Can there be a place in the middle of the mainstream and indie music scenes for an artist to thrive?
Ariana and the Rose is the answer to that query, a woman with a lyrical and visionary drive to create music that wouldn't be out of place on today's Top 40, but that's equally comfortable functioning independently of this format. A curious, but fascinating dichotomy.
Strengthened by her exceptional abilities as a live performer, Ariana has cultivated a fanbase that reflects her one-of-a-kind presence in contemporary music. Her EP Retrograde has garnered critical acclaim and found a commercial voice since its release this past March, setting the stage for her forthcoming inaugural long player, much anticipated by fans and the music press.
It was my pleasure to connect with Ariana recently to discuss Retrograde, the importance (and her love) of live performance, her many influences and, of course, the state of music in 2017 and how she fits into it.
Quentin Harrison: How do you feel about the current state of pop music? And how do you think your music sets you apart?
Ariana: I think pop music is in the best place it’s been in a long time. Artists like Kendrick Lamar are winning Grammys and in the mainstream. And female artists are more outspoken than ever. I don’t think someone like Christine and the Queens would have been considered a mainstream success five or six years ago, which would have been a shame because she is a total revelation.
I’d like to think my music creates a world for people to step inside of. The melodies and sounds as well as the visuals all add up to an experience for a listener or audience member that allow them to feel slightly larger than themselves. Everyone can do with a bit of magic and I’m trying to bring that mood to people with my project.
Q: Talk about your relationship with the music of Kate Bush. How has she influenced your songwriting?
A: It’s really interesting because I get comparisons to her from time to time which is unbelievably flattering. I’ve always just been a fan of her music and her art. I view her live show more as performance art than a straight-ahead concert. She’s someone that I just listened to while going to school as a teenager. I think the artists you love growing up seep into your skin and just influence everything you create, and she is one of those artists for me.
Q: Who are some of your other musical inspirations?
A: I love Prince, everything about him. I’m always aspiring to create records as good as a Robyn track. And I love bands like Foals and Future Islands as well. There’s an attitude of just not giving a shit with a band and that kind of ethos is really inspiring to me. I love throwing a bit of that into pop music.
Q: What did you set out to accomplish with your Retrograde EP?
A: I set out to make an emotionally honest record, paired with visuals that look the way the music sounds. My goal was for people to listen to the record and see the videos and feel as though they had really gotten to meet me and have an understanding of what I’m about and my point of view on heartbreak, self-growth and the topics that the record explores.
Q: What can we expect from the full-length record?
A: I’m in the process of figuring out exactly what I’d like to explore on a full-length record. My songwriting is always about curiosity and getting to know myself better, so each record is always the exploration of something new, whatever it is I’m going through at the time. With Retrograde, it was about coming out the other side of a turbulent time. Now it will be something completely different. Usually I don’t know exactly what it’s about until I turn around and listen to it after it’s written.
Q: Live performance seems to be central to you as an artist. Can you elaborate on how that came to be?
A: Yes, I love performing live. I just think there is nothing more exciting than seeing an artist that you love live. All of my favorite musicians have shows that help you to learn something new about them and feel closer to them, so I’m just aspiring to create the same thing for anyone who comes to see me. I feel really fortunate that anyone would come spend a night out of their week and some drinking money on spending time with me and my music, so I want to make that experience as unique and exciting as possible for people.
Q: Can you discuss the creation of your live performance event “Light + Space?”
A: Light + Space is an immersive event I created. It combines live music, theater and a party. The whole evening is set in a futuristic disco we’ve created and similarly to the music videos and the vibe of the whole project, our goal is to make attendees feel like they have stepped into an otherworldly environment. I grew up in New York and was a part of the downtown and immersive theater scene in the city. I go to shows all the time because I have friends performing in and creating them, and after one show I saw, I just felt like someone needed to be creating an event like this for live music. We launched the first one in London with Red Bull and are now working on the show in New York City for the fall.
Q: You've done gigs in the United Kingdom and America. Are the crowds different with respect to their reaction to your music?
A: Every city is slightly different, no matter what country you’re in. I think at the end of the day audiences want to be introduced to something that is exciting to them and moves them. I used to feel like there was this huge difference between the two places, and now I focus on just creating a show that ignites a room regardless of where someone is from or how they got there. I’ve been so lucky to get to play in so many different cities for all different people, it’s just about making a show that resonates with as many people as possible.
Q: What are your goals for 2017, artistically speaking?
A: I’d love to put out more music, either another EP or a full-length. I’m also really focused on making Light + Space a regular event in both New York and London, as well as playing live with the band. I just want to keep creating music and shows that bring people together. So, lots of goals!
Q: What, if push comes to shove, are your five favorite albums of all time?
A: Goldfrapp’s Black Cherry (2003), The Killers’ Hot Fuss (2004), M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011), Prince’s Purple Rain (1984), and Robyn’s Body Talk (2010).