When the Israeli electro-rock-pop band Terry Poison strutted onto the stage at the Hollywood Playhouse as the headliner act of the after-party for Israel’s debut at LA Fashion week on Oct. 14, most audience members — largely Israeli ex-pats — got up to dance, though some stayed behind to scratch their heads. The band wore metallic spandex bodysuits and wild makeup and played synth-based instruments to songs with English lyrics that sometimes sounded like an esoteric robotic language. It was a performance that could easily have been taken for an avant-garde art installation.
Terry Poison diverges radically from the folksy, acoustic and singable tunes of Israeli hit-makers like Idan Raichel or Ivri Lider, both of whom have performed in Los Angeles recently. In Israel, though, the band is emerging as a hot new voice and concept in Israeli pop circles. The band opened for Depeche Mode in Israel in May and was nominated as best Israeli act for the 2009 MTV Europe Music Awards, airing in November in Berlin.
The name Terry Poison was created to evoke the image of a bad girl, conceived in Jerusalem’s prestigious Bezalel Art Academy by lead singer Louise Kahn, who immigrated to Israel from Norway. As a student, she envisioned a band that would reflect the freeing, creative power of Tel Aviv, the city she had traded in Oslo for.
“We see ourselves as a Tel Aviv band. We have a party, good times, beach vibe,” Kahn said during a rehearsal break, sitting over a cup of espresso at the Sweet Love Hangover diner on Hollywood Boulevard, quick to lament America’s poor treatment of espresso. With her extension-enhanced platinum blonde hair, she looks like a strung-out Barbie with a slightly Jewish nose.
Terry Poison would be a “girls’ band” if it weren’t for curly-haired, Haifa native Idan “Bruno” Grife, who serves as both the band’s studio producer and keyboardist. Back in 2006, he foresaw the commercial and artistic potential of Terry Poison as it gained an early following in Tel Aviv’s underground club circuit.
He paired Kahn with singer/songwriter Petite Meller, a sabra with a degree in philosophy and literature from Tel Aviv University. Meller, of mixed Polish ancestry, plays the part of a Parisian socialite. Guitarist Anna Landesman, from Latvia, is the goth, tough chick. The Israeli actress and musician, Gili Saar, with her manly height and features, takes on a transsexual look. All in all, they are like four ethnic variations of Lady Gaga.
“Terry Poison is like a startup,” Grife said.
As anti-establishment as they may seem, the band has been promoted through clever branding and marketing. The members collaborated with up-and-coming Tel Aviv fashion designers and photographers to create a flashy, cohesive image of pretty, hard-edged girls who are the life of any drug-dipping party.
Their eponymous debut album is filled with buzzing bass lines, fast drums, electronic bells and whistles, and lyrics about boys and partying. Their hits “Smash Snack” (which repeats the band’s name ad nauseam in the chorus) and “Comme Ci Comme Ca” get regular airplay on Galgalatz, the coveted destination for Israeli singers.
“Radios are a bit nationalist, Zionist, so they want Hebrew music,” Kahn said. “But we built a big underground so we had a massive fan base.”
It remains to be seen what kind of American fan base they’ll build following their American debut in Los Angeles and New York. Kahn thought the non-Jewish crowd at the Cinespace Hollywood nightclub, where they performed the night before the Fashion Week party, had been much more receptive to them, with girls enthusiastically asking for their pictures.
“We’re not ‘the band that started for the Jewish community,’” Kahn said.
“We’re not that educational.”
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