Duvid Swirsky is not your typical rocker. Instead of hanging out backstage after a recent performance at a Los Angeles venue, Swirsky, one of the founders of Moshav, the Israeli-American rock band, was shopping for groceries for his wife.
After performing in bands for more than half of his life, Swirsky can be forgiven for not hewing to the more hoary musician stereotypes. "The first gig I ever got paid for was a pretty big show in Tel Aviv" as a member of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's band, he recalls, speaking from the supermarket's checkout line.
"It was a 5,000-seater with a whole bunch of popular Israeli singers performing. I'm sure I had no idea what I was doing — I was 15!" says the musician, whose band kicks off its latest tour at World Café Live in Philadelphia on Aug. 21.
It was no coincidence that Carlebach picked Swirsky to perform with him. They both lived in Moshav Mevo Modi'im, a village nestled in the hills between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The moshav was an unusually musical place, as Swirsky recalls. "I think about 80 percent of the kids played musical instruments, and a lot of the parents played as well — not just Shlomo. There was lots of music around, and Shlomo being a performer and musician was a big influence."
Carlebach, known to many as Reb Shlomo as well as "The Singing Rabbi," was more than just a neighbor. Considered by some to be the 20th century's pre-eminent songwriter of Jewish religious melodies, Carlebach composed thousands of songs and recorded more than 25 albums during a 40-year career, so it is no wonder that he had such a profound influence on Swirsky and his next-door neighbor, Moshav co-founder Yehuda Solomon.
"He was an amazing influence," Solomon remembers. "We got to perform with him and to study with him. Just watching him, the way he connected with audiences — he was a role model for us."
While Swirsky and Solomon haven't been quite as prolific as their one-time mentor, they have found their own success. Since forming in 1996, Moshav has released seven studio albums, with their eighth set to come out later this year (the album's first single, "Light the Way," is out now), sometime after their latest tour is completed.
It's a long way from playing impromptu concerts for Semester Abroad students in Israel in the late 1990s, when the band developed enough of a following that, when their American college fans returned to the United States, they arranged for Moshav to tour Hillels around the country. The gig ultimately resulted in Seagram's CEO and philanthropist Edgar Bronfman agreeing to bankroll the band's first full-scale tour in 1998. The success of the tour convinced the band members that they needed to move from the moshav to Los Angeles, where they have been headquartered since 2000.
The band's unique sonic blend of alternative rock, modern folk, reggae and Middle Eastern rhythms has proven to be a fan favorite across the world.
"We try to make music that can talk to everyone," Solomon says of the music he laughingly calls "falafel — we take a lot of different styles and make them all work together."
The five members — in addition to Swirsky and Solomon, Moshav's current lineup includes Tamir Bar Zeli, Matt Cheadle and Geofrey Parry –take full advantage of their appeal by appearing at numerous benefits, fundraisers and community events.
"Anything that's working toward unity — that's what we're interested in," Solomon says. "Music is an amazing tool for connecting people."
The act of connecting — to their audience, to Judaism, to their lives and families in Israel and to each other through their music — is crucial to Solomon and Swirsky.
"We write lyrics about unity, about pride of place and who you are," explains Solomon. Through their music, he says, "we can reach a large audience, a different kind of audience. This is our dream — all I want to do is music; all I really know how to do is music."
Swirsky echoes his partner's sentiment. Like Solomon, he is in his mid-30s, and he finds that "the older I get, the more I appreciate the music, I appreciate the people who enjoy our music. It's a real blessing to do what you love with the people you love."
Moshav performs at World Café Live in Philadelphia on Aug. 21 at 8:00 p.m. For more information, call (215) 222-1400 or go to www.worldcafelive.com. To listen to "Light the Way," the new single from their upcoming album, as well as tracks from their other albums, go to www.moshavband.com.