David Berman (singer)

David Berman (singer)

David Berman is an American poet, cartoonist, and singer-songwriter best known for his work with indie-rock band the Silver Jews.



Berman (born January 4, 1967 in Williamsburg, Virginia) attended high school at Greenhill School in Addison, Texas, before matriculating at the University of Virginia. While in Charlottesville, Virginia, Berman began writing and performing songs (often left on friends' voice message machines) with his loose band, Ectoslavia, primarily composed of UVA classmates Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich.

Upon graduation from the University of Virginia, the trio moved to Hoboken, New Jersey, where they shared an apartment and adopted the moniker 'Silver Jews,' in part after the '60s group Silver Apples and slang for blonde-haired Jewish people. However, the band was actually named after a billboard advertising "Silver Jewelry", of which Berman could only see "Silver Jew" due to an obstructed view.

Before moving to Hoboken, Malkmus had also founded another band, Pavement, with his childhood friend Scott Kannberg. As Pavement's acclaim and visibility grew, the notion arose that the Silver Jews were a "Pavement side-project," despite the fact that Berman's writing, singing, and guitar playing led the band's music, and, of course, the Silver Jews preceded Pavement. On the band's early recordings, Berman even tried to protect the Jews' individuality by listing Malkmus and Nastanovich under aliases, but it backfired when people learned who "Hazel Figurine" and "Bobby N." really were.

Not long after the success of Pavement's debut album, "Slanted and Enchanted" (which was named after a cartoon Berman had created), Dan Koretsky, founder of the Chicago-based indie label Drag City, met Berman at a Pavement show. When he heard of the Jews' tapes, Koretsky offered to release them. On their first single and EP for the label, 1990's "Dime Map of the Reef" and 1993's "The Arizona Record", respectively, the band held to their ultra lo-fi aesthetic and recorded the majority of both on a Walkman.

After the release of the EPs, Berman entered a graduate-level writing program at the University of Massachusetts and met like-minded members of local bands--the indie-rock/alt-country hybrid Scud Mountain Boys and New Radiant Storm King. Writing at the university left Berman time for songwriting; soon, he had enough material for an album, which became 1994's "Starlite Walker". The album reunited Berman with Malkmus and Nastanovich (this time listed by their real names in the credits) in the 24-track Easley Recording studios for a more focused, polished take on the Silver Jews' literate, lyrical, country and noise-inspired rock.

Recent career and personal life

Along with writing and working with other performers like the War Comet, Berman recorded the Jews' second album, "The Natural Bridge", in the summer of 1996 with members of New Radiant Storm King and Drag City artist/producer Rian Murphy. Originally, Berman planned to record this album with Malkmus, Nastanovich, and the Scud Mountain Boys, but both sessions were scrapped after a few days. "The Natural Bridge" continued to streamline the Silver Jews' sound and let Berman's rich, abstract lyrics and reflective vocals take center stage. Malkmus returned for 1998's "American Water", and his guitar and vocal interplay with Berman places it among the Silver Jews' strongest efforts.

In 1999, Berman's first collection of poetry, the critically-acclaimed "Actual Air", was published by Open City Books. The Silver Jews returned in 2001 with "Bright Flight" and the EP "Tennessee", which also feature Berman's wife Cassie on a few tracks.

In early 2003, The Houston, Tx.-based theater group Infernal Bridegroom Productions staged a theatrical interpretation of Actual Air, which featured selected poems from Berman's book, as well as three live covers of Silver Jews songs, with Berman's blessing.

Following the release of "Tennessee", Berman struggled through an intense period of depression and substance abuse. In 2003, he attempted suicide by using crack-cocaine, alcohol, and the prescription drug Xanax. [http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=16451 Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles article: "Silver Jews Singer Polishes Up Dirty Past"] ] Berman would later credit this time as "an incredible blessing", because he became involved with Judaism. [http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=16451 Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles article: "Silver Jews Singer Polishes Up Dirty Past"] ]

In 2005, Berman reunited the Silver Jews -- with a lineup including his wife, Malkmus, Nastanovich, Will Oldham, and Azita Youseffi among many others -- for a new album. Recorded in Nashville, "Tanglewood Numbers" narrowly avoided being destroyed in the electrical fire that engulfed Memphis' historic Easley-McCain studio, where it was supposed to be mastered. Drag City released the album that fall.

Berman surprised fans in 2005 by announcing the group's first ever tour. [http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=16451 Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles article: "Silver Jews Singer Polishes Up Dirty Past"] ]

Though he is a reluctant live performer as a musician, Berman occasionally does readings of his short stories and poems in both the U.S. and the UK. His accomplished and trademark sardonic lyrics have been compared by some to Bob Dylan, Fact|date=February 2007 and his poetry is known to examine overlooked aspects of everyday life as well as chance and often hilarious juxtapositions. Fact|date=February 2007

"Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea", the Silver Jews sixth studio album, was released 17 June, 2008.citeweb|url=http://www.metacritic.com/music/upcomingreleases.shtml|title=Upcoming CD Releases|publisher=metacritic|accessdate=2008-03-07] It was recorded at Marble Valley of Lexington, Virginia and Lake Fever Productions of Nashville, Tennessee.

Berman currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Cassie.


With the Silver Jews


* "Starlite Walker" (1994) LP/CD
* "The Natural Bridge" (1996) LP/CD
* "American Water" (1998) LP/CD
* "Bright Flight" (2001) LP/CD
* "Tanglewood Numbers" (2005) LP/CD
* "Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea" (2008) LP/CD


* "Dime Map of the Reef" (1990) 7"
* "Silver Jews and Nico" (1993) 7"
* "Send in the Clouds" (1998) CD/7"
* "Hot as Hell" (1999) CD/7"


* "The Arizona Record" (1993) CD/12"
* "Tennessee" (2001) CD/12"


* [http://www.opencity.org/ "Actual Air"] (1999)


External links

* [http://www.weeblackskelf.co.uk/cordsuit/ The Corduroy Suit] -- Unofficial Silver Jews webpage featuring interviews, images, a selection of Berman's writing and audio recordings of his poetry readings.
* 2005 Pitchfork Media interview with David Berman [http://pitchforkmedia.com/article/feature/31330/Interview_Interview_Silver_Jews link]
* 2008 Pitchfork Media interview with David Berman [http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/feature/142559-interview-silver-jews link]

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