Sharing a ‘Common Ground’

Singer-songwriter Yael Meyer sat down with ‘The Jerusalem Post’ to talk about Judaism, family and musical inspiration.

Yael Meyer_311 (photo credit: Courtesy of Jenn Starr)
Yael Meyer_311
(photo credit: Courtesy of Jenn Starr)
Yael Meyer, a 30-year-old Los Angeles-based folk and pop singer/songwriter, has landed her work in the soundtracks of major network TV programs. These include ABC’s Private Practice, The CW’s Life Unexpected, Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva and MTV’s Awkward. At 19, Meyer left her native Santiago de Chile for a scholarship at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Within a few years, she debuted Common Ground, a blend of indie folk and lounge electronica Rolling Stone Chile called “one of the top 50 albums of the year.”
Her new single, “Fire,” from her sophomore album, Everything Will Be Alright, self-released earlier this month under her Kli Records label, has already landed on music charts across the US.
You were recently added to the line-up at the Chilean 2012 Lollapalooza. When did you start performing on stage?
I don’t remember a time when I was not! ...But it wasn’t until my teens that I started to take it more seriously, writing my own songs and participating in various music festivals. I was a youth leader at Maccabi Hatzair, a Zionist Jewish Youth organization in Chile that operates throughout the year, with the goal of providing informal education to youths 3-17 years of age. The entire program is organized and implemented by young Jewish kids (the oldest leaders are 21-22), who work on a volunteer basis, with one ideal in mind: fighting assimilation by creating instances in which Jewish youth can gather, intermingle and learn about Jewish values and the land of Israel. At Maccabi, I composed and performed songs about Israel for an annual music festival representing Maccabi... These were my first performances on a larger scale and it was truly an amazing experience for me, because hundreds of people in the audience knew my original songs by heart and sang along at the top of their lungs. It really clicked with me how powerful music was, and how much I enjoyed creating music that other people could relate to, take into their hands and make their own.
How did you find your voice?
That is always changing. It’s like chasing your shadow, it moves as you move with it... I have a pretty strong sense of who I am and what I want to say, what I stand for and what I want to generate with my music, but to me every song has a life of its own.
Songwriting is about finding the balance between letting the song come out and be what it’s meant to be, and giving it shape, without interfering and tampering with its essence and the nature it comes with.
What is the inspiration for your songs?
Love, life, family, fear, nature, my relationship with the Greater Power watching over all of us, and the simple little details of everyday life that give us joy and peace.
Musical influences?
Bjork, Mum, Kaki King, Radiohead, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Joan as Police Woman, Jesca Hoop, Keren Ann, Feist, Sigur Ros, Air, Zero 7, Morcheeba, Mazapan, Jeff Buckley, James Taylor, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter Paul and Mary, The Album Leaf are just a few.
Your husband is your business manager. How does that work for you all?
It’s the best thing, thank G-d. I wouldn’t want it any other way. For me family is No. 1 and I wouldn’t be able to do this for a living if it weren’t a lifestyle that we could all enjoy together as a family.
Your songs have appeared widely on television and in the films Blacktino, directed by Aaron Burns, and Que Pena Tu Vida (“F*** my Life”) and Que Pena Tu Boda directed by Nicolás López. How does that process work?
We grant licenses so that TV and film productions may use my music in their show, film etc. It is usually a one-time use of that song, for that particular show/episode, or film, etc. There are various agents who are dedicated to shopping and pitching music for film and TV, and some things have come through those relationships, but we have also been building a small record label for the past few years. And part of our job is to meet people in the industry who make these kinds of decisions (choosing music for films, commercials, TV and video games) and making sure that the music is available for them.
How does Judaism impact you?
It is everything to me. I have based my whole life, the way I do business, the way I raise my family, the things I want to communicate, what I want my life and work to do and mean in the world and why I believe that I am alive in Judaism, Jewish teachings, Jewish thoughts and Torah. I have always been very strongly connected to what it means to me to be Jewish and I have always been very proud of it. I am not loud and vocal about it in my everyday working life because to me part of living and being Jewish is being able to go out into the world and share, relate, collaborate, communicate, work, mingle, etc. with different people, respecting and accepting the differences that make each one of us unique, and creating a peaceful environment where everyone feels valued for who they are. However, it inevitably comes up from the very beginning in most of my relationships, first of all because my name is Yael, which is a Hebrew name, and second because I am pretty observant, so I usually end up having to explain why I will not perform on a Friday night, or why I can only perform after sunset on Saturday, or why I really can’t eat while everyone else is having a burger (I keep kosher).
What advice would you offer emerging singer/songwriters?
If you really want it and feel this is your path, be strategic... keep at it, work harder than anyone you know and don’t give up. Practice and experience make you better.
What are your aspirations?
To be happy and healthy and stay true to the voice in my heart.