The Shondes — meaning “shame” or “disgrace” in Yiddish — is an an utterance heard time and time again from the mouths of disappointed Jewish parents.
But fear not, self-conscious kinderlekh, the word has been reclaimed by four intrepid Brooklynites who mock shame where it stands.
Brooklyn’s The Shondes have been dropping Jewish-inspired punk rock for five years, armed with a fiddle, an illustrious alto frontwoman, and messages of Palestinian liberation (you read that right). On the verge of releasing their third studio album Searchlights on Sept. 20, The Shondes singer Louisa Rachel Solomon and drummer Temim Fruchter took a minute to talk about Bruce Springsteen, the Bible Belt, and how to be queer, trans, Jewish and punk rock at the same time.
What kind of music did you hear growing up?
Louisa: It’s funny, we all come from completely different musical backgrounds. Jewish music of various kinds, showtunes, classical, punk, classic rock, folk, metal… we all bring a lot of influences to the table! Personally, 80s pop was very formative. I remember rushing home from pre-school to put on my sister’s Madonna records and practice my stage moves. And Debbie Gibson was my first concert — a life-changing experience. The common thread for me between that pop music I loved so dearly as a little kid, classical + Jewish music, and then later on, feminist punk — was drama. Even, melodrama. And I don’t think melodrama should be a dirty word! It helps us access big, powerful feelings,which is for me, like, 1/2 the point of writing and listening to music.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with traditional Jewish music, what aspects influence your songwriting and how?
Temim: I don’t know, it’s not exactly tangible, but there’s this quality about so much traditional Jewish music that is both gorgeously mournful and also deeply exuberant, and I think that’s a combination we really go for in our music. Call me cheesy, but I think about, like, the wedding dancing scene in Fiddler on the Roof – and about how certain kinds of familiar notes and scales and violin lines evoke that perfect, bittersweet feeling for me. My dad is actually a musician and a singer and he plays Jewish traditional weddings with his band all time. There is this feeling I get during those dance sets – I inevitably weep through all the grinning – that I would love for fans to be able to feel at our shows and through the energy of our performance and the construction of our melodies.
We hear that you’re trying to veer the focus away from your identities as trans, Jewish, queer, etc. in favor of being, well ‘musicians.’ Can you tell us about that struggle? Does it have to be one or the other in the music industry?
Temim: Well, pigeonholing can be a hard thing for bands to navigate, but the short answer is: no, I definitely don’t think it has to be one or the other! The thing is, we’d like our music to be the focus of press that comes out about us, sure, and at the same time, we are always happy to talk about our stories as individuals, and about our histories and identities and beliefs — and about how all of that stuff plays into our music and our performance. Sometimes the press tends to get weirdly fixated on those personal aspects of the band, and even sometimes by way of some pretty inaccurate representations of us, and it’s frustrating, because we’re like, ‘hey, but wait, we’re playing music here, don’t you want to talk about our rhythm or our songwriting or our harmonies or something?’ So I think it’s really awesome and valuable to us when people can get to know us and who we are through our music first.
What were the biggest musical influences on your forthcoming album Searchlights? We hear you’ve been carrying a torch for Bruce Springsteen.
Temim: God, yeah, we’re always carrying a torch for The Boss and we constantly referenced the particular E Street brand of heartstrings-y raucous music when we were writing material for Searchlights. After My Dear One, we were just so excited to release an album of songs that felt a little bit more upbeat and, well, pop, and so we all got kind of geeky and excited to study some of our favorite songs and artists. I used it as an excuse to have a personal 80s pop renaissance, listening to more Go-Gos and Roxette than I should admit (not to mention some 90s power pop I shant name here), and we’d all sit together driving to and from shows listening to the Boss or R.E.M. or Pat Benatar or even like old Beatles and being like “ooh, ooh, we should do something like that.” It was fun to just let ourselves take cues – and inspiration – from some of the music that we grew up on and that makes us feel genuinely happy.
What were the biggest non-musical inspirations for the album?
Temim: Well, for one thing, a lot of the songs are kind of inspired by this feeling that life is both really effing hard and terrifying and also really gorgeous and inspiring and joyful– we’ve been having lots of conversations about holding those things together and I think those conversations helped to breed some of this material. Other than that, New York itself – as always! – has a prominent role in the stories a lot of these songs tell. I think you can really visualize parts of the city in these songs. Not to mention the fact that we even finally got to name check the Catskills.
We hear that you inspire kids all over the place, even in the Bible Belt. What’s your most heartwarming inspired fan story?
Temim: I mean, my answer is gonna sound kind of obvious, but it’s just those little moments where people really, genuinely connect to you and what you’re expressing through being at a show. Like, when we’re on tour, I’ll overhear someone come up to Eli after a show and talk about how they gave up classical violin years ago but how his rocking out on the strings just inspired them to go home and pick it up again. Or people will come up to Louisa and talk to her about how much her singing has really, really moved them, you know. But also, plenty of people come up to us and tell us that our album helped them get through a hard day, or a hard year, or a break-up, or a good cry — which to me feels like a huge honor. Of course, this one time someone recognized me on the street, and I got all cocky and was pretty excited to hear about how our album had touched their life — and instead, they were just coming over to tell me that they had seen me when I was an extra in a Poison video. Which is, of course, itself nothing to scoff at.
Over the past couple of years you’ve lost a guitar player, had your van stolen, and violin player Elijah Oberman survived cancer. Stuff like that can tear a band apart. What keeps you together and touring?
Temim: I mean to be honest, a lot of that stuff has only strengthened our connection to one another. This year was a very hard one, for sure, with Eli fighting and then surviving cancer, and there have been some really rough spots over the last several years, like you mention, but in a lot of ways, the band is this home base to come back to. Which is pretty deeply cool. For me it’s like this awesome, huge collaborative project with people I love, so even as we’ve been through some pretty big stuff together that might potentially have been hard or divisive, the project itself is kind of what really anchors us through a lot of that. It’s a reminder of so many good things and a reminder of what’s possible, what being alive and together and making art can be about.