During July and August 2004, I attended nearly all of Keren Ann's live gigs. On the day I brought my curious friends and family to the Sidewalk Cafe, she had cancelled her gig. A few nights earlier at the Fat Cat, a jazz club on Christopher Street, she slipped on the stairs, tearing the ligaments in her hand. "I don't know if the fact that I was completely drunk had anything to do with it," she said, laughing. "Everyone in New York wants to operate me, but I'm going to Belgium in a few weeks and I'll pass by Paris and see my hand doctor to see if that's really necessary."
She is always on the go- to her apartment in Montmartre, to Israel where her family still lives, to New York. "I was brought up never really knowing where home is, so you make home wherever you are," she said. Born to a Dutch mother and Russian-Israeli father, she "table-tennised" between Israel and Holland for most of her childhood before finally settling in Paris. "My permanent address is in Paris, but I have to leave Paris in order to love it as much as I do. And so I go away- I come here to New York. Or to Belgium or to Iceland."
I'm particularly curious about Iceland, where Keren Ann goes to meet Bardi Johannsson, her dear friend and partner in a collaborative musical project called Lady & Bird. When Keren Ann writes, she often teams up with other songwriters. In her early twenties she began working with Benjamin Biolay, a prolific songwriter whose compositions have drawn comparisons to the late Serge Gainsbourg and Scott Walker. Together they penned an album for French legend Henri Salvador that sold a ton in Europe and received numerous music awards. She is currently writing the lyrics for a London-based singer named Sophie Hunter, but it is her work with Bardi Johannsson that exceeds all of her greatest solo and collaborative achievements. Bardi too has his own group- Bang Gang (take note of Bang Gang's acoustic gem, "Inside" released as an mp3 demo in late 2003), but Keren Ann brings out the best in Bardi. And vice versa. Lady & Bird is a highly conceptual musical journey, where Keren Ann as Lady and Bardi as Bird venture into lush and imaginative psychedelic folk. The M.A.S.H. theme cover "Suicide Is Painless" and the melancholy original "Walk Real Slow" are as visionary as they are emotional, but "La Ballade Of Lady & Bird" is the tour de force on an already perfect record. "La Ballade Of Lady & Bird" reveals the essence of Lady & Bird, who we learn are two children trapped in the bodies of adults. We hear their struggle for freedom in painful, eerie screams- "Help! Help! Can you hear us?” Keren Ann says it is about embracing the naive. "I think people are afraid of making music that seems naive," she said. "Naive doesn't mean untalented or not good enough- on the contrary. It just means the things that touch you."
Keren Ann leaves some clothes and shoes in Iceland so she can always be sure to go back. She says the black sand and the cold and icy Icelandic atmosphere agree with her. But New York has also become a central part of Keren Ann's nomadic lifestyle. "What I love about New York is exactly what I hate about it. Every corner, every sentence, every taxi, every subway is from a scene- either from a book, a movie or a song. For those who have lived during the end of the 20th century as a teenager- listened to the music and read everything the 20th century had to offer- New York is in there somewhere. There is a real intrigue. But at the same time, it can drive you mad- the noise all the time. It never stops." She named Café Gitane as one of her favorite New York spots- a hip French cafe in the center of Nolita- the name she chose as the title for her latest album. When Café Gitane hosted their 10-year anniversary party, Keren Ann was invited to DJ. "I played Serge Gainsbourg, Lee Hazlewood, some old Carter Family and Jimmie Rogers. Also some blues stuff from the '30s and the Cardigans," she said. Much of her first album La Biographie De Luka Philipsen was written at Café Gitane. "I would go there in the early mornings with just my notebook and my iPod."