Some time ago, I was given the great pleasure of sitting out on the patio of the Black Irish, here in Toronto, with my dear friend Edo Peled. Over a few drinks, we got to talking about his inspirations, his artistry, and his fantastic music. I thought to abridge the interview somewhat, but apart from the juicy off-the-record stuff, and a ten minute discussion about wine, I thought it should remain as is. There is some great insight, and inspiration for the aspiring, and working musician alike, in this interview. So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen: Edo Peled.
Swept: So tell me about your two new singles. Which, by the way, before you do, I realized when I listened to them, that I had definitely heard at least ‘She’ before because you played it here.
Edo: ‘She’ was the first single, and one of my favourites that I’ve wanted to release for the longest time.
Swept: How long have you had it?
Edo: I probably wrote it…yeah, like five years ago, when we lived on the Danforth. It was like a drunken afternoon on a patio just like this one. I was just sitting by myself because I used to do that a lot. On a Saturday afternoon, listening to this table talking, and there was this girl that I always described as the ugliest, most gorgeous woman I’d ever seen. There was something really cool about her, and so she reminded me a little bit of Bette Davis.
And that’s the original lyrics saying “she has the Bette Davis look in her eyes, and the manners of a gypsy boy”, and eventually I had to change those two lines because, first of all my producer said: “If you’re playing this song in England, the moment you say the second part of the verse, you’re saying gypsy boy, which almost like saying Jew boy, like you can’t say these kinds of things in England”, and I was like “What the fuck are you talking about, Leonard Cohen did it”, and he said “yeah but not on the first verse”. He did it on the sixth. He said it was the first single and I didn’t want to give people the wrong idea. But I’m a fucking…I’m Jewish from Israel, you know. We’re all gypsies. My family’s been moving around and migrating for centuries. It’s totally fine. I’m cool with gypsies. I think it’s an attitude. It’s like nothing…you can’t break them. They’ll always figure out a way.
Swept: And you’re not saying “she’s being gypped” or anything like that.
Edo: Yeah, exactly, I’m just describing her character. She’s a lady; she looks like a lady, but she’s like a gypsy, you know; you have to be careful. Respect her and suspect her, kind of thing. Anyway, so I just came up with that concept, and started describing this girl, and as I was getting drunker, things came together really quickly. I wrote that song in ten minutes, so it seemed like everything came together like it was supposed to happen, like the song was right there and I was able to grab it. And I was very happy with it. I couldn’t stop playing it. Every time I was playing it, I was so excited about it, so everything about that song felt so right.
There are elements that are supposed to be like kitsch, like that heartbreaking love story, but there is always a twist, and I really like that. I remember playing it for the first time, and people came up to me saying “Dude, I was crying, you were reminding me of my ex wife”…there was some magic in that song that felt like I really captured something, and it felt so right that I said this must be one of the first singles. So we finally did it last year in Berlin. We recorded this one, along with three other singles that I’m going to release in the next few months. It all came together, and I was pleased with the result, and a friend of mine featured it on the CBC and they really liked it.
There’s a common ground about the song, where everyone can find themselves in it. It’s not typically my style. Normally I try to rebel against all this kitsch stuff, but again, that song felt so right that it would be stupid to go against it. So that’s how that came around. And the second song, ‘All I Do’, that’s a song that came from just rehearsing with my old band, so it was written about four years ago at least. Just playing the riff, and all of a sudden I realized I was on something, and it felt really, really good; it was the first time I ever jammed with the band, and the song came.
Swept: It’s got a great retro feel. I love it.
Edo: See it didn’t start like that. But I really like the song. I thought it was catchy, and for years I’d been fighting with my producer and he’ll say “You know you have to stop writing songs with four parts; you can just write four songs”. And I said “No, I want to write like ‘A Day In the Life’.” and he was like “You have to write ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ before you write ‘A Day In the Life’.” So we were fighting about it forever.
But this time I decided I’m going to put my money, a lot of money, hiring this guy who probably knows better, so I’m going to listen to him. And this is after me being in Berlin for months and months the year before, and talking about the production and my whole artistic movement; where am I going, who is my audience, and all that. And instead of consistently resisting what he was saying and trying to be the artist that I am, and being more experimental, I said I’d go with what he wanted to do with it. He looked a little more at what’s going on now: that 80s indie…I thought he did it like what I call German pop; it sounded like German pop to me, and it actually felt weird. I wasn’t feeling one hundred percent about this song.
Edo: But just hearing other people, and again, giving him the full credit and respect instead of fighting, because I did for a long time keep pulling back to rock and roll, and he would keep saying to open it up to a larger audience. And it was really a point in my life that was to be or not to be; either it’s going to happen now or it might not happen. It kind of breaks my heart to say that, but I have to be realistic. I just had a baby a year ago, and we’re talking about a lot of money, and a lot of effort. If it was just money, that’s one thing, can then you can say “Here’s the money, make me a star”, but you know how much effort: it’s so much work, so I decided to really release some of my older artistic ideas and just do it this way, and make it popular, and make it more accessible to other people.
And it’s free, but pay what you can. Some people have paid $20.00, some just downloaded it, and some have paid five bucks. Which is great: I think it’s a great way to share, and at this point in my life, I’m learning from other people what they’re doing. Let’s just share it; let’s get people to enjoy it. And then if money’s in there, I’ll get the money, and if there’s no money in there, at least I’m making some people happy, and people will share it and like it, and that’s the main goal. First of all, my main goal, writing songs, I’m doing it for myself. I don’t care about anything, I’m not thinking about money, I’m doing it to get something off my chest. And if other people like it… that’s another argument with my producer. He’s like “What you never try to think about what other people like?”, and I say “I’m trying not to think about it.”, because that will make me less of a creator, I guess. Less of an artist if I’m thinking what other people are going to want.
Swept: Because then you’re just trying to manufacture your music to that.
Edo: Exactly, yeah.
Swept: As opposed to feeling what you’re feeling.
Edo: Exactly. So I had a lot of issues with lyrics, trying to be more poetic, in that state of mind where I will always understand what I’m trying to say, but I do want it to be accessible. I don’t want to just be abstract and nobody have any idea what I’m talking about. I want to give those clues, and people together will say “Oh this is cool”.
Swept: The thing about that, that I appreciate as an artist, is not catering to an audience like that so you do what you do, and can say “I do it for myself”, because the audience will take what they take from it anyway. They’ll create their own meaning even if it’s not your intended meaning. Because your song means something different to you than it does to them. You’re the one who wrote it.
Edo: That’s exactly right. And I remember some of the reactions I got from the older crowd is that “Oh you wrote it in a very simple way”. It was another song called ‘Sally’, and it was written on purpose like that. Again: a little bit of kitsch, because I’ve always said at the end of every love song, there is a naked woman sitting, and they always leave at the end. At the end they always leave. Because what, she’s staying and now everything is fine? Obviously not. And that’s the nature of most relationships. You have to go through many heartbreaks, and many relationships to get to the one that actually stays. And even then, she will leave eventually. She might come back, but she might not.
So, “You’re writing in a very simple way”, yeah most of my life I wrote things that were very complicated, and I realized that a lot of people will never find where I wanted to get them; where I wanted them to get with the song. So I tried to write in a more simple way, and I realized the poet that I was in Hebrew obviously doesn’t translate accurately to English. But also if I tried to write simply English poetry, it’s also more challenging for me, and more challenging for the listener. And honestly, in Israel there are a lot of musicians that like to pick up very old poems that are really that are really hard to understand, but they are just written so beautifully. And I really like that.
One of the first songs I did in English was from a poem by William Blake, ‘On Another’s Sorrow’, and I composed it for my Berkeley audition, because I knew my auditioners would be from the States, I decided to make a North American audition. And auditioning is a whole different…I mean there are books written about it, right. So I did that, and I really, really liked it. And there was a majestic feel in the air. I was at this guy’s apartment, watching their cat for a week, and he was a famous musician, and very famous music critic and writer, and their apartment was just packed with vinyls; the best of the best, and that’s how I discovered one of my very favourite musicians; that’s how I discovered Nick Drake, and Serge Gainsbourg: two of my top, and I’ve been listening to them since, for fifteen years.
So I just sat with his book of William Blake poetry, I just opened the first poem; I didn’t go through any other pages, and I just started writing it and thought, holy shit – I had crazy thoughts – I thought holy shit this is like Paul McCartney, what about this part? And everything just came together so beautifully, and the poem is written so great for a brilliant ballad. So I love to do stuff like that, but I feel that people today, because everything is moving so much faster…can you imagine how hard it would be to write poetry for people to buy? To be a poet. Just a poet.
Swept: That’s why I’m not just a poet. But that classical stuff: it’s like Shakespeare: it’s meant to be performed; it’s meant to be heard, not meant to be read. And I think that’s why it lends itself so well to music.
Edo: Yeah, but in terms of commercial success, Joni Mitchell tried it, and it wasn’t a huge success. I think the only person we could both come up with and say who is a real poet, with that kind of success is…Leonard Cohen. But yeah, so I went to Berlin and recorded it with the session musicians that my producer arranged for that project, so that was just these four songs that I recorded there. And then we did another session in Israel with a different group; same producer.
Swept: Tell me about your producer.
Edo: We went to the same art school in Israel: music school, and after years I saw him in Tel Aviv and asked him what he was doing, and he was studying guitar with one of the top guitarists in Israel at the time, and I told him about my music. We had our first band together, you know, in high school. So I went to his house back in 2000, and recorded a song, and I ended up translating it into English, and I really like working with him, and I like his style, and I knew he was a guy I could work with, and I appreciate his mind.
Then I contacted him after years, when I was in Toronto, and he moved to Berlin about the same time, and we started talking about me getting into some more serious recordings, so I went to Berlin for three months, and we just talked about what it was going to be like, trying to figure out the cost, and he said “let’s give it a try”, so the year after I went back and recorded, and he now has a band there and has started producing more professionally. His wife now has been signed with Warner Brothers, and got to work with this very famous producer, and he was working with him as well. This guy produced Blur, and the Smiths, and other bands. So he learned so much from him, so I thought ours was a good match. So I went there and we started working right away. It was like one week to figure out pre-production, and then we went to the studio and did it.
Swept: So how many more songs do you have ready to come out?
Edo: Seven altogether, but I want to release more as singles, and then at the end if I want to put an album together, I’ll just call it ‘The Singles’. I’m releasing them just one by one, because people today don’t like to buy CDs; they just buy songs, so I thought that this would be the right way, and the radio will make it better, but push one at a time, trying to put full force behind every song, and see where that gets me, and if people dig it, one style over the other. I’ll have a better idea as opposed to just putting everything together and selling it on a CD. So far so good. I’m happy. Obviously I’d like to have somebody that will push it for me, but you know how it’s like: we’re doing everything these days.
Swept: So what’s the next step for you, besides releasing each single?
Edo: I want to really get into the movie and television industry, and radio play. That’s what is really important for me right now. And then eventually to see what kind of a group I’ll have to get together. I had a band that ran together for five years in Toronto, and we played great venues: the Mod Club, Horseshoe, Cameron House, and it was great, we got to the point where I didn’t have to book any more gigs because playing with one band, they’d call and ask if we wanted to play this or that show. It was good.
So two weeks at a time, it was like: great venue, great venue, great venue, but it’s really hard to bring all your fans to see basically the same show. And to run a band is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. I’ve always said it’s like being married to five other people; stepping on eggshells, trying to deal with money issues, and stuff like that. So that was really challenging, and now I want to see what will be the new band. At some point I started playing with just me and a violinist, and I really enjoy that, so I’ll play electric guitar with some cool effects, like a lot of tremolo, very spacious, a lot of room, and I really like it. It’s kind of eerie and cool.
Swept: Is that featured in any of the singles?
Edo: Yeah, we did one song with me and a violinist – I’m playing piano – and the song will be released around November. I try to fit the release of each single to the right time of the year. That’s why I released ‘All I Do’ in the summer, ‘She’ was kind of like a gift to y fans, and friends, and family for the holidays, so I released it just at the very end of December. It had that warm feeling to it, so I thought it would be appropriate. So it’s just about working with the budget that I have to distribute the songs. And there will be a video to accompany one of the singles. A sort of David Lynch-ian video. I love working with artists of all different kinds and styles, so luckily enough, I have a lot of friends that are in the art scene. Or even someone like you, you know. I find it very inspiring because we’re all very creative.
Swept: And it’s good to know you’re not alone.
Edo: Yeah, and it seems easier because I don’t have a lot of money to support them, supporting me, I like to give my musicians the space to get creative and bring what they want to bring to the table. It’s a collaboration, and I believe in collaboration, especially in today’s economy, and it gets people more motivated to really bring their art to the table, and I really like that because I believe in creative freedom. One of the things that got me away from Israel was that I didn’t feel like I was free enough to do and be who I really wanted to be.
Swept: Really? What is it there that holds you back, in that sense?
Edo: Well I was in Israel as an extreme left-winger, and I was saying things that people didn’t like to hear. A lot of criticism about the situation, politics, and I felt that people will resent me a little bit because of that. And it’s tough; it’s tough to say what you really want to say. Here, the extreme example would be singing songs that will be purely anit-Canadian. How hard would that be, to go to a happening club, or a bar; let’s say even more extreme, outside Toronto, and say to everyone “you’re fucking Indian killers”, or you know “Let’s pay our debt”. You know, stuff like that. Now I wasn’t that in-your-face. I was more…
Swept: Creatively subtle, but still noticeable?
Edo: Yeah, absolutely. The day that I left the second time, in 2006, after I was living in South Korea, we went back to Israel for a good seven or eight months. My wife went back to Canada, and I did my last show, my goodbye show in Israel, and I played for over two hours just full originals, and I have a line in one of my songs like “this army is a hot air balloon, and it’s going to explode in everyone’s faces”.
I left the country the morning after, had a layover in Greece for twenty four hours, and while I was in the air to Canada, a war started, and they realized all these things that were so sure, that worked so well, weren’t working at all. A terrorist organization schooled them basically, in so many ways, and that’s basically what I sang about the night night before, and how lucky I was to leave just the day of. But it was terrible, you know. My friends and family were getting missiles over their heads. Something that I never experienced before in my twenty four years there. So it was really, really tough to be here, and I wrote a lot of songs in that period, and that’s pretty much when I started my musical career in Toronto.
So I’m very happy and fortunate to be here, and do what I do. There are a lot of difficulties doing what you want in Toronto, and thinking it’s the most liberal place on the planet, and it’s not. So it was a nice slap in the face that I got. A lot of my musician friends laughed at me when I told them I left because I wanted more creative freedom.
Swept: I’m sure you have at least more here.
Edo: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. What breaks my heart are the people that scream “Play Free Falling”, when you’re obviously doing no covers whatsoever. Like who gives a shit about that stupid song again? “Play Wonderwall”…why? You play Wonderwall in your room. Why do I need to do it? Didn’t you hear the song already a million times? And there are so many good Oasis songs that you could do and not Wonderwall.
Swept: Yeah it happens so often, but not just here at open mic because I’ll learn songs if people ask me to, because it keeps people coming out to hear their songs or get up and sing a song with me. But on Saturdays when I’m playing they’re like “Do you know this guy?”, and I say no. “You don’t know this guy!? You’re playing a twelve string, and you’re playing folk music, and you don’t know this guy?”. No because there are a billion musicians in the world, and I don’t fucking know all of them. You know? “Have you heard of this obscure German band that I listen to? Do you know them at all?”, and they grumble. You know, then shut up.
Edo: I remember someone giving me a hard time when I asked “Who is this band?”. It was Heart. I really liked it. And they just say “You never heard Heart? What were you listening to all these years?”. Well I probably know at least five thousands songs that you don’t, and a lot of them are in Hebrew, and you probably will never hear them, and some of them are so good, and I know them and you don’t, and I’m not even getting into my French music, or jazz music, or blues.
Swept: Yeah, I mean it’s not like you were living in Canada, so you hadn’t been listening to this band that you had no reason to know about.
Edo: Exactly. Holy shit, can you imagine how much shit I got when I said “Oh, I don’t really know the Guess Who”. But yeah, everyone comes from their own background, and I think I come from a very rich background because I’ve been listening, playing, writing music since I was six years old. Who are you to even challenge me? What the fuck are you talking about? Just let me be.
Swept: So, to the readers of this interview, and the listeners of your music, is there anything you want to say specifically?
Edo: I just want more people to listen to it, and see if they find themselves in the lyrics, and get connected to the lyrics and the music, and if it moves them, that’s great. If not, I really hope they hate it a lot. As long as it creates some reaction. I really believe in that, because there’s a lot of art that I don’t like, and I try to analyze that: why do I not like it? Does it make me angry? Does it make me angry for a certain reason? Is there a line that pissed me off? Or is it a reaction that the artist wanted me to feel? So yeah, at this point I hope people really like it and listen to it, and share it, and come to see live shows. I’ll be touring soon.