“I learned in life that there’s a beginning, middle and an end,” Yael Naim says on stage as she explains her newfound fear of death and losing control, a theme that flows through here most recent LP Older. “Don’t worry, it won’t happen to you!” she assures the crowd. Thursday night at the Highline Ballroom, it seemed like time was frozen and the only thing moving was the sound of Yael’s voice, airy yet sultry and full of emotion.
On stage, Yael is powerful and moves the crowd with the fervent strain in her voice as she sings out about her greatest fears. Her strong presence on stage was surprising as she attacked each song with great strength. Though undoubtedly a passionate musician, off stage Yael is emotive but quiet, almost slightly reserved, it’s as if she becomes someone new once she’s on stage able to truly express her feelings through song.
Born in France and raised in Israel, Yael got her start in the music world at an early age. At the age of 10 she began to play piano and by 12 she was composing and recording her own music. It wasn’t until she moved back to France, though, that she started to make a name for herself. “I got to Paris by accident, I was 21, got signed to EMI immediately, by accident,” Yael remembers. “Then I left, I didn’t like the majors.” She started to look for a way to create music independently and found a need for a bond with like-minded musicians. “I met David and we just started to make music together and produce our own music at home,” Yael says.
As Yael was recounting the moment she met her partner, David Donatien, for the first time, he walked through the door. You can tell there is musical as well as personal chemistry between the two just by watching them look as each other as they joke around. The two met in 2004 in Paris after Yael accepted a gig as a pianist and David ended up being her percussion player.
“We started speaking about music and he was very different from every other person I ever met before,” Yael remembers. “The way he would listen and the things he would say and his experience was very interesting, was very focused, was very calm and was the opposite of the feeling I got from myself and from a lot of musicians.”
She describes the urgency of most musicians who have the need to show off what they were doing constantly. David was the opposite of that and that’s exactly what Yael needed to propel herself forward in her career.
“It made me feel more calm and peaceful and be able to concentrate and just close ourselves off during two years and make music and don’t try to sign or play to anyone or look for any kind of success with it,” she says. Since then, their method for producing a record has always been slow and steady. It usually takes about two years for them to produce one album.
“We can produce a song a day and have an album in two weeks but we like taking time to listen to it again, to listen to it one month after and then there are things that you don’t like anymore but you can change it,” Yael explains.
The most recent album that the two put out together was Older, a compilation of expression of fear of change and growing old that began to come to fruition in 2012. Stylistically, the album is a combination of smooth jazz-infused soulful pop with a few light and airy pop songs thrown in.
Yael’s favorite song off the record is “Coward,” a song about losing control of the future and fearing for the unexpected. “Coward was born from a very hard life moment and suddenly something beautiful is being born out of a not beautiful moment,” Yael says.
More specifically, it is about Yael becoming a mother for the first time and being in shock of the person who she’s becoming. During the whole process of writing this song, Yael discovered that she “was ready suddenly to do ten steps back instead of moving forward.” Being able to write “Coward” was Yael’s way of coping with her fear and acts like her journal, giving her an outlet to express herself in the way that she knows best.
“Writing the song was really nice because just saying it makes it less dramatic and you get it out and then you can choose to do something else,” Yael says. “It’s just a relief.” Writing songs is Yael’s favorite part of being a musician because she is creating something that didn’t exist before. She says she’s also more deeply connected with the use of her voice than with the piano – having created a fusion between her and her voice that’s unlike anything else because “it comes from the body.”
Between the agonizing feeling of “Coward,” the uplifting “I Walk Until” and “Make a Child,” the fun sound of “Walk Walk” and the haunting “Ima,” Yael has put all of her heart and soul into writing this record and you can see it in her performance too. All of the feelings that she felt while singing were pushed out through her body as her fingers danced along the keys of the piano with David looking on from the drum set in awe. When you throw in stripped-down, powerful covers of “Toxic” by Britney Spears and “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley, her set at the Highline Ballroom was complete.
In the New Year, Yael will begin her next album and will also be working on an album that will be made “in collaboration with contemporary art.” “I want to try to do things differently,” Yael says. “We’ll try to enjoy this break to try things.”
Article: Merissa Blitz