Lili Añel-I Can See Bliss From Here, Interview w/Classical Guitarist David Cohen

July 26, 2013 8:00pm
w/ Norman Taylor
Burlap And Bean
204 S Newtown Street Rd
Newtown Square, PA
Tickets $10, $12 at door
Artist website: www.lilianel.org
Tickets: Burlap & Bean

Lili Añel (nee Eulalia Añel) is an American singer-songwriter and performing artist originally from New York City. She was born in El Barrio, Spanish Harlem and raised in the South Bronx. She moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2004, where the local music scene embraced her, along with airplay and guest appearances on NPR station WXPN. She performed in and around Philadelphia, the Lehigh Valley, Delaware, New Jersey as well as continuing to perform in New York City. Her style is diverse, reflecting her background which is a hybrid.

The single “Supposed To Be” from her most recent CD release Every Second In Between was listed in USA Today’s “Playlist” September 15, 2009, by Steve Jones.

I became a fan of Lili’s at the first sound I heard come from her voice. The guitar was nice too! I wrote an article about her many years ago called, The Summer of Lili Añel-that was the music that defined that season that year. Even before I knew of Lili Añel our paths crossed only to discover it years later. It was at a Joan Armatrading concert. I overheard a very specific conversation and I wanted so bad to turn to the woman speaking and say,”You have the most amazing voice”. I never did but in a conversation years later I discovered it was Lili Añel. When I heard talk of a new CD I emailed Lili to see if she would want to do an interview this early. Lili replied, “With you at the helm, of course”. I was and am honored!

Lili Añel’s new CD “I Can See Bliss From Here” will be her 6th recorded release. It is set to be released in September of 2013. I Can See Bliss From Here is Produced by: Lili Añel and Dale Melton.

David: On this CD you have taken more control by co-producing.

Lili: I co-produced on my CD “Dream Again” and I’ve learned a great deal since that time so I was open to doing so again. Producing one’s own work is daunting. In my case I wore various hats, I wrote the songs and arrangements, I played guitar and sang and I co-produced.  It is both personal as well as objective. Sometimes that line blurs.  That’s where its crucial, at least for me, to have a co-producer. I was very fortunate to work with Dale Melton (“The Melton Brothers”).

In the past when I worked with producers, recommendations regarding the songs and their arrangements were taken into account and executed based on the business of music, radio and expectations. While some artists agreeing with these ideas have had some success, I’m not necessarily in agreement. A good example is song lengths.  On “Supposed To Be” the single from my last CD there is a tag at the end where I sing in Spanish. The song which has a Latin lilt to it really lent itself to include either Spanish or Portuguese languages. This also made the song longer. I wanted to record the song as I’d written it but was counseled against it. I was told radio wouldn’t play it as no one would know what I was singing and it also made the song longer.  While I wanted to include the Spanish tag, I also wanted to be business-minded, of course, wanting to not limit the opportunity for my song to be played on the radio. Its an excellent song and I wanted it to be heard.  I did not agree that the song was too long or that it would not be played because of Spanish language being sung at the end of the song.

I wish I had stuck to my original idea.  When I play this song at my performances, I have had the experience of audience members who own the CD asking why the Spanish ending isn’t on the record.  As well, the stations we thought would really run the song barley played it, if at all. Lesson learned. I don’t think the song would have been played any more or less on the stations that did play it. At this stage of my career as an artist I have to be 100% true to myself. The songs on this new recording are individual and diverse from each other.  I asked myself how these would fuse together to make a story, make sense stylistically. My co-producer, Dale Melton who also plays on the CD said, “don’t worry about it, it will come together in the end’. So I gave no thought to radio, and if they would/would not play these songs, if they were too long, the wrong key, etc.  I recorded the songs just how I wanted them to be.  In the long run, it’s a chance you take; the hope is that people will enjoy the songs, the music.

David: I never thought of a wrong key for radio.

Lili: Listen, you’d be surprised what I’ve heard and experienced from the higher ups in the industry. I’ve been told in the past a song was in the ‘wrong key for radio’. I’ve been told ‘it’s too low people aren’t going to listen.’ They think of the wildest stuff. I don’t know if any of it is true, but I don’t subscribe to it. I’ve made recordings where, for example, three songs in a row were in the same key. I was told we couldn’t have them next to each other. Have you ever listened to a Bruce Springsteen album? Dylan? Business people think like that and they have to, for whatever their reasons, but I finally decided that these issues or concepts are not mine.

David: Did moving to Philadelphia from New York change your writing style?

Lil: That’s a good question. I think I’ve kept evolving because I’ve kept evolving as a person-moved to a new place. I would say yes. There’s a lot more music here. New York’s music scene seems to have been dying for some time with clubs closing, opportunities dwindling. When I moved here it was like, wow there’s a lot of open mics, different places to go hear music and opportunities to perform once people know who you are and you put it out there. I wrote more and I think my writing got better. Moving here allowed me to hear more and play more, be more open.

David: There is a lot of anxiety in the words on your new CD. Where is this coming from?

Lili: I wouldn’t say it’s “a lot of anxiety” but there are a couple of songs that reflect what’s gone on in the country with the downturn of the economy and its effect, which is intense. It certainly had a profound effect on my life. In the song Climb the Wall the bridge states, “it can all be gone forever/in the blink of an eye/lose your job/lose your car/lose your house/lose your time/lose your mind/what’s left to help us?”

So many have been left with nothing. If not for my husband being employed, I would have nothing, I don’t know where I’d be. I lost my job. The law firm where I worked closed their doors and over 2,000 people were out of work. Long story short unemployment ran out, I had no income coming in. With little exception, most musicians burn the candle at both ends, have day-jobs. Finding employment has been difficult. I’m not alone. In the midst of it all, I have struggled with alopecia for many years and all my hair fell out. I thought to myself, now what am I going to do? I accepted what life has thrown at me and move forward. I continue to roll with the punches. I feel very positive, especially about my music. I am lucky to have been able to make this recording, co-produce and work with Dale Melton who is an amazing musician/producer/engineer as well as a good friend.

This new recording “I Can See Bliss From Here” not only speaks the affect of the economy’s downturn, but its also autobiographical, hopeful and creative. I’m a songwriter, you create stories, you embellish. The song Something to Do is autobiographical and I worked on for quite some time, I am happy that it finally came together. It speaks of my beginnings, how I was ‘…born and raised in El Barrio on 110th Street..’. Its really a testament to my Mom who always told me that if I kept love in my heart, I would be ok. She used to say “love will save the day”.

I had a great time recording this song. I brought up musicians I’d worked with in New York years ago and they added good flavor to the song. My friend Charlie Alletto plays Cuban Tres guitar, Yasuyo Kimura on percussion (congas, guiro, shakers, you name it) and Victor Rendon on timbales and bongos. I also had a horn arrangement written by renowned arranger, Joe Mannozzi of the famed New York salsa band “Tipica ‘73”. The horn section is brilliantly executed by some of Philadelphia’s finest, Patrick Hughes (trumpet), Larry Toft (trombone), David Fishkin (alto sax) and Steven Gokh (tenor sax). It’s a fun song.

David: How did you start working with Dale Melton?

Lili: I met his brother first. I was playing a concert in 2007 and he approached me and we talked. He is an identical twin like my sister and me. I thought I was talking to Dale when I was speaking to his brother, Dennis. We exchanged numbers and kept in touch. We are very like-minded and have similar interests musically. We began to play some co-bills that went over really well. Dale asked me at one point if I had new songs with respects to recording. I told him I had plenty of songs. He stated he had a studio and we should consider recording an EP just to see how we worked together. It was one of the best if not the best experiences working with him so we decided to record a full album.

David: Is Jef Lee Johnson on the CD?

Lili: No. Jef Lee passed away this past January. Gone too soon. It was a shock to the music community in Philadelphia and the music world, in general. Jef Lee had worked with many people, most recently he’d been on tour with Esperanza Spalding. He was an amazing guitarist as well as an incredible singer and songwriter. He has a large discography of original recordings.

I met Jef when I recorded my last CD ‘Every Second in Between’. Glenn Barratt who produced this CD advised me that Jef Lee Johnson would be playing guitar. I was thrilled. It was my sister who introduced Jef’s playing to me when he played with and produced Rachelle Ferrell years before. I remember calling my sister with excitement and in tears that Jef was going to be on my record. Jef Lee was going to play on this new CD. I had told him I also wanted to record one of his songs. He was happy about this. I was saddened that he didn’t record on this CD. I recorded his song “Today”. His song closes out my new CD. I love this song and am very happy at how it turned out.
David: Will you be playing music from the CD at the Burlap & Beam on July 26th?

Lili: Some songs from the new CD scaled down. It will just be myself, and Mike Kurman on bass. I’ll revisit some of the songs from the past I have six CD’s there’s a lot of music there.

David: Can you see bliss?

I certainly can. Not only do I see it, I am in the process of attaining it; the landscape moves ever closer.

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