Latin Music Week

Ben Fisher Looks at 'Human Aspects' of Israel-Palestine on 'Does the Land Remember Me?' Album

Kendall Rock
Ben Fisher

Seattle singer-songwriter Ben Fisher moved to Israel during 2014 to get an up close and personal look at the conflicts in the region. After three years there he came out with a provocative new album, Does The Land Remember Me?, whose title track premieres exclusively below.

But even though he knows those on both sides of the issues will not agree with everything he has to say in the set's 17 songs, Fisher doesn't think the album will necessarily be polarizing.

"I think the Zionist right and the pro-Palestinian left are both going to find songs they agree with on this record -- and that's what I was trying to do," Fisher, a self-described "liberal, left-wing Jewish-American" both before and after his time in Israel, tells Billboard. "One of my goals is to have somebody listen to this record who had a preconceived notion about Israel and Palestine and say, 'OK, I agree with the point expressed in that song,' and then listen to the next song, which is from a totally different perspective they've never considered before. It's like good journalism; You tell both sides of the story. If I make everybody mad, then I'm doing the right thing. But I want them to also find things they like about it."

Fisher, in fact, spent part of his time in Israel working for The Jerusalem Post and also established dual citizenship there. Throughout Does The Land Remember Me? he sings from the perspective of both sides -- he lived in Israel during the unorganized so-called "Lone Wolf Intifada" attacks -- though the title track voices the concerns of an elderly Palestinian who was among those who lost his home when Israel was established during 1948.

"It's really about the human aspect of what happened," Fisher explains. "You take away all the historical layers, all the explanations and rationalizations and you have the story of a group of people who were kicked out of their homes. Some left because they heard rumors of massacres, some were told by the king of Jordan to leave so it would be easier for the Arab armies to come in and wipe out the Israelis. But at the very foundation these people lost their homes, so that's what the song's about."

Fisher tapped Damien Jurado to produce Does The Land Remember Me?, and the fellow singer-songwriter made a key contribution early on, convincing Fisher to switch from a folk, acoustic guitar-led approach to a more ambient soundscape featuring Fisher on piano, which is actually his first instrument. "The first few seconds of him singing and playing piano I was like, 'Oh, man, this is something entirely different,'" Jurado recalls. "I stopped him and I said, 'Ben, I don't know how to say this, but we're making the wrong album here. You are not a folk singer. You're a songwriter. You're more like Randy Newman or Harry Nilsson or Nick Cave than Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan.' I said, 'If you want to do an acoustic record, go for it. But I don't know if I can do it knowing that this potential is ahead of you.' And he agreed to it."

Fisher, meanwhile, is glad he listened. "It was terrifying," he says, "but I listen to it know and I can't imagine those songs any other way."

Fisher hopes Does the Land Remember Me?, due out Sept. 7, will help spur discussion, and he's ready to play the songs whenever and wherever someone will have him. He planning a performance for the University of Washington's Jewish Studies Department during the fall, and he's hoping to play in both Jewish and Arab venues -- though he says that his Israel tenure left him feeling that the situation may be impossible to redeem.

"I definitely did not come out with an optimistic view," he notes. "There are so many layers that it seems impossible to come to any solution or agreement."