THIS IS A LOVE SONG: An Interview with Erel Pilo
Erel Pilo brings a cup of peach tea to me. We’re sitting together on the sofa in her cozy Gowanus apartment and I’m talking about the blog and nostalgic music. She nods. “Listening to music from the past puts you in a warm place. In your life, when you hear it, it has a familiar feeling to it.” Pilo grew up in Forest Hills, Queens before moving to Closter, New Jersey, where she never immediately felt like she belonged in an upper-class suburb. Instead she drew closer to her family and learned all about the power of music in bloodlines. Her love affair with music began with her father. “There was just music on all the time [in the house]. The Beatles. Elton John. My dad really liked Billy Joel. And Joe Cocker. B.B. King…I just really loved sitting next to my dad [at the piano] and harmonizing with him, you know. Just singing along. And that was a connective thing between us. But I picked up the guitar mostly because I was really blue. It’s a good reason, I guess.”
Pilo moved to Manhattan with the intent of studying film at NYU and soon added acting to her curriculum; however she later realized her interest was concerned more so with how feature films are created. There wasn’t a strong pull toward any one aspect of film production, acting or otherwise, so she changed course and picked up the guitar again. “At one point I was creating this web series so the first song I wrote was just supposed to be the opening for that. I never ended up making the series but I had this little ditty and thought I could imagine a whole song around this. So I finished it.” Songwriting seems to come naturally to Pilo, and part of her secret is to never force a melody or chord progression. Sometimes the best music comes to her through her everyday movements. “A lot of times it just happens when I’m walking. I find that your feet give a really good beat that you can write to and I like to sing along to it,” she says. And where some people might shy away from writing music simply because they are not classically trained, Pilo isn’t concerned with that technicality. She figures it all out as she goes along, enjoying the journey as much as the payoff while honoring creative moments as they instinctively occur. “It’s a fine balance between doing things when you want to and finding the inspiration when you don’t feel it. But you can’t really force it.”
Most recently Pilo wrote and recorded a duet entitled “Balloon” with good friend Vinnie Ferra, whom she first met through performing at a Bowery Electric showcase. The song was nominated for the 2014 Newsong Contest and has steadily gained a lot of Internet airplay for the two songwriters. Still, performing in front of a live audience is where her heart lies. “You get this high whenever you have a really good show. I can feel it because when I get off the stage, for a little while, my mind is really clear and I’m not thinking a lot. And I’m just feeling really good. That’s the best feeling. And that could happen anywhere. But I think that all performers know that feeling,” she says and her devotion shows through her performances. Pilo can be found on any kind of stage, small or large, surrounded by a band of friends or flying solo, her soulful, sultry voice cutting through even the noisiest of bars. It doesn’t matter where, so long as there’s an audience waiting.
When asked for her muse, she named Fiona Apple. “She’s a really powerful performer in person. She’s got a lot of energy and it feels really pure. Something about that really resonates with me.” In addition to Apple, Pilo gives a nod to Billie Holiday and one can recognize the intermingling of jazz and dark folk within Pilo’s own work, the earnestness, the sadness and yet the hope for communal happiness and togetherness that often peeks through her love songs. “I think it also has something to do with being Jewish. Because the Jewish prayers and the sounds that you hear in temple are really bluesy. They’re mournful. We’re not a happy people,” she laughs. “But I think it’s all somehow connected. The blues and the Jewish scale, it kind of all goes hand-in-hand.”
After a short visit to Paris, France Pilo came back feeling inspired to revisit and play even more overseas. In the immediate future, though, we can hope to see a new music video for her electronic tune “Drone” as well as many more intimate performances across Brooklyn and Manhattan.