interview by Michael McCarthy
I was recently blessed with the opportunity to hear Franco-Israeli singer/songwriter Yael Naïm’s fifth studio album Nightsongs, which will be released via Believe Music on March 20, 2020. Although her songs have largely been introspective throughout her career, I was moved by just how much more personal the tracks on Nightsongs seemed to be with topics ranging from giving birth and motherhood to loneliness and, well, death. You could say it’s a departure from her perhaps more optimistic, previous material, but I look at it less as a diversion and more of an expansion point. One that finds her branching out, reaching out into the dark and capturing deeply pensive songs like one might gather fireflies with a net. They require the night to be found, and perhaps to be fully appreciated, but they also provide little moments of something brighter and hopeful. I recommend listening to the record by candlelight while lying alone in the dark, allowing yourself to fully soak up Naïm’s vocals and bask in her poetic lyrics. Or perhaps while experiencing the warmth of a bath and savoring a glass of your favorite vino. Suffice to say, Nightsongs is an album that is best absorbed in some environment where you’ll be relaxed and emotionally available enough to truly feel everything it has to offer. In the meantime, read our thought-provoking e-mail interview and behold the videos for “Shine” and “How Will I Know.”
MM: What were your goals when you were making Nightsongs and how – if at all – did you approach it differently than past albums?
YN: While composing and recording this music, a constant question appeared in my life: what didn’t I dare to do so far?
I was thinking, when I will look back later one day, will I have regrets? I knew I wanted to “meet with myself” fully … even with my weakness , even with my darker side …. I wanted to take a risk, to fully try this adventure of creation alone and to feel like I’m going into a long and deep dive. It was amazing to be able to compose to arrange to produce and to make images in a total immersion but it was also sometimes hard and scary to be unable to share doubts with a partner like I used to do. During this journey I met feelings and emotions in myself that were unknown and deeply hidden. So to make long things short, this recording process was a totally different experience from everything I experienced in music so far.
MM: I know you and your longtime partner David Donatien collaborate on your music, but I was surprised to read that you have separate studios in your home. In what ways does working apart like that benefit you?
YN: Sometimes we love working together, stimulating each other or exchanging ideas.. but sometimes creating music requests loneliness. Getting inside yourself without having anyone around to give any kind of feedback. I love being alone when composing or producing … like a meditation state … Also, to be honest, as we don’t always agree it’s great to be able to finalize an idea before playing it to the other person… We both do music everyday, this is our lives, so it’s important that each of us keeps our full creative freedom. Also it happens that David is hired to produce other artists — like the last Angelique Kidjo album which brought him his first Grammy (so proud) And it happens that I compose soundtracks or for other artists etc … Anyway … we love working together and we love our Independence too.
MM: What can you tell us about “Daddy,” the evocative song that opens Nightsongs? I’m especially curious to know whose point of view it’s from. It almost seems like the verses and the chorus are from different points of view – is that the case?
YN: Mmm, difficult question for me. My songs come from a very unconscious place and I don’t try to make them logic … In this song, you are right, it’s as if I speak to my father directly in the verses and then to someone else in the choruses. To be totally honest … during the moment I was writing this song, I felt like I was talking half to myself, half to an imaginary friend and also to my father… like in dreams when many things are possible all at once.
MM: One thing I find intriguing about your music is that your songs often seem to be from the perspective of others as opposed to just your own. Is it more challenging to write from your perspective or others? Why do you think you write from the point of view of others so much?
YN: It happens sometimes — like in “She” from this album. But a lot of other songs are really from a more personal perspective like “How will I know”, “Shine”… I think this reflects the division I experience inside myself — Different parts of me that are trying to talk to each other but don’t always succeed.
MM: One of my favorite tracks on Nightsongs is “Familiar.” Do you tend to crave new experiences or things that feel familiar/nostalgic? Likewise, do you tend to listen to more familiar music or new music?
YN: I crave to both. I crave both in the same experience. When you meet someone new and strangely feel a strong connection, when it feels familiar, when you listen to something that surprises you but makes you feel good, when you travel to a new and unknown place and it feels like “this is a place for me” …
MM: Who are you watching in the lyrics to “Watching You”? Your child?
YN: I wrote it to someone that was suffering, going through a hard and long period. It was hard to be there and to experience a strange power, the power to help stop the suffering …. Much later I understood I was also writing a bit to myself in this song.
MM: Last year you released the score for the film Mon Bébé. How did the project come to be?
YN: I loved working on a score. I really enjoyed getting into another artist’s story and helping tell it with music that can’t be told in words or with images.
MM: The Mon Bébé album had a range of emotions, but I would say it’s largely upbeat, whereas Nightsongs is decidedly darker. Would you say you were in a downtrodden place when you wrote Nightsongs?
YN: Nightsongs is a dive. It’s the night . It’s unconscious. If the strength that you find after you’re no longer scared to fall because you already met the floor. It’s darker but not in a negative way. Some babies grow in the womb, in the darkness … plants grow underground … I needed to shut down the light to discover something. The view and the light can sometimes turn down other senses.
MM: One of my favorite songs on Older was “Make A Child,” which I’d call a rather playful song. Were you already a mother at the time you wrote it or did motherhood come after? How has motherhood impacted your songwriting?
YN: Seeing life at its starting point … carrying it Inside your body … giving birth …. For me, being part of this unbelievable human experience was totally magical.
Giving birth to music that comes from I don’t know where, travels through your body and then comes out, even if of course it’s a less important event! It has something similar in itself… giving birth to something that comes from you but surely not only from you… and surely doesn’t belong to you…Both are crucial parts of what I love in this life.
3/30: Rennes, FR @ Cabaret Botanique
4/1: London, UK @ Hoxton Hall
4/2: Copenhagen, Denmark @ Koncertkirken
4/3: Berlin, Germany @ Silent Green
4/4: Amsterdam, Netherlands @ Tuinzaal (Paradiso)
4/15th-17th: Paris, FR @ Bouffes du Nord
4/22: Arles, FR @ Eglise Des Freres Precheurs
4/23: Laeken Church, Brussels @ Nuits Botaniques Festival
4/25: Théâtre Jacques Coeur, FR @ Le Printemps du Bourges
5/9: New York, NY @ National Sawdust
6/4: Istanbul, Turkey @ Zorlu Pac Festival
6/6: Hamburg, Germany @ Elbjazz Festival
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