Thursday, May 26, 2005


Keren Ann (her last name, which she never uses, is Zeidel) is almost stereotypically, impossibly French when we meet at the Lovely Day Cafe, located in the West Village of Manhattan. She is mysterious and evasive, sexy and defiant, passionate and intriguing. I am even slightly intimidated by her European ennui, feeling intrusive for simply doing my job and asking questions (when I ask her where she grew up, she teasingly answers, “Didn’t you get the press kit?”), but the tension in the distance she places between us also makes me want to immediately run home and write her love letters. Ultimately, her feistiness is affecting and alluring.
Keren has suspecting hazel eyes, a gaze that questions your intentions when it’s fixed upon you. When I make a joke, she doesn’t smile or laugh--she smirks, almost mischievously. None of the questions I ask are interpreted superficially, and no response given bears a confession. To what she was like as a child, she responds: “Memory is subjective. We remember what we want to remember. For example, I remember being mute, sitting along for hours and hours in my room, drawing, but who knows if that’s what I was really like.”

The Paris-based singer-songwriter, born in Israel and now commutes between apartments in Paris and New York (she also speaks fluent Hebrew), writes music that defies any present-day influences. Her two domestically released albums (her first two French-only records are available on import from Europe), Not Going Anywhere and Nolita, both resonate from an unanchored limbo where the softness of Nick Drake, the sexiness of Bridgette Bardot and Francoise Hardy, and the heroine-chic of Nico still resonate as vibrantly today as they did thirty years ago. Songs like “Chelsea Burns,” “One Day Without” and “Sit In The Sun” linger in the air like a trail of smoke emanating from a freshly extinguished cigarette. Her live performances are unprecedented in their gentleness, creating a calm so serene that you can, in fact, hear your own thoughts. Keren usually sits on a stool with an acoustic guitar, smiling throughout her set as if the songs were gifts she was opening for the first time, only to then selflessly hand them over to the audience. “I once read a bad review that said my show was too intimate,” Keren Ann says. “Some nights I play and talk to the audience, but most nights I just play. I don’t always feel the need to speak with the audience to make contact. The songs do that for me.”

Unlike Not Going Anywhere, a strictly-Anglo affair, Nolita alternates between lyrics sung in both French and English. “I do what feels natural,” she says. “It’s the flexibility that comes with being multilingual.” I confess to Keren that while I cannot understand her lyrics, I don’t feel like I have to; her songs still feel very much like love songs despite their unknown themes (her press release informs that “Que n’ai-je,” the first track on her latest, is actually about a woman being followed by a stalker, while to me, it sounds essentially like the epitome of seduction).
Do you consider yourself a romantic, I ask her? “I cannot be romantic all the time,” she responds, managing to even make this denouncement sound romantic. “Sometimes I feel jetlag or mehlan-collie”--her pronunciation makes it into two separate words-- “and I am not in the mood to write anything positive about love.”
Our allotted time for the interview is over and Keren Ann and I leave the cafe, both realizing that it’s about to rain. Do you find the rain to be depressing or calming, I inquire as she lights up her cigarette? “Well,” she inhales, “it depends on how I’m feeling that day.”

*** Download Keren Ann's gentle "Right Now, Right Here" here.


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