FEATURE: Emily Karpel “When You Strip Down My Music You Can Hear The Psychedelic Folk Influences From My Father’s Music”

It is rare these days to have an artist who comes along and completely alters the perception of an industry. However, Israel’s Emily Karpel has done so without even realising it. Whilst Israel’s music scene has been far from celebrated in recent years, with the exception perhaps of Eurovision winner Dana International’s brief international acclaim, Karpel’s chic approach has won over hearts but at home and overseas. Currently in the studio working on the follow-up to the irrepressible “Nemashim”, The Kaje jumped at the chance to speak with the saviour of Israeli pop.

Your debut album “Nemashim” (Freckles) was seen as a real credibility booster for Israeli pop. What do you think made it stand out?

Well, I think it may have stood out because it is so much more personal and complicated than your average pop album. Pop music is usually nice and easy. My music is not always black and white like that – it resembles me more. It is a direct glimpse into who I am as a person and represents my mixed Iraqi-Polish background.

When you strip down my music you can hear the psychedelic folk influences from my father’s music. So I think that along with the non-traditional pop lyrics and the use of synth-pop – new wave, post punk influences make it really stand out. It also helped the “Nemashim” production that it came out when 80’s returned to explode in music and fashion all around the world – so good timing was a major factor too….that always helps.

For those who haven’t heard it yet, how would you describe your sound?

Butterflies on a sunny day.
A fairytale, a journey between pop and post punk, new wave, folk and a touch of psychedelic .
A warm-blooded lady in a cherry blossom world.

Though the album was all in Hebrew, it garnered attention abroad. A rarity for Israeli pop – what makes your sound so universal?

Well, it was always very important to me, when writing and singing Hebrew lyrics, to find some kind of special way to make it sound soft and gentle. The Hebrew language has a lot of consonants. It may sound difficult and not so poetic when you listen to it for the first time, but it has lots of tenderness, and when I play with it, and bring in my own combinations, I can make it sound feminine and soft. I guess this, together with the production, makes it sound universal.

Having already reached acclaim with a debut, are you feeling the pressure for the follow-up?

Well, I can’t say there isn’t any pressure, but it is not something I feel and think about when I work. I’m taking my time, and I’m sure my fans and audience are very interested in what’s gonna be on the next album. I love it like this, and hope to manage to keep them interested in my work. The pressure is something that comes up later. Like now, in this interview… but not in my creative process.

I’m very disconnected from any criticism while I’m creating. I have a couple of really good ears (that belong to Tomer A. Lenzinger, my husband, my partner, producer and artistic manager of “Nemashim” and the current album we’re working on) listening in for me and guiding me to see and hear things I‘m unaware of when I’m so close to my creation. Constructive criticism is something every artist needs; it takes time to find the right person and I’ve found him.

How far along are you in the recording of the next album? What can we expect?

We’re halfway through recording – these days in the studio are the best days of my life! And I always get very sad when we finish…I would say writing and recording new tracks are the part I like the most in my work. I forget about everything else, and just concentrate only on the music.

You can expect the same Emily Karpel – going deeper, further, experiencing new sounds, still looking and searching inside myself. I feel I’m growing as a person, a woman and as an artist… and my music is growing with me.

Is there a pressure to grow in the same direction or are you free to try new sounds?

Mmm.. no, no pressure at all. The only right way for me to grow is with my flow, to be one with what I love, with what I believe in, to combine my dreams and needs and do what makes me feel good and happy. Pressure isn’t the right “drug” for making music.


Are there any boundaries when it comes to expressing yourself on record?

I see myself as a free spirit; can’t imagine writing new music without this freedom. My music is the chance for me to fly to places I’ve never seen before, to find a piece of earth that hasn’t yet been stepped on. The main thing that keeps me going is the search, being able to observe, find new edges to my personality, new directions to express the many words and sounds I have in my head.

With other potential markets interested in your music, do you feel the need to record in English or do you feel that music is an International language?

Music is an international language – it has the power to move you even without understanding the meaning of the words. For example, when I listen to Serge Gainsbourg, unfortunately I do not understand the language, but still, I get sooo excited and moved by his vibe, so moved, I can almost get what he means just from the way he breathes.

I write in English as well. One of the songs from my debut (“Hutz Mimcha”) came out in English as well (“No-one Else”)… and there are others in English I sing in my show.

Actually, the first songs I wrote and composed as a little girl, were in English. Only later, when I was about 15, I started to write in Hebrew…

Who have been your personal musical influences?

Wow… Serge Gainsbourg, Blondie, Cocteau Twins, Kraftwerk, Talking Heads, Chopin, Giorgio Moroder, Devo, Nina Simone, Dead Can Dance, Phil Spector, The Pretenders, Nico, Daft Punk, Cluster … and so many more.

Since your debut you have written songs for other Israeli artists. Do you find the writing process for these songs different to your own?

When I write for other artists, I find that I think much less before writing a sentence. I’m more liberated and less critical. Maybe trying to get into someone else’s head, releases me from my own. It’s a chance to be someone else for a minute, and it brings new ideas and new perspective to my work.

I learn a lot from writing for other artists, but when I finish a song, I become attached to it. So, I immediately need to write a new one for myself, otherwise I can’t let go…

Your father was a famous musician in Israel – how does he feel about your career choice?

My father supports me so much! He’s been living in Canada for the last 10 years. All this time, I’ve been sending him my tracks by email, asking him to listen to the mix and give me his impact about the sound, the production – I guess on the one hand he’s happy I got the love and passion for music from him, but, on the other hand, he’s concerned about me taking care of myself, sleeping well, eating well, not working too hard, not drinking or smoking too much… He knows the business well and wants to keep me away from the dark side of it.

You were Canadian born but Israeli raised. To which identity do you feel most attached?

Well, I lived in Canada for the first 3 years of my life. But I spent the years of kindergarten, school and the army in Israel. It is true my first words were in English, but I grew up in Israel, my friends are there, most of my childhood
memories were formed there.

My father was born in Berlin, my mother was born in Tel Aviv. My father came to Israel in 1950 when he was 3, and in the 70’s left for Canada. He and my mom met in one of his gigs here. They got married and he returned to Canada with her. They decided to come back to Israel when I was 3 years old, after my uncle (my Mom’s brother) was killed in the army. I guess this is another reason why I’m so connected to this place.

Art is clearly closely aligned with your career – how much control do you have over your image?

Well, I’m involved in everything, and that’s the way it works the best for me, ‘cause everything I do and create is a way of expressing myself. It would be weird if I were not involved there. lt’s the same when I’m writing my songs, and then spending time with my producer, dressing the songs up in the studio. It’s important to me to express myself in the visual part as well: CD covers, video clips, the live show, the fashion editorials I create… all of it. I have an amazing team working with me. I wouldn’t give up this opportunity: this turns out to be the most fun part.

Who is your style icon?

My Mother, Maripol, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones.

If it weren’t music, what would it be?

Interior designer, a fashion editor, a crazy person. . . .

Words & Images: Jeremy Williams
Styling- Maayan Goldman
Hair- Sagi Dahary
Make up- Tali Power

First Set-

Dress- Olga de Polga for “Cafe Bizzare”
Belt and Shoes- vintage in “Rhus Ovata”
Stockings- Gal Stern
Earrings and Shirt – Emily’s own

Second Set (stairs)

Checkered Dress and Striped Skirt- Alma for “Banker”
Red Sweater- Olga de Polga for “Cafe Bizzare”
Coat- Topshop
Melissa Boots and Earrings- Emily’s own

Emily Karpel Debut “Nemashim” Produced By : Tomer A Lenzinger & Nir Averbuch



1 Comment

  1. one can argue that it can go both ways

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