In life, there are twists and turns that arise, sometimes beyond the scope of one’s control. While the world at large is grappling with this reality daily due to the pandemic, for Asaf Avidan, learning to accept and then navigate aspects of life that he didn’t choose, is a skill the indie songwriter has honed over years far preceding the chaotic realities of 2020. Often referred to by his Israeli-origins, Avidan’s identity as an artist and inspirations as a songwriter are rooted more in who he is collectively as a person and where he is in life, rather than the associative labels that can come from focusing on music centered around cultural ties.
Through the release of Avidan’s seventh album, Anagnorosis, listeners are graced with a concentrated demonstration of this very mindset. Known for creative collaborations with fellow artists in Israel and other parts of Europe, like nearly every musician worldwide, Avidan had to find a way to put together projects while in the confines of quarantines and closed borders. The resulting 10 track LP not only succeeds in bringing music to fruition but Avidan all but embraces the restrictions to their fullest. The record sees Avidan writing and recording songs with various multi-layered vocal arrangements, all fueled by Avidan himself. The duality of this approach solving a practical problem while making such a strong self-driven statement makes Anagnorisis look all the more shrewd. Furthermore, through publicly shared performance tutorials of the songs on the album, Avidan found ways to give the songs a sense of community in spite of its solo-heavy construction.
Having gained some reflective space from Anagnorisis since its initial release, Avidan spoke with American Songwriter at length about the decision to tackle such complex songs on his own, the way he approached individuality with the music, what the album’s self-driven foundation means to him as an artist, and more.
American Songwriter: No one knew or was necessarily fully prepared for the changes the pandemic would force upon them – especially musicians. Still, since technology and the internet has already long helped alleviate the limitations musicians face because of global separation, what made you decide to take singular composition so far by doing all the vocals yourself as opposed to bringing in contributions from others?
Asaf Avidan: The decision was actually made before the pandemic started. When I first sent the demos to my producer, he said they sounded a bit too “schizophrenic”. Like there are too many different Asaf’s in there. I think he meant it as a problem to be solved, but I was just nodding to myself with a smile, saying “yes! That’s right!”. I became in love with the idea that the album Anagnorisis which was about a revelation of self, really revealed a myriad of characters all co-existing symbiotically. From there it was a pretty obvious decision, to emphasize that theme by having different voices all working together from the same body.
AS: What was the writing process like when you were deciding on the arrangements and harmonies for densely layered pieces like the choral-driven “900 Days”? Would you walk us through your mental process?
AA: It’s strange but the more I work by myself, there appear to be more layers of data recorded.
I guess that when you get in a studio with a group of musicians, you pretty much hear the song and it’s there, and usually, that’s enough for me. When I start recording alone, I start adding elements, and it just opens an endless maze to stroll through. I start playing with ideas and sounds until something leads me to an interesting path. The main job working with Tamir (Muskat), the producer, was deciding what to let go of, from all the different ideas… so what you hear is actually a relatively thinly layered version of the original process.
I wanted to add layers of something mythic to the album. Yes, it’s a personal introspective excavation, but as one digs down far enough, one finds a universal core. The basic building blocks of fear of meaninglessness and invisibility and of finitude. These are all the themes that humans try to sublimate into their different mythologies and religions. I obsess a lot about the earliest signs of societies and their beliefs. Using gospel in these songs just felt like a wink in that direction. As far as we have come, we still have that basic belief in the supernatural only to give us some salvation from the brutality of the mundane.
AS: What kind of challenges did you contend with when trying to record such a large amount of precisely overlapping vocals? Did you develop any tricks to help make the process flow more smoothly or with better immediate success?
AA: To me, that’s actually the one thing that’s not a challenge in the whole process. I never considered myself a great music instrument player or a great anything, really, but I always love using my voice.
The only challenge was how to make it sound like a group of diverse people. Female and male, young or old… At a certain point, it really started becoming like acting, in order to try to give a different timbre to my voice. Like, I would say, ‘Okay, this is the old woman that just lost her cat, or this is the slightly overweight, shy guy, that just wants to go to his lunch break…’ It was really my favorite part of the recording.
AS: In what ways did working on Anagnorisis help to support you through the challenges of isolation?
AA: In the only way that matters. It gave me a purpose and a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
AS: What inspired you to turn to playing tutorials of your songs as a way to connect with fans and fellow music players as opposed to simply live streaming performances so people can hear the songs in full?
AA: I don’t know really. I guess one aspect of it is that I had time. For the first time in years, I wasn’t dead tired from touring, and using every spare moment to rest in a bus or a green room.
But I guess the bigger reason is the need to connect. This feeling that we were all in this together was really strong. The idea that because we are now violently separated made us find ways to feel close… It touched me. And I guess I was just part of this need for connection, just as much as anyone else.
AS: Anagnorisis isa term mean to convey the point in a play when one character uncovers the identity or origins or another. In using this term as the album’s title, were you thinking of someone specific who has recently uncovered their or another’s identity? Or, was the term chosen more to emphasize the pivotal moment it describes?
AA: The term, as it is manifested in many tragedies, is the moment of revelation of self. Through the knowledge of previously hidden information, the character is pulled from the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge, confronted by their own true identity. It is very much an album of self-searching. I was turning forty and was feverishly trying to make sense of who I am in the grandest sense.
AS: Knowing that you delved into both history and your own life circumstances in the present for inspiration in making Anagnorisis, what kinds of realizations did you end up having about yourself while writingthe album?
AA: The multitudes of voices and the many colored shapes on the art work of the album, are a hint that my answer is that there is no true “self”. One mutates and evolves. We are gaseous nebulas of selves, and art is always some sort of imposed structure upon that inherent chaos. This album is some attempt to show the futility of the mould, even while working from within it.
AS: Seeing as this album is such a self-contained project and such a strong display of your solo musicianship, what are you hoping it most conveys to people who are hearing your music for the first time? What do you want people to know most about you as an artist?
AA: I realize that I really don’t expect that from my listeners. I only really hope that they use the music to project themselves into (it). It’s their own journeys and emotions that is the point. My ride was making the album. Writing it and recording it, fixating on details, hating myself, continuing, getting lost, and found and lost again. That shouldn’t matter to anyone else. Now I really hope that the songs will serve as compasses for people to travel with.