Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Asaf Avidan – Songwriting as Surgery

Asaf Avidan is no longer just big news in Israel, where he has had a number of top selling albums. With his unique soul-filled voice Avidan, the Israeli born singer-songwriter, has now come to the attention of audiences worldwide – in part thanks to the massive hit single One Day / Reckoning Song (Wanklemut remix), which topped the charts throughout Europe, and in part down to his impressive live show which he has brought to venues across Europe and North America (playing alongside the likes of Robert Plant, Ben Harper, and the late Lou Reed along the way).

Avidan released three albums with his band The Mojos, before that project drifted apart. His first release as a solo artist was an acoustic digital-download album Avidan in a box, followed up by his current album Different Pulses.

Avidan talks to TMO for the following interview (via email):

Your last album, Different Pulses, was your first solo album without the Mojos (not counting the digital download album). How would you characterise the difference between the solo music and the albums with the Mojos?

As far as writing and composing, nothing’s really changed. I still write alone, as I always did, and still am working on the same archeological digging site … just going down another layer… The recording and production process was a whole different ball game though. Because I didn’t have a band anymore, I needed to build a lot more layers by myself… recording synths and loops instead of real drums and bass guitar… and that became the style of the album… these sounds that came from necessity and that process of layer upon layer.

On Songwriting:
Surgery. I guess that’s what this is to me… open surgery, with no anesthetics, and using very dull tools…

One of the first things that is going to strike anyone listening to Asaf Avidan is your voice. Who are some of your favourite singers, and why?

I like anybody that is honest through their singing. People who you can feel their angels and demons conflicting through their vocal chords… Leonard Cohen, Joplin, Thom York, Nina Simone, Ottis Redding, Bob Marley, Edith Piaf, Little Richard, Ray Charles…

One of the questions we continuously ask artists, here at TMO, is the effect that their environment has on their music. What kind of influence has Israel had on you as an artist – or to put it another way, do you think you could have written the same songs in somewhere like Manchester?

I write about Love and Life and Hope and Death and an ongoing Search… I don’t think you need a specific passport to write that. Yeah… people are obviously influenced by their environment, but at the core there is something grander. A question that lives deep inside us all that is not bound to make-believe borders and languages… Mortality is our common denominator, and that is what I explore.

Tell us a little bit about the title Different Pulses. Are titles important to you, or are they just a necessary thing to package together a song?

Yeah, Titles of songs and albums are important to me… They can give a wrapping and and a meaning to the entire work that they are naming. Or they can be used to emphasize the point or the emotion of a song. Choosing a title of a song, and of an album is an intricate part of the writing process for me.

We’re living in an age where it’s increasingly easy for musicians to distribute their music, but with that comes a change in how people listen. How important is the album format for you? Would you hope that people listen to albums in sequence, or do the songs stand alone happily?

I’m not sure that the change in the way people listen to music now, is caused only by distribution means… I think it has to do with a larger cultural change of how we intake art and information. I find it hard. I love the album format, and it hurts that we are going back to a single oriented world, after all the artists that layer on the wire fence, and fought for the album format, in the sixties and seventies. Songs to me should always be able to stand alone, and have a complete roundness and wholeness to them… but the accumulation of a sequence of songs in a specific order, has an added value… a power to tell a more detailed story, with layers and complexity.

There’s a great book called The Novelist’s Lexicon, where various writers are asked to sum up their work with one word. Let’s steal the concept, and ask you if you had to associate one word with your work what would it be, and why?

Surgery. I guess that’s what this is to me… open surgery, with no anesthetics, and using very dull tools… but its still a process that i disect myself in the hopes of finding the source of something, that i can then heal or at least explore and understand.

Do you think there’s an unfair pressure on Israeli artists, from the western media, to express themselves politically? Do you think artists have a political responsibility in their work? Or maybe let’s put it another way – what do you think an artist’s role is?

Yeah, I think it’s a bit unfair, considering that citizens from the U.S.A or U.K or Europe, sometimes have just as much political explanation to give, in regards to their governments actions… But I take it as it is. It won’t help to bitch about it. “Israel” inspires a certain chain of thoughts in people, who cannot make the same separation they bestow upon other nationalities… I try to explain the complexity of the situation or to give my opinion about it… but that’s all it really is… one’s subjective opinion about a tapestry of conflicting dogmas and beliefs. I think an artist should be honest with himself… that’s all an artists role is to me. If he feel he needs to depict the outside world or his inner conflicts, social war, or personal love… that’s up to him really.

Let’s playfully imagine that you are forced to choose one of your songs to represent you to new listeners, what would it be and why?

God. I don’t know. I write so many songs because they each need to represent a color in a wide spectrum that makes up my life. It will be like leaving only a certain colored pixel in a large and complex picture.

If you could write/record with any musician – alive or dead – who would it be, and why?

Wow…I really want or almost need to work together with Leonard Cohen. That would be a pretty nice experience to lock up in vault and keep…