Photo courtesy of Asaf Avidan
There truly are no words to adequately describe Asaf Avidan and what the Israeli singer-songwriter has managed to achieve with his album Gold Shadow. There are no words, because they haven't been written yet. It is a mind blowing, epic album that will leave you with chills. Avidan's voice is reminiscent of some of the greatest jazz singers, yet still uniquely his own. His songs are poetic, heart-wrenching, and sexy, but somehow still unlike anything that has ever been done before. So, how do you describe the indescribable? You don't. You just buckle up, and go along for the ride. Gold Shadow is a journey. Avidan is your guide, and after one listen, you will want to follow him anywhere.
The Reel Spin: Your album Gold Shadow [was recently released], and it's your first official release in North America, so are you excited... how are you feeling?
Asaf Avidan: Of course I'm excited, but I have to admit that I'm not expecting much out of what this album is going to do in the States... to call it an official release is a bit of an overstatement. I'm releasing it through TuneCore and digital media, and I have it on my website, and I'm going to be selling it at shows. So I'm not really sure how official a release it is, because I'm not working with a label in the U.S. as opposed to what I'm doing in Europe and in Israel. So of course I'm excited, because it's something that I've worked very hard on and I believe in, and it's a piece of my art, which is an extension of myself, and I'm putting it out in the world, and I'm really trepidating how people will receive it and judge it or whatever... if it will move anybody. But it's very different than what's happening... it's different territories for me.
TRS: Definitely. That's one thing I was going to ask you... how would you describe this for your fans... what can they expect on this album?
Avidan: It's always difficult for me to describe music. That's why I write music and not try to talk in narrative, but this album is specifically difficult, because it does have I think a bit of most every genre of music imaginable. It's a weird roller coaster musically, but it does have this glue... this coherent thread running through the middle of it, which is this text. It's a concept album about a breakup, but it's a weird one in that manner, because I wrote it while I was still in the relationship . . . which started to decay before my eyes, and I was kind of writing down the diary of those last steps. I think it's just a very honest album. That's what I tell people to expect. Other than that, it's a very strange one.
TRS: Speaking of being honest, do you find writing to be a cathartic experience? A lot of your lyrics, not only are honest, but are very poetic, particularly in a song like "Bang Bang" -- there's such poetry there. So I'm just wondering if writing is helpful? Does it bring that cathartic experience?
Avidan: There is catharsis when I sing those words. That's why it's important for me to be a singer-songwriter. It's two different processes. Writing is trying to find that honesty, but catharsis brings more questions. There is never a core that you reach to... it's always just this archaeological layer and layer and layer that you try to dig down, but I don't think there is an end to it. You try to get as close as you can, but when you do sing these words, and you know that a song is just a fraction of an emotion that you are trying to . . . deliver, and then when you get to sing that, you can feel that emotion for real. I don't know how to explain it, it's like this feng shui kind of thing... like you let out your dirty laundry. I think that's the essence of the blues. It's that thing where you outlet these hardships and fears and loneliness and pain and melancholy, but doing so, for some magical reason that is beyond my comprehension, it brings some sort of ease, and that in a way is a bit of catharsis maybe.
TRS: Speaking of singing, you have one of the most uniquely original voices I have ever heard, so I'm curious who you consider to be some of your influences vocally?
Avidan: I listen to a lot of old school female jazz vocalists... like Nina Simone or Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald . . . but I also listen to a lot of blues. I listen to a lot of Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Tom Waits, Dylan, Leonard Cohen. I listen to a lot of things, and of course I listen to a lot of 60's/70's rock giants like Joplin or Robert Plant and stuff like that.
TRS: I'm glad to hear you say that, because when you mention the rock element, one of the standouts for me on the album is "The Jail That Sets You Free." It has such a cool attitude about it that is just infectious. What was the thought process going into that song?
Avidan: It's funny, because it was the last song I wrote for the album. I already had the other songs for the album, and I realized what the album is about. There is a beautiful process in writing an album. At first you shoot all over the place... it's very stream of consciousness... you just let out whatever is going on. You try to fish, you throw the line in, and you hope that something comes out. But then as time progresses and you accumulate more and more songs, you start realizing what the theme is that is currently going on deep down inside and that's what you want to let out, and you start writing towards that goal. Then there is this beautiful little piece of time and space that you know what you want to write about, which to me is very rare. I knew it was a breakup album, and I knew what the text was about but aesthetically I also knew that album was very, very depressing, and I kind of knew that anybody who's willing to go with me on this journey is going to be suffering somewhere along the album. The way I approached writing the music and the beat . . . was I felt some obligation to give some lightness to the listener, some place that he can move around and smile a little just before I stab him in the gut.
TRS: That's funny. It's amazing. The whole album is amazing.
Avidan: Thank you very much.
TRS: You're going to be [touring]. Are you ready to take these songs on the road?
Avidan: Yeah, I can't wait to. I've been practicing with my new group of musicians for three weeks, and it's about time we hit the stage. This tour is going to be the first time we're on stage, and the whole year we're going to be continuing on tour to Europe and to Israel and then back to Europe and maybe back to the States. It's the first kind of step in a long process. There's always that thing that I've learned, and the experience that I've had as a performing artist... No matter how much you prepare indoors in this little room that you rehearse in with your band or whatever, there's always going to be changes, and there's always going to be this amoeba-like process that things kind of mutate along the way, because the way songs work in a small room with no audience, it's very different than how you perform with them. They kind of know to choose their on paths once they get on the road. I'm just waiting for that. I want to have that dialogue with an audience.
For more on Asaf Avidan:
Website - www.asafavidanmusic.com
Facebook - facebook.com/asafavidanmusic
Twitter - @asafavidan
Interview by Pamela Thomas