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The Shondes: Queer, Pro-Palestinian Jewish Punk Rock

The Shondes are the newest product of Brooklyn’s cross-section of Jewish and hipster culture, merging punk sensibilities with queer identity, radical politics and—most importantly—flapper flamboyance. Their just-released debut album, The Red Sea, is noisy enough to be punk, but complex … Read More

By / January 31, 2008

The Shondes are the newest product of Brooklyn’s cross-section of Jewish and hipster culture, merging punk sensibilities with queer identity, radical politics and—most importantly—flapper flamboyance. Their just-released debut album, The Red Sea, is noisy enough to be punk, but complex enough to rank with bands like Arcade Fire and Architecture in Helsinki. It’s a dazzling, velvety blend of half-shouted, half-harmonized three-part vocals, and a fierce and fragile balance between lead guitar and lead violin. The latter is played by Elijah Oberman, formerly of the Syndicate, and one of the foremost violinists in the punk scene today—admittedly not a huge pool to choose from, but still impressive.

Borrowing their name from the Yiddish word for disgrace, the Shondes—three of its four members are Jewish—have become known as much for their politics as their music, espousing groups like Jews Against the Occupation and Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism. In their short existence, they’ve played with Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, Joe Lally of Fugazi, and Erase Errata, among others.

Their record, The Red Sea, is available at shows, or on Insound.

Okay, so why "The Red Sea"?

One of my favorite moments at Passover is the part of the Exodus story right before the parting of the Red Sea. Nachshon jumps into the water and only after he’s gone as far he could on his own does the Red Sea part.

That sums up where we're coming from as a band. It's very personal, it's very political, pushing ourselves and living intensely, and making music.

Is your violin background classical?

Yeah, I studied classical for years. I realized that path wasn't for me, though at this point I wish for more of those kinds of skills. I definitely think I'm a rock violinist, but that's a major tradition that I come from.

I spent a whole lot of my childhood obsessed with R.E.M., and classical music is definitely an obvious one (especially the Romantics). I also really love punk rock and feminist punk, but that came a little later for me.

How did you manage to star in a Poison video [their recent remake of “What I Like about You”]?

We were at a photo shoot for Curve, and they were shooting the Poison video in the studio down the hall. This guy came in and was like, we're shooting a Poison video next door, no I'm not joking, yes Poison still exists, and we need extras. We were all cracking up, of course, and it was too hilarious an opportunity to pass up.

Do you ever write songs about each other?

Only silly ones that we make up in the van. One favorite is "What's Goin’ on with Eli" to make fun of me and sound like an after-school special. A lot of our songs are about relationships—romantic, familial, relationship to the world.

What's the story of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" Clearly, it's not a Carole King cover…

No, though we all like that song, and it's an obvious inspiration to ours. It's about what's hard for people in relationships. The more you've been hurt, the harder it is to let someone see you and know you, even if you love them and really want to let them. There's always that fear that they might love you now, but if you let them know you, will they still love you? Louisa wrote the words, so obviously she says it in a way that's particular to her experience, but it's a feeling that's pretty easy to relate to.

It's hugely cute that you all thank your families first on the record. Is your queerness still an issue for them (or, has it ever been)? Is your being punk-rock stars an issue?

I think all of us have been lucky enough to get support by our families. Personally, my family has been really supportive of me, which isn't to say that we haven't processed or had difficulties in our relationships (like most people do), but that's not the main thing. My mom came up to New York for our record release show, which was really wonderful.

I know at least some of you have jobs in the organized Jewish community. Has anyone said to you at your desk job, "Hey, aren't you the chyck/dude/other who I saw onstage going crazy last night?"

Actually, a bunch of my co-workers came to our record release party here in New York a couple weeks ago, which was really sweet!

About the politics of the record: it seems a little strange for a band with members who are queer and trans-identified to espouse the Palestinian cause, when the Palestinian government's been so resolutely anti-queer and even sentenced gay couples to death. What's your take?

We are social justice activists who oppose oppression of all kinds. This means fighting for queer rights, an end to the occupation of Palestine and justice for all people. As Jews (3 of us are Jewish), it is particularly important to stand with other people of conscience around the world and represent our opposition to Israeli state terror and the demonization of Palestinian culture.

Is "Your Monster" a concealed reference to the Muppets?

No, but we do love the Muppets! Temim really does an excellent Animal.