By James Damion
As someone who's become more and more of an introvert over the years, interviews have allowed me to ask questions I might not have been able to ask otherwise. To dig deeper under the music's surface Ė the art and personality one shows when performing. In the case of Omer Leibovitz, I was always interested in the person behind the music I had spent so much time pouring over. With his first solo EP due and so much to talk about, I reached out to the Brooklyn resident, graduate of Berklee School of Music, and Courtesy Tier frontman to learn about the person behind the music that's become an integral part of so many lives.
Q: After years of collaborating in Courtesy Tier, what were some of the elements that inspired you to delve into a solo project?
Omer: I have always been writing songs, since around the age of 10. Mostly recording them and hiding them away, or bringing them to the band. I would have to give credit to Alex Picca (Courtesy Tier Bassist) who is also one of my best friends. He is the one that sort of sat me down about two years ago and said to me that he feels like I have never really shown people what he knows that I do, which is write a whole lot of songs, in many styles, produce and play many instruments. I was always kind of just doing that for myself and for fun, and then focusing on CT as my public facing music. Alex pushed me to show myself, under my name.
Q: Does a solo album mean the end of Courtesy Tier? Or is this a detour?
Omer: Absolutely not, I think Courtesy Tier is gonna exist forever. Itís just a matter of when we will do something again. We are still all very close, but weíd been working and touring for over a decade and I needed a breather.
Q: What platforms will and are the ep available on?
Omer: The album will be available digitally, and Iím hoping for vinyl as well.
Q: Is there any chance of it being released in a physical form such as CD or vinyl?
Omer: Iím currently looking for support to get it on vinyl, there is a chance!
Q: What are you doing to promote it?
Omer: Iím starting to play out a little bit more and spread the word on my solo endeavor. I am also releasing side singles and have been for a while, to try and grow a bit before the record arrives. I will be at Rockwood 3 on August 17th, so go buy your tickets people!
Q: As far as writing and recording songs as a solo artist versus one in a group environment. What are the first differences you notice that an outsider may not?
Omer: For starters the arrangements. With the band I usually bring in an idea at 75 percent written. What I enjoy solo, is that I get to sort of sit at home and fully bake an arrangement into the song and imagine exactly how I want it to grow, or explode in sections, things like that. Iíve been fortunate to be working with the seriously brilliant Jeff Berner, and so I will go in with my acoustic demo that I do to a click track, and Iíll play drums to that and sort of outline with JEff how I imagine the energy of the song developing. Another difference is that with the band, we sort of really loved making noise and being unpredictable but here I am enjoying being as predictable as possible.
Q: Is there a specific song or songs that has a special meaning or you harbor a personal relation to. Maybe one that was personally difficult to pen?
Omer: On this record, I would say all of the songs hold that sentiment. Itís a frighteningly open and exposed record for me, a lot of anxiety sharing it. But the most important song on the record to me is ďReal Life HaloĒ . My dad turned 70 last year, and my mom commissioned (told me) to write him a song as a 70th gift. I really thought hard about this, because I wanted the gift not just to be some birthday song, but to be a real song that stands on its own and can live on a record. And I think that it worked, and I love the song. Another fun note for ďReal Life HaloĒ is that for my birthday, just before Jeff and I were starting to record, my dad had done a lot of research and found these two very beautiful Japanese Concert guitars from the 80s. Heís really into antiques and is great at finding little well priced gems. So of course Jeff suggested we must have these guitars on the track! So full circle there.
Photo by James Damion
Q: How did attending school at Berklee school of Music prepare or influence your life as a musician?
Omer: Well, the first person I met was Layton! (Longtime friend, collaborator and drummer with Courtesy Tier.) a show live or had been in a real band. I was mostly just playing guitar and writing songs in my room for myself. Berklee brought me out of my shell, and by meeting all these talented kids who were already booking gigs and doing all this stuff, itís how I learned that I wanted to do that also.
Q: As a well-rounded musician. One with varied experience and music education. Would you have any advice or words of wisdom for upcoming musicians?
Omer: I think the same advice that I still have for myself. Put your head down and get good, and do the work. Do not worry about smoke and mirrors, and PR and all the bullshit, because, the truth is that it does not matter. You can go from playing to hundreds of people for a few years to no one caring the next year, but if you do great work, and write great songs, and be yourself you will not cringe when you put on your music a decade later, and neither will the folks who find it again. Because people find good music eventually.
Q: A lot of people from the area, myself included, harbor certain prejudices and judgements when it comes to Country music, something your music is often categorized as. Can you share your inspiration, description, history and exposure to the music?
Omer: For the sake of making it short, my main inspiration for country music is how much my mom and dad love it. Especially my dad. It made me start questioning what country music even means, considering some of the biggest country music fans I know are immigrants. It just made me feel like, what is even country music? other than a great song that clearly shares a life experience many from all over the world can relate too. So which countryís music? Country music just seems like life music.
Q: I understand you were born in Israel. Did you grow up there? If so, how did the experience and culture effect you? How old were you when your family originally came to America and where did you originally settle?
Omer: I was born in Israel, and I consider myself Israeli, but I spent almost 6 years in Ghana, West Africa with my family. Then we moved back to Israel right when the first Gulf war started. I remember that vividly, because there were a lot of sirens every night, we all had been given our gas masks and made our shelters, and I remember having no idea why some guy named Saddam was shooting rockets at us. Luckily my parents are just absolute champions, and they never ever left us feeling unsafe as much as they could. I honestly didnít even realize my life was different when I moved to the U.S. between the age of 13 and 14. I now understand that most of the arguments I had in school had to do with how much perspective I had already brought to the table as a 14 year old. It was pretty isolating actually, for a lot of years. It felt like my friends all had one reality, and I was trying to convince them there was another, which never really worked.
Q: You mentioned living in Ghana. As someone whoís met a number of wonderful people from there, Iíd love it if you could share your experience living there. What originally brought you to Ghana? How long was your stay?
Omer: Ghana holds a bright and wonderful place in my memory and my heart. We were there through my dad's job at the time. I still to this day feel a deep connection with how the place shaped me and my musicality. West African music, just like Middle eastern music, makes me feel at home. I listen to a lot of it. There were also some scary moments and violent moments, as the country had recently come out of a civil war, but the thing I remember mostly is how beautiful, joyful and kind the culture, and the community around me was. Itís hard to describe without making this a very long response, but now as an adult, I am grateful for that upbringing.
Q: Youíve moved around a lot in life. What would you say has been the most important thing youíve learned from your experience?
Would you consider yourself a nomad?
Omer: I have learned a lot from moving. Life is life everywhere. We are generally very lucky where we are, but it is also impossible for us to know how much we do not know. I think, not just traveling, but truly living in different places and different cultures is very important. Understanding how people think differently, and how their experiences change their motivations. I see it here now, almost all of our problems and our news cycles, and our judgments and how correct we think we are from where we sit, has so clearly to do with where else we have not sat. You get to truly understand that life is nuanced and that right and wrong are not so easy to see. Itís important to be discerning and approach the judgements with kindness.
Q: What comes next for you Omer? Both musically and personally, where do you go from here?
Omer: I am just going to keep recording my songs, finishing a new single as we speak. Excited for the record ďCountry Songs From an ImmigrantĒ to come out to the world this fall. And who knows whatís next! Doing the work and seeing where it leads me :)
Omer Leibovit will perform at Bands Do BK on Saturday, August 14 at FirstLive Studio (219 Central Ave. Brooklyn), with Connor Martin and PEND. Showtime is 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 from Eventbrite.com.
Omer Leibovitz on Spotify