One of the original founders of Israeli Progressive Metal band Orphaned Land, Yossi Sassi blends East with West, Rock with World music, melodic tunes with progressive passages and traditional folk instruments with electric riffs.
He is one of the pioneers of Oriental Rock and invented the Bouzoukitara (electric guitar combined with acoustic bouzouki). After twenty-three years with Orphaned Land he is now forging a solo career and has released two albums, 2012’s ‘Melting Clocks’ and ‘Desert Butterflies’, released in spring of this year and reviewed by our very own Lonestar.
Yossi has graciously taken time out from his hectic schedule to answer some questions for us and give us an insight to this fascinating musician.
Progradar – First, I’d like to thank you for agreeing for this interview with me for Lady Obscure Music Magazine. We at Lady Obscure are all fans of your music.
Yossi – Thank you very much 🙂 my pleasure.
Progradar – I don’t want to dwell on your history at Orphaned Land but, do you think your time in the band has shaped the person you are today, both spiritually and musically?
Yossi – Orphaned Land spanned 23 years of my life, from around age 16. Naturally it shaped things in me. Spiritually, though, my influences always came from outside the band, my upbringing, my father & my grandfather (R.I.P), who was a Rabi and congregation leader, theology books I’ve read etc. Musically, I was the main composer in Orphaned Land, and although we had a chance to work with some talented musicians, I think most of my musical shaping came from outside the group. It was still a great adventure and a dream come true for me, to make Orphaned Land the successful band it is today. I wish the remaining members all the best.
Progradar – Did you feel it was just the right time to leave and go your own way and, do you see yourself ever re-joining Orphaned Land.
Yossi – From all the right reasons, I felt I couldn’t go on serving the pivotal roles I’ve served for Orphaned Land. I felt there’s more music to explore that cannot be explored in the structure that Orphaned Land had reached. I am proud of what we accomplished together, and I continue in full force to unite people through music, more then even, as a solo artist. I have no plans to re-join Orphaned Land.
Progradar – Had you always wanted to release a solo album and, did the international renown for ‘Melting Clocks’, perhaps, rubber stamp your decision to leave Orphaned Land?
Yossi – My plan was always to keep doing Orphaned Land and have my solo career on the side as well. There is no reason this couldn’t have worked well together, from all resources given into account. That was not the reason I chose to move on from my life work at Orphaned Land. There were several things I took into account, some things I can change & wanted to change, and some I couldn’t. Now the journey has continued and I am ‘very’ pleased about this decision.
Progradar – Would you say that you have absorbed all the musical influences that you now put to good use in your solo work so it is almost a natural process or is it something you have to physically concentrate on? Is this, essentially who you are as a person expressed musically?
Yossi – My childhood, my upbringing, had to do a lot with being surrounded by music from Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Iraq etc. My grandfather Yossef Sassi (R.I.P) was an Oud player and teacher of maqamat, the Arabic musical scales. My father David, 4th out of 10 brothers & sisters, is a singer, as all of his family practices music. I’ve absorbed this as I grew up, as a teenager I was exposed to heavy rock & metal music, and this fused into my original playing technique & sound. I used it mostly in Orphaned Land obviously, but not only. Also in various collaborations & productions I did, of other artists around the world, from Kuwait to Europe & U.S.A.
Progradar– When did you pick up a guitar for the first time and what made you choose this instrument?
Yossi – It was a little before age 14, at my uncle’s place. I was able to pull-off an Iron Maiden riff on his nylon-string guitar, and I haven’t left the guitar since then 🙂
Progradar – Which artists (or people) have been the biggest influences on your career and why?
Yossi – I strive for influences from everywhere – people, nature, cultures, science etc. some of my all time favourite musicians are Joe Satriani, Dead Can Dance & Omar Faruk Takbilek. I’ve also been touched at my early guitar playing years by Gary Moore (R.I.P) and Jason Becker.
Progradar – You invented the Bouzoukitara, how did this come about and, have many other musicians taken up the instrument?
Yossi – Like many creative actions, it started with a need. I have a real need to move between my electric guitar, my Bouzouki (Greek acoustic mandolin) and the acoustic guitar. I tried to solve it in several ways, and finally decided I should build it, against the guitar maker’s advice. In 2011 I addressed Guitar Maker Benjamin Millar, who had experience in renovating pianos & open minded for my crazy design, that’s how it became a reality.
Progradar – I have heard you described as the driving force in Oriental Rock and it has been said that you have re-defined the genre and taken it to another level, what would you say to that?
Yossi – I did my fair mileage in merging oriental tunes & cultures into rock & heavy music. I feel what I’m doing is essentially an expression of who I am, the fusion of my childhood, my upbringing in the Middle East, with my passion, the electric guitar & the contemporary music of the west. If it doesn’t sound pioneering or special to me I would not be creating it.
Progradar – Rock Hard Magazine voted you ‘Top Newcomer’ in 2012, even though you already had 23 years experience, did that make you smile?
Yossi – It did 🙂 firstly, because it was the readers’ choice. Secondly, because it was indeed my first solo album after a long career as a co-founder in Orphaned Land, but still, it was mostly an instrumental album. To have a “mostly-instrumental” album getting this acknowledgement is something special for all music lovers out there, not just to me.
Progradar – When you started to write ‘Desert Butterflies’, where did the inspirations come from and, what is written first, the music first or the lyrics?
Yossi – ‘Desert Butterflies’ spans materials from all my life time almost. It features riffs I composed in the 90’s, music I offered into Orphaned Land and never made it into the group. It also has some influences from my work with Marty Friedman (the opening track, ‘Orient Sun’). Although I composed this track in mid-90’s and “saved it in the drawer” of my riff bank, the cooperation between us, touring & recording together, made me remember this riff and introduce it. I also put there a recording I made in the living room of Udi Koomran, around 15 years ago, as a tribute to Jason Becker, who is a great inspiration to me, in the way he deals with his illness.
Progradar – You have a large array of guest musicians on the album, how difficult was it to get to agree to play and then organise getting their performances recorded and, how did you decide on the musicians you wanted to play?
Yossi – When I hear other musicians and they make me feel the magic, I keep their names in my head, and I come to them when the right moment arrives. That’s how I invited some amazing musicians into the picture in the journey of making ‘Desert Butterflies’. The way I decide what sound or musician I need is that I first do a pre-production of the album at my home studios, “Simplyossi” studios. There I experiment with the song structure and try to see what frequency I need, what vocal, what instrument range etc. from the process I choose who to address and bring into the picture for the main recordings.
Progradar – You have an extremely intensive touring schedule, do you ever think of taking a rest or do you just enjoy it so much?
Yossi – Being a professional musician means being a touring musician. It’s part of the life cycle for many of us musicians. Whenever they want to hear my music, we will come play for them. I enjoy meeting the lovers of my sounds worldwide, they are the reason I go on. Still, in 2014 I had less touring than I planned, even postponed my main tour of the album to 2015, due to my father’s stroke (CVA). He’s recovering now, in rehabilitation, but it’s been a hard time for me personally, to see him in danger of life & now being 100% handicapped. For months I couldn’t travel out, and now I’m gradually getting back to my routine of touring abroad.
Progradar – There is an underlying current of hope and joy to your music and, inherently, in you, would you say that this is you as a person? What day to day beliefs do you follow and were these inherited from your parents?
Yossi – I am a happy person indeed 🙂 I tend to see the full half of the cup, always. I love to be creative for solutions & not see problems but rather resolutions for them. This optimistic approach was inherited to me from my father mainly. I do have sad corners in my personality, like anyone else, naturally, and they shine out too in the music, I think. But my default is happy 🙂
Progradar – Is music a driving force for good in the world, can it overcome racial and spiritual barriers?
Yossi – I’m sure it is. I’ve seen it doing exactly that – driving good into this world, and helping to bridge different opinions and beliefs. Last week I lectured with my Bouzoukitara for a seminar of Druze, Arab & Hebrew teenagers. I just recorded some months ago guitar lead for a band in Kuwait, a place I could never visit with my passport & would probably not be welcome as a citizen, but I’m welcomed as a musician.
Progradar – What type of music do you listen to and do you have a favourite artist and album?
Yossi – I listen to everything, really. From weird and bizarre music through experimental & strictly cultural-based music, up to pop charts. I get a lot of music online as well, from followers and friends. Some of my all time favourites are Iron Maiden – ‘Somewhere in Time’, Joe Satriani – ‘The Extremist’, Dead Can Dance – ‘Into the Labyrinth’, Nat King Cole – ‘Unforgettable’, Omar Faruk Takbilek – ‘Why’, Frank Gambale – ‘The Great Explorers’ and many more.
Progradar – Do you think music is stagnant or can it re-invent itself endlessly, are social media sites (twitter, facebook) good or bad for musicians and music generally?
Yossi – This answer is better served as a debate, not a written one 🙂 ha ha. I think there are Pros and Cons to having music available online in such ease. Naturally, as an optimist, I embrace the Pros and go with them. I don’t believe in nagging about the old times. I look forward and take the lessons of the past seriously. I think music can re-invent itself, yet it is harder than ever before, Today there are some dominant sounds and styles, the general population of the west is getting familiar with certain frequencies more than others, certain producers, certain formulas, and it makes it hard for new sounds to emerge. Still, there was no time in human history that we had so many tools to be creative & innovative with music as we do today, everything is so approachable, for starting musicians as well. I would say the best to keep in mind is your integrity, who you really are. Try t be loyal to exploring sound & discovering the elements that only you can bring to the ears of others.
Progradar – Thorny question, what do you think to streaming sites like spotify that charge for people to listen to music and yet pay the artist a minimal fee?
Yossi – I think streaming music is here to last. I think music consumers & musicians are more aware today than ever before. If they know what spotify does, they can listen to their favourite artists elsewhere, and there are several alternatives.
Progradar – Do you prefer playing music live or writing and recording?
Yossi – That’s like asking if I prefer to eat or drink 🙂 I need them both to fulfil my passion, they’re parts of the same musical journey. There is a certain magic in playing live with the band, nothing accomplishes or comes even near to it. Still, the process of making music, rolling the wheels in your mind to create something special for everyone to posses later on, those are times I forsake in my memories forever.
Progradar – What is next for Yossi Sassi, any big plans for the future?
Yossi – I’ll tell you what is not on my plans – resting 🙂 ha ha. Seriously, from producing other artists (e.g. Czech Republic’s Silent Stream of Godless Elegy next album) through master classes in Europe in January, online guitar lessons, talks & lectures in music colleges, even writing music for Hollywood movies – it’s all on the list, and more.
Progradar – Finally, I’d like to say a huge thank you to you for answering these questions, have you got anything you’d like to add, anything at all?
Yossi – Thank YOU for the interview, looking forward to give you an Oriental Rock hug soon, somewhere on the road 🙂
About the author
A good salesman from the North of England with too much time on my hands, I have listened to and obsessed about all genres of rock music since I could walk straight! However, my first love is prog rock and all it’s different sub genres and, thanks to The Lady herself, joining the select band of brothers and sisters as an LO author gives me an outlet for my obsession. Mad, wacky but kind and loving with it, my glass is forever half full and my reviews should mirror this! My other obsessions are any form of sport and computer games, oh and I do like the odd drink too!