Language of love

Neil Friedlander’s debut album reveals the influences of his American-born parents.

Neil Friedlander (photo credit: OZ BARAK)
Neil Friedlander
(photo credit: OZ BARAK)
Neil Friedlander writes love songs in the language of ambient, heartfelt electronic music that is at once uplifting and serious.
Born to American parents and raised in Jerusalem, Friedlander is now based in Tel Aviv, and is releasing his debut album “Movements into Language” on January 31 at the Ezor Club in Tel Aviv, in a special performance with Einav Jackson Cohen, Raz Shmueli, and Oded Shechter.
Friedlander sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss his early musical influences, gaining a broader view of songwriting and what’s on the horizon.
Do you remember writing your first song?
Yes, it was when I was nine years old. I really connected to music very early on in a way that I didn’t understand until much later.
The debut album is called Movements into Language.
Music has always been a way for me to express what I’m unable to express otherwise. A lot of the songs are telling people or myself something that I can’t put into words otherwise. I think the first music that spoke to me was very much around words. The first artists who I connected with were people like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell; that sort of singer/songwriter time, but also those specific people.
My parents are both American and in some ways they have brought Israeli culture into their lives, but musically, hardly at all. We listened to a lot of good music at home. My mom listened to a lot of Barbra Streisand and Simon and Garfunkel. My dad was more into punk, so there was the Clash and the Ramones.
There were good musical influences at home. For me, music was always about words and how the two connect.
You can say something in words with music that you can’t otherwise.
Does that still hold true for you when you’re writing songs today?
It’s always changing. Most of the songs are like letters to people. I met Aviv Meshulam, the producer of the album. I wrote and composed the songs, but we added a lot more layers and made them more interesting musically.
I have now a broader view of what music is and what writing is. I’m more aware of the fact that people are going to be listening to it. A lot of my songs are for someone I loved, someone I broke up with; songs were like therapy – I didn’t think about who would be listening. Now I can think that maybe I can write a song for someone who is dealing with addiction in a similar way. I feel less limited.
But the bottom line is still a similar process. I’m not writing for more people, but I’m writing with a broader view. I’ve also dealt with a lot of my issues so I can write from a cleaner place. I used to create from a place that had to get out of the body and now there is nothing to get out, everything is okay, I can just create what I want and that’s also okay. That’s a very big step for me.
How long did it take you to create and record this album?
I didn’t know going into it that I was making an album. I’ve been writing songs for a very long time.
I have a lot of songs, but most of them are bad. There is a learning curve. They got better and better. At a certain point, while I was in the army, I felt that the songs were good enough and something needs to happen with them. I had a group of songs that I suddenly felt like were a chapter in my life that could touch other people. Up until then, I would sing songs to friends and one on one. We started talking about making an album together once I met Aviv. I found that once I put all my focus on it, I just got better and better. From the time that I met Aviv, it was about two years until the album was finished.
We started when I was in the army and were only meeting once a month sometimes.
Do you have a lot of shows coming up?
We actually were touring a lot. We toured in Italy, which was kind of like a concert boot camp and we had a few shows in Tel Aviv. We will hopefully do one in Jerusalem. But after this, I want to go back into the studio. It feels a little bit like closure on the first album and continuing on to whatever is next.
How does your LGBTQ identity inform your music?
I think it does in ways that I’m not the best at talking about. I’m not very conscious of it while I’m writing. I write in English because it’s very clean of gender. I really like the cleanliness of saying “I love you;” of talking to a person as a “you” instead of an at or atah. I really like that.
I’ve just lived my life. Most of the songs are about guys, although there is one about a girl. The songs are about the people that I’ve loved. I’m not making any statements. I’m basically just writing love songs. It’s nice that I’m not ashamed about it and that it’s not a big element of my writing, as it’s a simple truth of my identity now and not something that requires dealing with, in a way that I’m grateful for.
Are there any collaborations on the horizon that you’re excited about?
Nothing that I can talk about yet because things aren’t confirmed, but there are a few collaborations that I’m very excited about. This first album was very much a specific thing and very me. Then it became me and Aviv, which was a very important process.
Aviv made this album what it is. Now it’s opening up even further and the music that I’m working on now is very exciting to me. It’s heading in a very good direction. If I can keep writing songs and making albums, as long as I can, I’m gonna keep doing it.