Fool’s Gold’s Luke Top: Making a Name for Himself, Literally

December 7th, 2011 | Marc Weidenbaum | No Comments | Categories: Blog, Events, Tikva Records

  • Luke Top has phoned from his home in the Los Feliz neighborhood in Los Angeles. His band, the African-infused rock group Fool’s Gold, just back home from a six-week tour, is preparing to head to San Francisco for a pair of Wednesday (December 7) CD-release shows at Tikva Records.

    “Home,” it turns out, is a complicated term. In part this complication is geographic. Top was born in Israel, did his college studies in San Francisco, and at this point has lived in Los Angeles longer than he has anywhere else. Factor in the considerable touring undertaken by Fool’s Gold, and that’s an itinerant life. The “home” question is also stylistic: Fool’s Gold has earned a growing audience thanks to the wide range of African music that percolates in its songs.

    Top took time to talk with Tikva Records about how Fool’s Gold’s unique cultural mix relates to issues assimilation and identity, and about his own maturing understanding of his musical heritage.

    Tikva Records: The idea of assimilation is something we’ve been discussing with many of the musicians performing at Tikva Records. Because you sing in Hebrew at times, the question arises as to the extent that issues of assimilation are a concern for you.

    Luke Top: Yeah, I mean my whole identity is predicated on this idea of assimilation, because I was brought to the United States as a three-year-old from Israel, a complete immigrant. The first American-born members of the family are my niece and nephew. I was thrown into the process of thinking about what identity is and what assimilation is, what culture is, and where I fit in all that, and I think literally even to the point of my name. As a small child, people had a hard time saying my Hebrew name, so I told them to call me Luke. Which is strange. My parents allowed it because they saw I was struggling. My identity in my past and my music touch on this idea of where we come from, who we are, what is home? And then the Hebrew is thrown in there to give it the extra aesthetic sensibility.

    Tikva: To what extent is the African music you use related to the North African proximity?

    Top: You mean the proximity to Israel? It’s funny you should ask because I was just talking with my mother about this. I am often asked where the influences come from. It is hard for me to pinpoint it. My mom the other day was saying, “Listen, we’re really close to those areas. It’s part of your heritage.” It kind of blew my mind. I haven’t actually researched that concept. I don’t know, on a conscious level, what that relationship is, but it’s in there somewhere, because I grew up listening to a lot of Arab music. My mom was born in Iraq. There’s a lot of Arab folk music and also Jewish folk music that doesn’t sound too far from the music of Ethiopia or Eritrea. Maybe there’s a connection there …

    Tikva: We talked with Zac Holtzman of Dengue Fever — members of the band are playing at Tikva Records this Saturday night — and he commented on the parallels between Cambodian melodies and Sephardic ones.

    Top: That tonic is used in so many different cultures. People hear our music and say it sounds Asian. I feel that. I understand that. Some African music sounds Asian because of the scales. There’s a relation there.

    Tikva: Would you describe how Hanukkah is different in Israel versus the United States? Do you have any favorite Hanukkah memories?

    Top: My father worked for Israel Airlines his whole life, and they had this program where your children are allowed a free ticket to Israel every year. I would go pretty frequently as a child and teenager. Since I turned 18, I haven’t been as much. I didn’t experience Hanukkah much, because I always go in the summers. My family is not exactly organized enough to just really dig deep into the holidays. My experience of them is pretty peripheral: delicious jelly donuts. We’re not big on presents, stuff like that. There’s no eight crazy nights in our household.

    Tikva: Who will playing at the Tikva Records shows?

    Top: Our band used to be kind of an open-door situation. We kind of had anyone who wanted to play with us, back in the day, just jump on stage. But these days, a couple years later, we’re a fixed unit, a five-piece, and we don’t often bring in new people, though we do do collaborations and have guests some times. Generally speaking, we’re just a five-piece.

    Tikva: What songs can we expect?

    Top: From tour to tour, we change what we do. We just got off a six-week tour, a well-integrated effort. When we started playing our new record, we only wanted to play those songs, but now we’re re-imagining our old songs as well. So, we’ll probably do a mix of the two records.

    Tikva: Do you think you’ll adjust the instrumentation for the intimate space?

    Top: We have gone into these situations before, and luckily we’re able to adapt, so I think what we’ll do is strip down the drums. We probably won’t have a full kit. We’ll have our drummer play some congas and a kick drum [laughs] and turn down our amps. The softer side of Fool’s Gold.

    Catch Fool’s Gold on Wednesday night at Tikva Records in San Francisco’s Mission District, and check out the calendar of all the events occurring at Tikva Records in San Francisco throughout the month of December.

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