Interview: Tamar Haviv!

Underneath This had the wonderful opportunity to interview singer-songwriter Tamar Haviv. Her debut album, You and Me Without Pajamas, is made up of beautiful, well-crafted songs with honest lyrics and lovely melodies. She took the time to discuss her songwriting process, feminism, her thoughts on being labeled “quirky,” and the meanings behind her songs. You can find more information about Tamar Haviv at tamarhaviv.com and at the links below.

Tamar Haviv

Photograph courtesy of Ron Haviv/VII, Art by Kazoo Studios

Please describe your path to becoming a musician.

Path! Ah, things are so not linear in my head in that way…there was no path…I’ve just always been writing songs since I was really young, before I knew the language to call a song a song.

Melodies and lyrics would come to me and I would walk around singing. I didn’t realize this meant anything other than ‘this is just one of the things that I do’ – like I didn’t realize that other people didn’t do it…and it took me a while before I let myself really focus in on it and actively make decisions to move towards it – purchasing a guitar etc.

You have moved around a lot. How has that influenced your music?

I was thinking about that recently, I think mostly because my songs on this record are based on my life and relationships and moving around shifts the landscape and timing and can alter the form of things – and also the language and intonation and actual nuance of literal sound in a courtship – so if I’m documenting an interpersonal connection, that will all show itself somehow.

Is your music feminist? If so, how so?

I don’t know if my music comes across as feminist at all – in this moment I am equating an element of feminism with a certain strength. One that can also be shown when expressing vulnerability as well.

There are some empowering moments within these songs, like even in a more crushing heartbreak song like “Arrested,” there is a lyric:

you may be lighter than me
but i’ve seen things
you won’t let yourself see
you may have your phd
but the way that I love.
you can’t even conceive.

But there are also some more disempowering ones, that I wouldn’t want other girls to feel. Like in the song “Peanut butter sandwiches,” there is a lyric:

i think that you are beautiful
and i feel like i’m nothing

All in all, I hope that my songs can help to uplift and empower women. Even in the record’s sometimes sorrowful voice, if a song can resonate with anyone and make them feel less alone, that would be a gift to me.

What have been some highlights of performing live?

I loved performing at Webster Hall as part of the Tinderbox Festival. Also, opening up for Jesse Harris at The Stephen Talkhouse – that was especially sweet because one of my favorite Artists came to see the show that night, Rufus Wainwright. He came to see Jesse Harris and actually missed my set completely but, there is still something tender knowing that he came out to the show that night. Whenever I go hear an artist play I think about all the people from all over the place that are preparing to go see the same show – the collective consciousness of that and how that ties people together in a significant way. So even just the fact that Rufus Wainwright got himself to the same venue as me on the same night was pretty fabulous, I have to say!

Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls and Sir Paul McCartney have praised your music. That is quite an endorsement!  Have these artists been influential? Who and what have been other creative inspirations?

Yes, they have been very influential and it is truly humbling having their support.

Other than music, I am very moved and inspired by film and photography, both being in front of the screen as a viewer well as being behind the camera.

Which songs have you or would you like to cover?

There are many to cover in the future, too many to name but you can find one that I have yet to release here on YouTube.

It’s a song you will most likely be familiar with from the musical Grease called “You’re the one that I want” – I did the cover with the brilliant artist Greg Daniel Smith.

How was the title developed?

Well, the whole album explores these intimate relationships – and the title comes from a line off of the title track of the record, “i like you.”

The title is open to interpretation in terms of how deep the listener wants to hear the record as a whole.

I see the title as a bit of a balancing act in itself…strangers coming together and trying to cohabitate and coordinate such delicate and basic daily rituals – can present so much awkwardness, absurdity, beauty, frailty, laughter, love…it’s all kind of amazing & expansive.

The opener to your album contains very little music. What inspired that decision?

I like your questions Sem!

I tend to sing normal wacky silly stuff in my day to day, likely to balance my more serious melancholic reflective nature and my two dear friends had just piled into my car and I simultaneously wrote and sang that little ditty for one of them in the back seat and it just stuck…it didn’t have instrumentation then so, it made sense to keep it that way…

I know the album can feel quite lighthearted at times but, recently actually, my favorite astrologer Eric Francis of Planet Waves was talking about my record on the radio, which was an amazing honor, and he called it “deceptively simple” which I really appreciated. Some of the songs on my record may have a lighter feel but can also touch on darker things. I wouldn’t say that it has a dumbed down quality to it necessarily but some songs definitely do have a simplified way lyrically of expressing some things and  I think ironically that might come from my poetry background. I used to write 6 minute songs describing my feelings towards someone or something, the super details: the intonation of someones voice, a birthmark on their neck etc. But then there finally came a time where I was like, “There are a million ways that I can tell you how beautiful I think you are and how much I want to be nearer to you but instead of the elongated poetics I’m just going to unabashedly tell you, I really like you. There it is.” and that’s actually much more forward and courageous than wearing all of these sweet words in front of that feeling.

I really enjoy “Adore.” What is the story behind that song?

Thank you! “Adore” is pretty word for word – It was a complicated situation because for various reasons I wasn’t able to be forthright about how I was feeling towards this person.

And I think also to myself to some degree. And there is something else quite special to me about this song – the way in which I wrote it is unusual for me – it has happened before, but not many times – where I went to sleep, and woke up in the middle of the night and had the entire song, ALL lyrics & melody I just sang it once into my phone and went back to bed. When I woke up in the morning I hardly remembered it had happened because I REALLY didn’t actively participate in it – it just crept in. I think it had just been brewing on so many levels for me and it was ready. But that’s also what I find so fascinating about songs and songwriting, that sometimes it really is about being a vessel for what’s already there – I guess it’s like those conversations artists have had about sculpting from stone and removing the excess stone that was in the way of the piece to begin with…it’s all perception.

“Orange” has an alternative country vibe at times. How would you describe your style overall? 

“Orange,” that’s one of my favorite songs on the album. You know personally I’m pulled in so many directions musically – I think these songs work well together as a collection and there were many we had to cut because they really didn’t fit the overall feel in the end. Style wise, sure, I’d say this record could be considered ‘left of center, quirky, pop,’ but that’s only to help people get a grasp on it… I’m not sure if trying to quantify genre actually makes meaning.

Your music has also been called, “quirky.” What do you make of this adjective?

Yea, as I was saying, I’m not opposed to “quirky” and it works for me I suppose but, like anything else when we start building squares and titles for who and what and how we are and see each other – it’s important that we also build windows and give each other expansiveness and room to rotate evolve, thrive. We need to be supportive of each other as artists and beings to find our true nature and rise.

“The Good Has Won” blends the personal and political. What worries and inspires you most about the world today?

This is a tough question, without overthinking it…

What worries me most would be that with all the accessible technology today, younger generations will be so isolated, numbed and disconnected from their heart and spirit that they will not know how to make basic human connections with one another in actual real time…Like just the sweet interactions that can happen between strangers…that that ability, sensibility & magic could be lost. What inspires me most…I love seeing all of the amazing talented artists that are coming up right now, their strength and self-expression is thrilling.

What is the meaning of “Girls Away from Girls?”

This song is quite literal – I can say a lot things but, I guess no matter who anyone is in a romantic relationship with, despite the gender of all involved, it’s important to find balance and maintain friendships as well…

Another voice complements yours on “6am.” How was it to harmonize?

The beautiful Frank McGinnis is singing with me on “6am.” His voice is luscious, so it was a complete pleasure singing with him.

He also joins me on the song “Orange.”

In the same song, you write, “I have to laugh at the epitome of what an artist is supposed to be.” Per the media, what are singer-songwriters supposed to be like these days?

Sem, I just need to stop and recognize your tenderness and attention to detail and just the outright loveliness in your work at this moment. I just feel touched by all your incredible listening.

Now, to answer your question!

I don’t know what Singer/Songwriters are SUPPOSED to be like today – my hope would be that they are out there speaking their truth, not being afraid – or being afraid and speaking it anyway – you know how fear goes! I say these things for myself as well. I hope we don’t give up and stop putting our songs and ourselves out there due to lack of funds or a feeling of lack of appreciation – because music and Artists have saved my life over and over again – So I hope Singer/Songwriters are feeling lifted up and nourished.

What has it been like writing about personal experiences?

It’s just always what I have done – the songs are just an extension of my experiences but, every once in a while I do write about a situation that is not mine directly.

On what projects are you working on next?

I’m so excited to start work on my next record & share even more new songs with you!!!!! There is a bit more writing to do and things take time and costs etc. but I am very looking forward to my next new project! And in the meantime there might be more music videos coming soon too! Have you seen this one?

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Explore whatever it is that is most interesting, exciting & delighting to you, despite what those things might be for others.

If you are following your intuition and making artistic choices that resonate and feed you most, ultimately I believe others will be drawn to what it is you are creating.

-Sem

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