KEREN ANN interview
By Alexander Laurence

Keren Ann is a talented songwriter that has worked on numerous projects and
has released five solo albums. She was born Keren Ann Zeidel in Israel, and
later lived in the Netherlands and France. She worked with Benjamin Biolay in the
early days and created two albums with him: La Biographie de Luka Philipsen
(2000) and La Disparition (2002). At this time her albums were only sung in
French. Her first album with English lyrics was Not Going Anywhere (2003). Also
in 2003, she did the Lady & Bird album with Bardi Johannson, of Bang Gang. She
broke away from the collaborations and produced her first real solo albums
with Nolita (2004) and Keren Ann (2007). Keren Ann has traveled worldwide and has
now, in early 2008, embarked on her biggest American tour ever. I got to talk
to her at the beginning of the tour with Dean & Britta (of the band Luna).

AL: Where are you now?

Keren Ann: I am in Toronto right now. We were in Montreal last night. Then we
go to Chicago.

AL: Some people don’t like to tour in the middle of winter.

Keren Ann: Yeah. You can tour in Spring in a van. In a tour bus you can be
quite comfortable. It’s a different tour. You can bring all your belongings. You
can eat all the time.

AL: What do you bring with you on tour?

Keren Ann: Basically I have a few books and a few DVDs. Sometimes I bring
nothing and buy those things when I am traveling around. Usually that is what I

AL: I saw you play three years ago with A Girl Called Eddy. Have you been on
tour all this time?

Keren Ann: Yeah. There have been a lot of tours. I have been on tour since
this past April. I have long breaks in between. I did North America, then
Europe, then a small tour or Europe, then another part of Europe, and then the USA
again. I am going to Europe again, then South America and Asia. I like doing
intense tours for three weeks, and then going home for two weeks. I like going
to North America and France. There are certain regions of France that have
great wine. Every place has its own charm. You have to be open and look for it.

AL: Since you have been on TV in France, and not so much in America, do you
feel like you have to play more in America?

Keren Ann: It’s been pretty much the same. You need patience. You start with
thirty people in a venue. Then it grows into a hundred, three hundred or a
thousand. Sometimes a bit more. You need patience. I have toured just as much in
France as the rest of the world. You need a hit on the radio. If you don’t you
have to be constantly touring. I am not on the radio in France either.

AL: You have a few songs on TV shows in America. Does that help?

Keren Ann: Everything helps. What you do is build a fanbase and not thinking
about it too much. Just work and make records. Make the music you love. You
are in this business because you are a writer. In my case I also love the
production part. Anything to do with sound and orchestration is also an obsession. I
do the job that I love to do and then I tour with it. You can focus on TV and
the radio. You can make concessions. Or you could not think about it, and
tour and make records, and your life can be really good.

AL: What about Benjamin Biolay? He was involved on the first two albums, but
not so much after that. What happened to him?

Keren Ann: We used to write together for tons of people and artists. At some
point you keep writing the same song over and over again. You come to a point
where you have done together what you wanted to do musically, and you want to
go into another direction. I wanted to go into sound and production. I wanted
to write my own stuff. He wanted to work with other artists. I had no interest
in that. I have already done that. I worked with this British actress, Sophie
Hunter. It was a great experience.

AL: What do you think of Charlotte Gainsbourg? There was much written about
her and then she disappeared. She never did any shows.

Keren Ann: She is actually an actress. She is a fantastic actress. She sings
like an actress. When you don’t sing your own stuff, you sing like you are in
theater or movies. Making a record for her is like being in a movie. It’s not
like her life revolves around the music and the songs. It’s not her life she
is putting out there. It’s a part of her personality. She is doing it very

AL: When I have seen you play you had different musicians. One time it was a
trio. You had the guy from Polyphonic Spree playing French Horn. Another time
it was just you playing solo. Another time it was a duo.

Keren Ann: For this tour it will be a trio: there is drums, bass and guitar.
There are three of us. I like to change it up. When I do the record, it is
made for the record. It is like doing a film for the year. You want it to sound
great in ten years. You work very differently when you make the record. When
you are onstage you want to explore the stage. You have many different
ingredients. There is the venue, the audience, and the mood you are in that day. You
have the interaction you have with the musicians that you choose. It’s nice to
be able to give your songs different designs every time.

AL: How do you start to write a song?

Keren Ann: You can’t really explain it. There are so many ways to write a
song. You can come up with lyrics and melody and they go well together. You
finish the song. You want to make it into a song with verses and choruses. You
choose a beat. You choose an arrangement. You can also say that you have written
some poetry and then you are creating a mood and giving it some physical form.
There is not one way of writing a song. It’s the wrong way to look at it
because writing a song is something instinctive. You have to love writing a song
and architecture. You have to give it a form. You have to understand also that
certain melodies will give an attitude and a mood. If you change a bit of the
lyrics or the phrasing, it becomes a whole other atmosphere. It is my job to
create a sonic landscape. I like to create ambiance and atmosphere. The writing
is the intimate part of it. It is a sketch. The production is the whole

AL: Were any songs on the new album a result of a quick inspiration? Was the
original idea for the song not too different from the end result?

Keren Ann: I had both. I had songs that came out really fast, melody and
lyrics. I would write a little of the song, go to sleep, wake up and finish the
rest of the song. Some of those songs were “Where No Endings End,” and “The
Harder Ships of The World.” All I had to do was produce them with the same
ambiance, or atmosphere, that I had imagined them visually. I had an idea, and I had
to get to this idea, without changing it by the production. There are some
songs that took more time. These songs depended more on sound and production. I
did more exploration. On one album I need the balance of all ways of making
songs. I need a prefect balance of melodies, lyrics, sounds, and production. If
a song is too luminous in terms of the melody, the lyrics will often have a
more sober side to them.

AL: Is there any humor in your music?

Keren Ann: No. I like songs with melancholy. I like songs with beauty and
deepness. I am not a sort of person who listens to anything funny. I do not enjoy
songs with cursing in a cheap funny way. The first thing about a song is that
it has to be real, be lived; it has to be emotional, and melancholic. I don’t
mean sad. Melancholy is sort of a comfort. Melancholy has a sort of beauty to
it. This attracts me to every other form of art, like cinema. I like to laugh
at things like South Park, but I don’t think there is anything like South
Park in music, unless it is parody.

AL: Do you buy a lot of guitars and gear?

Keren Ann: Yeah I like guitars. I like to choose ones with different sounds.
I have a new Gibson guitar for this tour. You saw me with the Gretsch before.
I rarely tour with the 1967 Chet Atkins Gretsch anymore. It is very precious.
You can’t carry it around on tour. I keep it at home. I keep it only for
recordings now. I used to tell myself that this guitar needs to be played but I
changed my mind about that. You want to take care of those guitars. I usually have
one favorite guitar. Right now it’s my Martin Acoustic. I have an Epiphone
too. I am a gear freak. I am a nerd when it comes to technology. I like
pre-amps, compressors, and old microphones. I like the mixture of analog and digital.
I work with Pro Tools. I like to play around. You can travel with hard drives
today. You can have your songs in progress with you. I worked on a project
with a choir, and then I booked them another day to work on one of my songs. I
have a good recording studio at home. I usually start things in a studio then
take them home.

AL: You mentioned that you have some books with you on tour. Are there any
writers that have inspired you?

Keren Ann: Right now I am going into modern Israeli writers. I started
reading in Hebrew, which I haven’t done in many years. I am reading books in Hebrew,
that I have read previously in English or French. I would recommend a great
abstract Israeli writer named Etgar Keret. He has done amazing work for the
past ten years. I like Amos Oz. I am also reading some classics like Ray
Bradbury. I am reading The Martian Chronicles.

AL: Do you have any favorite artists?

Keren Ann: I am inspired by the Impressionists. I am totally into Rembrandt,
Van Gogh, and Paul Cezanne, and Chagall. I like many artists in the 20th
century. There are some amazing contemporary photographers. There is the work of
Elinor Milchan (elinormilchan.com). She is fantastic. She has a series of
photographing light. She does research with everything to do with light photography.
How to catch certain colors in the light. It’s quite impressive. There is a
Hebrew painter Rughi Helbitz. With contemporary art you have to know yourself
very well. You can be disappointed with so much crazy stuff that doesn’t get to
you and you don’t understand. It’s doesn’t seem to be emotional and you just
give up.

AL: How does spirituality enter into your work?

Keren Ann: I think spirituality is very important. The most important thing
with spirituality is to know your beliefs and to stick to it. To be open to a
live tradition. To not go by a nationality or a religion. I came from a
traditional but not a religious family. We get together for a dinner once in a while,
but we don’t pray. I pray in my own way and I have my own way of believing.
You should be able to find your identity first, without nationality or rel
igion, and once that is solid, you can have any belief that you like.

AL: Are there any bands that you like?

Keren Ann: The people who influenced me ten years ago still influence me
today. But with this album, I got more into listening to contemporary pop
classics. I listened to a lot of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. I was listening to
repetitive music and writings for choirs. I have been to choir music. I learned in
a very soft and emotional way to listen to repetitive music and find the
beauty of it. I believe that the beauty of repetition is something that is not
explored enough yet.

AL: Some of that music is psychedelic.

Keren Ann: I agree. Psychedelic is definitely a good word for it. Some people
think it’s trance music, but there is always an aggressive connotation with
trance music. I think music has the power to be beautiful no matter what state
you are in.

AL: What is going on with the Lady & Bird project?

Keren Ann: We still do tons of stuff. We have done music for documentaries.
We haven’t done another studio record. We are doing this big thing in June 2008
in Iceland. We are working with an Icelandic orchestra. We are working with
an eighty-piece orchestra. We are doing something separate and something

AL: Did you tour as Lady & Bird?

Keren Ann: What we did was play a show once or twice a year at a church
somewhere in the world, with a choir.

AL: What should people expect on this new tour?

Keren Ann: I will be playing songs from the last three records. We are
playing for an hour. We are playing with Dean & Britta. It’s fun. I am enjoying this

AL: Were you a Luna fan?

Keren Ann: I met them in New York. I was playing at Sidewalk Café. They
brought me a record. I thought they were fantastic. We kept in touch over the
years. I never got to see a show of theirs in New York. I was out of town or
playing a show. I think it is good match.

Website: www.kerenann.com
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HECUBA interview
By alexander laurence

Hecuba is a new band based in Los Angeles. It is an exciting duo composed of
Isabelle Albuquerque and Jon Beasley. They are named after a play by
Euripides. They combine hiphop beats with exotic sounds, and storytelling and theater.
Recently they got to open some shows for Devendra Banhart. Some audiences were
shocked to see Hecuba’s brand of art rock. All the time they see themselves
as a pop group. Some songs have already been on a compilation, like “Peace &
Money” and “Sir” is on Myspace. The new EP is coming out in April 2008 on
Maminal Vinyl. They are a band that should be making some waves this year. Finally
here is a band that is part Bowie and part Nina Simone.

They will be playing a show in LA on March 24th, at Bordello.


AL: I am here talking with Isabelle and Jon from Hecuba. I heard that Jon has
a film background. That you met while making some of these films. Can you
talk about that?

Jon: Yeah. I was making movies and art. At the time I was making a movie for
a gallery in Chicago. When I met Isabelle I was casting that movie. That was
the first project that we worked on. We started in a film way rather than a
music way.

AL: What were your films like?

Jon: I made several films. They were art films that I made for art galleries.
They were very short. I was doing art for a long time. The film I did with
Isabelle was about an alien abduction.

AL: Isabelle, did you go to art school too?

Isabelle: No, I was doing a lot of acting and film stuff when I first met
Jon. We were both always making music. When we came together it became the main

AL: What were some of your previous bands like?

Jon: I was in some bands when I was a kid. I was in some hardcore punk bands.
For many years I made music that never saw the light of day. For Isabelle, it
was the same thing. We were working on our own solo projects for a long time.

Isabelle: We did this one band called Aldiss. It was a sci-fi thing. It was
like a movie.

AL: Brian Aldiss was the writer who worked with Stanley Kubrick?

Isabelle: Exactly. He wrote that film Artificial Intelligence.

Jon: We were inspired by him and we named the project after him. It was a
sci-fi pop opera. It was a crazy thing we made.

Isabelle: It was really cool. But I think that we needed a whole orchestra
and a bunch of other things to do it. That was the first thing that we started

Jon: That was the first thing that we decided that was an official project.


Isabelle: It was pretty hilarious but serious too.

AL: What are some of these other things on Myspace? There is Dirty A and then
there is Haz-m.

Isabelle: You found Dirty A? It’s a secret. I don’t know how you found that.
Haz-m is amazing. Haz-m is like an alter ego of Jon’s. He does these shows
with dancers. It’s pretty wild. I have never seen anything like what they do.

AL: You already have a side project?

Jon: Since we started Hecuba we decided to do these others things. Haz-m is
like a hiphop show. There is rapping and music and there is dancing. I work
with this dance group called Hysterica Dance Company (hystericadance.com). We
work with some dancers from that group on these Haz-m shows.

Isabelle: My sister Jasmine is a dancer too.

Jon: I did that originally as a side project. Once I did it to open for
Hecuba a few times.

AL: Did people notice that you were in both bands?

Isabelle: Didn’t you change your hat?

AL: When I think of Hecuba, it’s just not some band presenting some songs. I
think of it more as a theatrical experience.

Isabelle: The live show is a little bit different from the recorded stuff. We
work with some pretty amazing artists. We play with Justin Dicenzo who plays
Koto Harp, Trombone, and Bass, and pretty much everything. We also play with
Eric Layer who is a multi-instrumentalist. When we play with them things get
very different.

Jon: That is a huge part of our shows. We don’t really do a regular show. We
do wild shows.

Isabelle: Hopefully they will get wilder.

AL: How was it playing with Devendra Banhart? He has built up this following
over the past five years. You are a new band. People might not have heard of
you. They are going “Who is this?”

Isabelle: It was really cool. People were surprised. It was amazing for us to
do that tour. We are doing something different from Devendra, so every night
we had to win them over.

Jon: Every night we would come out and the audience is “What the fuck is
this?” It was good for us to win them over every night.

AL: Some of those shows were in very large venues. It’s not like you are
playing some small indie venue for fifty people.

Isabelle: We played at the Orpheum Theater. It’s the most beautiful place
ever. We played all these beautiful places every night. What the hell! It was
crazy. We were so excited. People thought we were a little weird.

AL: At the Orpheum there was a riot at the show. Everyone jumped onstage
during Devendra’s show.

Isabelle: Yeah. That was one of my favorite nights ever. I don’t know what
happened. I remember one kid was yelling and then, another kid was yelling. They
called the fire marshal. The whole stage was shaking. I remember Devendra
going “What? We can’t dance?” There were hundreds of kids on the stage. Devendra
was like “Bring It On!” It was so good.

Jon: I thought the floor was going to fall in.

AL: How do you write the songs in the band?

Isabelle: It’s different every time. Jon plays all the instruments on the
recording. I don’t play any instruments. We do write songs together. Sometimes I
will write a song or Jon will write a song, and we will keep to it.

Jon: Even when we do that, we bring in a song, and it changes, and it becomes
something different from what we would do on our own.

AL: You have played as a duo and with others. How do you decide who plays
with you?

Isabelle: The band has changed a lot. We have worked with a lot of different
people. It’s been like an ensemble. But for a while now Justin and Eric are
our main guys.

Jon: They are the mainstays. They are incredible musicians. We found two guys
who can do something that other people can’t do. We do tailor the songs to
all of our strengths. We try to do the best live show and the best recordings.
They come out totally different.

Isabelle: The live show has changed too. Up until now we have done it
completely live, but now we are adding some synths and electronics. I am excited to
get into more dance music. We change with every show.

AL: You have always listened to music from the Middle East and Africa. When
did you get into that?

Isabelle: My family is from Tunisia. My great grandmother was an Arabic
singer in the 1920s. That was something that I always listened to around my house.
I always loved that. When Jon and I met, we used to go to the New York
Library. We really got into the world music collection.

Jon: That was a jumping off point. We wanted to make music outside pop music
and Western music. Those made us think about music differently. Those
influences have moved into the background.

Isabelle: In Tunisia, the men and the women were really separated. Each woman
had her own rhythm. When someone played a song, they knew that it was that
certain woman’s rhythm for dancing. There is a lot of dancing.

AL: A lot of that music is different from the western music that is a
standard 4/4 type of rhythms.

Isabelle: We have a friend in band called Lion of Panjshir. They just came
back from Afghanistan. They recorded with all these traditional Afghani
musicians. Those guys had to bury their instruments during the Taliban.

Jon: They are all traditional instruments. One of which is the last person to
play that instrument in the world. We are interested in many different types
of music.


Photos: Lauren Dukoff

AL: Do start writing songs with beats or with melodies and lyrics?

Isabelle: We have started out with cats purring before. It’s different every
time. We are beat based. We usually start there.

Jon: I focus on beats and Isabelle focuses on lyrics. That is what we do more
of. We come to each other with ideas in different ways. We have so many
influences that aren’t really musical ones. We are influenced by painters. We have
this background that isn’t so much music.

Isabelle: Sometimes I go on a walk and come back and say “I have this hook.”
Jon will start doing the beat box. That is how it works.

AL: In the art world, there are all these artists who have done music and
performance like Yoko Ono and Robert Rauschenberg.

Isabelle: Kippenberger is our guy! We have a picture of his face that I am
staring at right now. He has a huge bandage on his head.

AL: If you play in art galleries, maybe people will get your music more. But
people who only know conventional bands, might have a hard time with Hecuba.

Isabelle: Our goal is to make pop music. We want to make music that everyone
likes. It doesn’t always come out that way but that is what we are striving

AL: Are you going to work with some slick producer?

Jon: I am trying to be that person myself. If we are making music that
exciting to the ear or makes your feel good? If you can answer “Yes” to both of
those questions then we are on the right track.

AL: How many songs get vetoed?

Isabelle: Maybe 95%.

Jon: We have an 80% cut rate.

AL: Some people look at Devendra Banhart and automatically think he’s
obsessed with the 1960s. But you get to know him and his music, and you find out he
likes all music from all periods.

Isabelle: People talk about all this other stuff like his hair and crap. But
Devendra is an amazing songwriter. He writes great songs. That is what we want
to do. We are not a retro band either.

Jon: We are not working from a negative impulse either. We want to make music
that is new to our ears. We want to make music that is exciting. We want
people to go “What is that? I have never heard that.” That is what we are looking

Isabelle: We have these friends Lucky Dragons. You go to the show and you
don’t know what happened. You just know that your whole body has opened up. That
is inspiring.

AL: Some people want to brings this whole history to music. Whereas it’s just
better to leave all that stuff behind and just be open to this new

Jon: Absolutely. This EP we just finished has a techno song, a 1950s doo-wop s
ong. It’s not an exercise in genres. I feel that in music you can jump around
to any style as long as it’s exciting.

Isabelle: When we are making a song, it definitely sounds like Hecuba. It
should stand alone. I understand why people are like that. Music is based on
memory. When you hear something it touches your heart.

AL: Are there any other artists or books that you like?

Jon: I like Pierre Huyghe. I don’t think it’s an influence on the music but
I like him.

Isabelle: I like the book The Story of The Eye by Georges Bataille. I like
Jeff Koons. I like Michael Jackson. I like Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney.

AL: Did you get the 25th anniversary edition of Thriller?

Jon: Yeah. It has all these great vocal takes.

AL: What is going on with Lita Albuquerque? When I was in high school and
college she had shows like every month. What is she up to?

Isabelle: She is doing some wild shit. She just went to the North Pole and
Antarctica. She does these big earthworks. You can see stuff online
(stellaraxis.com). I spent most of my childhood traveling all over the world putting up
those pieces.

AL: What other bands do you like?

Isabelle: We like Lion of Panjshir, Lucky Dragons, Vuk, Santagold, and oldies
like Roberta Flack, Donny Hathoway, and Charles Ives.

Website: www.myspace.com/hecubahecuba
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