Israeli-French singer Yael Naim, talks with JMag about how her new found success has changed everything and nothing, and how her connection to Judaism makes her happy on the inside.
Before Apple arrived things were happening in a normal rhythm. From the moment that the Apple ad came out, everything happened really fast.
JMag: I was reading on your website that when you were young you decided that you wanted to become a composer after watching Amadeus, but then your father’s Beatles collection changed your point of view. Can you describe how you got started in music?
Yael Naim: My parents surprised me one day and bought me a piano for my room, and I really got to know classical music and write symphonies. Then two years later when I was 12, I discovered The Beatles, and I started writing songs and singing and being aware of the voice and the emotion it can bring.
Eventually, I started playing with some jazz musicians in Israel. And after this, I had to fulfill my obligatory service in the Israeli Army, so I served for three years, but I did music in the army too, so it was okay. And then I arrived in Paris and I was invited to sing and there were some producers in the place, so I got signed to EMI when I was 21 and moved to Paris.
JMag: A lot of people in the states became very familiar with you when MacBook Air started promoting your song. How did Apple become familiar with your music, and how did that relationship begin?
Yael Naim: It was really a mystery because it’s something we really didn’t provoke at all, after the album was released in France, there was an incredible buzz via MySpace and radio and iTunes, and one day a guy from Apple heard the song on the radio in L.A., and he called the station to ask who the artist was, and after that he proposed the song to Apple’s agency. So they called our label and asked us if it would be ok to use and of course they said “yes.”
JMag: Your new album has songs in French, Hebrew, and English. How did you decide to put all three languages on the album, and how do you decide in which language to write?
Yael Naim: Things happen quite naturally. In the beginning I used to write mainly in English and it was tough to write in English for certain areas of my life. For instance, I had a very difficult period because my boyfriend left me. He was living in Israel, I was living here, and you know, everything didn’t work out, and when I left Israel and my family and friends to come to Paris,
I found myself alone, and I started writing in Hebrew for the first time because I needed to connect to the part of myself I left in Israel.
Writing in French is something I do less, it’s really a difficult language for me to write in really well. So most of the time I write in English, and sometimes inside there is a little song in French that comes out, so it’s like there is 150 songs in English, then maybe 20 in Hebrew, and 10 in French.
JMag: How did the Apple relationship change your life? From our perspective in the U.S. that’s where a lot of people became familiar with you, but from your perspective, how has that changed things?
Yael Naim: Before Apple arrived things were happening in a normal rhythm. From the moment that the Apple ad came out, everything happened really fast. I think the main thing that changed was planning because we needed to travel and fly to the maximum amount of countries to say “hello” and make some fans. But except this, everything is still the same. I’m cleaning my house now, for example. So nothing changed, you know.
JMag: You covered Britney Spears’ Toxic, and that’s got a lot of attention. What made you decide that you specifically wanted to cover Britney?
Yael Naim: One evening I wanted to, just for the joke, try and see what happened if you take the most commercial song in the world and turn it into something very intimate and fragile, and sincere.
JMag: How does being Jewish influence your music, and how has it had an impact on your song writing?
Yael Naim: It’s an interesting question. I’m not really conscious about it. The Israeli part of myself is something very important because I was raised there my whole life and speak the language. For me it’s something very clear, I’m half Israeli, half French. For me being Jewish is something I’m of course really happy about inside, but I don’t feel it in my day-to-day life because I’m not really practicing any religion. So, I don’t think there is a direct connection between me being Jewish and making music, but I’m sure there is some connection. Everything is connected, but it’s not something that I’m really aware of.