The Mashtis (from left): erica Putis, Neal Bocick and Itai Faierman. Photo by Dave Good.
If you ever want to meet some cool local musicians, put a Fender Jazzmaster up for sale on craigslist. This is precisely how I met Itai Faierman, lead singer and guitarist for The Mashtis. The night Faierman came over to check out the guitar turned into bonding time for two music fans. We ended up talking for a couple hours on topics including guitars, hardcore music and Stephen Malkmus. When he left—with two of my former axes in hand—I was thinking, Wow, this dude is pretty cool.
So, when I saw The Mashtis perform a month or so later, I was thinking, This guy is really cool. The formula is basically Faierman's core songs and gravely voice, complemented by bassist Erica Putis' sugary sweet harmonies and drummer Neal Bociek's precision beats. Most of the songs move slowly but tend not to drag. The downbeat is almost always rock-solid and keeps the listener locked in. The intertwining nature of the band's two vocalists creates a bit of a hypnotic aura when placed in the confines of these slow, churning tunes. The harsh male voice offset by pristine female vocals immediately brought to mind the Pixies, but the musical backdrop seems more akin to Silkworm or Firewater. Imagine Elliott Smith and Kim Deal co-fronting a band.
Faierman played in a band with Bociek back in 2005, shortly before he moved to back to New York City; the soft-spoken and amiable Faierman had played in a New York City hardcore band called Kai when he was younger—the group opened for bands like Gorilla Biscuits and Quicksand back in the day. Though there's little evidence of his hardcore past in The Mashtis, he's still quick to show his love for that scene.
“I grew up with [hardcore music],” he says. “I love it.”
Soon after his return to San Diego in 2008, he fell gravely ill and had an eye-opening brush with death. After being misdiagnosed with a rare muscle disorder, Faierman became increasingly sick from abscesses left untreated. These eventually required multiple surgeries and long stints in hospital beds.
“After I got out of the hospital, I wrote The Sunbed Tapes. I hadn't written anything in three years,” Faierman says, referring to what was originally a solo project. “Some of those songs are on the Mashtis album. They were unearthed in a different way. ‘Lifted Treasure,' the first song on the Mashtis album, was the first song that I wrote after being in the hospital. That experience definitely changed my life in so many ways. I'm grateful for it because there are so many things that happened, including this band. Every day it feels like it's good to be here. [One of my surgeons] told me I'm in the 1 percentile of people who live from the intensity of the infection that I had.”
The Sunbed Tapes was actually named for how Faierman wrote all the material: on his back, in a bed, with the sun shining down on him through a window. He had no choice at that point—the surgeries limited his movements. Once the Sunbed CD was released, all the pieces for The Mashtis began to fall into place. After he recovered, Faierman went to watch Putis play with her old band, The Predicates. He invited her to his CD-release show. Putis showed up, and Faierman floated her a CD. She got to work.
“We started e-mailing, and she said she had been singing harmonies to it,” Faierman says. “I said, ‘We should get together and see what our voices sound like.' We got Neal to come back in. He had already learned every song on The Sunbed Tapes. We all got together and wanted to see if it would work. It felt really natural.”
Faierman has a hard time describing the band. He cites melodic rock, Elliott Smith and early Stones as starting points but settles on this contradictory descriptor:
“Unpredictable, predictable music.”
The Mashtis play with Black Hondo and Cozy Corners on Saturday, April 10, at The Ruby Room. www.myspace.com/themashtis.