Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Michele Ari

"I wanted to perform for people. That much I knew. Any time I’d see a performance, I found myself with a great feeling of longing and belonging. I knew it was what I should be doing." This is American singer Michele Ari explaining how she became a musician. At a recent gig in Chicago someone asked her, "How do you just get up there and perform like that?" Ari, who, by her own admission, had just executed "a few rolls on the floor and other moves unbecoming of a lady", had her answer ready: "I don’t think about it. I’m here to have fun. If I think about it, if I worry about the possibility of looking stupid, it’s all over."

Ari takes her inspiration from the late 70s and early 80s, music she finds "unique, rebellious, spirited and forward-thinking": Elvis Costello, Blondie, Patti Smith, The Clash, The Damned. "Give me Psychedelic Furs, Kate Bush, Robyn Hitchcock and I am content and inspired," she says. "They all just resonate with me lyrically, musically and in style, ideals and attitudes. They are all ‘different.’ There’s nothing cookie cutter about any of them. Creating music that is not ‘faddish’ or could soon become irrelevant is important to me." "Faddish" and "irrelevant", in Ari’s book, means someone like Tila Tequila, the MTV reality show starlet.

Many of her fans are old punk rockers, who tell her that she fills a void in today’s music. "When I look around for contemporaries I struggle to find them". There is a classic directness, a renunciation of artifice in her work, which perhaps explains why her first album 85th and Nowhere was recorded to analogue and mixed to digital, just like Buena Vista Social Club. She likes things "a bit primitif", as she puts it. That debut recording, described by Ari as "a love story from start to stop, cover to cover and inside and out", attracted attention in the UK – though sadly we have yet to see her tour on this side of the Pond. She believes there’s more acceptance of left-field artists in Britain than the US, hence her fanbase here. I was drawn in by one song on the album, ‘Nevermind’, and its opening lines: ‘Woke up in last night’s make-up, wearing last night’s dress’. "It’s definitely a song about loneliness," she admits, "a bit of madness and the downward slide you can go on when you lose your integrity in a futile pursuit".

She’s lived all over – Florida, Chicago, Atlanta. Now she’s based in Nashville, but not because she’s on a Country music jag: "There’s a lot of music going on here every night of the week. So, if you need to get out and get some juices flowing it’s very easy to do. It’s a place for me to hang my hat, hone my skills, find musicians to work with and places to record, all of which I have done and am doing. In that way being here has affected my own music because it’s rich with the resources that I need."

Ari’s feelings about Britain are reflected in a couple of songs on Mal a’propos, her new EP: ‘Atom Bombs’ and ‘Transatlantic Love Affair’. The new work she describes as "cleaner than 85th. It’s more pop and punk, though not a blend of the two". On ‘6 a.m.’, the opening track, she seems to be heading for rock-disco territory, another retro genre.

As for that French title, which she translates as "out of place"… Is that how you feel, I asked, like you don’t fit in?

"24/7. Don’t you?" was her comeback.

Photograph by Richard Call

Michele Ari on Bandcamp

First published in R2 (Rock’n’Reel)

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