Extraordinary Expatriate

Transplanted from Paris to Tucson, Naim Amor has a new album

Naim amor looks off into some unknown horizon. He is as monotone as the world which surrounds him, nearly blending in. The words above, Moments Before, hint at suspense. The white collar and black sunglasses hint at a suaveness. This is the cover for Naim Amor's newest album.

Amor is originally from Paris, but visited Tucson in the '90s and fell in love with the culture and landscape.

"There's definitely a reason people come to Tucson," he says. "It's big but kind of isolated in a way. Out here, as opposed to Paris, you can afford to live in a house and I can practice in my own place without having anyone telling me to 'shut up.'"

Although in his previous releases he went by Naim Amor, on his new album Moments Before, he is going by his full name, Gabriel Naim Amor.

"Life changes all the time, I'm just going with the flow." he says. "My family and friends always called me Naim Amor, but it's time for a change."

He says that living a life of dual citizenships complicates his identity and music; in the United States, he can be seen as a foreigner with an accent, whereas in France he's not seen as fully French.

"My story is not common, and changing my name might help make the story more complete," he says.

As for how moving from a bustling European metropolis into the vast deserts of Tucson affected his music, Gabriel Naim Amor says a change certainly did take place, though maybe more covertly than some would expect.

"My music did change, but it's not like I'm suddenly playing country music," he says. "I'm certainly affected by the culture and by the place music holds in Tucson's community. It's just like food. You move to new places and start trying new flavors."

Arguably one of the biggest local flavors is the Latin-indie rock band Calexico; a group Amor worked and played with over the years, even before their band was fully realized. Amor and Joey Burns of Calexico met in '95 and have since toured and collaborated together. Just last year, Amor made an album with another Calexico member, John Convertino.

The local collaborations don't stop there, either. In 2011, a director heard Amor's music on the radio and wanted him to make the music for his upcoming PBS documentary, Precious Knowledge. It just so happened that the city Amor lived in, Tucson, was also the city the documentary was being filmed in.

This however, was not the first time Amor made soundtrack music. In fact, he has four albums that are part of his "Soundtrack" series (only one of which is actually tied to a film). These instrumental albums originally started as demos, but when others listened to them, he was told not to change a thing.

Amor's new album, Moments Before, releasing next year, channels a lot of the ambient instrumentation of his Soundtracks series. While the first half of the album contains swaggering, jaunty guitar fit for Parisian cafes, around half way through, it turns much more minimal and introspective. The strings become softer, even occasionally being reversed or slathered with reverb, and the drums make way for chimes and outright ambiance.

"The sound of music is so powerful," he says. "We have a special, personal relationship to the things we love. How I like music is different than how you do, and I can't be sure exactly what others hear, so I just focus on what I like to hear and capture it."

Moments Before runs a brief 30 minutes, and while it isn't wide it is certainly deep. The instruments are paradoxically restrained and loose, often times surrendering steady rhythms for crisp, clean notes that wander out of the ether, say what they have to say, and smoothly slip back into the greyness.

Gabriel Naim Amor will be performing the full album with a band, downtown at Exo Roast Co. on Dec. 16, starting at 8 p.m.