manage to bring the band back again to the United States, because I guess every System Of A Down fan should dig Orphaned Land in a way, and I really think we should tour the US again. If we don’t, in a few years we’ll be probably forgotten. So hopefully we can sort out a tour fairly quickly.

Coming back to the album, it’s been three years since the last one. What have you gone through in this period, just a lot of touring?

We did a lot of touring after the release of the previous album in 2010, and then we were celebrating 20 years of Orphaned Land so we also did two very, very big shows in Tel Aviv, where we had Steven Wilson from Porcupine Tree as a guest. We filmed that on DVD which we released in 2011. I think it’s a fucking amazing DVD. And right after that we toured again to promote the DVD and then we sat down the write this new album. So it was a very, very busy three years for us without a break. It was either touring or writing or releasing an album. That’s the way it should be. I’m happy with that, and I don’t want to get bored anyway. I’m glad to be active with the band and with the fact that we’ve succeeded in releasing two albums and a DVD in three years.

What was it like playing with Steven Wilson? Him playing with you is in itself a big deal, because he doesn’t just play with anyone. He’s very picky and plays with people he really respects.

Yes, that’s true! There is this part in our DVD, which you can also find on YouTube, where he is performing a song of Orphaned Land alone on stage in our 20th anniversary show. Before performing that song, he was saying that Orphaned Land is one of the best metal bands out there in the world. Just hearing that coming from him, that’s like getting a compliment from God himself (laughs). It was a great honor to work with him, and we feel that we are really lucky because I don’t think it’s going to happen today as he is going more and more busy, more successful as time goes by. So I’m happy with what we got with him already and we feel privileged to have him on our DVD and one the previous record.

You mentioned the touring. The band gets a lot of recognition for promoting unity through music. But has it had a negative effect anywhere? Have people stopped you from playing in certain countries or anything like that?

It does happen! As Israeli passport holders we cannot play in Arabian countries. I cannot enter Iran, Lebanon or any of the other Arabian countries just because we’re Israeli. We have lots of fans actually in those countries, and that’s a pity because the only thing they can do is join our shows when we play in Istanbul. It’s a fucked up situation to have to suffer from the political bullshit between the countries. But most of the countries we play are always positive about us because we succeed to bring so many people together despite the fact that we’re Israelis. Whenever we get to play in front of Arab fans, they love it. It’s crazy for an Arab to be a fan of an Israeli, and it doesn’t happen everyday at all. The people of Israel are also proud of us with what we do, and they feel we represent the country in a way that gives honor and respect to it.

One final question I have for you is, with your worldwide success, what impact has it had on music in Israel? Are people inspired to create their own music, or are you still the only metal band from there?

In terms of metal music we are probably the only band that has succeeded to emerge out from the country very strongly. People are proud, and I think they have respect for us. Sometimes it’s not their cup of tea but they still enjoy our success and appreciate what we do for the music community of Israel and for the country. Of course we have a lot of fans in Israel. All our shows there are always packed and totally successful. People always embrace us. So we have great feedback, even from people who are not in the scene. The common people in the street know of Orphaned Land because our story was all over the TV. Being an Israeli band with Arab fans is really a big deal and everybody’s proud of that. They’re not big fans of growling and metal, but they acknowledge the fact that if anyone made it without saying their political opinion on Arab countries, that’s Orphaned Land, that’s a metal band, and that’s a fact. Every metal fan should know that, because it’s a great honor. Metal people are usually considered to be freaks anywhere in the world, may be less in the USA but certainly in the middle-east and Europe. They are supposed to be the ones with tattoos, piercings and black clothes, but those people are the ones that teach everyone how to get along, how to manage to live together, no matter what your culture, religion or color. That’s what I like about metal music, its sincerity, and the brotherhood it promotes between people. People are acknowledging that in Israel and probably the whole world. I’m really proud to be a part of the metal community.