Monday, July 23, 2012

Naama Kates

Naama Kates at Squaresville



At Squaresville 

1800 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles (Los Feliz)

Within the first few minutes of meeting singer-songwriter Naama Kates, I learned that she's an avid shoe lover. So it was only appropriate that we sit down for our conversation in the shoe section at Squaresville.

"I have a pair of shoes that I got here that I really love. They're these little red pumps, classic '50s pumps," shares Naama. "I put them on with like a gray and black dress. I like off-matches a lot, so if a dress has a little pink on it I'll wear the red shoes for a pop of color."

The second floor of the vintage store is full of all kinds of shoes and boots, and it's obvious we could spend at least an hour just trying on every pair. Men's clothes are also housed on this floor, and Naama says she likes to peruse these racks for button-down shirts like the one she's wearing today. Downstairs is where the most fun can be had at Squaresville, amidst the rows and rows of dresses, graphic tees and accessories.
Naama trying on shoes and an outfit

"I've been here a bunch of times," says Naama. "This is my neighborhood. I live within walking distance, so I walked here today. I'm really glad I live here in Los Feliz because I like walking. I don't like driving all the time, it's nerve racking."

Besides Squaresville, there are a lot of shops and cafés up Vermont Avenue that Naama enjoys.

"Figaro, right next door, is my favorite café," she says. "I love the two bookstores, Skylight and Skylight Art Books. When I first got here, I went to Skylight, and it was awesome. I bought a book, and they happened to host the author's reading a little bit later."

Having grown up in a small rural town in Connecticut, Naama appreciates the diversity and anonymity of living in Los Angeles.

"When you live in that small of a town, you know everyone. People get all in your business," she says with a laugh. "Here, you meet all types of people who are open-minded and artistic. If you're in arts and entertainment, you need to live in the city to start."

For most of her childhood, Naama was focused on studying ballet, which immersed her in piano music.

"At ballet, there was always a pianist accompaniment," she explains. "My parents listened to a lot of classical music and jazz too. I didn't really develop my own musical taste until later than everyone else. I wasn't one of those kids who was cool and hip to music because I was doing my ballet thing. I moved to New York when I was almost 18, that's when the world of all different types of music really opened up."

New York is where Naama also began her acting career, which eventually led to a trip to Los Angeles for an audition and her eventual migration here in 2009.

"I got here, did acting and got really jaded and wanted to stop," she says. "There was this guy I was dating who was doing his dissertation in music composition. He had some dismissive ideas about me doing music, and after we broke up, I bought a keyboard. I don't know if it was a liberation from the relationship, if that really had that much to do with it. But I thought it would be fun to have the keyboard at my place and have something to do. I did the perfunctory two years of piano as a 7-year-old, so I wanted to print out sheet music and see if I could still read and play it."

The keyboard soon became Naama's best friend. She started writing songs and worked up the nerve to perform her first open mic night.

"It was at Unurban Café in Santa Monica. I could barely play my songs, I would stop and start. I look back and think, 'Oh god, how could I allow myself to do that.' But the guy who ran the night actually liked my music and ended up giving me shows there. I just had an impulse to share my art. Previously, I had a few blogs that were anonymous. But I wanted something more personal, I needed audience feedback."

Naama in a vintage hat
When Naama met musician/producer Cyrus Melchor, a career in music began to become a natural next step.

"I started working with [Cyrus], and then we formed a trio [Naama on vocals/piano, Cyrus on bass/guitar and Andrew Pompey on drums]. The three of us rehearsed every day for two months before recording in the studio, then after that we played our first shows."

Those recordings became Naama's debut album, The Unexamined Life, which was released in May. The title is Naama's tongue-in-cheek response to Socrates' famous quote, "An unexamined life is not worth living." Although it's called The Unexamined Life, Naama drew from her experiences from the past year – grueling auditions, heartbreak, loneliness of moving to a new city – and personal conversations when writing her songs.

"A lot of lyrics on The Unexamined Life are from things people have said to me," she says. "Like on 'Bleeding Heart,' 'rows of hearts I had impaled on the lawn' – that was something someone had said to me once, not phrased that way, but the idea."

Naama is also inspired by everyday life in Los Feliz.

"I take a lot of walks with my headphones. Even though I know this area pretty well already, I do find myself getting lost," she says. "I'll walk onto some little side street or the back lot of a church and there will be a playground there. Little things like that will putt some ideas in my head. So I'll walk back and write at home."

Not only has Naama found fulfillment of expression through music, she has also ventured back to the acting world. Earlier this year, she starred in (co-wrote and composed all the music for) The 10 Commandments of Chloe, which garnered her a Best Actress award from the Los Angeles Movie Awards and Award of Merit at IndieFest.

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