Only the dark notes

Singer-song­writer Yoav is about to hit the big time. So why is he so mis­er­able? Paul Lester finds out

The Jewish Chronicle - - SNAPSHOT ARTS&BOOKS -

The Edge, gui­tar-play­ing had come up against a brick wall. I wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

So Yoav be­gan writ­ing songs to per­form alone. “It’s an or­ganic way of do­ing the stuff you nor­mally do on a com­puter,” he ex­plains. Not for noth­ing has he been de­scribed as Damien Rice and Tim­ba­land in one man’s body.

And yet Yoav is con­flicted at the mo­ment. On the one hand, his ca­reer is go­ing well — “be­yond my wildest dreams”.

He has signed to a cool la­bel, Field Record­ings, run by Rollo Arm­strong of dance icons Faith­less, and he counts among his grow­ing army of fans the likes of Tori Amos, with whom he is, at the time of writ­ing, tour­ing the States, and Arm­strong’s sis­ter Dido. On the other hand, he thinks the planet is in trou­ble and he sees storm­clouds on the hori­zon. Hence the bit­ter­sweet na­ture of the album.

“There’s def­i­nitely a dark­ness,” he says, pre­par­ing to leave Nashville for At­lanta. “I feel the world’s a very beau­ti­ful place, but it’s on a knife-point right now. I’ve al­ways been con­flicted about re­la­tion­ships, but now there’s a broader feel­ing, a feel­ing of ed­geof-the-21st-cen­tury dark­ness. One of my songs, Club Thing, is about the deca­dence of New York night life and the peo­ple spi­ralling down into it. Adore Adore is about the me­dia and cor­rup­tion. The idea of slowly los­ing your­self is a con­stant theme.”

Is he in dan­ger of adopt­ing a moral­is­tic, fin­ger-

YOAV SADAN DE­SCRIBES him­self as “an out­sider”. He is prob­a­bly right. The 28-year-old Is­rael-born mu­si­cian spent his for­ma­tive years in South Africa be­fore fate took him to Amer­ica and then Bri­tain. And mu­si­cally, he stands apart from the main­stream, be­ing prob­a­bly the only singer-song­writer on the planet who pro­vides his own rhyth­mic ac­com­pa­ni­ment, per­form­ing his songs on his acous­tic gui­tar while si­mul­ta­ne­ously us­ing it as a per­cus­sive in­stru­ment.

And what songs — sweet yet sor­row­ful, they run the gamut of dark sub­ject mat­ter from dis­in­te­grat­ing per­sonal re­la­tion­ships to dream se­quences about a brave new world in­hab­ited by mon­keys and the liv­ing dead.

Sadan, or rather, Yoav — he uses only his first name — ad­mits the feel­ing of alien­ation ex­pressed in his mu­sic is a re­sult of his child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences. You can glean at least a sense of what he went through on his forth­com­ing de­but album, the re­veal­ingly ti­tled Charmed & Strange.

“I was the only Jewish pupil at this Angli­can school in Cape Town,” says Yoav. His older brother and sis­ter at­tended the lo­cal private Jewish school but found it cliquey, so his Ro­ma­nian-born ar­chi­tect fa­ther and opera-singer mother de­cided they would try some­thing dif­fer­ent for their youngest child. It was not a com­pletely suc­cess­ful ex­per­i­ment.

“This was dur­ing apartheid, but it was Cape Town, a lib­eral place where racism was not ac­cept­able. Oddly, an­tisemitism was ac­cept­able, though. So I got flak from some of my teach­ers, com­ments like ‘You peo­ple this’ and ‘You peo­ple that.’ But I didn’t com­plain. I was meek and mild and didn’t want to stand out, so I kept it in. I was mis­er­able the whole time I was in school. But in a way, I’m glad, be­cause it has in­formed what I write and how I look at the world.

“I’m not com­par­ing my­self to them, but that idea of the Jewish out­sider dude up against per­se­cu­tion that you sense in Leonard Co­hen or Bob Dylan, who grew up hardly in the ma­jor­ity in Min­nesota… I like that. It’s im­por­tant for me to see things from the out­side.”

Yoav does not re­mem­ber any­thing about his time in Is­rael be­cause his fam­ily left when he was two, but his mem­o­ries of grow­ing up in Cape Town are vivid. His par­ents, avowed tra­di­tion­al­ists, would not al­low him ac­cess to any­thing but classical mu­sic, so he would have to sneak next door to his neigh­bour’s house to get his fix of OMD and Wham! and, later, the “more ag­gres­sive” sounds of U2 and Depeche Mode.

“I railed against my par­ents’ am­bi­tions for me to be a classical pi­anist,” he says. “It was my first re­bel­lion.”

Then, when he was 15, the geeky boy with the bushy long hair, glasses and braces, “this weird kid who had never even had a girl­friend” was lit­er­ally plucked from the crowd on to the stage at a Crowded House sta­dium gig and in­vited to sing in front of 15,000 peo­ple.

“The place just went nuts,” he re­calls. “I got a mas­sive ova­tion. That night, I went to bed con­vinced that mu­sic was my call­ing.”

The next stop on his jour­ney to mu­si­cal renown was New York, where, via a fam­ily friend, the bud­ding mu­si­cian was of­fered a “de­vel­op­ment deal” by Columbia Records.

One day, he had an­other life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Cen­tral Park, where he had gone to “take mush­rooms”, play some songs with his acous­tic gui­tar and gen­er­ally just “zone out”.

“Sud­denly, I started bang­ing out rhythms on my gui­tar and I got re­ally into it. There was this school field trip of eight-year-old kids walk­ing by and they started danc­ing to what I was do­ing. I was play­ing th­ese crazy drum’n’bass rhythms and they were whirling around me like trance hip­pies! It was in­cred­i­ble. I felt like I was DJing with my gui­tar.

“There had been great gui­tar-play­ing since Hen­drix, and many tech­ni­cal im­prove­ments, but apart from the tex­tu­ral in­no­va­tions by peo­ple like [U2’s] wag­ging tone? “I hope not. There’s a fine line. I didn’t want to write a record of love songs, but I also didn’t want to make a preachy, po­lit­i­cal record. Wake Up [his apoca­lyp­tic vi­sion of simian fu­ture rule] is about sys­tems, na­tions and em­pires, all the things around us that seem as though they will be here for­ever but will re­ally one day crum­ble to dust.

“I do think civil­i­sa­tion is rac­ing to­wards some­thing very dire,” he con­tin­ues. Turns out that he wrote Wake Up in Lon­don, where he has a flat in West Hamp­stead. Did he write the more de­press­ing songs here, New York or Cape Town?

“Def­i­nitely Lon­don,” he replies. “New York is edgy and hard and Cape Town is beau­ti­ful. But in Lon­don you feel the dark and gloom weigh­ing down the col­lec­tive vibe.”

Yoav’s ca­reer is “build­ing in in­ten­sity, which is scary”, he re­flects. “Many of my con­nec­tions, my friends and fam­ily, are about to be­come a thing of the past be­cause now I won’t get to see them very of­ten.

“As far as the world is con­cerned, there is def­i­nitely a lot to worry about, but for me that — fore­bod­ing plus ex­cite­ment — makes for a very ex­cit­ing cock­tail.” The sin­gle Beau­ti­ful Lie is out now on Field Record­ings. The album Charmed & Strange will be re­leased on Jan­uary 21

Yoav feels alien­ated be­cause of his dif­fi­cult school­days, de­pressed by the fate of the planet, but quite ex­cited about his ca­reer prospects

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.