Underground: Oren Lavie Works His Charm
Oren Lavie

When your first-ever music video receives accolades from the likes of The Black Eyed Peas and Coldplay, you know you're doing something right.

This is what happened to Oren Lavie. Featuring stop-motion animation of a girl traveling throughout her day while still seemingly asleep on her bed, "Her Morning Elegance" not only received praise from Lavie's musical peers, but also the academy; it was nominated for a Grammy for Best Short-Form Music Video this year.

While other artists might have been intimidated by this honor, Lavie wouldn't have it any other way. "I guess it was the right way to be nominated -- you want to be against some of the great people out there," he says.

Lavie released his first album, "The Opposite Side of the Sea," on his own record label, A Quarter Past Wonderful, in January 2007 in Europe; in March 2009 it received a physical release in the US. But the Israeli singer/songwriter had already been making his mark before then - "Her Morning Elegance" had been featured as an iTunes video download of the week in January 2009 and snowballed into popularity on YouTube by February. Since then, the video has been viewed over 10 million times, and, as a result, Lavie won the ASCAP Sammy Cahn award for his lyrics on "The Opposite Side of the Sea."

Surprisingly, "Her Morning Elegance, " which charted at No. 21 on the Billboard Heatseekers Songs chart last month, almost didn't make the final cut for the album. "The rest of my album is slightly deeper and slower. I almost opted not to include ['Her Morning Elegance'] because it was different in style," Lavie says. "I put in a different version, and I thought that it was close enough to be part of this album. But it turned out great -- it turned out that people are hooked by this song. And they go in and are surprised that the album is slightly different, I think mostly pleasantly surprised."

Lavie remains modest about his premature breakthrough. "It's never bad to break through early [in your musical career] if you're proud of what you do," he says. "I did this album myself - I self-produced it, paid for it, started my own label, and I was able to do that because I thought the album was something I liked.

"When I recorded the album I lived in Berlin, which is very underground -- it was the perfect album to record there, where no one looks over my shoulder," he continues. "But then I put it out there and it became popular in L.A. Then the offers started to come from movie companies and TV commercials and I realized, in a strange way, L.A. is a good city for what I'm doing."

This rings especially true given the fact that Lavie doesn't only write music - he is an accomplished, award-winning playwright and is also currently working on a children's book. He talked about his flow from one creative medium to another, explaining, "You try to write a story and you're having a hard time with it and you realize it's not a story, it's a song. And vice versa, you begin to write a song and there's a certain subtlety that you cannot boil down into a song and then you realize, okay, it's a play… By doing all three things, you basically widen your vocabulary and you have many more angles to look at one possible story."

In general, Lavie holds a unique view on songwriting - not basing his songs directly on personal experience, but instead taking a subconscious approach. "My songs are not documentaries," he explains. "They don't use my own relationships or things I know. But they certainly are influenced by things that I see, things that I read about, things that I come across. That's always a starting point."

For now, Lavie is keeping his goals simple. He doesn't hope for huge festivals of crowds consuming his music, rather, he feels that his music should be taken in on an individual, intellectual basis. "I think that good art is created in the space between the art and the person," he says. "There's a certain amount of imagination that the listener or the reader brings to the piece of art. I would like to make people think and give them the opportunity to use their imagination."

With "Her Morning Elegance," Oren Lavie has done just that. And if the potential in the rest of his album is realized, he could be giving audiences the chance to use their imaginations for a long time.