Hi, and thank you for having me! No dull moment here, as I’ve just finished creating a new animated music video for my new album, The Voice Remains. Having moved to LA only a year ago, I’m still getting used to it. So far, it has been a fun ride.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Memories Of A Third Planet”?
Like the rest of the album, this track was created by using voices and drums, without any other musical instruments. All the voices you hear were performed by myself, while the drummer is the amazing Karen Teperberg. If you think you hear there a bass, a synthesizer or an electric guitar – nope, that’s my voice.
While the music could be described as “vocal fusion” (I just, shamelessly, invented that term), and is also influenced by world music, jazz and a bit of progressive rock, the name of the track is a wink at an old David Bowie song: Memories of a Free Festival. At the end of that song, there’s a repeating theme – “The sun machine is coming down, and we’re gonna have a party…” – played over and over, going stronger and more elaborate every second. There’s a repeating theme in “Memories of a Third Planet”, though it’s done in a different way. As for the Third Planet part of it – in my imagination everything in the album occurs in a far future in which our earth, which may or may not have existed in that universe, is but a distant dream or memory.
Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?
The process of creating this album was a curious one, as I feel it’s less that I set out deliberately to write it, and more as if it is something that happened to me. I was about to move from Israel to LA, and the excitement, the idea of a journey, the possibility of new adventures, the desire for a new life in a new place, all those are, I think, evident in the music.
The single comes off your new album The Voice Remains – what’s the story behind the title?
Being a vocal artist, and a mostly instrumental one at that, I think a lot about the similarities and differences between various musical instruments and voices. I had a music teacher, once, who claimed that every musical instrument is, in essence, some kind of imitation of the human voice. And here I am, using my voice to kind-of imitate musical instruments. So while I appreciate the amazing variety of sounds that are played and generated by all the amazing musicians around me, I keep in mind that at some level they all share a fundamental similarity.
I demonstrate this in the title track of my new album: what begins as a lead vocal turns shortly into the bass part, while a new lead appears over it. So who’s the lead and who’s the bass? They are – on some level – the same.
Of course the name is also a wink at Led Zeppelin, but I guess that’s quite obvious…
How was the recording and writing process?
Suspiciously fast. For starters, I tend not to write. I tend to come up with melodies and musical ideas, typically, while doing something entirely different, like driving or meeting friends. There follows a short struggle, me fighting to remember what I just thought of and digging around for my phone, which has an audio recording app ready for just this kind of thing. Then comes the hardest part – showing patience and behaving like an adult while all I want to do is rush into the studio. Eventually, no more than an hour later (that’s the limit of my patience), I’m already in the studio, and a basic demo is ready. After that, it takes me a day or two to develop the idea, invent new parts, record all the voices and create a horrible, horrible drum guide track. And finally, off to the drummer it goes, and if I’m lucky, said drummer does not cut my head off upon discovering what it is that I want her to play. Such are the dangers of being myself.
What role does LA play in your writing?
The LA that took part in my writing was, I think, a fictional one. While I’ve visited LA before moving here, those few times weren’t enough to get a clear picture of the city. I’m not sure that a lifetime would suffice. So that LA that inspired me, in a way, was the famous fictional LA, and even more than that – it was, to me, a place in which I could be the person I want to be. Which is, of course, less about the geographical location and more about the location of one’s soul.
How has your upbringing influenced your music?
The dominant music in my parents’ house was jazz. I knew Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald before I could well pronounce their names. In addition, we had a somewhat bizarre collection of obscure movie soundtracks, musicals, classical music, Israeli music and, for some reason, disco. My parents noticed, early on, that instead of singing the lyrics like all the other kids, I’d vocalize the piano or guitar part. And I loved movie and TV soundtracks. Buying such music – anything which wasn’t mainstream rock/pop – was quite difficult where I lived, at the time, and so, for instance, when I wanted to listen to the soundtrack of E.T., I had to rent the video and record its audio to a tape-cassette. That’s why, by the way, I love using music streaming services. I don’t need to hack anything anymore.
But then, there are many kinds of music which I discovered – and fell in love with – only in my twenties. Mingus, David Bowie (I know!), Yes, Weather Report, and the (rather eclectic) list goes on. If you listen deep enough, you’ll find hints to all of that in my own music.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs?
The project started as I was trying to record a demo for a friend’s audio effect which I was beta-testing at the time. When listening to it as a whole, I was suddenly filled with a strange feeling: this isn’t a demo, I thought, this is going to be an album! That happened merely two months before my already-booked flight to LA. So it is, in more ways than one, about a journey, and strange new places. I further developed this aspect of the music by creating the animation music video. It’s protagonist, an innocent alien robot, flies across space and maybe time to find the source of a voice that’s spreading across the universe. Not necessarily our universe: in my universe, everyone can hear you scream!
Any plans to hit the road?
Not yet. In order to perform this kind of music, you need at least ten, maybe fifteen instrumental vocalists. That’s not easy to organize. However, I’m testing some ideas for a looper-assisted show. I’ve done a lot of that back in the day. In fact, I was a live vocal-looping performer for a dance company for some ten years. We’ll see what the future brings.
What else is happening next in Nir Yaniv’s world?
A second animated music video, a new novel is in the works, a new short film I wrote and directed is slowly getting accepted to some film festivals (if you search my name in Amazon, you’ll find my previous books and short films), and I’m moving to Silver Lake, so if you’re there and there’s a strange person humming and drawing aliens in your local coffee shop – it’s probably me.