Latest update: March 20th, 2012
Yanover: The work pays the rent?
Staiman: Yeah, at this point it does. It’s interesting to be able to live off of playing funny Jewish songs.
Yanover: Beats heavy lifting… Who’s the guy in the green mask?
Staiman: It’s the drummer. Originally he had conflicts and didn’t want his name and face associated with the band. So he wore a mask. Then he decided there were worse things in this world than being associated with the Groggers. So he took off the mask. It’s like Kiss taking off the makeup.
Yanover: What about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll? Is this part of your milieu, or are you clean-cut Jewish kids?
Staiman: That’s a good question. We’re pretty straight laced.
Yanover: You get up at six, go to shul, daven Mincha on time?
Staiman: No. We’re somewhere in between living the legitimate rock star life and yeshiva bocher. Probably closer to living the legitimate rock start life… I mean we’re all frum, we’re all shomer Shabbes, we keep kosher, we have that connection. None of us are yeshivish. Except our bass player is in a smicha (rabbinic ordination) program now, but he’s not yeshivish. He’s more modern. We’re normal. I guess “normal” is very subjective, but we’re at a healthy balance. We like to have fun, we definitely capitalize on some of the rock star stereotypes.
Yanover: Do you ever stop between songs during rehearsal and say, Listen, in the Parsha this week, what do you think about this and that?
Staiman: As of yet that has never come up.
Yanover: There’s a movie there, you know… Most of the movies about frum people are done by outsiders, and the few that are by insiders are so dark and unhappy. So here’s an opportunity to be frum and joyous…
Staiman: We definitely all have a very dark sense of humor. In our rehearsals we’re pretty stressful, because we’re all… We don’t take ourselves very seriously, but when it comes to music and rehearsing and making sure we sound good and tight we’re all perfectionists. So we push ourselves really hard. Rehearsals definitely get a little intense.
Yanover: Do you have a Brian Epstein type?
Staiman: Like a manager? Yeah, our manager is in all our videos. In the “Eshes Chayil” video he plays the Mexican dude.
Yanover: He’s not the bearded guy yelling at the girl…
Staiman: No, that’s Rav Shmuel. He’s a kind of legendary folk/rock artist. He’s a rabbi, a Rosh Yeshiva, but he’s also this really awesome, out there rabbi who goes to festivals and plays concert and has this witty songs. We did our first show with him. Cool dude.
Yanover: Are you going to give me a controversial statement, like, We’re more famous than Moshe Rabeinu?
Staiman: I’m always so nervous about this… We like to live on the dividing line. If people were actually at our rehearsals and actually backstage and this and that, they’d see there is no line. It’s so blurred. But when it comes to public statements… I love to live on that edge. I don’t want to go too far, because then people would say, Ah, it’s just a publicity stunt, he’s trying to create shock value. I like to live where people are just kind of not sure where I am. I think I entertain myself with that ambiguity. When people are just not sure how to take me. I’m not too far to the right or too far to the left, I’m sort of tittering the line and it’s fun.
Yanover: I think the obvious sense of ease and self comfort that you’re projecting is very nice to see, and I think that’s the quality that lets you cross over. I a culture that’s so crazy about authenticity, you’re it, you’ve got oodles of authenticity to spare.
Staiman: We say all kinds of things that get us in trouble, but we are proud of who we are. That’s why we get away with it. We really embrace who we are. There’s usually a façade in Jewish music, because people feel there’s so much they can’t say. I enjoy being honest. You can’t get anywhere until you stop lying to yourself.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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