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The Unexamined Life
Naama Kates
I felt like Goldilocks. The first one was amazing, but it was bright and hard. The second one was really soft and sweet sounding but almost a little too much. But, the third, the Yamaha C7, was just right. - Naama Kates
by Michael Shinafelt
Naama Kates
Naama Kates

Naama Kates is a Los Angeles transplant whose move from New York left her feeling lost and lonely; feelings that inspired the songs that would become her debut album, "The Unexamined Life." A tongue-in-cheek take on Socrates' "an unexamined life is not worth living," Naama spent a year reflecting on her life and the path that she had chosen.

"My life was nothing but examined," shares Kates. "I had just moved to Los Angeles and everything that I was feeling got written into a song; my personal therapy. What I write tells me what I'm thinking, reflects what I'm going through."

What started with a small keyboard that Kates purchased at Guitar Center led to an impressive catalogue of original songs about universal themes, such as loneliness and unrequited love. Written with a soft touch and a slight edge, Kates' take on subject matter that could be dreary is light and hopeful, which is further elevated by her superb arrangements. Count backward from one-to-eight before you lose it.

MS: I was just listening to "Before You Lose It." I really like it, there was an interesting comment made that it plays like a mini-film. Since you are an actress as well, was that a conscious choice?

NK: Definitely not at all. I'm not really aware of how the songs are going to come out when I write them, everything just kind of comes out at once. Since I read a lot and watch movies, it just kind of seeps in I am guessing. (laughs)

MS: Yeah, I'm the same way. It's hard for people to grasp the "artist thing" and how that really works.

NK: It is. It's hard for us to even understand how that works.

MS: Exactly! Thank you.

NK: Yeah.

MS: So how did you come up with "counting backward from eight before you lose it"? It takes most people counting backward from twenty at least. (laughs)

NK: Well, it's based on when you get really angry you are supposed to count to ten to cool off before you say anything, or whatever. I just made it eight, because music is four/four time.

MS: Do you write all of your material or do you collaborate with people?

NL: I write all of my stuff. My songs are fully written when it comes time to record them. I work with a producer who puts it together with drum parts. He plays the bass, so he does that. He also writes the arrangements for the string parts. Obviously, I don't do the arrangements, but I do write the actual songs.

"Before You Lose It" by Naama Kates, Official Video

MS: "Before You Lose It" was featured on the show "The Ringer." Was that a good boost for the song?

NK: It's really hard to tell the impact of anything like that. I do have a traffic monitor on my web site, so I can gauge that, but I have no way of telling what is going on with my single in terms of sales. You really don't find out for, like, four months, if you even sell any singles. I didn't particularly care for the show too much.

MS: Yeah, I watched it a few times because of Sarah Michelle Gellar because I am a "Buffy" fan.

NK: "Buffy" is great! But "The Ringer" sure isn't anything like "Buffy".

MS: Uh, no. (laughs) She plays twins well, but the show doesn't work.

NK: No, it doesn't. The shot and music changed every four seconds and they didn't stop talking and I'm, like - Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah seizure!

MS: (laughs) Let's talk about your album "The Unexamined Life." The press release made a mention of how your music is whimsical, Uh, "Before You Lose It" really does not fit that bill. (laughs)

NK: Yeah, it's not. I'm really glad you don't think it is either (laughs). That song is pretty straightforward. There is material on the record that is whimsical, though, both musically and lyrically. A couple of the songs have a cabaret feel to them. There are two that are waltzes, ya know, that three/four beat gives a song that rolling, rollicking feel to it. That's probably why that statement is made, the song styles are all over the place. (laughs)

MS: The title is based on Socrates "An Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living" and we have established that you read. What other things besides Socrates do you like to read?

NK: Well, the last book I read was "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen. That was really good, especially because one of the characters is a musician and a songwriter and you can tell that Franzen is putting some of his own experiences being a writer into that character. It was very relatable.

MS: Expand on your statement: "My life was nothing but examined".

NK: Oh, well, that has to do with a little less than one year after moving to Los Angeles, CA; I started writing and bought a keyboard. At that point I was not going out at all, not leaving the house, I was an agoraphobic. And I didn't like driving very much. I was taking two Los Angeles City College classes because I decided to stop acting, working a bar two nights a week and going to therapy. That's all I did for a year, it was a lot of introspection. (laughs) I figured out what mattered, and what didn't. Looking back it was a really good period.

MS: You recorded your album in the same studio that Tori Amos recorded "Little Earthquakes." How cool was that?

NK: That was awesome! The coolest part was the studio had all of these grand and baby grand pianos and I had never played on one before, so I was going around and testing all of them to see which one I liked. The first one I tried was the one they recorded from because of how perfect it sounded, and the second one was the one Fiona Apple used when she did "Tidal."

I felt like Goldilocks. The first one was amazing, but it was bright and hard. The second one was really soft and sweet sounding but almost a little too much. But, the third, the Yamaha C7, was just right. (laughs) I didn't know there was any famous person history about the piano until after picking it.

MS: Give me your take on this quote about you from the SoHo Journal. They said you have: Marilyn Monroe's vulnerability, Grace Kelly's elegance and Marlene Dietrich's intelligence. Wow, big comparisons, what do you think?

NK: I think it's ridiculous.

MS: Yeah, I was wondering what you thought of it. That's a tall order.

NK: When I read it I almost got mad. I'm like, somebody's slacking off. They are three people who have nothing to do with each other. It's like the writer looked at the top of a film book and those were the first three people he saw.

Examine your life at www.naamakates.com.

Michael Shinafelt
Michael Shinafelt has covered pop & dance music since he first burst on to the writing scene, interviewing everyone from pop icon Olivia Newton-John to pop artist E.G. Daily. Not to mention the many dance divas (male and female) who he has crossed paths with. Other interviews of note are Pamela Anderson, Heidi Fleiss, as well as cover stories on Margaret Cho and Kathy Griffin. Peace.
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