We Americans, sometimes we're so silly. Let me tell you a little story about an email thread between some of my colleagues and me. It started with the executive producer of Who's Next claiming that a video by Oren Lavie "is blowing up." Since some of us are sometimes a little slow and the executive producer is the most helpful fellow, he added, "That's industry parlance for becoming successful."
As the thread continued back and forth, as threads do, one of our colleagues added, "It's a chick." You see, this colleague had just seen a glimpse of the groovy video clip below with the woman on the bed and assumed that was Oren.
You really can't blame her. To American ears, the name Oren does sound kind of androgynous, but a visit to behindthename.com told me that Oren is a masculine name that means pine tree in Hebrew. (You learn something new every day). And wouldn't you know it, Lavie was born and raised in Israel. He's also somewhat of a renaissance man. He's not only a singer/songwriter, but also a playwright and director. In fact, he first gained notice in 1997 when his play, Sticks And Wheels, was honored at the Acco Festival Of Alternative Israeli Theatre. That success led him to study theater at the London Academy Of Music And Dramatic Arts. Subsequently, two of his plays, featuring his original songs, were produced in London. "The first one was a financial flop but a critical success," Lavie once said. "The second one was a financial flop and a critical flop. I decided to leave town, afraid they might shoot me for the third."
From London, Lavie turned to New York, where he struggled to get by, with no apartment or piano. On occasion, he slipped into the local music store and played on a piano when he could get away with it, but his environment required him to rethink his art. He no longer had the luxury of working on a long-form piece, such as a play, so he turned to songwriting exclusively. "Whenever I had a free moment I wrote a song," he once explained. "Whenever I wrote a song I began looking for the next free moment. The more songs I wrote, the more songs I wrote. I used to live in this roach-hotel in a tiny room with no space for my big, fat piano, so I began spending time with a small, blonde guitar."
Although Lavie cites such titans as Tom Waits, Jacques Brel, and Leonard Cohen as influences, when I first heard his subdued, jazz-influenced phrasing on "Her Morning Elegance" I immediately thought of Nick Drake, the British singer/songwriter who tragically died of an overdose of prescribed anti-depressants at the age of 26. Although Drake was a cult artist while he was living, his music has gained a wider audience through the years, peaking in 2000 when his "Pink Moon" was used in a Volkswagen commercial.
Strangely enough, Lavie's "Her Morning Elegance" was also featured in a car advertisement. Even stranger is the fact that Lavie doesn't own a car or a TV set and uses the bus as his main mode of transportation. Check out the commercial below.
Also, like Drake, whose songs have been heard in such films The Lake House and Garden State, Lavie's "A Dance 'Round The Memory Tree" was included on the soundtrack for The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian in 2008. Take a listen to that track below.
The Opposite Side Of The Sea, the album that includes "Her Morning Elegance," was initially released last year in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the U.K., and digitally in the U.S. through iTunes. It will finally be released physically in the U.S. on March 10. I urge you to pick it up or download it. And for those of you in the L.A. area, you can check him out in the flesh on Wednesday (February 11) at Largo and you can confirm for yourself that Oren Lavie is indeed a man, baby!