EC: I've been making music in New York City since the early 2000s. Songwriting since the age of 16. Self released 9 albums. I'm a mom. Studied music at Yeshiva University.
INC: What got you into music in the first place, and what inspired you to actually make a go of it?
EC: My parents were musicians and I always dreamt of being a singer. But it wasn't until I found my voice through songwriting that I was compelled to perform. I think I'd prefer if other people would buy my songs and I wouldn't have to perform them. But as it is, I have to perform them, so I do.
To be honest, songwriting is a part of my mental health regimen. Other musicians marvel at how "prolific" I am, and that's the thing. My first song came at a time of crisis and it wasn't until I lost my mom at the age of 21 that I wrote again. At the time, I was at Yeshiva University and wasn't sure if I performed in front of men due to an obscure law called kol isha which technically prohibits religious men from hearing women sing, but effectively prohibits women from singing. I was offered a gig and did the calculations and decided that it was more important to me to sing. Of course I didn't grow up religious, but that's a whole other story. That's the story about how I became a rebellious singer.
EC: I was studying full time and an arts fellow at Drisha Institute, a school where women learn ancient Jewish text in the Upper West side of Manhattan when I wrote "Lashon Hara Barbie" and "Sotah."
"Sotah" was my work that I did for the arts fellowship responding to studying Sotah. It's my examination of what I thought was going through her mind while she was going to be judged. Envisioning her as a real woman, not a cautionary tale. Not dissimilar to the character of Nick's wife in the show The Handmaid's Tale.
"Lashon Hara Barbie" was something that I wrote about my own struggles with lashon hara (evil speech). "The Tainted Grain" is a story that I completely lifted from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's translation of the Rebbe Nachman story. I found myself telling the story to someone on the playground to explain the state of the world, and it hit me how great of a time I might have making it into a song.
EC: I'm going to try not to get too grandiose here! I think I've written many many protest songs. "Thoughts and Prayers" I wanted to give as a gift to any non-profit working to fix the gun problem. I just honestly don't have the ability to go to every protest. I'm 37 years old and am raising a kid, taking him to school. I feel a lot of guilt that I can't do more. What I can do is write songs.
I think that music hits a very deep place in the psyche. I think that the commercialized stuff we are inundated with keeps us docile. I'd like to see music being used for good in the world and protest music is just music that wears that intention on its sleeve. Songwriters and producers create earworms; if you're gonna get stuff in people's heads, let's make it powerful and meaningful, not "Oops I Did It Again." That stuff is fun, but when that's all there is, I do believe our minds and our culture are degraded as a whole. So many songs are about love, but love is boring. (I guess I should amend that - love is not boring, but as a subject of another song, yeah, it bores me.) Passion for improving the world? That's exciting, and there's a lot to work with. So I guess the trick is to make people think it's a fun song but really have them thinking big thoughts.
Tell you the truth, "Thoughts and Prayers" is a bit heavy handed for me. I prefer making the listener work more. But the reality of "we're not allowed to talk about that yet" when "that" refers to the instrument used to kill first graders in their classroom...that kind of absurdity needs to be mocked.
EC: As I said before, it's part of a process of mental health regulation, so most songs start about 2 days before I ever get a part of the song with some sort of build up of creative energy. At some point the dam bursts, and either I pick up my guitar or else I just record a melody into my phone. Often, if I'm recording right into my phone, I might get the verse and the chorus, and go back to find the bridge later. Regardless, the bridge is something I often take another couple of days to ruminate on, at least.
Once I have the structure of the song, I'll compose melodies, motifs and sometimes instrumental sections (occasionally leaving that open to another musician's improvisation). Now that I'm in a band again, I'll teach those motifs and melodies to my cellist, and work with her to create the right dynamics. That's the skeleton of the song to me, and that is how I've been performing lately, but we are incorporating a drummer now.
In the studio, I have worked with Craig Levy for most of my recordings to build up a full studio sound. Honestly it does seem that my live band and recorded sound are connecting well for the first time ever and that is super exciting. I'm working with a drummer, Brad Reiss, who comes from an orchestral background but is playing percussion. I try to give musicians as much latitude as they are comfortable with, but when I get those toplines in my head, I need to hear them in the song.
Oh yes, lyrics, they are another animal. Lyrics either come on strong, and can't be changed, like a chorus, or else I feel like I could write and write and write but have to narrow it down to what works the best musically, phonetically and with the phrasing. I could break it all down to, there is constant interplay between inspiration and then sitting down and editing and reworking.
My cellist! Her name is Elyse Maister, and she also plays harp, and she's wonderful. Just wanted to mention her because she's a blessing.
EC: Elyse used to play in a band called Bulletproof Stockings. They were kind of a NYC musical phenomenon, the subject of a lot of press because they were Hasidic women who were performing just for men. There's a documentary being made about them. I was friends with them, and we did shows together, which is how I met Elyse. I thought she was awesome, and immediately asked her if she'd play on a track of mine, "The Ballad of Sadie Farrell" or "Not Your Whipping Woman" - not sure which it was - and she was interested, but couldn't due to some hand pain issues that she was dealing with. So we were friends, then Bulletproof Stockings broke up, and our friend Perl who helmed the band moved to Chicago and me and Elyse started practicing together. It developed really nicely, first one gig, then studio, then another gig. Finally I said she's full time, and she didn't argue! And Brad was Elyse's friend and my neighbor and he fits in great. Perl still performs, and releases music (as Perl) and Elyse still plays with her. Hand pain cleared up.
I should mention that Jordan Hirsch is a phenomenal musician and created the solo work that makes the song Safe really work. He was a Facebook friend of mine, don't know how, but Elyse also knew him as a teacher and we're hoping to perform with him live as well, if his schedule allows. He's on about half the album. Also Tim Rockmore, who played guitar on a couple of tracks; he's a phenomenal guitarist that I used to play in a band with and has worked on one track on my last album.
EC: That was a prompt by my husband, Jacob Fine. He just said "I heard about this female pirate I think you should write a song about." Living in NYC, the story is so vivid... Imagining pirates roaming the East River terrorizing farmers was just too juicy. And it really overturns stupid female tropes so it was super fun. (Not that females are stupid, but the tropes are...) So those types of songs, based on prompts, obviously take a different structure to write. There is little to no pathos involved at the beginning, and it's a matter of translation. I love writing that way.
EC: That's a good question! I'm pretty sure, but not positive that Benny asked to sing a planet song and that's what I came up with.
INC: Any more duets with the two of you planned?
EC: Benny was on my previous album, "Hello Abyss" doing baby talk before the song "Happy Birthday." I have none planned. Benny is a little more avant garde in his artistic expression and really wants to take over band practices, so I think he's going to have to start his own project soon. But I'd be happy to write with him or based on his prompts whenever.
EC: When I started, I was young, and really understood the music that was coming out of the mainstream, so I could see myself in it. At some point, around 2007, the same year my album came out, I thought that something very cynical started happening, and mediocrity started to be celebrated as genius. So pretty early on, I think I started to have an axe to grind, actual issues with what was being celebrated. It seemed to me, that what people wanted was depth and honesty, and the music industry kind of tricked them into thinking they were getting it. I think there's another opening for truth and honesty. People want it - the question is, will they look for it, or settle for whatever is served to them?
INC: How do you think social media impacts that? Do you think it makes it easier or harder for audiences to find that depth and honesty they're looking for?
EC: Social media is weird. How would Bob Dylan fare on social media, if he had to invent himself that way? Not to hold him up as the GOAT or anything, but he was incredibly impactful and I think very positive, cerebral, and deep. The problem is really in the audience. If you are satisfied with club hits, then the music industry is happy to serve it up. There are some cerebral, interesting musicians coming out now, indie women in particular like Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail, and Caroline Rose, so it's a good time, I think there's a wave happening.
But reality is, if you don't have your social media game on point, no one is gonna invest in you. It is what it is. I look at a band like Superorganism who really remind me of the young Beatles in interviews. All wit and comfortable friendship. It is infectious and made for social media, because you want to be their friend. Not sure if I'm dancing around the question here, because I suck at promotion. Like I said, if I could sell songs I would.
EC: I wish I could do it all DIY of course - that's the best way to work, and today it's super accessible. Unfortunately, there are technical hurdles that I haven't mastered, and I developed a creative collaboration with Craig Levy that meant I didn't have to. That said, working together over the course of all these albums, we've been working together since my first, I have gotten more and more sure of my ideas. Where originally in the first albums, my arrangements were mostly in the multi layered harmonies I would sing, it started to be more and more melodic toplines as well. And once I'm writing a melodic topline, I hear a counterpoint.
Now that I'm working with a live band again, I'm arranging the songs well before getting into the studio and then Craig takes on more of a role of engineer. He's still collaborating, but the parts are mostly written before we get in. At the end of the day, I am listening to the songs between sessions, and Craig isn't, so I have an advantage. But I will say that my husband misses Craig's influence in the recorded stuff, so I don't know what the future will bring.
I want to be clear, when I say melodic topline, I'm referring to instrumental. I always wrote the words and melodies to my songs.
EC: Interesting...I've always been very experimental in my approach to songwriting, so I've been sort of looking for surprises. I think that I always had sort of two sides to my writing, half that wanted to be a rock star and half that wanted to be, like Bill Withers or just a great songwriter. And I'd try to make both types of song. The concept of what a "rock star" is, changes, so those type of songs tend to morph throughout time, but you can always hear the bombastic songs and know that is definitely not something Bill Withers would try to write.
But I think the surprise, to me, is how much I want to write serious, adult contemporary fare, because I think those songs are the deepest.
If one of my songs were to get popular, if it were one of my "rock star" type songs, I might be happy, but if one of my more serious songs would hit, I think I would feel more satisfied. And that surprises me for some reason.
EC: Well, just it was nice talking to you! We went to elementary school together, so it's wild to have this opportunity!
INC: Likewise! And now it's time for the all-important standard last question - Where can we go to hear and support your work?
EC: The best place to go is music.nehedar.com because that's hosted by Bandcamp, which I have the most control over as a totally independent musician. If you prefer Spotify or iTunes or whatever, that works too. But I have created a Youtube playlist - also the official Nehedar channel - that I have curated in some particular order, so you can see the various music videos I've put together over the years.