French-Israeli folk pop songstress Yael Naim is currently wrapping up nearly two years of touring and is kicking off a very short string of US dates tonight, at our very own World Café Live, for her first Philadelphia show in quite a few years. Naim first came to mainstream attention in the US in 2008, when her hyper-infectious cabaret folk pop number, “New Soul,” was chosen to soundtrack a MacBook Air commercial. She’s currently touring behind her third LP, Older, which hit shelves nearly two years ago in France but just made its way to the US this September. The album was written and recorded with Naim’s partner (musical and otherwise), David Donatien, and explores the nature of life and death, inspired in equal parts by the birth of the couple’s child and the death of Naim’s grandmother. Last week I got a chance to chat with Yael Naim about what she’s been up to since the release of Older and what the future holds for her and Donatien.
Izzy Cihak: Your latest album, Older, has been out for quite some time now (at least in France). What have been some of the highlights of that time period, whether particularly inspiring performances, particularly flattering responses, or just especially cool opportunities it has afforded you?
Yael Naim: Recording a version of “Coward” in duo with Brad Mehldau was the first musical dream we experienced with this album. Following this very moving moment, meeting so many interesting artist (from electronic scene to classical music) that revisited our songs for the « revisited » project was an incredible experience.
More recently, we were lucky enough to live two unforgettable experiences: A giant vocal flashmob including 140 amateur singers singing “Coward” around me in a public place and the magical video of the same song directed by Stromae and his team, released a few days ago. It’s quite amazing how many doors this very personal song opened since two years…
Izzy: For that matter, I’m just realizing that you’ve been doing music professionally for a decade and a half now, which seems crazy. What have been a few of your own personal highlights of your career so far?
Yael: What I like the most in my life is having artistic experiences and meeting wonderful human beings… recording each album was a pleasure and a torture all at once .:) Then of course crazy events like becoming number 1 in the US and many other countries with a song recorded independently in my very small apartment was something nutty. I loved playing Dorit in The Simpsons show… We loved recording with the Metropol Orkest and discovering the remixes of our songs. We loved traveling to places we discovered like Brasil or Japan where we have an amazing fan base now. We loved discovering other cultures, other ways to live.
Izzy: I really like your recent video for “Coward.” How did that idea come about?
Yael: David was talking about an unusual flashmob idea since a long time… then we thought of how beautiful and strong it could be to hear and see 150 non-professional singers surrounding me and singing the three parts from the choir part of “Coward,” and how healing it can be having them all pointing to me and saying: Coward :))) ! Being surrounded by all this voices brought tears into my eyes.
Izzy: On a related note, are there any particularly significant influences behind the visual elements of your work? They all seem very intentional (for lack of a better term). Are there visual artists that you find to be especially inspiring, or just that you admire to a great degree?
Yael: We love different expression in art and visual art is a very important follow up for our music and for my emotional world. I think I would have loved to be a visual creator myself, if music didn’t become my first love. I admire and feel strong feelings for the work of Yayoi Kusama, Frida Kahlo, OSGEMEOS, and many, many other …
Izzy: Considering that the year is coming to an end, I’ve been asking musicians about their favorite music of 2016. Have there been any albums to drop or live shows you’ve gotten to see this year that you were especially fond of?
Yael: my obsession of the year was and still is: Carrie & Lowell – Sufjan Stevens.
Izzy: You have a very small handful of upcoming US dates, but we’re really grateful that you’re kicking off those dates at our very own World Café Live. What can be expected of the live experience?
Yael: Our life is about creating some kind of intimate relation with people … I try to let myself go emotionally when I play the songs of Older and to create some kind of new world each time we play. Clubs are for sure the places where we feel as creative as possible
Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you? I know you have some December and January dates in France after these US shows, but how are you most significantly hoping and planning to spend 2017? Any more new music in the works?
Yael: We are ending this two years tour after more than 130 concerts and start to dream and think about our next musical project. David and I also wish to experience some side-projects that are not related to the “usual” album form.