Herman Dune is not the name of a person. Rather, it is a band name picked by songwriter David Ivar because, as he explains it, it sounded like it could be the name of a person. “I love solo acts that sound like a band,” the French musician says. “Wouldn’t it be great if the Strokes were called Isadore Epstein instead?”
Ivar has a disarming yet quirky sense of humor that reveals itself throughout our exchange. It’s the sort of wittiness that reflects a songwriter self-aware enough to admit in his lyrics that “You know I’ll always like you no matter what…if you worship Jesus when I am a Jew,” or “If people know the songs that I wrote for my band/Well, I’ll buy new shoes for my daughter and a house for my mum.” While critics have classified Ivar’s ironic wryness as “freak-folk,” there’s nothing freaky about his lamenting love songs. The melodic compositions are unantagonistically pretty, with female-voiced choruses regularly adding angelic fragility to Ivar’s plaintive everyman voice. The prolific Ivar recently released two sensational folk E.P.’s, 1-2-3/Apple Tree and I Wish I Could See You Soon, and plans to unveil his sixth album, Next Year In Zion. But while we await Zion, this year’s hefty output will keep us happy.
David-Ivar Herman Dune—his full stage name—was born in Paris to a Swedish mother and a Moroccan father who nurtured his religious identity with a Jewish environment (his home was not kosher although his mother refrained from smoking on the Sabbath). He purports to have written his fi rst song when he was 11 and hasn’t stopped since. “I did go to architecture school because I was good at drawing, but from as early as I can remember, I wanted to be a singer.” Throughout the years, since Herman Dune’s inception in 1999, the band has been through a number changes, with line-ups ranging from a duo (with best friend and drummer Neman) to a troupe of nine others. “I think the songs are what matter most,” Ivar says, “More so than who’s on stage.”
While Ivar’s musical infl uences are reverent (he lists Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed), it’s his irreverent lyrics that are worth paying close attention to: Herman Dune’s catalogue is notably and blatantly Semitic songwriting. One song, for example, focuses on a pet dog named after a former Israeli Prime Minister (“Golda”), while the prose of another reads like a Hasidic parable passed down from the shtetl (“Song Of Samuel”). It’s admirable to hear Ivar identify so openly as a Jew, given the difficulties French Jews face today—but he doesn’t see it that way. “Some countries are horrible places [for Jews] to live in, and I would never compare France to them. [In fact], they had a stamp with Rashi on it last year in France. I think it’s fantastic. I bought two.”
So does this mean that the troubadour won’t be spending next year in Zion like his forthcoming album suggests?
“I have never been but I would love to play there,” he says. “My relationship to Israel is very strong. Like you love a grandparent.”