Homegrown Israeli folk star is rising on high-tech scene

When Yoni Bloch performed his first Tel Aviv show nearly 10 years ago, a crowd of some 300 swarmed the club.

Then 20 years old, the Israeli singer-songwriter had expected a small audience and was shocked by the turnout. He later found out people had learned of the show thanks to his presence on the Internet. Bloch had been recording his own music since he was a teenager and uploading it to an Israeli social networking site, Bama Hadasha (“New Stage”), which predated Myspace as an online place for musicians and listeners to interact.

Yoni Bloch first got noticed on an Israeli social networking site.

Discovered by the daughter of a major record label owner, Bloch was signed to Israel’s NMC Music and has been rising on the Israeli music scene ever since. His indie folk songs “A Different View” and “Jealousy” were radio hits, and he gained even more fans when a contestant on Israel’s version of “American Idol” covered one of his tracks a few years ago.

While he may be a household name in his homeland, Bloch is just starting to tour in the United States. He has played a few times in Southern California, but never in the Bay Area. A concert on Thursday, Jan. 13 at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto will mark his local debut.

Bloch isn’t known only for his songs, all of which he writes and performs in Hebrew. Because Bama Hadasha was so pivotal to his success, he thought it only fitting to start a web-based music company.

Now 29, Bloch has the distinction of being both a budding indie rock star and the CEO of Interlude, an up-and-coming tech site. The startup is developing interactive video technology that allows viewers to remake a music video by choosing alternate versions of scenes. Interlude (www.interlude.fm) won “best of show” at the Israeli technology convention Techonomy 2010 in Tel Aviv.

While digital technology and folk music may seem distant cousins, Bloch says he’s always been interested in both. He grew up in Beersheva and began taking piano lessons at age 6. His older sister and younger brother also played instruments, and the latter is now a drummer in his band.

Bloch studied classical piano but also learned rock songs on guitar and drums when he was in early teens. “I wrote my own songs, but in the beginning they were really weird,” he laughs. “I got more experienced and started recording songs myself because I was also a computer geek.”

As a child, he was influenced by his mother’s classical music interest, his dad’s love of old blues singers like Billie Holiday, and the Pixies album his sister brought home one day.

Bloch’s music — on albums such as 2007’s “Bad Habits” and 2008’s “Who Am I Fooling?” — invoke many of the genres he grew up listening to, along with the bands he likes today: rockers such as Cake and Arctic Monkeys and female vocalists such as Feist. His often somber vocals are laid over light piano pop and upbeat, folksy guitar riffs.

Bloch says he aims to create tunes that pull from many different musical styles, making each composition unique. His lyrics are often story narratives based on real experiences. “The best songs come out when I’m either really depressed or really happy,” he says. “I’m kind of mildly bipolar in that way.”

When he was 18, Bloch moved to Tel Aviv for his mandatory military service — in the air force orchestra — and has lived there since. It’s a city he fell in love with, and he says via telephone that he can’t imagine ever leaving Israel. “I’m really rooted here. It’s home.”

Yoni Bloch will perform 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 13 at Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. $25-$30. www.paloaltojcc.org.