STEELE INTERVIEWS: singer/songwriter Yael Naim


Israeli/French singer/songwriter Yael Naim blends many different genres into her music—from jazz to classical to pop to swing. She shifts easily back and forth between jazz chanteuse and sweet pop singer. Her current record, She Was a Boy, is out now.

I recently asked her a few questions via email.

Amy Steele: How did you get your start singing?

Yael Naim: I was already playing classical piano for 2 years when at 12 years old I discovered the Beatles and started singing their songs and at the same time composing and writing my first songs.

Amy Steele: You have an impressive vocal range on your songs—did you take lessons?

Yael Naim: No. But I did work on my voice alone for many years imitating and trying to learn other singers ‘texture’ and techniques. Sometimes we can do something in jazz music or even in classical when we study many other composers’ style of music in order to learn a large ‘vocabulary’ or musical colors. Also working the classical piano for 10 years gave me tools to work my voice and other instruments.

Amy Steele: When did you decide to focus on a music career?

Yael Naim: I think that music was something i wanted to do seriously since I was 10 years old. It was clear to me even more over the years that I wanted to do music, no matter if it’s classical, jazz or pop music. I just wanted to express my true self and my own true music even if it might be a simple life with not much recognition.

Amy Steele: You grew up in Israel and now live in France, how does that affect your music?

Yael Naim: the fact to leave one place to go to another country made me feel like I’ve got two worlds and that fed my music emotionally. Also the music in Israel and France is very different and the sound of the production is very different too so i think it makes me curious about learning different approaches of sound and arrangement because each culture has something interesting to teach you. It made me want to open up even more and be curious about everything i don’t know in life and in music.

Amy Steele: What was it like to serve in the Israeli Defense force?

Yael Naim: I was 18 and not very conscious and also I was lucky to be the singer for the air force big band so I didn’t really feel I was doing my military service. I was only touring and singing every day.

Amy Steele: You’ve been writing and recording music for a decade. How have you changed as an artist?

Yael Naim: My most important change happened when I had a “defeat” after doing my first album in 2001 and also in my personal life. then I think I had no choice but to become more humble and in the same period I met David Donatien who encouraged me to produce (and not only make just demos) and record my music at home. So we started to record, arrange and produce my songs together. Then I think the everyday work with David for seven years is what changed me the most as an artist. Our work together made me open up to more creativity in the arrangements and not to be afraid to mix different styles of music and also learn to share my ideas with other musicians.

Amy Steele: What do you do different now that you didn’t do when you began?

Yael Naim: Now I feel free and independent in my music. David and I record our albums at my home and we don’t depend on anything in order to create and finish an album.

Amy Steele: What do you most like to write about?

Yael Naim: Writing and composing is a way for me to evacuate everything that happens to me or to express my ideas and thoughts. So it changes depending on the time period and what is happening in my life. The first album spoke a lot about things I lived through in my personal life and maybe the second album opened up more and speaks about the complexity we are made of and also about tolerance to the complexity and differences in other people and other different cultures.

Amy Steele: What is your writing process?

Yael Naim: Nothing is fixed. It can happen anytime and anywhere, it can start with a melody and have the lyrics follow or the opposite, it can start with any instrument i have around me … no real precise process then.

Amy Steele: Your parents are from Tunisia. Do you go there at all to visit? (My high school friend has lived there for 20 years)

Yael Naim: I’ve never visited Tunisia although would love to one day though

Amy Steele: What makes a good song to you?

Yael Naim: It’s like magic for me because it’s not like there’s a technical thing that you can do and be sure you’ll get a good song. Of course it’s important to be inspired but also to have something to say in the lyrics, music and to interpret in with the right emotion and have sensitive arrangement…. anyway, it’s really hard to define.

purchase album at Amazon: She Was a Boy

more information on Yael Naim

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