Naama Kates Talks ‘The Unexamined Life,’ Reverb Nation and Girl in a Coma. – Interview

People who’ve met me know my fascination with the band Girl in a Coma. Their distinct sound separates them from the musical Plato factory that pushes out pop act after pop act. Another music act that fits in with the likes of GIAC in terms of originality is newcomer Naama Kates.

Her debut album, “The Unexamined Life,” is possibly the best album you may never hear. That’s because her sound isn’t for radio, she won’t be seen peddling Pepsi products and chances are you’ll have to discover her via her live shows in Los Angeles or online formats like this one.

That’s not to say Naama Kates won’t be successful. She will. I labeled “The Unexamined Life” as a jazzy Fiona Apple. (Read the review HERE.) However, there’s really no label or specific genre that Kates belongs to, not because she doesn’t fit in, but because she is destined to stand out.

Q - How long did it take to put ‘The Unexamined Life’ together?

A - I’d written all the songs in a period of loneliness and egolessness and childlike wonder after feeling like the biggest loser in the world (laughs) between January 2010 and August. I brought in a producer and he started doing the arrangements. He finished that by the winter. We brought in a drummer and rehearsed every day for a month or so. We recorded, there were three of us, altogether, bass, drums and me on piano and singing at the same time, which is very rarely done, in February. Altogether, including my writing, it took about a year and a half.

Q - Describe your writing process. Does it begin with music, lyrics, none of the above?

A - I’ll get a repetitive phrase, a lyrical phrase in my head, or a few. That’ll happen when I’m walking somewhere, sometimes when I’m out somewhere. It’s never when I’m driving actually (laughs). At home I’ll sit behind the piano and usually write the whole song pretty much at once. It will develop but it doesn’t really change that much from a lyrical content. I do that in one sitting; it may be like 20 minutes to an hour.

When I first started I didn’t plan on doing that either. I bought a keyboard, here in LA, and thought it was something fun to have. I took a couple piano lessons as a kid. I thought it was something I could do in my apartment. I printed out sheet music of classical music and I wanted to try and play that but realized I didn’t know how to do that (laughs). So I didn’t do that.

I just started writing. All the songs on the record started with one line at first. Then on my way home there would be a couple more that would be a part of a verse or chorus. Then I just sat down and wrote them out. The songs are all like direct expressions of feelings I’ve had. To me they all feel very literal and light, not heavy. And every time I write a song still afterward I think, ‘This has got to be terrible (laughs); what am I doing?’



Q - How has the response been so far?

A - Friends of mine early one would be like, ‘I know you did this but it’s really good.’ Then I started doing the online promotion like Reverb Nation. There were people that really liked it; it was a surprising array of different people. Then there are people that think one song is OK and don’t really care for the rest of it. That’s not always fun to hear.

Q - I love this album. When I reviewed it I listened to it a dozen straight times. I haven’t been this excited about an artist since Girl in a Coma.

A - Oh my God I love Girl in a Coma. When I first came to LA for a visit that’s all I listened to. I think they’re fucking amazing. I went to see them at the Knitting Factory here. Yeah, they’re great!

Q - When you have such a distinct sound, you mentioned Reverb Nation, how do you market yourself when you really can’t attack the radio market?

A - Yeah, that’s been a toughy when something doesn’t fit into a category and everyone these days is trying to not take chances and make things that sound like every thing else. Nothing I do is commercial in that sense and even if I tried it couldn’t be. It’s still tough and I don’t know how I’m ever going to see a dime off of it. There’s a “promote-it” campaign at Reverb that places an ad at the bottom of Facebook; I would never click on an ad but people in South America and Middle America who are not in big cities do. It got me some fans in Asia and Argentina and it’s very encouraging. I originally started cold emailing people and a couple of them responded and John Payne from LA Weekly was one of those people. I think this album, and I’m trying to be realistic, will hopefully be a buzz album. I don’t think it will make a ton of money. But I hope it gets some notice.

Q - My personal favorites are “In The Twilight” and “Price of Company.” Are there songs you get more excited to perform over others or ones that mean more?

A - I can’t say there are songs that mean more but there are ones that get less attention than others. There’s a song on the album, ‘Letters,’ that, because I play with a band and that song I play solo, don’t get attention. The album is 45 minutes long and in between introducing the band, or starting late, we almost always don’t play that long at shows. If I do I guess I get excited to play that one just because I never get to.

Q - I appreciate you taking the time. That’s all I had for you. Is there anything you wanted to add?

A – This album is a grower. You mentioned you listened to it many times. This is an album you have to give a few listens. Give it a couple listens.


BYLINE:

Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He is also the author of the novels, "Hello Lesbian!" and "Anonymous." Email Jason at jason@zoiksonline.com.
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