‘Life is too fragile not to try’

With her new single ‘Thousand Kilometers,’ Inbal Paz proves that being over 40 is not a disadvantage.

 PERFORMING IN the concert promoting her single ‘Thousand Kilometers,’ January. (photo credit: Ofir Fuss)
PERFORMING IN the concert promoting her single ‘Thousand Kilometers,’ January.
(photo credit: Ofir Fuss)

Inbal Paz, an Israeli singer, singing teacher and voice coach, has released a new single in Hebrew, “Thousand Kilometers.” Having returned to performing after a long break, on stage she is poised and elegant, and her singing style is very feminine and mature. 

Paz released her first album, My Own Way, in Nashville in 2009. But shortly after, she focused on her family and teaching. However, she never stopped singing – she recorded cover and original songs. But now, 14 years after her first album, she is ready to pursue her dream of singing on stage and having the audience sing along with her. 

Paz says that at age 44, she has much more to say than when she was younger, and she is ready to overcome her natural shyness and try again.

At her concerts, she also encourages the audience members to write down their childhood dreams and to follow them “Because why not now?” she says in her typical Israeli way. “Life is too fragile not to try.”

In the music industry, it is often said that if you haven’t made a career at a young age (and the age is getting lower), it is over. You are proving that it is never too late to try again. You have just released a new single, and in the concert promoting ’Thousand Kilometers’ your performance emanated the style and grace of a mature woman, not a girl on the stage. It has been 14 years since your first album. Why now?

Why not now? [laughs]

 TEACHING A recent voice class.  (credit: Inbal Paz) TEACHING A recent voice class. (credit: Inbal Paz)

Very Israeli response, but I will need something more… 

Singing and writing were always my way of making sense of the world around me and my feelings. Like climbing the highest mountain in order to see the full picture.

But I think I have much more to say now than in my twenties. I am 44 years old; it is weird to think of myself as in my forties. But on the other hand, it’s just an age. I have so much more to give now than when I was younger. I am more aware of what I can do. I have more knowledge. I don’t think that you should stop. It is not over yet.  And now I am also much more focused – I know who I am, what I am, and what I want.

So what is that you want? What is your dream?

To perform more so that people will sing my songs.

Did you always want to be a singer?

I was always singing and humming. But I was very shy. I was also raised in a family which taught me that you need to have a profession in order to support yourself. I was not sure if singing could provide that. My mother was a computer engineer, and my father served in the military. We moved a lot due to his work in Israel, and we spent some years in the United States.

Was it the time you spent in the US that gave you that country music sound? On your YouTube channel you are described as a pop artist, but listening to you in concert, there was something country in your singing style. 

I am very influenced by country music, but I am also very influenced by classical music, even though I never wanted to sing opera. I think pop can include many genres: country, rock, and musicals. We got transferred to the US originally for a year, and then it became four years. I was nine years old when we moved there, and I think those were my most formative years in music.

I heard a lot of singers and I loved their voices, like Shania Twain, Carol King, and Mark Cohen. I didn’t know if I wanted to become a singer, but I knew that singing made me feel at home. But at that age, as I said, I was a very timid girl, and I started to close down and sing to myself.

And yet, I am talking now to a singing teacher and singer, so when did you make it happen? 

When we got back to Israel, I was 15 and I had private singing teachers. But I quit after a year. I returned to singing in my twenties, after military service and university. I studied [and graduated in] biology at Tel Aviv University, and for a while I worked in a laboratory.

Seems very far from singing…

The knowledge of biology actually helps me to sing and to teach how to sing because I understand how the ‘instrument’ works. 

Makes sense, but when did you go back to singing?

In my twenties. I think after I broke up with my first boyfriend (who didn’t like my singing too much), I realized that I really liked singing, and I asked myself, ‘Why did I give it up?’ I decided to explore it more. And I took private singing lessons again. I switched teachers. And after two years one, of them asked me if I would like to teach.

So without any formal musical education, you started to teach singing yourself. She must have had a lot of trust in you.

Yes. I was teaching for a while, and then I went to learn more in Atlanta (I had an uncle over there, so I had a place to stay) and Nashville. That time, I went to the United States by myself.

Did you choose Nashville because you wanted to be closer to country music? 

Yes, I wanted that influence. What I like about country music is the storytelling. I learned a lot there. But I was still very shy… I went back to Israel. 

In the lyrics of your songs, there are a lot of challenging obstacles.

Yes. Because I think you don’t grow when you are comfortable; you grow when you are not. I understand more now, that every challenge that I went through made me stronger. My mom died of cancer. Suddenly. It was very rapid – from six months since we found out she was sick until she died. I was in my late twenties. That experience alone has changed me.

In what way?

Suddenly I had to talk to the doctors and organize things. It showed me – the timid girl I’d always been – that I have a lot of power in me. It was an eye-opening moment for me: ‘If I can fight for her, I can do a lot of things.’

Sometimes it’s easier to fight for others…

This is true. That’s why I go back to it and remind myself that I can do it. Also for myself.

In your songs, there is a lot of sadness. Before this interview, not knowing the story of your mother, I wondered if that sadness is the real you or if it is a feeling exposed for the songs only.

That’s a good question. I am not a sad person. But I think a lot… And what I like about country music is the storytelling. So when I write, I like to go a full circle. Where I took it from, and where I am today. There is always closure.

There is also your song ‘Happy Ending.’ 

Exactly. In recent years (2017-2021) I have written and recorded several songs, although never put them together as an album – you could say they were one chapter. ‘Happy Ending’ was written in recent years about how we always look for outside assurances to make ourselves whole. Heaven knows I did.

So, I explored that concept through a fairytale. My other song ‘Fine Line’ was about a huge moment in my life when I chose my well-being over someone else’s needs and expectations. At that moment, I decided that I was ready to get mud on my face, only to come out stronger on the other side. ‘Storm’ was written out of acceptance that life events could not have been different, and that’s how we grow, evolve, and love

‘Over the Edge’ is about bravery and how the clock won’t stop ticking. Things will not suddenly get easier. The flawless beginning does not exist. And it’s time to act with no guarantee in sight. And just jump.

From what you are saying, you are not afraid to jump. But you also need a trigger. You said that your mother’s passing was a life-changing moment…

After my mother passed away in 2006, I started my business as a singing teacher. It was going well. I got married. I felt good about my life. I felt very content: ‘This is what it is.’ I thought I would be a teacher, so I let the dream of being a singer go. I was happy with being behind the scenes and helping people to find their voices. I remember the thought I had: ‘My life is going really well.’ And the moment I had that thought, my father was in an accident and he didn’t make it. 

It was 2009. That moment changed me, again. A lot of people when they experience loss – it shifts them. And that’s what happened to me. I took it really hard, but I rose up at the same time. I realized again how life is fragile. And I decided to make good use of mine.

This was the moment when I started to connect with people I met in Nashville. I took a month off from teaching and packed up my bags and my songs and I contacted Grammy Award-winning producer Doug Kahan. Working on my record was an amazing experience; so much fun. As result, my album came out: My Own Way.

A paraphrase of Sinatra?

Pretty much. The full album was about how I live my life, my way. 

Did you go on concert tours after the album?

I did two concerts over there, and I did a video. I came back to Israel, and I found out I was pregnant, and I said, ‘Okay, it was fun, but it’s a sign…’ There is a lot of work in promoting an album. I think I was not ready back then. So I went back to teaching and to my new role, being a mom. 

Fourteen years later, you are a mother of two, and we are meeting because you just released your new single, which you promote as a new chapter, maybe the start of an album-to-be. All your previous songs were written by you. This one, in Hebrew, is not. Listening to you at the concert promoting this single, I heard very mature female singing. What’s the story behind this song?

‘Thousand Kilometers’ was a journey by itself. After years of writing in English, I attempted to write in Hebrew, but with no luck. So I was open to collaborating with other songwriters. After months of searching, my producer, Yuval Ben David gave me the number of Hadas Cohen. She sent me three songs. Thousand Kilometers caught my ear immediately. I was mesmerized by the precise lyrics and the magical music by Omri Kesten. Some will think it’s about coming out of heartbreak and some will interpret it differently. This song is a new beginning for me.

Why did you want to sing in Hebrew?

Because I want to relate more to people here, I live in Israel. But I think in English, and I dream in English.

In what language do you speak to your children?

In Hebrew.

In the recent concert, you also sang many covers, something you have been doing for years. I was wondering why, after having your own album (recorded in 2009) and having written your own songs, you sing covers. Usually, it is the other way around.

There are so many beautiful songs, so why not? But it was not specifically that I planned to record covers, I just wanted to sing, and these songs existed already. I can sing both. The year 2022 was a very transformative year for me. I changed the people I worked with.

COVID struck me – I think many people were affected by it. Again I was reminded how fragile life is, that I have one life only. I think, like my songs coming full circle, I also came a little bit of a full circle. I am more precise in what I want to come through in my songs now.

In your way of singing or even being on the stage, there is something very feminine, elegant, mature, I would even say old school. There is no rush in the way you present the songs to the audience. I mentioned your age (with your permission, first) because your story proves that dreams after 40 exist. During the concert, you asked people to write down their childhood dreams…

I asked them to make their dream come true, for the child in them, which they might have forgotten. So when you ask me ‘What has changed now?’ I would say that corona taught me that I had forgotten who I was. I realized that I was not being authentic to who I was, so I decided to give it a try, again. You only get one life. It’s a game, and it is OK.

What do you mean by game?

I mean that it doesn’t really matter if you succeed or not. I would rather get to the end of my life [knowing] that at least I tried, than regret that I was too afraid to try something, when I really wanted to. The fear was something that held me back for so many years.

Fear of what?

Fear of speaking out, of being heard, of what people might think of me. I also teach people that it is okay to make mistakes. I haven’t heard of anyone who is worth talking about who hasn’t experienced failure. As someone who worked in a lab (as a biologist after university), I can say that nothing comes out of the laboratory without 100 misses. It is worth trying. And it makes me very happy now, that this single Thousand Kilometers has been received so well.

After the single, this beautiful song, what are you are working on now?

I am working on more songs, and I want to focus on performing. I think the performing part is what I need to get into more. It was always very sporadic, not enough. My dream is that people will know my songs and sing along during concerts. I love teaching because you can see the person transforming by using his voice; opening up. And in singing, I love that I can tell a story. 