International singer/songwriter Asaf Avidan, released his critically celebrated LP Gold Shadow, which is available NOW. Avidan graciously took time to answer questions about Gold Shadow, and the excitement surrounding his current solo U.S. tour.
Avidan, the son of two diplomat parents, picked up a guitar fairly late in his life, at the age of 26, due to a mythological breakup from his long time girlfriend, which later found his way into his first songs and he EP, “Now That You’re Leaving.” Released independently in a few shops in his hometown of Jerusalem, the mini album and Avidan quickly received attention and acclaim, and he began performing across his small country with a guitar and harmonica and his armour piercing voice and lyrics. As the demand for larger shows and a new album grew, he gathered local backing musicians around him and nicknamed them The Mojos. Now, performing and recording as Asaf Avidan & the Mojos, they made 3 successful studio albums (The Reckoning, Poor Boy-Lucky Man, Through The Gale), toured the globe, signed with Columbia Records in Europe, and made a name for themselves as one of the best live performers across Europe.
True to his artistic vision and needs, Asaf decided to pursue his own solo path and try to find new ways to write and explore his emotions without the confinement of genre. The result was Different Pulses, an intimately texted, yet bravely produced self-dissecting introspective album, that explored new horizons and mixed different styles of music, all held together by Avidan’s words and vocals.
Around the time of it’s release, a strange phenomenon was starting to take place. A fan-made amateur remix of his old song, “Reckoning SongOne Day” started making waves all across Europe. Despite Avidan’s protests, due to his dislike of the remix, those waves turned into a tsunami that washed across the globe and the song became an international hit, peaking at number 1 in 14 different countries and selling in excess of 1.5m copies. Timing is everything in life and the new album and the remix both charted and fed back on each other’s success, propelling Avidan’s career to new heights.
Avidan, almost shunning away from commercial success, then followed with another personal album, going back to the theme that started him off in music, another breakup. Gold Shadow was a sad lament on what appeared to be a fatalistic one way path from love into pain and combined jazz and cabaret together with blues and pop. After finishing the tour for the album some months ago, Avidan decided again to change things around. He’s currently taking a break from Europe’s embrace and playing in front of thousands of his dedicated fans, instead going to countries where he is less known. This year will see him back in small venues where he’ll be doing what he feels most comfortable doing and winning the hearts of a new audience again.
Bob Boilen of NPR describes Avidan’s sound as “…Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan are all in there, but they add up to a wholly original sound, with songs that are beautifully written and fervently performed.”
Avidan’s musical prowess is on full display on the Gold Shadow LP, which demonstrates a willingness to take chances and explore various musical landscapes. Avidan weaves together the sophisticated and poetic to create something new and exciting. The vocals are introspective, brave and set to a gorgeous backdrop of dynamic, original music.
In this interview Avidan discusses the story behind his unique sound, and expressing the difficulties that go along with the recording process. Other songs from Gold Shadow include: “Over My Head,” “The Labyrinth Song,” “The Jail That Sets You Freen,” “A Part of This,” and more. Watch Avidan’s live performance via his Tiny Desk session.
Check out Avidan’s website for news, music, updates, and to purchase Gold Shadow. Catch Asaf Avidan at the Teragram Ballroom on April 22 in Los Angeles. More info HERE
Francis Xavier: What inspired Gold Shadow and how did your particular sound develop?
Asaf Avidan: Textually Gold Shadow is a final lament for a relationship that was ending before my eyes. It’s a breakup album that was written while I was still in the relationship, and the songs were a tool for me to learn to admit to myself and accept that this was an end. The particular sound, came from not caring about the sound. I mean, of course I care about the production decisions for songs, but in this album, the lyrics were so clear and were used like a strong glue that binded the different songs into an album…. It gave me the freedom to decide that the sound can change from track to track and it will still feel lie an album. So each song really got the treatment depending on that song’s mood. If it was a kitch cliche we wanted, than we would go for 50’s pop female vocals, If we wanted rawness, we used naked blues, for theatrics, we used cabaret and so on.
FX: What’s the story behind the single “The Labyrinth Song”?
AA: It’s a take off on the greek myth of Theseus and Ariadne, but in my version, an untrusting Theseus (me) doesn’t take the ball of yarn from Ariadne, and is stuck in the Labyrinth after defeating the Minotaur. I construct my own myth out of an existing one. The Labyrinth is my past, the Minotaur, is the old demons, Ariadne is the broken love that could have existed if I could have just believed her.
FX: Which of the songs on Gold Shadow was the hardest to write?
FX: I think Ode To My Thalamus was. By that time, I’d written some of the songs of the album, but still didn’t know, or was afraid to admit what it was about. The songs wrote themselves and I only tried to decipher, but I kept on telling myself and me girlfriend that it wasn’t about us.
Thalamus was hard to write not because it was hard to write, but because when I read what I had just written, there could be no mistake anymore in regards to what the album was about.
FX: Do you think of yourself as a confessional artist?
AA: I think the only artist is a confessional artist. Art is a weapon in the hands of honesty. It’s what we carve the flesh, saw the bone, and scoop out the marrow of what’s inside us. I think art by that definition has to be confessional.
FX: If so, do you feel that in being confessional you have to explain the process behind your work more?
AA: Not at all, I think the opposite. The songs speak for me.
FX: What can U.S. audiences expect from one of your shows? Do you have a set playlist or do the songs vary for each performance?
AA: Usually a tour holds the same set with a very few variation chosen by the audience at that night. The first reason for this is that, I feel a set is like a film or a play. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, and I carefully chose what I want the story of the tour to be and how I want to depict this journey. The second reason, is that for some strange reason, the repetition of the same songs every night actually makes me feel more connected to them and to myself. I focus on the nuances. The specifics. The interpretation.
I hope the U.S audiences can expect to see me go through something of a introspective journey, and maybe in doing so will be able to reflect upon something in themselves.
FX: If you could go back to the early stages of your recording career and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
AA: Get as much sleep when you can.
FX: What is the most challenging part of the recording process?
AA: Making a decision. The art of performing live, gives you the chance to continuously mold and regurgitate your songs. The art of recording is all about making a decision and choosing to crystallize the ideas into one recording. As a general rule…I suck in choosing.
FX: Can you describe your creative process – do you first start with the lyrics, melody, chord progression, or something else?
AA: Usually a guitar chord progression, or a piano melody… Then I start humming or throwing random words and sentences. Then something clicks, between the harmony, the melody and a line of text. Then I repeat that for a long time, and if it moves me, I keep it. I do that for a while, and when I have a general idea of a structure or a theme, I put down the instrument, take the pen and paper and start hacking away. Then the process goes from stream of consciousness to real craft of writing and rewriting.
FX: Who are some bands/musicians that have inspired/influenced your sound?
AA: God. So many. Nina Simone, Billy Holiday, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Edith Piaf, Radiohead, Howlin’ Wolf…. and so many many more.
FX: Where can we find your music online?
AA: The easiest place would be my website