Distant Cousins find family in music

The Los Angeles-based trio Distant Cousins blend soaring harmonies and a folk-rock sensibility to make pop music that’s quickly developing a devoted local following. Their songs fit well in the current trend of Americana/roots-rock revival, but they also have a sound of their own. 
The first song on their new self-titled EP, “Are You Ready (On Your Own),” offers a bit of the rustic charm of The Lumineers. “Forever” has the anthemic, fist-pumping catchiness of Fun’s chart-topper “We Are Young,” while “On My Way” captures the driving rhythms of The Avett Brothers. The hard-charging “Raise It Up” has the blues-infused seductiveness of a Black Keys song. And the EP’s closing song, “Fly Away,” is a lovely ballad that expresses a longing for escape, with melodies akin to Fleet Foxes or even Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. 
The band’s origins trace back two years to when musicians Dov Rosenblatt, 33, and Duvid Swirsky, 38, played a gig with Ami Kozak, 28, who had recently moved to Los Angeles from New York. Kozak offered to produce a song the other two had written, “When We Love,” and soon after joined the band as a songwriter and musician. 
But their roots go back even further. Swirsky was raised in Israel at Moshav Mevo Modi’im, the music community founded by Shlomo Carlebach, who is known as “the Singing Rabbi.” He went on to found the band Moshav, a popular Israeli folk-rock band. Kozak’s wife was a big fan of Moshav, and as she was flying in from Australia, Kozak booked a gig for Moshav at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York — to perform as he proposed to her. 
“He flew me and Moshav in to play a song for her as she landed,” Swirsky recalled. 
“Not on the tarmac, but in the terminal,” Kozak added. “And then they came back and we had a really nice l’chaim. Once I got here, it took Duvid about three months before he realized I was the same guy.” 
Distant Cousins is getting ready for prime time. “Are You Ready (On Your Own)” is featured on the soundtrack to the new film “This Is Where I Leave You,” a dysfunctional-family comedy-drama starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda and Adam Driver. In the movie, the family patriarch dies, and the entire clan must fulfill his final wish and sit shivah for him — without killing each other. The song plays in the movie’s end credits. 
“This movie licensing situation has been such a dayenu,” Kozak joked. “If we would’ve just got a movie, that would’ve been enough. And if the movie were good, that would’ve been enough. But the funny thing is, of all movies, it’s a really heavily Jewish-themed movie.” 
The band also has songs featured in commercials for Macy’s denim TV campaign and in Germany for Lift, the Coca-Cola-owned soft drink, and on shows such as USA’s “Graceland,” CBS’ “Criminal Minds” and The CW’s “Reign.” 
Rosenblatt, Kozak and Swirsky sat down for this interview at an outdoor table at Paper or Plastik Cafe, the same hip Pico Boulevard spot where they first met over coffee to discuss forming a band. 
“All three of us are Jewish, we come from Jewish music backgrounds, but this music is not overtly Jewish,” Kozak said. “I mean, it has overtones, because …” 
“Because of who we are, and we try to make everything authentic,” Rosenblatt added. 
“Because it’s ingrained in us,” Kozak said. 
The interview was interrupted a few times by friends who stopped at the table to greet the musicians. The band members joked that they hired a bunch of strangers to make them seem more popular. One of their friends is David Serber, a tour manager for Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu. 
The band finds inspiration from other local Jewish musicians, such as Haim, a group of three sisters who grew up in the San Fernando Valley. “They have that family vibe that we really like,” Kozak said. 
All three band members now have young children, which has made them even more like an extended family. They regularly gather for Shabbat dinners, or for coffee in the park on mornings after a gig.
The members also play in other bands. Swirsky still tours with Moshav, and Rosenblatt is in the bands Blue Fringe and The Wellspring. They also have side gigs that pay the bills. Rosenblatt teaches music at Shalhevet, a Modern Orthodox high school, and at New Community Jewish High School. Kozak composes music for commercials and produces for bands. And Swirsky helps lead Nefesh, a monthly Shabbat service at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. 
They’ve signed up with a booking agency and their goal is to perform more, and to get their songs placed in more movies and commercials. 
“Essentially, [the goal is] keep writing the best songs we can write, get them the most exposure they can get and resonate with as many fans as possible,” Kozak said. 
Distant Cousins performs at The Hotel Café, 1623 Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles on Oct. 30 at 9 p.m. The band’s self-titled EP is available now on iTunes. Learn more at

PBS brings David Broza’s multinational rocking ‘Masada’ to U.S. audience

The concert starts at 3:30 a.m. at the foot of Masada, and as dawn breaks in the east, the outlines of the Dead Sea and the Moav Mountains beyond come into stunning view.

So ends “David Broza at Masada: The Sunrise Concert,” leaving 2,400 jam-packed fans of all ages and ethnicities cheering and accompanying the last song, “Yihye Tov” — It’ll Be All Right.

PBS has caught the spirit and will show this different side of Israel in a 90-minute program airing Dec. 2 on KCET.

Accompanying Broza are legendary rocker Jackson Browne, Grammy winner Shawn Colvin, Arab composer Ebrahim Eid, Israeli vocalist Keren Tennenbaum, and an Israeli-Palestinian school choir.

Broza has been one of his country’s most durable and consistently popular artists for three decades, performing, as he put it, “from the Mideast to the Midwest.” At 52, his vocals, guitar and energy level are as intense as ever.

International critics have acclaimed him, at one time or another, as the Israeli Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, U2’s Bono, Gordon Lightfoot and Jackson Browne, but in a phone interview Broza observes, “I am none of the above and all of the above.”

Born in Haifa, Broza has lived in England, the United States and Spain, and his repertoire of folk-rock, flamenco and a uniquely Israeli strain reflects his multinational upbringing and tastes.

The international flavor, and such universal themes as love, longing and loss, pervade the concert. From the opening “Night in Masada” (This Is Where the World Starts) in English, Broza turns to “Ramito de Violetas” in Hebrew and Spanish, and, joined by Browne and Colvin, to a Hebrew-English rendition of the signature tune, “Yihyeh Tov.”

Most moving, and perhaps a sign that things “will be all right” after all, is the love song “In My Heart.” It was written jointly by Broza and Ebrahim Eid during the intifada and performed by the two composer-singers. Backing them is the school choir of the integrated Jewish-Arab village of Neve Shalom/Wahatal-Salam.

The historic and physical setting adds to the emotional mystique of the Sunrise Concert, with the performers framed against red columns and searchlights stabbing the sky.

PBS, which is presenting the program as part of its pledge drive, invested $2.2 million in a crew of 60, which shot the show with 10 high-definition cameras and mixed Dolby 1.5 Surround Sound.

Now in its 14th year, the concert drew hip Tel Aviv teenagers, getting down alongside kippah-wearing Jerusalem youngsters, Russian immigrants, Israeli Arabs, and a fair number of middle-aged couples.

PBS first spotted Broza eight years ago, when station WTTW in Chicago approached him about a Chanukah special, but finances and other circumstances delayed production until this year,

Broza counts among his early influences his mother, Sharona Aron, one of Israel’s most popular folk singers in the 1940s and ’50s, and his British father, as well as Jimi Hendrix, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and the British rock group, The Yardbirds.

He started his own professional career, which now includes 16 gold, platinum and multiplatinum releases, in 1977, when he celebrated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem with a “Song of Hope” (They Shall Learn to Live Together).

The theme of Jewish-Arab coexistence runs through many of Broza’s works, but he is no ideologue. “In one way or another, everyone in Israel is involved in politics, but I do not support any particular political party or doctrine,” he said.

“My grandfather, Wellsley Aron, was one of the founders of Neve Shalom, and I was part of the initial group that organized Shalom Achshav (Peace Now),” he adds. “I also support people with disabilities and anything that promotes education for tolerance.”

With all that, Broza is not a polarizing figure and said he is as welcome performing at a right-wing settlement as in left-wing Haifa.

Though Broza feels thoroughly at home in the American pop scene (and is planning a Christmas Eve concert in New York), he rejects the idea that Israel has become a kind of cultural 51st state.

“We have a tremendously rich cultural diversity in Israel, with some 120 nationalities,” he said. “For example, I have in my small group both a Moroccan and a Russian. But we haven’t amalgamated our different cultures; we are still searching for and creating our identity.”

KCET will air “David Broza at Masada” on Sunday, Dec. 2 at 9:30 p.m., Dec. 7 at 2:30 a.m., and Dec. 9 at 10:30 p.m.