Rabbi Sharon Brous, the charismatic spiritual leader and founder of the trendy, progressive ICAR congregation, which includes both Steven Spielberg and Mayor Eric Garcetti, remembers the first time she heard Hillel Tigay sing his song “Alive” during church services of Rosh Hashana at Los Angeles Temple.
“I was completely exhausted,” she says of the melody that shares the singalong spiritual vibe of Arcade Fire. “Something happened in the room that I have never seen before. The people floated off the ground. We were so moved by it, but people are equally affected by the song in other contexts as well. “
The track is part of Tigay’s worldly solo debut “Palms Station” – named in part for his home in West LA – after he released two religious-themed works, a two-volume set called “Judeo”. Tigay, who bears the title of Hazzan / Music Director for ICAR because he was never classically trained as a cantor, is the son of a rabbi and biblical scholar who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, where Tigay is also an alum. Growing up on a combination of the Bible and the Beatles, Tigay temporarily put his Jewish roots in the background and moved to LA in hopes of becoming a rock star, a later version of “The Jazz Singer”.
Tigay was recorded in his home studio as a background singer with his two daughters – Mila (20) and Eden (17) – and says: “Spirituality and music are two sides of the same coin. Music is a quick way to get to your own alternate universe with its visceral way of bringing the words to life. It promotes this trance-like state that makes us vulnerable to a higher power. “
Thanks to Zoom’s long arm during the pandemic, ICAR’s services are now seen and heard around the world, bringing Tigay’s music by the thousands. The temple even hosted a virtual record release party for the new album.
ICAR’s progressive policies tempted veteran A&M, Virgin and Warner Bros. record manager Jeff Ayeroff, who came from a left-wing Jewish cultural tradition – his father was born in a Jewish community / kibbutz in Utah – but had long since fallen into religious indifference.
“I was taken by Rabbi Brous, but Hillel’s music was an important factor in my joining the temple,” says the bearded, long-haired Ayeroff, who looks like a Talmudic scholar even though he said as a child, “Everyone thought I.” was Irish. “
Together with his parishioner Michael Rosenblatt – the son of the former President of Geffen Records, Eddie, and an independent A&R manager for Sire and MCA – Ayeroff was Tigay’s “Consigliere” for his first two Judeo releases and now “Palms Station”. “
“When I first heard ‘Alive’ the guy behind me said, ‘Oh yeah, this is Hillel’s hit.’ The song has a very deep meaning for the congregation, but I think it could easily go well beyond the synagogue. “
While “Alive” catches your eye when you first listen to it, Team Tigay chose the British Invasion-meets-Tame-Impala-Pop-Rocker “I can’t find the way to your heart” from the 60s, whose hyper-romantic lyrics made it a sensible choice for pinning a Valentine’s Day publication. Ayeroff hired long-time promotion / marketing guru Michael Plen to bring the song to the radio. The two who worked together at Virgin date back 30 years when they both had offices on the fabled A&M lot, with Plen promoting IRS Records and Ayeroff a creative manager at A&M.
Nic Harcourt, the former KCRW presenter who now plays this morning at KCSN in Northridge, played the song as his freshly squeezed track of the day, comparing it to Church’s “Under the Milky Way”.
“It just sounded like something I was going to play,” says Harcourt, acknowledging the influence of trustworthy colleagues Plen, Ayeroff and Rosenblatt. “I’m a sucker for acoustic and clinking guitars. When I hear something I like, I play it on the radio. “
If I get spins on formats from Triple A / Non Comm KSCR to the influential alternative station 91X in San Diego (where Tim Pyles recently played it on his new Sunday night music show), “I can’t find the way to your heart” Just a few more true believers to be found, says Plen. “I wouldn’t have taken on the project if I hadn’t believed in the record.”
When he first arrived in LA, Tigay was signed to A&M Records by legendary A&R / producer and Beach Boys employee David Anderle. He recorded an entire album before being unceremoniously dropped when a new regime took over. Years later when Dr. Dreidel to Andrew Rosenthal’s Ice Berg, the two founded the “Wisecracking” lift-and-hop duo MOT (full disclosure: I was their manager, Meshugge Knight) and released the little-heard gem “19.99” fast hits like “Town Car” “,” Viva Oy Vegas “and” Emmis G “- via Seymour Steins Sire Records in 1998.
When Rabbi Sharon Brous was looking for a musical director for the revolutionary congregation she founded in 2002, Tigay was ready to hang up his rock’n’roll shoes at least temporarily and officially join the ICAR clergy team by 2005.
“I was looking for someone who could translate into a sacred space the emotions of a song that makes us cry over a breakup when we hear it on the radio,” explains the rabbi. “Hillel is an immense musical talent, but he’s also a rabbi, so he knows every piece of liturgy by heart. He has this unique ability to merge worlds that is at the heart of the ICAR community – runaways who have feet in multiple fields at once so they can see things from a different perspective. “
“The music is an eclectic mix of ancient religion and progressive thinking,” adds Ayeroff. “There are elements of progressive reform politics and conservative Jewish theology in the community that are reflected in Hillel’s songs.”
The ICAR Temple on the Shalhevet High School campus in Fairfax and Olympic has acquired land on La Cienega Blvd. to build a new plant. At least part of that growth is due to worship music acceptance, which mixes Tigay’s original music with covers by Bob Dylan, U2, and Bob Marley. The congregation itself sits in concentric circles with the directors in the middle, so that the voices and beats (no musical instruments are allowed on Shabbat) radiate from a central core, a dynamic drum circle.
“I don’t differentiate between religious and secular music,” emphasizes Rabbi Brous. “Do I feel something? Does it make me cry or dance or do I feel connected to a deeper truth that I was unable to articulate before? Does it connect me to other people and to God? Praying with 3,000 other people on Yom Kippur is like a rock concert, a wave of humanity moved by the music. Our goal is similar. … to connect people with one another, with tradition and the sacred. “
Tigay’s musical goals reflect this range. “I want to make people feel better and more optimistic that their souls have been purified to give hope,” he says. “I don’t sell a religion, just the feeling when you juxtapose them with music and see how they merge. The ancients were very aware that the song had a unique power to bring the presence of God into their midst. “
“Music is the door for many people who are skeptical and unrelated to Judaism,” adds Rabbi Brous. “Songs can’t do all the work, but they can start things… The rest is about community, social responsibility, building a just and loving society. But music is the thread that runs through everything. … It’s at the heart of so much of what we do. “