The idea of working with Westlake was “a bit intimidating at first”, says Lior.
“Nigel is steeped in the classical world and I’m very much grounded in contemporary music,” he says. “I studied classical guitar and my dad is a great classical music lover, but my main interest was always in songwriting. My mum’s a real folkie and the music of the 1960s and ’70s was what I naturally gravitated to. So, yeah, I felt a bit out of my depth working with someone like Nigel.
“But right away, we set out a mode of communication that was all about honesty. We both knew that if it was going to work, we would have to be as open as possible and to focus on our strengths: mine in melody and lyrics, Nigel’s in arrangement and orchestration.”
Working with a musician from the contemporary music scene proved easier than Westlake imagined. “It was like we were on the same wavelength,” he says. “We seemed to know at the same time what was or wasn’t working. I had no idea that could happen between musicians from such different disciplines.”
Westlake is Sydney-based. Lior lives in Melbourne. They began by sharing notes and ideas via email, prompted by Lior’s deep dive into the religious and philosophical texts of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East.
“It was important to me not to make the work culturally specific,” Lior says. “I knew a lot of the Jewish writings [Lior was born in Israel and lived there until he was 10], but what inspired me most was finding complementary texts from the Arabic tradition.
“I got in touch with my good friend Waleed Aly [best known for Network Ten’s The Project] and he helped put me in touch with experts and academics. I read lots of proverbs, poems and the hadith, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. So many of them had similar messages to the Jewish ones I’d grown up with.”
Lior also contributed melodic lines, mostly composed while he was out walking his dog. “I didn’t have a home studio set up so mostly I would sing lines into my phone while I was walking along. People must have thought I was mad.”
Those fragments of poetry and melody were like “precious jewels”, says Westlake. “The texts he found are great teachings, pinnacles of philosophy. Each has a great lesson to impart about humanity and how we can better relate to each other.”