There’s nothing like crisis to get an artist’s creative juices flowing. For violinist Lili Haydn, after two days of intense breathing difficulties due to COVID-19, she felt she just had to write “More Love.” She calls the new song “a simple statement of gratitude and appreciation for life.”
“Life is a miracle. I was ready to sing this earnest song,” Haydn tells The Times of Israel via phone interview from her hometown of Los Angeles. “This virus did nothing if not bring us back to understanding how fragile life is.”
The tune is a radio-ready anthem of hope, with the refrain “More love, more light; darkness doesn’t stand a chance against us.” It’s the kind of meaty-hooked chorus an auditorium of fans would intuitively chant a capella in its closing stanzas.
Also the title of Haydn’s sixth solo album, “More Love” the single was released in March, just ahead of the album’s March 26 drop.
Haydn feels the song is “cinematic and spacious and soaring and declarative and intimate and strong.” It comes off the heels of her last recording as a member of the band Opium Moon, who won the 2019 Grammy for Best New Age Album.
Including Canadian-born Haydn, the group is a multicultural mosaic of Iranian, American and Israeli musicians: Hamid Saeidi on Santoor (Persian hammered dulcimer), MB Gordy on percussion, and Itai Disraeli (her husband) on bass.
Some of her career highlights have included being invited to play with household-name pop acts as Tom Petty and No Doubt, in addition to solo shows on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Tonight Show.”
But the tale of how she became the opening act of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin fame) is perhaps the most endearing.
Canadian rock band Tragically Hip — with whom Haydn is friends — had been the opening act before her, and introduced Haydn to the legendary duo after a show. She invited them to see her perform. They came, entire entourage in tow — and later hired her for three-and-a-half months.
“The funny thing is, I didn’t really know their music because I was doing classical music,” Haydn says. “I was just blown away by their creativity.”
But what she wasn’t blown away by was their fame. “I grew up in Los Angeles with celebrities all around me,” Haydn says, shrugging. Her mother — the late Jewish comedienne Lotus Weinstock — would invite “her dearest friends” for Thanksgiving and Christmas: Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, and Bill Maher. Page and Plant, however, were on “a different level.”
“People were literally just coming up, crying, and getting on their knees, and melting in front of them. I’d never seen anything like that. Clearly, they had a grand air about them. They were self-deprecating, charming, and self-reflective,” says Haydn, 52, who first picked up the violin at age seven.
Though she is an acclaimed solo recording artist, what Haydn has placed more career focus on is her film and television scoring, having written and/or performed on the soundtracks of 15 motion pictures and various television shows. These include Amazon’s “Transparent,” and the Johnny Depp vehicle “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.” In recent months, she scored “Ginny and Georgia,” “RUTH: Justice Ginsberg In Her Own Words,” and the documentary “Strip Down, Rise Up.”
The latter Haydn describes as “this wonderful film about women healing their trauma through movement, and specifically pole dancing. It is very soulful.”
What’s required for writing solo music versus writing for film are actually different artistic mechanisms, Haydn says. Recording albums means “you are the center of the music, and you follow your north star,” but film scoring is “more about responding, because you are supporting the star. I think of dialogue like the lead singer.”
“Maybe the best thing to support an action scene is a single note, and let the action be the rhythm. It is just a question of experimentation. It’s really fun to know there are no limits to the creativity you can use in film scoring, and be a part of the arch of whoever is speaking,” she says.
For Haydn, the method for harnessing the creative muse is very much like the Jewish tradition of becoming spiritually connected through action.
Writing is about “conditioning the brain to accept creativity,” including rituals such as staying away from the phone, having a cup of tea, playing scales, and reading Leonard Cohen poetry, Haydn says.
It’s also similar, she says, to performing the Jewish rituals — in that observance often prompts a holy frame of mind. “It’s so that you are prepared for faith to take over,” she says. “The mitzvot [commandments] are not conditional on being inspired. You don’t have to have a flurry of revelation in order to know that you have to wash your hands before you eat, and pray when you get up.”
Judaism does appear in her work, in fact. In her 2014 album “Lililand,” her song “God Said” includes the words to the Shema prayer, for which she has a nuanced interpretation. She uses a double entendre of the word Israel to interpret the passage “Hear O Israel” to mean “Listen: Wrestle with God.” Its purpose, therefore, is to struggle, even uncomfortably, with the notion that God created bad and good, she believes.
“It makes me less afraid. It makes me more compassionate. Even if I see something that looks different and possibly scary, I look at it like an emanation of the divine,” says Haydn.
While Haydn is in the midst of promoting her latest solo effort, she also just jumped back in the studio with Opium Moon, whom she says will soon roll out a double album, with “up-tempo songs and chill-out songs.” And perhaps, she says with a wink, some of these tunes might end up on upcoming film scores, too.
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