TALKING ON THE phone with Pepi Ginsberg as she sits in rush-hour traffic on her way back home to Brooklyn, she's a little self-conscious about describing the recording of her new album, East Is East. Not because she's quiet or shy—even a short conversation with Ginsberg makes it plainly evident she is neither—but because her guitarist, Amnon Freidlin, is sitting right next to her, and he was there for the entire recording process. She'll describe one part of the album's creation, then ask him, "Wouldn't you say, Amnon? You were there!" They talk to me, to each other, and then trade the phone back and forth.
One thing they can both agree on is that East Is East, Ginsberg's second record for the Park the Van label, is a much more collaborative effort than her first. 2008's Red was built up from a series of overdubs around Ginberg's quixotic melodies with the help of Dr. Dog's Scott McMicken, but East Is East is very much a band record. From the elastic guitars of "Shake This" to the chopped-up beat in "Lost River," the record has a pronounced and infectious Afro-pop feel not unlike Dirty Projectors, but Ginsberg's gangly but affecting voice also commands more straightforward songs like the plaintive "Coca Cola."
Ginsberg came to songwriting relatively late in life, she says. "I remember at one point in college listening to some girl play songs, and saying to myself, 'Well, you know, that's not what you do. You do something else, and this is for other people.' Which is a really strange attitude! But it was how I felt about skateboarding or something, like 'Skateboarding's cool, but you don't skateboard and that's fine. You walk places, you ride a bike, okay, but you don't skateboard—so what? Other people can enjoy it, and you can enjoy them skateboarding.' And at a certain point, I just didn't feel like that had to be anymore. I went to go see Kimya Dawson and Herman Dune, and I was like, 'Oh they look like they're having fun, I could do that.' The next day, I started taking guitar lessons. So it was kind of a whim, and then I went nuts on it and just did it all the time. It was the most fun thing I could figure out how to do."