Interviews Music

Yoav: escaping the plan

Born in Israel, raised in South Africa, a resident of New York, first successful in Denmark, Yoav knows no borders. Nor does his music – combining elements as diverse as acoustic folk and hip-hop – which has seduced people everywhere from Russia and Turkey to Tunisia and Iran.

“It’s like a Risk board,” the 36-year-old musician jokes of his songs’ global penetration which – three years after his international breakthrough – have even caught on in South Africa. That’s largely thanks to a hugely successful 2011 – his second album, ‘A Foolproof Escape Plan’, won a SAMA, ‘We All Are Dancing’ topped the 5FM charts, and he supported Tori Amos and Imogen Heap on their local tours.

“It was always a bummer for me that I was way more popular in like Denmark and Germany and Canada and I’d come home to South Africa and play to 50 people,” he admits. “I’d been jealous of all these other artists in other countries who’d come home and have their people who are proud of them.”

Not that he’s driven by success.

“It’s fun to do the rock ‘n roll thing in certain countries but it’s not the be all and end all for me.

“Russia is kind of the way they described when I was a kid what being a rock star would be like – it’s interesting,” he chuckles. “One’s almost glad to get out of there once it’s over, but the adventure is interesting – mafia style parties and very glamorous.

“This life is very tiring and crazy but it can have these occasional flashes of mad glamour and ‘Did that really just happen?'”

Spend just five minutes with the man and you realise he’s much more musician than rock star. After all, he’s been writing songs for over 20 years.

“My parents wanted me to be a classical pianist,” he remembers. “Pop music in my house was kind of banned, so I rebelled against it, I rebelled against the piano and first started playing the drums, was told I had no rhythm and started playing the guitar. I learnt in secret for the first six months. When my parents were asleep I’d take my beat up guitar to the other side of the house and plink along.

“So in the beginning it was very much a reaction, a rebellion – that’s what got me playing up to six hours a day, writing, and listening to stuff like Pink Floyd where the essence of it is about rebellion, and someone telling you the truth about the system.”

The song writing came easy – even as a 13 year old.

“Quite early on I figured out I had a facility for putting songs together. I think it’s something I’m born to do and I’m really grateful that I found it. It’s not even about the lyrics, it’s about the way the lyrics sound as you sing them, the way the words work with the actual sound of the words, and somehow I can do it.”

He may do most of that with little more than an acoustic guitar and loop station – creating beats with the guitar’s body – but Yoav’s no Cat Stevens/Jack Johnson knockoff.

“I don’t want to be a singer songwriter,” he says. “I’m much more attracted by artists like Bjork who throw all these other sounds in what they do. I think it’s just more interesting – you can make records that are different one from the other and explore this and that.

“The music I’ve personally listened to for years is occasionally a singer songwriter but much more those kind of people,” he continues.

“I love hip-hop but not so much the swaggery, boasty, gangster stuff. I used to like gangsta when it was groups like NWA and Bodycount – that was awesome. I feel now it’s become an expression of capitalism rather than a reaction to or a comment on what’s going on.”

Industrial, techno and Indian tabla music also get a look in on his personal playlists.

“I’m open to a lot,” he says. “So many of The Beatles’ songs just blow my mind. I can’t even fathom how they wrote so many songs like ‘A Day In The Life’ and ‘Strawberry Fields’.

“And once a year a song will come out that I wish I’d written. It could be something pop, like ‘Umbrella’ by Rihanna which has got such a great chorus, and when MGMT did ‘Time To Pretend’ it captured an era.”

That attention to what’s going on around him – and not just in the charts – helps Yoav write his own songs.

“It’s important to write down your dreams, watch for coincidences, listen in conversations – anything’s a song,” he says. “It drives me crazy because I can never switch off.”

And at any one time he’s working on multiple songs, simultaneously.

“I wish I could work on one song at a time – that would be nice,” he concedes.

“I’ve literally got eight songs in my brain that are 90 percent ready and four of five that are in the pipeline, and a few other ideas. And I know as soon as they’re done there will be more,” he explains.

“I’ve been missioning for this next clump of songs for a good long while because I got caught napping on my second album. Nobody’s ever ready for their second record and I was warned but I didn’t listen,” he grins.

“I would have liked to have taken another six months for that record – it all happened kind of magically and I think it’s a wicked record but its a very raw and rough. I’m a perfectionist and I like to take my time – that’s what I’m doing with the next one.”

Once all the songs are done, he plans to demo them in Los Angeles before approaching some of his dream producers to work on the album proper.

“I want to work with someone I can collaborate with and who will help me create a different sound,” he says.

“My feeling is to evolve to something completely different and I don’t think it would be able to be performed live with just a guitar anymore which is fine – it might be someone on stage with me, it might be me with samplers and turntables, I don’t know yet.”

Yoav might not know, but the results will no doubt cross borders.

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