Singer-songwriter Asaf Avidan may not be super well known here in the United States, but given his new album, Gold Shadow, and his current tour across the country, now is the perfect time to get to know him!

Avidan’s music is this mash-up of genres that results in a sort of old-school American soul vibe. His latest album sounds like the score to an old Bond film, dramatic and striking, moving with emotions and intrigue and maybe a little mystery. I was super excited to have the opportunity to interview Asaf about the new album, his process, and what he hopes to achieve with this US tour.

Asaf Avidan 3
All photos by Ojoz

Your new album is incredibly diverse and fascinating, but it has an epic, 1960s cinematic feel as a unifying thread. What was your sonic goal when creating the record? Did it change throughout the writing/recording process?

It’s a difficult question to answer without going a bit back because the first three albums I made were with the group Asaf Avidan and the Mojos, which was this blues/rock/folk thing. When I left the Mojos and made my first solo album, Different Pulses, which came out about two years ago, it was very important for me to define myself sonically. I really put a lot of thought into the aesthetic wrapping of the songs that I was writing.

When I started writing Gold Shadow, it was obvious to me from the get-go that I didn’t really care about the generic orientation of the songs. All I really wanted to do was write good songs. I was focusing on lyrics and melodies and how they came together. I didn’t really care about the production, so every song kind of dragged me into its own world. If a song needed to be portrayed as a very theatrical, cabaret, jazzy thing, then we would go all the way with it. We would bring in orchestrations with string and horns, and if something started sounding more pop/’50s, then that’s what would happen.

The only thing that I really cared about and that would be a recurring theme throughout the album — it is a concept album — is that it is contextually about a break-up. The lyrics are almost a chronological detail of a love going slowly and surely wrong. You know, these two tectonic plates floating away from each other, inevitably falling apart, and that’s the only thing that really interested me as being a coherent thread throughout the album.

That actually brings me to my next question. You’re talking about lyrics and how the album came together. Your lyrics often feel like they’re telling a story, which I guess, as it is a sort of concept album, that was your intent. Can you tell me more about that process and when you were writing them?

I reached music at a fairly late age in my life, when I was about 26, as a tool for introspection and self-dissection. I use music for self-understanding of processes that I go through and as an outlet for these bubbling thoughts and emotions that are happening.

For the last six years up until about four months ago, I was in a relationship, kind of a monumental love. This girl was with me in all of my career and everything. When I start writing songs, it ends up being a kind of stream of consciousness. I read them afterwards almost like I’m reading somebody else’s diary.

That is when I saw these themes of shadows from the past, storms from the horizon are gathering, and cracks in the shell are forming. I started confronting the fact that maybe I’m in tune with some voice in me that is trying to tell me something. I kept on pushing it aside, and I kept on convincing myself and my girlfriend that it is not about us.

Only when I was mixing the album and had the order of the songs in place, listening back it hit me like a fucking truck. I understood that this was me trying to mold these thoughts into a tangible idea. It reconciled with the fact that I was unhappy.

This album writing process was a bit weird for me because these songs were more honest than I was able to be in my personal life, or for half a year of my life, until they were the tool that I used in order to understand myself and then change my status in life.

asaf avidan gold shadow

You’re already quite well-known in Europe and your home country of Israel. Do you feel like Gold Shadow may be the album to break through into the American mainstream? Why or why not?

I would doubt it. I mean, I would love that to happen, but I doubt it, certainly not into the mainstream.

So maybe indie Americana?

I hope so! I hope people find it. I feel that I have made good albums in the past, and for some reason, it is beyond my comprehension why in some place it works, and in some places it doesn’t. I don’t know why it works in France, Germany, Italy, or Israel. I have no way of answering that question. I mean, it’s not up to me.

I can always say honestly that I really hope so! I really do want an American audience to listen to my music ’cause I’ve never been an Israeli artist or a European artist. I’m an artist. My music is very much influenced and inspired by American music. All I listen to is soul, blues, jazz, and rock, and those are all genres of music that were invented and distilled in the States. It’s the best and most important test for me as an artist, to bring that to America and to have it work.

The way that you’re being promoted in the United States is as “Israel’s Asaf Avidan.” Do you feel like being Israeli at all influences your music? I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily say that your music sounds particularly “Israeli” in the same way that a group like Balkan Beat Box does.

As I said, I don’t consider myself an “Israeli artist.” I consider myself “an artist from Israel,” and I don’t hide that fact. I could have changed my name into something American, but it’s important to me to be honest and not try to hide facts. I’m trying to be judged by my music and not by my name.

Unfortunately, when American audiences usually reach my music and they see the name, it is automatically regarded as world music, which is weird for me, but fuck it. I can’t really change that. I can just try to deliver good, honest music and hope that people will judge the music on its own content and not whatever passport I hold.

Having said that, I don’t really think that there is Israeli music. I mean, Israel is a young immigrant country, and it’s existed for about 60-70 years. It’s made up by immigrants that really have nothing in common except some connection to traditions. There are people from Eastern Europe, Western Europe, the middle, North Africa, and Russia. It’s a whole jumble of stuff, almost like New York. It’s just a melting pot of different immigrants, and there’s a lot of culture being blended together. I mean, my parents grew up in New York. What they heard at home was this vinyl collection of ’60s and ’70s American music, and that is what I grew up on. That’s music to me.

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What are you most excited about with regards to the new album and the tour?

People generally think of me as a vocalist, but I’ve always thought of myself as a singer-songwriter. I think with this album I’ve matured a bit, and I use my voice a bit differently, a bit more, I wouldn’t say subdued, but more precisely. I don’t give 120 percent 120 percent of the time. I try to use it as a dynamic tool, and I try to emphasize and present the songs in the best and most precise way I can.

I hope that I bring that into the tour as well and not fall into the mannerisms of myself. I like to search with what I can do with my voice. It’s cool and it might be fun to me as a musician, but I don’t think it always serves the song. I really want to do what I did on the album on stage. That’s something that I’m looking forward to.

But maybe that’s not what you meant. Maybe you meant, “Oh, do you want to see New York or something?”

No, actually that is exactly what I was looking for! Especially from a performance standpoint. I feel like that is the most important part of a tour, how you feel about your performance and how you’re using the album as a tool for performance, which is sort of what you were just describing.

Yeah, it’s always the case when you release a new album. You kind of want to color your whole repertoire with what you’ve learned in the album, to get that kind of production and arrangement.

And I just have one more question. What is something you’d like the people of the United States to know about you that they may not already?

About music?

No! About you.

About me? Ah! I have nothing at all I would want to say this way. I mean, I write the songs so they tell my story. I just want people to listen to the songs. I think they would understand everything there is to know about me.

Just listen to the music, get to know Asaf through that?

Exactly.

*****

Interestingly, I discovered a connection to Asaf that I didn’t know about until after I interviewed him! I found out a friend of mine knew him and that the music video below was filmed in the canyon near my house. But then again, they film everything there. (Ah, living in Los Angeles, where everything you know winds up on TV.) So random for a first interview for LA Music Blog.

Find out more about Asaf Avidan and check out his show in LA at The Mayan on February 22nd!