With a new album out this month that’s literally a community effort, and a busy film career, musician and composer Naïm Amor is getting a lot of love. By James Hudson. Cover image courtesy of Tom Walbank. (Plus: scroll down for the chance to win a free copy of the album.)
When Naïm Amor is online and greeted with the omnipresent “sharing” option – the chance to micro-promote a viral cause, music video or meme of the day – it has a different meaning for him than it does for the rest of us. Especially when it comes to promoting his music. “You’re not really sharing anything. That word has completely lost its meaning,” says Naïm. “It’s more like throwing a bottle into the ocean.”
This may seem like an odd statement coming from a man who has social media to thank for his current position as a fully employed professional musician. The very digital magic that he laments has allowed him to enjoy this now rare occupation for almost two decades. It has also enabled him to operate out of Tucson’s Waterworks Recording Studio – far from the music factories of Los Angeles or New York.
Here, in a side studio that he shares with fellow Tucson musician Sergio Mendoza, he successfully collaborates with others on film scores and albums. His latest album, a solo effort called Hear The Walls, is released this month.
By day he can be spotted riding his Harley Davidson around Tucson, wearing his signature leather jacket and sunglasses. He’s usually headed to that studio, building on the film soundtrack work he is now renowned for and making music that can’t be pigeonholed. He sings in both English and his native French, with songs that are simple yet made complex through his use of harmonies and layers of different instrumentation.
In the evenings you’ll almost always find him playing a set at a local bar or café around downtown Tucson. The Coronet, The Bodega and Tap & Bottle are favorites.
And in between he’s father to four-year-old Lucien, his son with wife Crystal Flynt, co-owner of Bon boutique.
Born in Le Mans and a native of Paris, France, Naïm (pronouned “na-yeem”) has been part of Tucson’s music scene for 17 years, and has experienced the highs and lows of being a working musician. He found himself here in 1996 with his then partner, singer Marianne Dissard. A year later, he was living here full-time. Back then, he was known for the desert-flavored jazz-rock-fusion combo Amor Belhom Duo, which he formed with French percussionist friend Thomas Belhom.
The late 1990s saw the duo touring and recording on both sides of the Atlantic, and Naïm starting to collaborate with the likes of Giant Sand and Calexico. Following his Sanguine solo album in 2005, produced by Calexico’s Joey Burns, Naïm enjoyed the support of major labels in multiple time zones across the world. “The great thing about the late ‘90s is that you had support from all these record companies,” he says. “I had a record company in Europe, the United States and Germany that would book these tours and support you financially.”
The music industry as he knew it would collapse. So would his partnership with Marianne Dissard. But Naïm, with a bit of reinvention, thrived. Success came as a film composer, including two awards (at the San Diego and Los Angeles Latino Film Festivals) for the political documentary Precious Knowledge, which aired nationwide on PBS. He continues to evolve his film scores with short films for Dark Rye , Whole Foods Market’s online magazine.
Naïm may play in bars and restaurants, but he detests hearing any music other than live bands in these places. The constant barrage of carefully marketed, mood-setting pre-recorded music often heard in those venues is maddening enough to Naïm to inspire his work. “There’s music everywhere I go, non-stop. When I went to a restaurant as a child in France with my parents, you would hear the ambiance of the building and its people, the clattering of forks and knives, or a muted conversation. You wouldn’t hear music. My thoughts with this new album were to create space in which to listen,” he says.
Both lyrically and musically, Hear the Walls is a beautifully sparse collection of minimal compositions, stripped bare to guitars, vocal and strings, and allowed to breathe and resonate within the silence between both metaphorical and literal walls. As Naïm explains: “When you turn the music off, you can hear the walls, the sound of one specific place, its nude ambiance that makes it so unique. This album fits the moment and the place when you decide to finally turn the music on again and… listen.”
The album was recorded in 2013 in collaboration with Thoger Lund (of Giant Sand, The DeSoto Caucus and Howe Gelb) on stand-up bass, and with Ben Nesbit (violin), Thomas Belhom (percussion) and Heine Hanson (piano). Asked why he wanted to be involved, Thoger says simply: “Naïm is a music lover and so am I. He’s always trying to learn something new and so am I, so it was a project I loved.”
Hear The Walls, recorded and mixed by Waterworks Recording Studio’s Jim Waters, is only available on vinyl. In Naïm’s mind, it is the only possible way he can fathom letting these songs be heard. “I know if people have the record, they’ll actually keep it. I kind of like that!” he says. “People don’t even want your music files now, they don’t want your germ in their computer. It’s ‘heavy’ in your hard drive. They always ask, ‘Can I stream it?’”
“Vinyl is something you have to handle, you have to flip. It’s not like iTunes, where you just turn it on and walk away and it plays ad nauseam. There is something beautiful about it having limits, and when it’s over, there’s silence in the room.” With a digital file or a streaming services, “there’s no value added to it, because someone gave it to you. It’s all zeroes and ones,” he says.
It took a serious push from Naïm’s music publisher, New York based Modern Works Music, to encourage him to turn to crowd funding to help finance the limited edition vinyl release of 500 records. Modern Works say he resisted heavily at first.
But once he was in, Naïm approached the Indiegogo campaign as innovatively as he does his music. He set about creating a short film of one of the tracks from the album, using footage of him as a teenager playing music with his cousins (below). Friends and strangers in Europe and the USA rallied round, and Naïm found himself close to his $6000 goal within a few months. An extra boost of cash came from a fundraising event last Spring. Tucson’s Mercado San Agustin donated its courtyard, Tucson CSA donated the food, and chefs Lori Adkison and Sara Jones of … And Be Merry supper club provided a vegan dinner.
Lori had seen him playing at Tap & Bottle and heard about his project. “When we heard about his crowd funding efforts, I just felt it was a great idea to offer a way for our community to give Naïm the boost he needed. He’s a valuable player in the Tucson music scene and part of the fabric that makes up our amazing arts community. I wanted to give something back because I really enjoy his work,” she says. The event was sold out and raised the final 30% of funds needed for the album.
The last piece of the puzzle for Naïm was to find the best way to get the record made. He didn’t have to look far. Fort Lowell Records, a former Tucson label now based in North Carolina, heard about the project and owner James Tritten jumped at the opportunity. “I received a call from Naïm’s publisher asking if I would be interested in helping, and there was no question on my end about being involved. Naïm produces great work and I wanted to help create a quality project,” says James, whose other vinyl releases include Tucson artists Howe Gelb, Golden Boots, Tracy Shedd and Andrew Collberg.
The release date for Hear The Walls was originally scheduled for early September but, vinyl being the hot commodity again in the indie music world, the pressing plant was fully booked. Fort Lowell Records was forced to push the release date back to November 25th. It won’t just be a new set of tracks for Naïm, it will be a new process of making albums.
“I had no idea that the community cared so much. To see the support that came about and the different parts all fit together is astounding,” he says of his Indiegogo campaign. Yet he is ambivalent about crowd funding for his work. “As an artist, asking for money, it makes me uncomfortable. I am a paid musician – I get compensated for my film work. So it feels awkward and uncomfortable to put myself out there and be so blatant. I know it’s stupid, but I feel like more important issues are out there in the world that need funding. Making an album is not vital.”
Naïm will be in France when the album comes out, where he has gigs lined up in Paris, Toulouse, Nantes, La Rochelle and his birthplace, Le Mans. When he returns to Tucson it’s back to the studio for a short film project out of New York, and perhaps another album – this time Naïm on solo guitar.
* Find out more about Naïm Amor and Hear The Walls at naimamor.com
Win a copy of Naïm Amor’s new album, Hear The Walls
We have three copies of the new album to give away. Take your pick from vinyl or a limited edition CD. To enter our draw, just leave a comment below by Friday November 14th and we’ll contact you by email. Good luck!