Israeli singer Asaf Avidan raises his profile
To fall in love merely with Asaf Avidan’s voice, which is easy to do, would be missing the bigger picture. There is indeed something disarming about the way he sings that stirs up the feelings we have on hearing someone like Billie Holiday or maybe Amy Winehouse.
It’s the voice of resignation and resilience, beautiful but often brutal, and it just so happens that Avidan’s high timbre gives his performances an androgynous allure that leaves you hanging on every word.
That much is true. But also at play is the fact that Avidan, a 32-year-old singer-songwriter with a substantial following in Europe and his native Israel, is particularly adept at deconstructing heartache in the most poetic of terms. That’s evident on “Different Pulses,” his soulful latest album that’s steeped in minimal R&B not unlike Frank Ocean’s work.
Outside of the Israeli community, who first discovered Avidan with his previous band, Asaf Avidan & the Mojos, he is largely unknown here. That could change now that he’s on his maiden solo tour of the United States, including a stop at the Somerville Theatre on Feb. 22 as part of World Music’s programming. Still unreleased by a US label, “Different Pulses” is at least available on iTunes.
We recently caught up with Avidan on the phone from Hawaii, where he was partly on vacation and partly writing his next album, to see how he was feeling about the upcoming acoustic tour.
Q. You’re already established in Israel and Europe, but we’re late in catching up to you in this country. Is that liberating, playing to crowds who don’t know much about you?
A. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve grown in my country and in Europe and even played in parts of Asia, but the US kind of has this barrier for us. Nobody released or wanted to release my music here, and I’ve had so much to do elsewhere that it just kept getting delayed. Last year when we were playing huge festivals, I told my manager that I really wanted to get something set up in the States. This [tour] is a way for me to introduce myself to the American public. For me, it’s going back to a previous dimension of where I was in other places of the world two or three years ago. So the venues are smaller, I’m driving my own van again, and stuff like that. But I’m actually looking forward to it. My girlfriend is with me, and it’s going to be this romantic traveling again.
Q. “Different Pulses” is your first album as a solo artist. What did you want it to capture that wasn’t as apparent when you were working with a band?
A. [While making it], I was reading sad books on the beach by day and writing by night. That’s one of the reasons I like the way I write songs. It’s this stream of consciousness that allows me to dissect and better understand myself after I write the song. The first words on “Different Pulses” are “I regurgitate my words,” and I do feel that way. I feel that I puke out these little emotions and then chew them back up to understand myself. There’s not a lot of conscious thinking about what I want to say beforehand.
Q. Sonically, though, this record sounds completely different from your work with the Mojos, darker and more stripped down.
A. That was a conscious decision. One of the reasons I split up with the Mojos was because we all wanted to experiment with new sounds and different genres that we couldn’t really do in our band because we were about rock, blues, and folk. “Different Pulses” was the first song I wrote for the record, and it became the compass, both texturally and sonically. That song is unbelievable in what it helped me accomplish. It did something to people and opened the door to my new path and career.
Q. For someone who knows nothing about you, do you find your voice often surprises people?
A. Yeah, I get that a lot. The range of comparisons is usually to female vocalists, and I’ve been at it long enough to realize that I don’t hear it. The way I sing came from the reason I started singing. I was a successful animator up until about 2006, and because this reason to sing the blues [after a breakup] was so sudden in my life and so painful, I really needed for it to be physically difficult. I would find myself going higher on the scales, making it more difficult and screamy. I think that level of emotion brought me to these high scales, and that’s what people hear now. They hear the emotion.