He’s got his Mojos workin’

Singer-songwriter Asaf Avidan and his band The Mojos are performing their new album in concert with a full orchestra at the Tel Aviv Opera House.

The Mojos 311 (photo credit: Yoni Pazi)
The Mojos 311
(photo credit: Yoni Pazi)
Asaf Avidan never aspired to be a musician, but four years ago he picked up his guitar and began writing songs, and it didn’t take long for him to rise through the ranks and find a place among Israel’s leading modern musicians. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise. With a background in cinema and animation, Avidan was already an artist of varied perspectives.
As I approach his Tel Aviv apartment, I can hear his signature rock-star voice even before entering the building. In his living room, a page of his lyrics glows on an open laptop. A guitar leans against the wall. It seems the music never stops.
We sit down to discuss the past, present and future of his career. Through the Gale, Asaf Avidan & The Mojos’ new album, was released here a few weeks ago. Unlike most modern albums, pieced together with songs written over a period of time, Through the Gale was created as a concept album that strives to tell a cohesive story with a beginning and an end.
Avidan wrote the album’s first song on vacation in Hawaii, staring out into the open sea. That set the theme for the album, and the more you listen, the more various layers reveal themselves. Although his music is garnering comparisons to the likes Janice Joplin and Led Zeppelin, Avidan insists that he “never planned to be a musician, certainly not saying these landmark [bands] were my influence. It kind of came naturally once I started playing music. This was the music I was already accustomed to.”
Avidan excels in the marriage of deep, poetic lyrics with distinctive vocals and instrumentals. “I don’t write lyrics and then put music to them,” he says. “If I do that, it will never become music, it will just stay as words, which is fine. But when I started writing songs, they [words and music] always came together, and that structure is a bit different. There are people like Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen who are poets and still put music into their work. I would love to be able to even put myself in the same category as them. I’m far from it,” he says.
Through the Gale began as “a dialogue between a captain and his crew, and the captain is telling the sailors that they are going to sail into something they’ve never seen before, and they tell him, ‘We don’t care. We’re sailors. This is what we do. We don’t know how to do anything else,’” Avidan explains.
Although the album’s story is told through the eyes of sailors, it is meant to be universal. “It’s a story about the voyage that everybody goes through, from life to death, their acceptance of it, and trying to understand what the true meaning is,” he says. “I think it has always been a theme in my music, and here I did something more literal: the actual voyage, leaving of the safe home and always pushing boundaries, really searching for what it is they want out of life.”
The album’s closing song, “Turn of the Tides under the Northern Lights,” hints at the death of the captain and crew. But it was one of the first songs written.
The words “just came – first the kind of obvious ones such as ‘Love is all I need to take, my heart is strong but my body will break.’ Then it became kind of a stripping down of everything that is mortal into becoming this immortal thing. The essence of what makes us mortal is our flesh, our bones, ‘My eyes and ears will feed the sea.’ But it’s not just about the body. It’s about everything that we do here in this time,” he says.
Although the picture seems bleak, Avidan explains that the essence of the captain’s journey into the abyss is a search for “this thing that we want to call love,” the very thing that seems to drive him in his passionate artistic pursuits.
AS OPPOSED to the band’s previous album, Poor Boy / Lucky Man, which featured guest musicians and a wide variety of instruments, Through the Gale features Avidan & the Mojos exclusively. “Some of what sounds like weird guitar solos are just me with my vocals or Hadas with her cello, and this was kind of the essence – trying to push our instruments to their limits.”
Though the band recently signed with Sony Columbia, they stress the importance of keeping music production local. Through the Gale was released by Telmavar Records, Avidan’s independent record label, and it will not go public in Europe for another year or so.
Avidan told The Jerusalem Post, “Because we still produce from A-Z all our albums, with our graphics, we give them a [finished] product. They cannot touch anything. We record in Israel. Everything is done here.
Not because of some patriotic thing but because it’s our home, and we can communicate better with the people here.”
Upcoming months hold many exciting events for the band.
First, the band will appear as part of the Maccabi Beer Home Tour, a series of concerts that are to take place in people's homes throughout the country.
In order to decide where to hold the shows, Maccabi Home Tour advertised a contest calling for a picture and personal statement about the essence of rock and roll. In the end, the band chooses the winners. "People are sending amazing things that are art forms in and of themselves,” Avidan said. “It's becoming this really cool contest. We don't know how to choose.”
On January 29, they will perform the entire new album, complete with a 40-piece orchestra, at the Tel Aviv Opera House. Avidan describes the upcoming performance as “almost a dream come true” for the band.
“It’s amazing to see what kind of translation we can give the songs in a different way. I know how I play them with guitar or piano. I know how it sounds with four more musicians, but hearing this process of rehearsing with classical musicians who have played four hours a day for I don’t know how many years... it seems way beyond,” he says.
Then, this spring, they tour the US, Canada and Europe.
Since the release of The Reckoning four years ago, Avidan & The Mojos have gradually established a solid foothold overseas. Avidan sighs when asked how his life has changed these past few years. “It takes getting used to the fact that people recognize me, that people treat me differently. The fact that I have to lead a different lifestyle takes getting used to.”
But what’s important, he says, is that “we are still making the art the way we see... That we can still focus on what’s important, with everything else that is going on, is, I think, the only real prize there is to this whole mess around us.”