Discovery: Lola Marsh

Published April 5, 2016

ABOVE: LOLA MARSH (YAEL COHEN AND GIL LANDAU). PHOTO COURTESY OF ARMIN RUDELSTORFER.

Following the release of Lola Marsh’s debut EP, You’re Mine, in January, the Tel Aviv-based duo has spread through the internet like wildfire, climbing HypeMachine charts and reaching number three on Spotify’s Most Viral Tracks list. Combining Yael Cohen’s slightly raspy, hypnotic vocals with Gil Landau’s compositional skills, Lola Marsh’s unique sound straddles the line between indie folk and electro-pop. On a track like “Days to Come,” Cohen sings “You used to sit back and wonder / About tomorrow and the days to come … Time slowly flies / Want to grow older with you” atop slow keyboard and drum samples, while on “You’re Mine” she sings, “I know that I’m slow in the morning / As I fall into a hole without an end / Until suddenly I look at you / And all the mirrors vanish from my mind” over clapping hands, upbeat guitar melodies, and a catchy bass line. Though they only have five officially released songs and two videos, Lola Marsh has been long in the making.

Cohen and Landau first met at a party five years ago, following Cohen’s graduation from the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music. She had been considering a career in photography or fashion design instead of music, but when she began singing, the two’s connection was instant. From thereon, Cohen and Landau wrote songs together, only recently discovering the correct combination of writing alone and with two additional bandmates (who, according to Cohen and Landau, help deepen the production and take songs to a level beyond the pair’s capabilities).

Now, Lola Marsh is touring Europe and will soon play throughout North America for the first time. Later this year, we can also expect a full-length album. Before their arrival in the U.S., we Skyped with Cohen and Landau. Between impromptu singing and a tutorial on the Omni chord, we spoke about Lola Marsh’s history and process, resulting in the duo’s first-ever interview printed in English.

EMILY MCDERMOTT: You’ve both played music since you were little, but met serendipitously at Gil’s birthday party. What made you want to work together and Yael, start making music again?

GIL LANDAU: At that time, I was mostly playing alone, only me with the guitar. I had bands, but it wasn’t serious. I had searched for a really good vocalist—not putting up ads, but one to fit with my acoustic playing. When she started to sing [at the party] I felt, “Wow, the connection is so good.” I think she was singing “Jolene” and a couple of other songs.

YAEL COHEN: Every musician has a song he plays when he wants to impress, so it was “Jolene” because I sing it quite a lot. For me, it was something about the energy of Gil—what he brought to the guitar and the melodies he did. It was like, “Wow, I always I wanted to meet someone who would write these kinds of melodies, who fits my voice really well.” It was like magic, just, “Let’s start a band.”

LANDAU: The first rehearsal, the first sessions, were like a first date. Very cautious…

COHEN: A little bit shy…

LANDAU: Like, “What kind of music do you like?” “Hmm… Okay….” But after two sessions, everything went so well. We wrote our first song, “Waitress,” and it will be on the album.

COHEN: I was a waitress for 10 years.

MCDERMOTT: I translated one of the interviews you did in another language and it said that you started finding inspiration as a waitress, looking at other people.

COHEN: [laughs] Yeah, I had a lot of spare time because I always worked in really small coffee shops. I don’t like big restaurants. I like little ones with magic in them. Sometimes the place was empty, so I wrote on napkins, listened to music, and opened my ears and eyes and looked around.

LANDAU: Interesting conversations happen at coffee shops.

MCDERMOTT: How would you translate the things you heard into songs?

COHEN: It made me think about relationships. I would see, for example, an old lady waiting for a long time, then suddenly you see this man and she’s like, “Oh my god, I haven’t seen you for 30 years!” and it’s exciting. You see things like that and it’s inspiring.

MCDERMOTT: I assume you’re not a waitress anymore, so what are some recent experiences you’ve found inspiration in?

COHEN: No, I’m not a waitress anymore. [laughs] I always find inspiration, first of all, in people and of course in movies. We could talk movies, soundtracks, and books—I loved fantasy books when I was a child. I really like Neil Gaiman books. Wes Anderson movies, I love everything about these—the way they look, the energy, the plots. When I was a child my father loved Westerns.

LANDAU: When we get stuck, like during the writing process, Yael puts on one scene of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly—

COHEN: —or For a Few Dollars More, and it really inspires us. It’s important to us, when we write a song, to see the lines, to feel like we’re inside them, like a film.

MCDERMOTT: What is the writing process like?

LANDAU: Each song has its own development, sometimes the lyric comes first, sometimes the melody comes first. We have really good chemistry; we collaborate really well, without any ego. What I like, when we write, is that sometimes we mumble jibberish and at the end writing the good stuff makes it a story.

COHEN: Something about the process is really open. Like Gil said, it has no ego and has no barriers. We write, we hear music, we see scenes from a movie, I tell him about something that happened last week, or something about my grandmother or something she said to me…We’re just talking and after a while we have a song.

LANDAU: Also, we try to write with different approaches, sometimes with guitar, sometimes with the keyboard, and sometimes with only a drum loop. Every instrument gives you different inspiration.

MCDERMOTT: How many instruments do you each play?

COHEN: I play the guitar, the ukulele, a little bit of keyboard. Gil plays everything.

LANDAU: Not everything! But I play a little bit of a lot. I am a guitarist and keyboard player, but I can pick up the drums and use samples on the computers. We have an Omni chord, which is kind of like a harp. We used it on a couple tracks in the album. It has something very inspiring. Playing it is like a game.

MCDERMOTT: Your sound is incredibly unique, both because of the music and Yael, your voice. You’ve been inspired by a huge range of music as well, from Spaghetti Western soundtracks to Sufjan Stevens to Indonesian and Japanese melodies. Can you tell me about all of these different influences and where they came from?

COHEN: We traveled a lot when I was a child. I lived in Singapore and Africa and my parents took a huge trip around the world. They brought home lots of cassettes and records from Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, really cool places. I loved to open up the cassettes and listen. I didn’t understand a word, but the melodies really got into my heart and soul. It moved me. Sometimes when I write, I go to these scales. It’s in the back of my mind. I love this old, kind of foreign music that I heard as a child.

LANDAU: She once showed me a video of her in their living room when she was five years old, putting something on the vinyl and dancing. She didn’t care. She just danced. Even this video inspires me. She has a free spirit, this woman… I listened to a lot of music, [especially] classic prog rock, like Pink Floyd and Camel. This was my main interest when I was a kid, but I tried to be very open to a lot of things.

MCDERMOTT: Yael, you said you moved around as a kid, but where did you both grow up, more or less?

LANDAU: I’m a real Tel Avivian. I grew up here.

COHEN: We moved inside Israel a lot. Most of my childhood was in a small town named Kochav Yair, which translates to “Shining Star,” after we came back from Kenya. It was a beautiful place, a little bit boring… You always wanted to get away, but we had a really huge field and forest. It was fun running there, enjoying a little bit of nature.

MCDERMOTT: In the five years that you’ve been working as Lola Marsh, can you pinpoint one of the biggest struggles that you’ve faced?

LANDAU: When we met, we started recording demos in my home studio. It sounded good, we played it to friends and family, and everyone said, “You must release it! Put it on YouTube! The world is small and you will get tons of views!” They thought we could easily go in this direction, but I don’t believe in this way.

COHEN: He insisted. I was like, “Gil, let’s release something!” He was like, “No, let’s do it the right way. It’s not complete.” And that’s why we wanted to wait, to get the production wider by bringing in more band members. We were a duo for a year and half and people told us, “Keep it small, record it like this.” We felt that the songs deserved production that both of us can’t do.

MCDERMOTT: How has working with the band helped the two of you grow as musicians?

LANDAU: First of all, we didn’t kill each other!

COHEN: Exactly! [laughs]

LANDAU: Working as a duo is sometimes really hard.

COHEN: You only have each other. You don’t have the third or fourth person—

LANDAU: —balancing the atmosphere. Musically, each of the band members comes from a different background. They’re color to the music. They help the songs speak in some ways. They are like family, really.

MCDERMOTT: What is the story behind the name Lola Marsh?

COHEN: When we started to work, we had our first show in a small pub and we needed a name to get this concert going. We sat with a bunch of friends in Gil’s old apartment and threw out names.

LANDAU: Someone said “Lola” and “Marsh,” and we combined them.

COHEN: We said, “That sounds good, it sounds like us, something about the Lola and the Marsh.” We connected to this name really quickly and easily. I felt that this name found us.

MCDERMOTT: Going back to your childhood, you’ve both played music your entire life, but what did you each start with?

LANDAU: I started piano at the age of six. When I was 11 I started to play the guitar. Actually, I played the flute from the age of six!

COHEN: You’ve never told me that, let’s bring the flute to Lola Marsh!

LANDAU: I’m not sure about that. [laughs] But yeah, I played the flute. It was obligatory at school. Everyone played the flute.

COHEN: I always sang, I always stood on the table and sang to my friends. It was in seventh grade when I started playing guitar and my guitar teacher said, “Hey, I like the way you’re singing, let’s do something with your singing,” and the lessons began to be like vocal lessons. He showed me all kinds of jazz musicians. He was the first musician that told me, “I like the way you’re singing.”

MCDERMOTT: Do you remember the first CD you ever bought?

LANDAU: I have a big brother so I took all of his CDs.

COHEN: Exactly, I have big brothers as well. My sister and my brother, I took all of their CDs. I think the first one I bought with my pocket money was Alanis Morissette.

LANDAU: I was a little more hardcore. [laughs] I bought Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, [with] the cow. I didn’t understand it at the time; it’s very psychedelic and I was a kid, 11 or something.

MCDERMOTT: Were both of your parents supportive of your creative and artistic endeavors?

COHEN: Yeah, I’m thanking them all the time. They really believed in me from a young age, like “Go to this audition, it doesn’t matter what your grades are in school. Do the music, be on the stage.”

LANDAU: For me, it wasn’t like that. The grades and school were important. But I had a really good atmosphere. My father listened to music all the time. He knows how to sing and is very supportive. They understand that music is a very important thing.

MCDERMOTT: What is some of the best advice you’ve ever received?

COHEN: I would say from my mother. We are always cold in my family, even in the summer. She’s like, “Always put really good socks on. When the feet are warm, everything is warm!” That’s the best advice I’ve ever received.

LANDAU: My father has a lot of smart things to say. It’s cliché, but he says something like, “Your thoughts create the reality”—I’m not exactly sure how to say it in English. If you’re sad, think positively. Someone told me that if you’re sad, try to smile a fake smile for one minute and you will feel good afterward guaranteed.

COHEN: When I am upset, Gil comes in front of me and is like, [puts on a huge, fake smile] and it’s working for me! Fake it ’til you make it.

FOR MORE ON LOLA MARSH, VISIT THE DUO’S FACEBOOK.