Picking and strumming chords-the standard means of playing acoustic guitar-are just the beginning of how Yoav uses his instrument. The inventive troubadour incorporates a diverse array of sonic influences into his music, employing only guitar and voice to duplicate other instruments and produce percussion, drum ‘n’ bass, electronica, and slope-beats. Currently opening up Tori Amos’s fall tour with selections from his upcoming release, Charmed & Strange, Yoav is sure to captivate his audience tonight at the Arlington.
I noticed that you cite Tori Amos as an influence on your MySpace page. That was there before the tour! I didn’t throw that on once I got booked.
How did it come about that you’re supporting her tour? Her agent had my record and was a fan of it. Tori likes to pick her openers, and she hadn’t found the right one. Her agent played her the CD, and after listening, Tori said, “This is the one.”
I understand pop music was forbidden fruit during your childhood. What do your parents think now about what you’re doing? I think they’re quite proud, and my mom is very much into my music. It took a while-even now, my father knows I’ve got major label deals around the world, but he keeps asking me, “When do you have to give that money back?” He can’t get it into his head that I’m actually being paid. It took him a while to realize that I wasn’t like every person trying to make it in the record business-that I have something different to offer, and maybe shouldn’t be going to school to be an engineer or something.
So they weren’t encouraging you in any musical direction? They initially encouraged me to become a classical pianist, and I had a lot of pressure, which actually turned me off to it.
And you started practicing guitar on the sly? Yes. They didn’t know I played guitar for the first six months. I learned the chords when they weren’t around. I would quietly play a beat-up guitar at the other end of the house at night. Then one day, I let them know. Even buying records was a gradual process. Bridge Over Troubled Waters was the first record I was allowed to buy, because it was very musical. They eventually didn’t care if I listened to Rage Against the Machine loudly in my room. But when I was still a kid, it was definitely a rebellion, which made it very appealing to me.
Tell me about your transition from traditional acoustic guitar fare to this more imaginative style of banging out rhythms. It’s been a gradual evolution, with a few moments of revelation that have taken it to the next place. When I first arrived in New York, I could write good songs and sing them, but I was a standard singer/songwriter. Being exposed to the club scene, hip-hop, world music, drum circles, dance music, and seeing all the artists that I loved all sort of percolated in my head. I always wanted to be a deejay, but was just not that technically able, and didn’t have the cash for it either. So I started finding ways of making those sounds on the guitar, which gradually found its way into my songs. I’d bang out a beat and play a chord at the same time and sing over it, and it opened up a whole new world of writing. It took a while to get the coordination so that I could pull it together live and be comfortable enough to be able to still tell the song, but it seems to be coming together now.
To listen to the album, one would think there are several instruments involved. It must be mind-boggling to see live. Yeah, there’s been a lot of that, and even when they see it they think there’s some trickery going on. That’s actually what I set out to do-to make a record that you wouldn’t know unless someone told you or you saw it live. It’s been great to walk onto stage and deliver the songs live. Conversely, people who have seen me perform want that rawness in the music on the record as well, and I think it delivers that. It’s not overproduced, it doesn’t sound like everything else on the radio, it’s got something very unique that I think people are responding to.
You’re carving a niche for yourself with these unusual techniques, but you mention that you probably won’t do the same thing on your next album. Yeah, I think it’s important for me to keep evolving as a writer. I may make the next record mostly on the guitar, but I want to spend a lot more time finding sounds and textures that I can build up on the guitar, and definitely want to implement other instruments. It’s going to be a bit of a journey, but I don’t want to be that guy who does everything on the guitar forevermore. I want to be known as me, but the words and the music and the way it’s presented are always going to be something new.
Have you actually tried your hand at any of the other instruments you duplicate with your guitar? A bit of hand drums, like djembe. I’ve tried to learn the tabla, but it goes so deep I’d have to quit everything I’m doing and focus on it. I’d like to know a bit more about deejaying and working on the computer, but I’ve kind of gotten used to working with someone.
Is the album title, Charmed & Strange, a descriptor of your life? Sure. I was talking to a friend who’s into physics, and he was joking around, throwing out terms that I could never use as a title, like, Subatomic Particles. But then he said that charmed and strange are two characteristics of a subatomic particle, and I was like, “Actually, that’s not bad.” The more I thought about my life during the last decade, how these crazy coincidences have taken me around the world, and the musical journey keeps taking me further. : I thought that wasn’t a bad way of describing it.
Yoav opens for Tori Amos at the Arlington Theatre on Thursday, December 13, at 8 p.m. Call 963-4408 or visit thearlingtontheatre.com.