We sit down with Middle Eastern multi instrumentalist, DJ and producer ITAI to celebrate his latest release from his ‘Unfinished’ series on The Teddy Bear Lounge. We talk inspirations, the label, his various musical talents and more.
Hi ITAI! As the year starts drawing to a close, what have been your standout moments?
A: This year went so fast I didn’t realise how close it is to end, I guess it is a good time to reflect ha?
I think launching the Unfinished Project both as a series and as a live performance was a big highlight of my year. I feel I have reached new levels of comfort and ability to improvise and even collaborate with the audience, and having new music to share every month is really fun for me.
Another highlight was Burning Man (aka Muddy Man) even though I didn’t get to play some of my most exciting sets due to the weather, I think my Maxa Art Car set and my Muddy Man set at camp Treble Makers were some of this year’s highlights for me for sure. I’ve been going to Burning Man since 2016 and this was my favourite one yet.
And do you have any specific plans for the winter months?
A: I have been avoiding Tulum for a few years now, but I am feeling a tingle to do a Mexico tour (that is in the works). I also want to keep evolving with my live set and learning new ways to perform live so I’ll usually take some time off for that as well as focussing on music production during the winter. Obviously I still have a few more chapters of the Unfinished Project to share so those will be coming out every last Friday of the month.
Which season would you say is your favourite and most creative?
A: Historically I’ve been the most creative during the fall/winter. In 2020 I produced my debut album “A Trip to Idyllwild” during the fall season.
What has been the inspiration behind the string of releases?
A: Great question. When I first got into the studio in late 2021, I was inspired by my new live set, I felt I needed more music and more material to really express myself in a live setting. What came out of that time is about 14 tracks that became a part of my live set and also needed to come out to the world.
I really liked releasing my debut album (A Trip to Idyllwild); at the same time I feel that when you release an album some of the music really gets missed. People hardly listen to one full track these days let alone a full length album. The idea of releasing just a single here and there felt like it would get good attention, but also I wanted a thread that connects this project to be one thing. I remember driving around with my partner in LA, watching all the billboards promoting Netflix series etc, and it hit me, this should be a “series”. I loved that idea back then and I’m really enjoying it so far, even though it’s a lot of work.
And what inspired the name ’Teddy Bear Lounge’?
A: Seems like the spirit of the bear has been following me in the past year. I am the founder of a community called Curiosity Bears, and also one of my most well known tracks on my debut album is called that. Papa Bear or Curiosity Bear has also become my nickname so I hope that answers your question.
When did you start learning to play instruments? Was that something you were brought up with?
A: I started playing the keyboard when I was 4 years old, and I have had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the piano ever since. So yes I started playing when I was 4 but stopped and then again when I was 6 for a year, and back and forth, until I picked up the saxophone when I was about 16. Since then, I kept some sort of relationship with playing music until I went to Rimon school of music in Israel for Jazz. I still had a bit of back an forth until I came to the US in 2013. That’s when I started busking (street performing for tips) full time and making a living out of that. From there, one thing led to another and the electronic music world kept calling me, so here we are.
What artists have been your biggest inspiration over your musical journey?
A: This is a good but tough question. I think the early influences can go as far as Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin. If you go to the more modern times I think Cannonball Adderley, Kenny Garrett and maybe Maceo Parker. Today I think Jacob Collier is the most advanced musician alive. I also really like this clarinet player called Yom. In the electronic world I have been really inspired by Bora Uzer’s live sets; I saw him at Burning Man and he blew my mind!
What music do you listen to outside of the studio?
A: Another tough one… I have a really really wide range. I like hip hop, especially the older stuff: EMN & Busta Rhymes are some of my favs. I think what Beyonce is doing is really incredible, I even made an edit to “My Power” that I might release later this year. Be Svendsen has always been in the top for me, as well as Viken Armens new album. The list is really really long..
What do you like to do to relax outside of the studio / booth?
A: Honestly I wish I had more hobbies, I try to stay active and hike or go work out in the gym. This might surprise you but I love poker, one of my favourite games. I also love going solo to the movies, one of my favourite day off activities.
What has been your favourite venue to play?
A: It’s really hard to choose one. I’d say Burning Man is the best place to play music in the world, and at Burning Man I would say either Maxa or Robot Heart were some of my favourite sets.
Outside of the Burn I really love playing music at Playa Venao in Panama, the magic always happens there.
What venue would be your dream to play?
A: I honestly think I’ve played all my dream stages; my favourite stages are not always the biggest ones. For years, Robot Heart was a dream of min. Now that I’ve done that, I think my dream now is to play the set I’ve never got to play at Robot Heart this year because of the rain, post Temple Burn. I think for me it’s not just a matter of where but also when, I really want to play after the Temple Burns at BM in 2024.
What advice do you have for any up and coming producers wanting to start a label?
A: My label is very new, and I only opened it to release my music or music of talented friends that I know is just “sitting there”. There is so much good music out there that’s just “sitting”.
I don’t know if I am at any place to give advice but if I could say one thing I would say to really try to understand your “why”. If you are doing it for the money, just don’t, as there is no real money in it. If you are doing it for self promotion be very clear on how that serves you. Whatever the case may be, find clarity around it, because you will need that motivation down the line.
What is the last record you heard that blew you away?
A: I’ll give you three releases:
Yom & The Wonder Rabbits – With Love
Viken Armen – Alone Together
Jacob Collier – Little Blue