Change is in the air

Emily Karpel's pop sound differs drastically from the mainstream.

Emily Karpel 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Emily Karpel 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An average CD collection of Israeli music will likely contain albums by artists like David Broza, Rami Kleinstein and Rita, with their soft rock numbers and soothing lyrics. Until recently, an album like Emily Karpel's Freckles, with its electro-pop tunes, would have had only a slim chance of inclusion. And while she still doesn't fit the mainstream profile, her debut album is selling beautifully and topping charts. When we met at her favorite Tel Aviv coffee shop, she was wearing a black leather jacket over an '80s-style T-shirt. Her hair was wild, her jewelry minimal. She looked cool. It's no wonder fashion magazines refer to her as one of Israel's best-dressed stars. "I was always into fashion," she recalls. "As a kid, I used to rummage through my mom's closet for things I liked. Now, whenever I see something interesting, I buy it. The Jaffa flea market is a good source." Karpel, 28, was born in Montreal. Her mother was in the fashion business and her father was a musician. The family immigrated to Israel when she was three. When she was 15, they moved to Holon. It was then that Karpel won a role on Youth on the Way, a popular TV show about a youth band that travels around Israel, performing in unlikely places, like old folks homes. As a soldier, she served in an entertainment troupe. After the army she performed with Shlomo Artzi, Ricky Gal, Metropolin and other top groups. She then married music producer Tomer Lantzinger and released her first solo album, Freckles. It was an instant success. She has had three hit singles: "Drop," "Except for You" and "Freckles." But surprisingly, after all those years performing, Karpel is not rushing to get back onstage. "There will definitely be shows, but right now I'm much more interested in getting back into the studio to record my second album. The first was sort of about a lost kid wanting to grow up. I know the second is going to be more mature, but the pop sound is going to stay." And that pop sound will remain on the outskirts of mainstream Israeli music. "It's not a question of choice," she says earnestly, "this is simply music that I love and that I want to do. I only do things I believe in. Besides, the music I enjoy the most - Asaf Amdursky, The Ivrit and Marioneta Sol - is played by bands that make a different, more '80s style electro-pop type sound. And they're succeeding, aren't they? Change is in the air - I am only one element of it." Her songs are happy and funky with catchy melodies. The title song, for instance, conjures up Joe Jackson's 1980s pop hit "Steppin' Out." But listen more carefully and you'll feel a sadness buried in the lyrics. Click on Emily's MySpace profile and you'll discover Serge Gainsburg among her friends. Gainsburg, with his Euro-electro music and au contraire-chanson melancholy lyrics, is a big influence on Karpel, she confirms. "I love Serge and the contradictions he conveys. They create an emotional stir. I have the same contradictions within me. I can be very happy and loose, but deep down there's also sadness and solitude." KARPEL'S STANDOUT style is apparent not only in her appearance, but also in her videos. The "Freckles" video, one of a thousand entries, recently won a best director award for Ofir Lobel at the High Desert Short International Film Festival in Las Vegas. "I'm very happy," says Karpel, "everyone worked really hard on the clip. I'm thrilled that it paid off." While we chat, someone phones to tell Karpel that the Hebrew version of her song "Except for You" has become the most-played song on the radio. She is delighted. The song gained attention as part of the soundtrack for a Fox TV ad. The company has a history of picking up unknown songs for its commercials and transforming them into chart-topping hits - but it has always used foreign, English-language songs. This time, in search of a soft ballad, Fox's people came across Karpel's new album and the minute they heard "Except for You," they were hooked. "We were asked to redo the song in an English version," Karpel reveals. "They asked us to rework it in English, because their soundtrack is always in English. We were happy to comply, and we're very pleased with the result. It's a very aesthetically pleasing commercial." At the same time, Karpel released the song as a single in its original Hebrew, and it climbed the charts. She continues to sip her tea contentedly; she appears to be a very happy person. The sadness that she had mentioned is not apparent. Karpel explains: "My parents got divorced when I was a child, and I haven't seen much of my father. Also, a favorite uncle died when I was a kid. I carry that sadness with me. "With time, I learned to accept it and to live with it, but it comes out in my album. For example, in the song 'Here I Stand,' I'm really talking about every male figure in my life - from my dad to my uncle to every boyfriend I've ever had. Most people see it as a song about couples, and that's OK. Everyone should interpret a song just as they like."