Updated: Aug 2, 2021
Roni Bar Hadas ends her set at SoFar sounds- an intimate rooftop concert setting in Tel Aviv- raising her arms up against a breathtaking evening skyline announcing, “This song is called ‘Happiness’”. The audience giggles along with her playful recognition of the unfailingly somber ballads that compose her first album, “Calm the Beast”. Low and behold, Hadas begins her song “Happiness” with the same melancholic tone she has held throughout her performance, singing, “Why am I sitting here, staring at the air?”. The audience is completely drawn in by her captivating melodic structures and vulnerable lyricism. Hadas had an unassuming presence, dressed in all black and accompanying her songs with simple acoustic finger picking. When I asked Hadas about her stripped down instrumentation and style she felt that it allowed more space to “feel the player behind the instrument”. Her set was a testament to this reality, using subtlety to isolate the rich fragility of her voice and bona fide sincerity.
In addition to this stylistic approach, “Calm the Beast” also features an array of orchestral sounds, pointing towards her classical music origins. Hadas grew up in a family of musicians, playing classical guitar and listening to what she described as “the old fashioned sounds” of the Beatles, Fiona Apple, and Elliot Smith. “Calm The Beast” is emblematic of the intersection between her classical upbringing and love of acoustic simplicity. Produced by Hadas’ mentor and friend Zach Drory, she spoke about her collaboration with Drory on “Calm the Beast” as a process by which she learned to feel empowered to create her own vision and trust her instincts.
Exploring themes of unrequited love, longing to be seen, and despair in relationships- it is unsurprising that Hadas wrote many of the songs on the album as a high schooler, using songwriting as a reconciliation of the fear and insecurity that marks many of our teenage years. In reference to the period of time when she wrote these songs, Hadas said “I was pretty young and I didn’t understand exactly what I was writing about. I was just writing things that sounded true to me but without the ability to fully understand everything. As I worked on this album and produced it and worked on the music videos for these songs, I had to hone to myself what this album is really about and when I thought about it I was seeing a young girl that is really afraid to reveal herself and afraid that people won’t love what she reveals. It presents what I was in a major time in my life and writing the songs was the place where I revealed myself. I felt so closed and ashamed of who I was as a person and when I wrote the songs it was the place I felt I could tell the truth in what I am”. Hadas revisits these songs only occasionally when she gets to perform them on stage, transporting herself back into this volatile chapter of her life. The palpable vulnerability of Roni’s album is rooted in her undeniably relatable portrait of being a teenager. The perpetual tension between feeling unwanted and wanting to be seen that thread through the lyrics of “Calm the Beast” give voice to the words of many universal fears that we experience, if not as adults then in reminiscing on our younger selves. Entering the world of Roni Bar Hadas is a meditation on the nostalgic, particularly confounding flavor of angst that marks the chapter of growing up and grappling with how to relate to the world.
To be sure, Hadas has grown past her teenage self, which she noted would be apparent on the upcoming album she is working on in both sound and process. On this topic, Hadas said “Now that I am a little bit older I am trying to write from a good place because I think that I am a pretty happy person and I try to be aware of the love that I am given”. Co-produced with her partner Maor Alush and set to release in the next few months, Hadas described the album as having a more collaborative, playful feel. During the pandemic, Hadas ventured into collaborative songwriting sitting on the couch with her roommate and trying to pass the time while in a seven-day lock down. She described the casual, spontaneous feeling of writing with someone else as an experience that sparked her interest in working more with other artists on her new album. Even though Hadas describes her new album as coming from a place of gratitude, she still has an affinity for the darker hues of “Calm the Beast”: “It’s in my DNA- whatever I will do, there’s also these feelings that are always something I connect to… I don’t know if I will keep it on as a sound for the next album that I release because, you know, I am just trying to have some fun with the music to enjoy and challenge myself”. In discussing her evolution as an artist, it seems Hadas’ unsureness about the sounds of her upcoming album represents the superimposition of her past trials and current sense of resolution from them. Hadas seems to be playing with an ambiguous combination of more raw, melancholic sounds rooted in past trials and the more upbeat tones of the community and healing she has found since then. As such, her album is a musical iteration of the process that many of us go through in moving through difficult times.
In reflecting on the healing that comes with growing up, Hadas spoke about her experience co-producing her music video “Everything” with Shai Govary. In unpacking the lyrics of the song and brainstorming concepts for the music video with Govary, it became apparent to her that the seemingly externalized lyrics are actually a message to herself. For many listeners, the song may appear to be a story about a girl who feels she is not pretty or smart enough for someone she cares about. However, the message is ultimately one she feels is directed towards the negative voice in her head that is at the root of her own insecurity. “Everything” gains a new dimension from this perspective because the self-directed lyrics represent the internal struggle against our insecurities in trying to express ourselves and be vulnerable with others. Once Hadas realized that this song was for herself, it not only changed the meaning behind the song but it also completely evolved the way she approached her own life: “The point of this video (that) I actually didn’t understand and Shai made me understand was that I really wanted to sing (the song) to myself. It made me live my life in a more accurate way”. In discussing her creative process, it became clear that Hadas’ songwriting and producing are a vehicle for self understanding and personal growth. As years pass, Hadas is able to peel back layers of her past self and come to grips with the type of person she wants to be. The reinterpretation of songs that she wrote years ago keeps them alive and acts as a foundation by which she finds new versions of herself as a musician.
To this end, Hadas’ music is imbued with a vulnerability that can only be found in the hard work of introspection and growth. To listen to Hadas’ music is to accompany her as she grapples with her relationships with others and herself- and the ambiguous line between these dynamics.
by Izzy Silver