Every so often an artist comes along who’s creative magic is so undeniable that it instantly captures your attention. Such is the case with the insanely talented guitarist Arielle. She is definitely not an overnight sensation, rather an accomplished artist who began honing her musical chops at an early age. She began singing since age five (with the prestigious San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula Girls Chorus), followed by playing the piano, trumpet and at 10, guitar. By 16 she’d become a rock-guitar virtuoso (soon thereafter even earning the imprimatur of her childhood idol, Queen guitarist Brian May.) Still, she hadn’t found her voice as an artist; she’d been shredding onstage in the bands of others,such as CeeLo Green, but hadn’t really been able to share her own songs. That began to change when she graduated early from high school and moved to Hollywood, where she enrolled in the guitar program at the Musicians Institute, situated smack-dab on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame.
Arielle was a 17-year-old student there when she met Brian May, at a book-signing for “BANG! – The Complete History of the Universe.” It was a meeting that would alter the course of her musical career. You see, Arielle had taken her guitar along and when May said essentially, “Show me what ya got,” Arielle complied by busting out a powerful solo from rock legend Randy Rhoads solo. That moment sparked a bond between the pair and began a conversation that’s continued ever since. That friendship inspired Arielle to move to London, where she attended the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance. But she had a nagging feeling that she wasn’t where she belonged: “I was a supporting player and just couldn’t see the path to becoming an artist in my own right. My intuition told me that if I kept playing in other people’s bands, I’d miss my opportunity. I was trading myself, like I say in ‘California,’ ‘Trading scars for a concrete star’; I was giving away the things that make me me in return for something that felt like it didn’t matter. I finally said, ‘Alright, this is ridiculous – I have to go do this for myself.’” She returned to Los Angeles and started recording her own material, singing lead as well as playing guitar and carving her own unique path in the music industry.
She returned to Los Angeles and started recording her own material, singing lead as well as playing guitar. “I hadn’t sung seriously for five years,” she says. “On some level I was hiding behind my guitar. By then I was 18, but I still sung like a a soprano. I didn’t know how to express myself with my voice.” At the same time, Arielle recalls, “Being in bands never worked – I could never find a singer. I was writing music knowing no one could sing it like me. I finally just did it. It started out as this really quiet sound; it took me a while to be, like, ‘OK, I’m not the greatest, but I AM truly expressing myself.’ Just like with the guitar players I love – you don’t necessarily have to be the most technically proficient to connect emotionally.” After working on various projects, Arielle was “discovered” by guitarist Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme, Rihanna,) who shopped her to managers and labels. Her other supporters include guitarists Steve Vai, Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions) and Michael Angelo Batio.
In 2013, Arielle landed in the studio of Red Decibel Music Group (Kelly Clarkson, Demi Lovato, Switchfoot), where she clicked with producer/co-writers Adam Watts, Andy Dodd and Gannin Arnold. Their creative chemistry was so electric, in fact, that the songs tumbled out on top of each other and the spark of “California” was struck! Arielle’s commitment to something she holds as dear as songwriting is The Dolphin Project, a cause she’s championed as long as she’s played guitar. Dolphin Project founder Ric O’Barry appears in Arielle’s video for “California” and his documentation of the yearly dolphin drive hunt at Taiji, Wakayama, Japan, forms the basis of the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary “The Cove.” On November 18, Arielle joined fellow Dolphin project advocate and drummer Matt Sorum’s band Kings of Chaos (featuring fellow former Guns N’ Roses members Slash and Duff McKagan) for a Hollywood concert benefitting Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project. Also on the bill: Hughes (Deep Purple), Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour) and Steve Stevens (Billy Idol). Earth Day 2014 (April 22) will find Arielle onstage at a Freedom for the Orcas benefit, where she’ll share the stage with Heart and Joan Jett, among others.
Today, Arielle finds herself poised for what is surely to be her biggest, most successful and most artistically satisfying year to date! Her self-titled EP, which is currently set for release in April, 2014 on Open E Music, is the sound of the singer-songwriter-guitarist claiming her place – creatively, emotionally, existentially. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this artist on the rise to discuss her musical roots, her unique creative process, the creation of her first album, her work with The Dolphin Project and much more!
Take us back to your earlier years. What are your first memories of music in your life?
Some of the very first memories I have regarding music was singing “This Land is Your Land,” and all sorts of songs like that I was singing at a little preschool I was at. I think the most prominent for me though, is an image I have of me writing out notes on the staff, making triads on a piece of paper and constantly singing and humming. I was in a choir at five, so I began then. I also remember in 1st grade, I did an air guitar piece for show and tell.
My very first memories of music involved singing. I began writing out notes on a music sheets and making triads on a piece of paper and walked around constantly humming and singing. I was in a choir at age 5 and did my first air guitar piece during show and tell in 1st grade.
Following your heart and realizing your dreams is an amazing thing. What made you take the plunge and pursue a career in the music industry?
I can honestly say I never thought much about doing music as a ‘job’ or career until I was of an age where I needed to support myself. At fifteen, I was obsessed with my guitar playing and singing, it became my addiction, Can’t say how healthy that was, either. I had a friend that recommended a movie “The Secret.” It’s about how your thoughts really direct the actions and circumstances in your life. It was that night I decided to move to Hollywood at 2am, the morning of my (age ? birthday).
For those who may not be familiar with your work quite yet, what can they expect sonically?
I would say you could expect a combo of soaring melodies, rock-based guitars and a story drenched and doused in a puddle of emotions & feelings of all sorts.
Brian May has been a mentor of yours. What can you tell us about discovering his music for the first time and the relationship you too would ultimately develop?
I was 6 when I first saw the Live at Wembley footage of Queen. I immediately gravitated towards Brian, his hair, the way he moved and played, and his overall vibe he carried. Most people look at the frontman, but it wasn’t that way for me. I knew from the moment I saw him that a friendship and meeting was imminent. I had never been so sure of anything in my life. The relationship we have is one that is unique and incredibly special. We have been each others muse, counselor, teacher, support, and everything in between. From the beginning he was there for me at a time when I had little else. I respect our friendship beyond words.
Aside from bands like Queen, who do you consider some of your biggest influences as a musician and performer?
Some of my biggest influences have been Dio, Boston, Dream Theater, Red Hot Chili Peppers, a whole lot of Doo Wop, Bryan Adams, Tom Petty, Triumph, Journey, Enya, Jeff Beck, Sting, Heaven and Hell, Choir music, oh the list goes on! As a performer? Anyone who can let themselves loose while singing, playing, performing is the person that influences me the most. If I am ‘performing’ yet not emoting what the song needs, I have missed the mark.
You have been working with Grammy-winning engineer and producer, Jack Joseph Puig (U2, No Doubt). What does he bring to the table and what have you learned about him along the way?
We have never officially worked together but he has been a huge supporter of mine. We have a very interesting and confusing story of how we met…but he likes the guitar, he likes that it’s real. He has given me a lot of advice, the most helpful piece I have carried with me throughout the years is, “Arielle, it’s not about the guitar. It’s about the song.” It resounded in me like a bell.
Guitarist Nuno Bettencourt had heard you through producer and musician Carl Restivo, and together, they took on the initiative to shop you to labels. Nuno is an amazing talent. What are your recollections of meeting him for the first time?
Carl and I were working on a song, I was jamming on guitar and he walked right through the door. We clicked right away, again like we had known each other forever. We stayed up until 5 am that morning talking, jamming, planning. It was incredible. Those 2 people were the two missing pieces that singlehandedly changed my life more than any one experience has. I will be forever grateful for that experience.
The interest people like Nuno Bettencourt, Paul Geary and producer & musician Carl Restivo showed in you lead to the formation of Open E, a partnership between you and automotive mogul and Berklee College of Music graduate Ernie Boch Jr. — What has been the best part of that partnership so far?
The best part has been the patience of the process, the understanding that things take time. The ability to make mistakes and not look back, and earn from those mistakes. It’s a family atmosphere, ever-expanding and growing and requires all of us to step into better versions of ourselves and allow the next part of the process to unfold. I suppose it’s never ending, but in this regard I guess the first milestone would be the music actually coming out! There’s so much in-between that most people don’t even know about.
You have been able to design and develop a prototype of your own signature line of guitar with friend Patrick Yates. How did you guys initially join forces?
Patrick Yates and I met at the Uli Jon Roth Sky Academy. He was in the Scorpions, and every year he puts on a special academy for people to learn very deep and profound principles about the guitar and about themselves, to become better players, artists and people. He had built his own guitars, and I approached him to see if he could work with me to make mine. He has since disappeared, and I haven’t been able to thank him for creating the most influential and important object I will ever know. I will find him one day and bring him into the project once more!
What can you tell us about that creative process and what challenges you may have faced along the way?
I could write a novel about this. The most intricate and beautiful piece of the whole story is that playing the guitar IS my passion and dream. It has allowed me daily to become better as a person which is something that is very important to me. Whether it was being nervous about playing in public, having confidence in myself, learning social skills or how I affect others in a setting, I realized that there are so many elements and moving pieces that are needed for music that can be applied in all of life.
Music has been the greatest teacher of my life. The biggest challenge I have faced was the near destruction of myself by turning inward anytime anything ever felt wrong. or denying who I am and how I feel. Wanting things done quickly nearly destroyed everything I had and not trusting people with my career and putting my life in other peoples hands are some of the elements have been very hard for me.
I believed I had to look, sound, dress and be somebody else in order to be loved, respected, and heard. I now know that it will never work and it will never be able to sustain itself. I hate to say it but nearly every time I have had to learn the hard way, but at least I learn! But it’s like working out. The weight that used to be so heavy for you becomes the one you never think about again. The platform to something greater.
Where do you find yourself looking for inspiration these days?
I don’t really have to look, ever! There is a plentiful abundance in my life, it’s overwhelming. Just yesterday, someone was smoking a cigarette in front of me. Normally, I would have plugged my nose and been grossed out, but this time it reminded me of a special friend. Then an entire song came into my head and if I think about a topic, it will also come out. It depends. I tend to be a very feeling oriented person. It’s easy for me to go there and ‘digging’ through my emotions or anything for that matter. Some would consider it torture, I consider it part of my every day life.
What can you tell us about your typical songwriting process and how you bring a song to life?
It’s always different, depending on if it’s just me, or I am writing with a team. Sometimes songs just write themselves and I will hear the whole thing in my head when I am doing something completely separate from song writing. Those are my favorite moments, but they are certainly unplanned.
Then there are the most frequent occasions where I hone in on what I am feeling and begin to write melodies and chords that I choose depending on my mood. Then the lyrics come after the rhythm of the melody and the structure take place. Sometime’s lyrics come first, but more often than not they don’t. It’s all about the way I am feeling, I am an emotional chameleon shapeshifter.
Any plans to hit the studio in the near future for a full length release? If so, where are you in the process of creating new material?
There are plans! I am always writing and creating. Currently we are focusing on the live show, but after rehearsals I am in the studio writing and recording music so we have a whole catalogue of songs to choose from, and to keep that skill burning. Being in the studio and writing fluently is a skill I have to practice and refine!
We do not have all the songs we need, but I am excited to get to work with a different group of people and do it all over again. Being in the studio is magical. My favorite part is being done after a long day of work and having a piece of music you can throw into the stereo of your car, and be like, “Wow, this didn’t exist earlier and now it did.” Immediate results of work that represent how you feel. It’s wonderful.
What is the biggest thing you learned about yourself during this intense process of creating and preparing this new material?
I am strong and relentless. Even when I feel horrible about myself, about the world, about the circumstance, I keep going and find a way. I stay open and connected to who I am. In fact, throughout every challenging situation I get kinder and more understanding as a person and a friend. I am very loyal and also have a lot of incredible people around me that have made me fall in love with the world all over again. It’s because I know that people like that exist and they remind me of who I am, even when I forget that there is good out there.
You recently recorded an official video for the single, “California.” What can you tell us about the inspirations for this song and what it means to you personally?
I tell people California was an ‘accident.’ I don’t actually believe in accidents, but I do know that our focus was on another song, and the idea came out of nowhere. The kind of writing I like the best, when they expose themselves and you either take them in the moment, or potentially lose the idea and wait for the next one.
The song was originally called “Til I Get There” and was about how I could envision my life being different than the way it was at the time. I was definitely in a place of struggle, and I remember not liking the lyrics because it had the word hell and damn in it. I don’t like to swear in my music but I was experimenting.. We came back to it a few days later and changed it to California.
The song is about my journey here and what it means. California, the land of dreams. California is representative of what most people think of the United States to be, freedom, opportunities, following a dream. People come far and wide to be here and pursue the most competitive and largest of dreams. Some are eaten alive, some come out shining, but not without scars. The song mentions ‘trading scars for that concrete star, and I can’t find the sunshine in california.’ My intention was to be me and share that with people, and along the way I got very lost, confused and essentially sold myself because I thought it was the only way. And I was miserable.
What are your tour plans at the moment?
I think we are doing a radio promo tour which is going to be super fun. Going all over the country playing some acoustic guitar and singing. But my big goal for a tour is to be opening act for Adele when she begins playing out again. I think that’s soon!
What are your favorite songs to play live these days?
I really enjoy performing “Playing with Fire,” because it’s so fun and upbeat and I love the solo. I have also noticed that I love doing the covers too, it makes me feel reconnected to the old days of when I was first learning and embodies the core of what music means to me. It is like holding all of the people who have inspired me, and sharing it with the world and with them. It’s refreshing.
Is there something you hope people come away with after they catch one of your live performances?
After seeing me, I could only hope that people could grab whatever I was feeling. The ability to connect to very strong and powerful emotions.
There is a feeling that happens to be my favorite feeling in the world. Where you just know everything in your life, every move you make, right at that moment was meant to be because it’s falling into place. That just because they went and took part in that show, things begin to fall into place. That they feel less alone. That we can connect on a deep level of those emotions. That they can carry that feeling as an inspiration in their life. That they are understood.
Are there any additional video plans in the making?
Not at the moment…but usually things like that come as a surprise and kind of last minute. We have a lot of podcasts we are doing, and possibly a couple of PSA’s or things of that nature. I am hoping the next song we do a music video for is “This is the End.” I have all sorts of ideas. I find that simpler is better. Clear, beautiful camera views, great shots, but have the story be strong. We are also working on a bunch of live stuff too, but for now we just did the “Cali” video, so I think for now we are set.
What do you consider your biggest milestone so far?
Being okay with myself and opening up enough to meet incredible people who believe in me.
How do you feel you have evolved as a musician since first starting out?
Building “Two Tone,” my custom guitar actually created my style of playing. Before then, I sounded like other people. This guitar taught me how to play in a way that expressed me, because I had to be different in order to play it. I change so much with my playing and whatever I am working on, it’s hard to say. I think of it more as an artist, because my main focus always is to express myself best. If I learn a technique, it’s because I want it to be able to be used as a tool for me, not to show off.
My voice has grown leaps and bounds as I have become more confident in myself not only as a musician but as a person.
What are some of your musical bucket list items?
I don’t have a bucket list, because the things I say I am going to do I do… and then I try to put a time limit on them to make sure I hold myself accountable.
Here are the things I told myself I would do within the next year to year and a half.
• Play and Sing “Somebody to Love” with Queen
• Write and Record a song with Brian May
• Write & Record a song with Sting
• Sing a duet live with Bryan Adams
• Sing a song with Dream Theater
Don’t ask me why, they aren’t things I thought up that would be cool. They are things that come into my head, and then I pursue them until they happen. It’s a gift of mine.
What bands or artists out there right now that have made your stand up and take notice?
Imagine Dragons and HAIM have really caught my attention right now.
In addition to all of your musical work, I saw you are working on a book as well. What can you tell us about that project?
This whole journey is so unique and changes so fast I think it’s so important to keep track of what’s going while it’s happening. It’s a heck of a lot easier than going back and trying to remember every detail. It’s the piece before that people never find out about, the journey of becoming a performing artist. How much goes into it, and what kind of dues you have to pay in order to get there. If I would have known, I don’t know if I would have done it!
What is the best piece of advice that you can pass along to someone who wants to pursue a career in music in the industry’s current climate?
It’s hard. I think the most important thing for me was go inward and think..why do I want this? Why am I pursuing this? It’s less about doing or knowing anything. I think it’s making sure that whatever you do, it’s because you want to for you, and for the betterment of something else. Not just because you want attention , or to prove someone wrong , or whatever. If a million people did the same thing you did, would it be okay? Once you’ve got that, you can’t lost because your instincts will guide you. The journey will strip you down of any ego you ever had, and desire for fame and success will not be able to withstand the lessons you will learn.
What projects are you most focused on in both the short and long term?
My number one project is making sure that my growth as a human being continues and get better every day. I always push myself to be nicer, kinder, more patient and more focused which helps me be better for everyone else.
Short term – To continue to refine and practice my song writing, to build my confidence, to get my song out on radio.
Long Term – I have tons of goals, months, years, etc. To go on tour and eventually have my own tour. I write them down, I keep them in my psyche, and then focus on right now. I get there every time. Less worried about that, because I know the natural progression of things. It can’t be a goal, but more of a eventual thing because you are on the path.
You are also involved with a lot of charity work. What can you tell us about this part of your life, and how can we help spread the word?
I always tell people the other half of my life is my hippie animal and environmental activist side. The truth is, the music and the industry can’t exist if that stuff is suffering . This is where we live. If our home is destroyed, how can we even think about doing anything else?
The activists are strong people who stand up for what they believe in, and make things happen that most people would deem the impossible. It’s not about shaming or putting people down, it’s about working together and raising awareness. I am not a person to tell people what to do because everyone is different. But when we are being careless, money driven and thinking in only the short term, things need to change.
My biggest focus right now is on the Dolphin Project. Raising awareness of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) in captivity. These animals are incredibly bright…they are the humans of the sea. We cannot compare them, or any animal for that matter to a human because we all have different purposes here. We can’t fly, it doesn’t mean we aren’t intelligent. Plus, no other species on this planet could destroy not only themselves, but the entire earth. They could if they wanted to. There is nothing to prove.
When you go to places like zoos or Seaworld, this is money, this is where animals are held beyond their will. Please watch the ‘Cove’ and ‘Blackfish’ and educate yourself before you make changes. We need to bring compassion back into our lives in order to grow as a species and as a world that we all share together.
Anything you want to tell your fans before I let you go?
Thank you for loving yourself enough to be able to connect with the feelings I feel that it is impossible to feel anything for anyone else that you have never felt yourself. Thank you for being fearless, and vulnerable.
To learn more about Arielle, visit her official website at www.officialarielle.com. Connect with her on social media at Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Be sure to catch a unique glimpse inside her world via Instagram at www.instagram.com/officialarielle!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.