NY group The Shondes has nothing to be ashamed of
With a mix of riot grrrl and rock ‘n’ roll, the Jewish foursome is busy putting out a new album and conquering the world
By Jenni Miller
NEW YORK — There are plenty of rock stars with Jewish roots, but very few have stayed in the fold as emphatically as The Shondes. Lead singer and bassist Louisa Solomon took some time out from putting the finishing touches on their fourth album, The Garden, to discuss the band’s strong Jewish identity, the political causes they hold dear, and the many adventures they’ve had celebrating the High Holy Holidays around the world.
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The Shondes has a distinctly rock ‘n’ roll vibe enriched by the soul-stirring music of klezmer. The band consists of Solomon, Allison Miller on drums, Fureigh on guitar, and Elijah Oberman on violin. Oberman’s impressive fiddling lends their music a jubilant momentum during particularly boisterous songs, and a certain mournfulness perfect for broken-hearted ballads. Solomon has the cool-girl swagger of icons like Kim Gordon and Joan Jett, with even better pipes.
Solomon and Oberman have been playing together “since 9/11,” according to the lead singer. She adds, “We have a brother-sister kind of bond and definitely get the feeling our ancestors were shtetl neighbors.
“The vision from the beginning was about crafting music that brought together influences that seem unrelated, but for us personally are equally important: Jewish music, pop, rock, classical… Not so much in the sense of fusion, but in the sense of bringing to the table everything we’d absorbed, that had spoken to us throughout our lives,” says Solomon.
Using the Yiddish word for ‘shame’ was much more than a cheeky way to be punk rock
Using the Yiddish word for “shame” was much more than a cheeky way to be punk rock. The great Jewish tradition of leftist politics informs The Shondes’ music as much as their many musical influences, from soul to ’80s pop to riot grrrl. The latter is perhaps the most telling: Riot grrrl is a feminist punk rock movement that sprang up in the ’90s and offered a radical alternative to the male-centric world of punk. The songs were about staying strong in a world that wanted to crush you with its many -isms (sexism, class-ism, racism) and homophobia. The Shondes picks up those messages and infuses them with the Jewish concern for activism and tikkun.
Solomon explains that she’s definitely been judged a shonde for some aspects of her personality, that she’s been told she’s “too tough and loud.”
“My Jewishness has often been called into question for defying some of the tenets of institutional Judaism — I believe intermarriage is a strength, not a liability; and I believe that Judaism doesn’t need to be connected to a nation state, and furthermore that Israel’s illegal occupation, apartheid rule, and brutality are completely contrary to the Jewish teachings I hold most dear.”
The Shondes (photo credit: courtesy)
The Shondes (photo credit: courtesy)
Another important issue to the Shondes is the inclusion and awareness of LGBTQ persons and rights in wider society.
“When we were naming the band, we were trying to come up with a slightly tongue-in-cheek nod to our Jewishness. A shonde is a shame, and we had all been made to feel disgraceful, unfairly, at one time or another… We were trying to reclaim the word,” explains Solomon.
No matter how much of a shonde more conservative Jews might think them, The Shondes are way more observant than some. They even stop in for services when they’re on tours around the world, from who’d-have-thunk destinations like Minneapolis and Memphis to Warsaw and Berlin.
“We did [Rosh Hashanah] with some amazing radical friends in Berlin, including Judith Butler,” the philosopher and theorist whose works on gender and sexuality – among other topics — are regarded as seminal by many.
Butler had just received the Adorno Prize, a move that was widely criticized by Jewish groups for her political stance on Palestine.
“Sitting with her, in our little corner of shame, was one of the greatest moments for me. We then got to do Yom Kippur in Warsaw, after a truly meaningful day of wandering the city and taking in as much of the Jewish resistance history as possible.”
If that wasn’t enough, they were also blessed by the chief rabbi of Poland. Not too shabby for a shonde.