Today, For the Punks was lucky to meet a new band from half-way across the globe. Jonathan Miller, vocalist of the hardcore punk outfit, Woolly Boy, tells me all about their latest EP and introduces the Israeli Punk scene.
The group’s newest project titled Wasted Life survives the band after a technical breakup to issue a brutally honest and aggressive 6-song punk album. Wasted Life certainly exists closer to the hardcore punk realm but cleanses any punk-enthusiast palette.
Selling points on the album are without a doubt the crushing thrash/hardcore-esque guitar riffs and solos, punishing punk drum grooves, and versatile vocals ranging from skate-punk to modern hardcore. Keep reading below for the full interview!!
Hey Jonathan. Let’s start off by getting to know you and your band Woolly Boy! Who are you? Who is your band Woolly Boy? Tell us a little bit about where you & your band are from.
I’m Jonathan, originally from London (UK) but have been living in Israel for the past 9 years, currently based near Tel Aviv. I’ve always had a major interest in music – got into drumming at the age of 8 and have always been singing and writing songs (not that they were that good when I was a kid.) During my teens I got more into punk, metal and hardcore. I was in a few short-term bands before leaving the UK, including a punk band I sang for while studying in Derby called Shot At The Bar and then a rock band in London called Ghostnotes with my two oldest friends.
Woolly Boy came about after having some fun recording on my own with some new sound equipment I bought with a music grant I was awarded while living in Jerusalem for a year. I then moved back to Tel Aviv where I was already involved in the scene, having gone to a lot of shows and drummed/sung in a punk band called Side Defects, and I looked for some people to form a band. After securing some members (Justin – drums, Shachar – bass and Ido – guitar), we eventually named ourselves Woolly Boy and played our first show in Haifa in 2015 (the name references a nickname a friend gave to a puppet in my likeness that another friend made for me.)
In all honesty, the band hasn’t had the best of luck. We’ve gone through several different lineups and technically…there’s no official band at the moment. Luckily, a mixture of previous members (Mor – drums, Ran – guitar and Amit – bass) agreed to help with the recording of the EP while I paid for a majority of it. Unfortunately, they cannot commit to Woolly Boy long term due to other commitments. It took 5 years since the band’s formation to eventually record and put something official out there but I’m glad we got it done despite the obstacles.
Unfortunately, I’m not too informed on the Israeli music scene. Could you introduce our readers to the musical climate there today?
Like many other countries, there are different genres in Israel. Despite it being a small country, it’s surprisingly varied, and I’m not clued up on all of it. There’s the more traditional Middle Eastern music, called Mizrahit, sung in Hebrew and with a lot of darbuka rhythms and vibrato in the vocals, as well as Israeli pop and rock which take in some of those traditional elements but with modern twists. There are also some other rock bands and musical acts who sound more Western. I sometimes surprise myself by discovering bands old and new that sound like something I would have easily listened to growing up, even those not singing in English.
Metal is surprisingly fairly popular out here, or at least was when I arrived. Even years before I moved out here, I knew who Betzefer were because they were briefly on Roadrunner and I was randomly given an Orphaned Land album as a gift. However, EDM is huge. Trance in particular, like psy-trance, seems to be the EDM of choice out here. I’m still not really into it at all but I’ve met so many people into that kind of stuff over the years. There seems to be parties, both big and underground, happening all the time.
The punk scene is relatively small in comparison to others. I roughly knew who Useless ID were before I moved here but the rest I only found out about later. There’s actually quite a deep history of Israeli punk which you can find out more about through the Israel Punk Archives.
If I were to spend a day in your scene searching for all thing’s music, what could I expect to find (examples: popular genres of music, venues, street music, record stores, shows, etc., etc.)
In Tel Aviv, the main venues for punk shows include Levontin 7, a couple of rehearsal rooms that double up as venues and a more underground place called Beit Alpha run by very influential people from the punk scene. There’s really only one main record store that has a good selection of punk (as far as I’m aware) called The Third Ear which also has a venue attached called OzenBar. Punk and hardcore shows do happen there but for some reason very rarely. There is also the Punk Rock Bazaar that happens every so often and sometimes at different locations. Those with distros will come with some stock, bands will bring their merch, people will bring their fanzines, others will just get rid of all the band shirts they no longer want or don’t fit them anymore…that sort of thing.
It’s kind of hard to pick out what the most popular style of punk is out here. Street punk/crust is definitely dominant – a lot of d-beat and reverb vocals bands who normally share members. However, there are other bands pretty much filling out venues who play different genres – some sound like they could easily be American bands, some are political and some simply have lyrical content that speaks to the crowd. There are two big bands (whom I will not name in fear of being ostracized from the scene) who are musically pretty good and the shows are always fun but I feel like if you translated the lyrics to English so that it structurally made sense for a Western audience…it still wouldn’t make sense. They use local slang and references that the Israeli crowd absolutely love, and I think that helps with the popularity rather than the music itself. I guess the crowd connects with it in the same way that I like that bit in Enter Shikari’s “Anesthetist” that goes “you f*cking spanner!” Haha.
You’ve been involved in the Israeli Punk scene for a while now. Tell me a little bit about that experience and what makes the punk scene so special to you? And, how is it different from London, where you used to live?
When I moved to Israel, one of the first things I did was look up the punk scene. I think I did a Google search and found bands through Myspace (yeh, that was still a thing 9 years ago). My first contact was with the band Not on Tour, a really popular melodic/skate punk band who have gained recognition abroad, having done some European festivals and tour dates with big names. It was their guitarist at the time, Valer, who helped introduce me to the scene and I’ve been going to shows ever since.
Back in London since about the age of 15, I was going to shows in the hardcore scene which mostly revolved around the Rucktion Records label – bands like Knuckledust, Ninebar, TRC, 50 Caliber and BDF. I sometimes even initially went to shows of fairly big-name US or Euro hc bands more for the local support. These were the kind of shows with guys windmilling and spin kicking – kind of changed my life, to be honest. Apart from London, I also lived in Derby for 3 years for University. I connected more with the punk/ska scene there as well as hanging out with more “metalhead” friends at club nights every week.
Because of how small the Israeli alternative scene is in general, it’s almost like having those 2 previous scenes mashed together. What connects them all is this feeling of a social club. I’m not going to pretend I’ve ever been part of any crew or that everyone knows who I am. In fact, I don’t really socialize with too many people outside of shows as I’ve just always been a bit shy. However, just being able to go somewhere with familiar faces willing to even say hi and give you a high five is comforting. I go for the music, but the socializing has always been a bonus.
What do you wish people around the world knew about Israel’s music community? And, with the internet and globalization of music, do you see more collaboration amongst Israeli artists and others coming soon? Is there anyone that you would really want to collaborate with
One thing I’d say to the music press/media in particular is to not ignore Israeli artists on political grounds, especially not the punk scene. As you’d expect from a punk scene, especially a more street punk focused one as ours, it’s heavily anti-fascist. Some publications refuse to cover Israeli punk bands as a form of solidarity with Palestine…but the punk bands support Palestine. We all hate our Prime Minister and want change. Many either refused to do the army or did do the army, saw some stuff and now want to let the world know what they do. Although I don’t include Woolly Boy in this as I’ve never been political so I don’t write political songs and also do not have as strong a connection to the conflict as those who have lived here all their lives, a majority of the punk bands out here have important things to say. The people of a country and its government are 2 different things…normally.
I think international artists are similarly worried about coming here or working with Israeli artists. That’s their choice – I can understand how actually coming here could be “making more of a statement” than just listening or writing about an Israeli band. We are fortunate to have a band like Useless ID and a musician like Yotam Ben Horin who now works with Fat Mike of NOFX on certain projects like Chabad Religion and is producing more and more pop punk records. Local hardcore band Eternal Struggle also got former Madball guitarist Brian “Mitts” Daniels to come over and help produce their album. As well as to one day hopefully work with the likes of Yotam and “Mitts”, there are a bunch of bands of all genres with whom I’d love to collaborate. As a songwriter, I have this weird dream to write the coolest songs for a “pop artist” and make them “edgy”. I already like Jess Glynne, a fellow London Jew, but I’d love to write an early Avril/rock era P!nk style song for her.
Are there any Israeli bands on the come up that our readers should check out?
The previously mentioned Not On Tour are already doing well for themselves so everyone should check them out. Kids Insane are an Every Time I Die style hardcore band, also making waves in Europe. Eternal Struggle, a NYHC influenced band, are about to release their debut album and destined for big things after signing to MAD Tourbooking. Social Virus, a talented young hardcore band who have already done more in their 4 years being a band than I have since my first band 15 years ago. MooM are a powerviolence band, including Not On Tour vocalist Sima – they’re absolutely ferocious. For Us All do Comeback Kid style melodic hardcore and just put out an impressive album. Also, for some proper beatdown hardcore, a band called Reap Home sort of came out of nowhere and blew me away. Not sure what’s going on with them at the moment but that band from out here that I heard that reminded me of the hc scene back home.
What things are you watching in your scene right now that stand out to you? What’s cool?
Well it’s hard to say with the pandemic having recently affected shows and also some bands breaking up for various reasons. However, there was a post recently from a local band called Walla Lo Yodea (which loosely translates as “Wow, Don’t Know”) announcing their new drummer and the addition of a trombone player, both of whom I know through other bands. Walla Lo Yodea put out a fun little EP some time ago which has a bit of a Rancid-meets-NOFX feel..but in Hebrew. I’m interested to see the new lineup live and hopefully hear some new stuff.
Also, there’s generally been heavier hardcore bands in recent years compared to when I moved here, such as Reap Home and Bullshark. A lot of the younger crowd are into Knocked Loose, Incendiary, Vein etc. So, we might start getting more bands like that. Also, with groovier hardcore generally becoming more common with bands like Turnstile, Slope, Mindforce and Take Offence, there might be more of a resurgence in our scene. I’d say bands like Social Virus and even Woolly Boy have tried to put some modern crossover rhythms and riffs into our songs.
Let’s talk about Woolly Boy’s new EP, Wasted Life. What is the EP about? What does it mean to you? What should listeners expect to hear?
Most of the songs on the EP are a reflection upon my life and there’s a narrative of (attempted) personal growth. For example, This Is What Happens (When You’re Not Careful) is about my breakdown and attempted suicide before moving to Israel, My Mind (Time) is about coping with anxiety and Through It All is an ode to my closest friends and family. Ultimately, the EP showcases the dark sides of real life but then rounds it off with a positive message of how to focus on the good things and keep going forward. As someone who studied Music Therapy, I wrote these songs to express myself but also to hopefully connect with those who feel the same. Musically, it’s a bit mixed, as I’m influenced by bands like Ignite, Dog Eat Dog, Mad Capsule Markets and The Wildhearts among many others. Basically, if you like 90s vibes, you might be into something on this.
To close off, what can our readers expect to see from Woolly Boy soon? Will we ever catch you in the United States? Is there anything else you want to share?
As mentioned, there’s technically no band right now. I’ve still got to make the decision of whether to find new members, which in this scene isn’t easy, or somehow continue it as a solo and/or recording-only project. It’s a shame that we never got to tour. Particularly with me being British, it could have been easier to do a UK tour. I would absolutely love to play the US one day but that can only be a dream at the moment. In the meantime, I want to maybe get a video or 2 done and might venture into doing acoustic shows again, once I buy a new guitar.