Saturday, April 27, 2013

Michele Ari

The history of music is, of course, cluttered with the disregarded, the misconstrued, the deserted, the never fully achieved and, worse, the supplementary subordinates who bring us nothing to celebrate but a harrowing reminder that money talks, baby, and like it or not the scatter-brained, vacillating mantra's that congest the airwaves of your radio, monopolise your music charts and dominate your television programmes are not there on merit (you're not that vapid surely?) No, this is conjecture before constraint, commerciality over art, or, in words we can best relate to, cash over credibility. See, our radio stations are controlled by probably 4 major labels who, in turn, create smaller labels (splinter groups still directly connected to the mother ship) and upon those smaller labels they will release music by their latest investment - and this is where we talk pounds/dollars not pence/cents - changing hands to 'buy' prime time playlist slots for their piece of shit that they've invested heavily in and therefore demand a healthy return thank you - at the expense of genuine, hard-working, naturally gifted musicians out there. It's a shameful exploitation of an industry that really has a lot more to be proud of, to offer, than the latest get-rich-quick merchants with a spare buck and a cutey pie tune on offer for the right person, or persons, to be the face of this already guaranteed meteoric rise to the top. How can it fail? You have the backing of one of the major 4 who, as already mentioned, have the whole fucking media in their back pocket! Win, win, kerching, kerching! The reason I depise the way a major label swoops in and takes a whole movement away is because I see the natural talent they leave behind. Now I do not in any way mean these remarks to be in any way derogatory to anyone - these are not my opinions - but what they consider marketable ( and this is surely a patronising swipe not only at how they perceive you but how they perceive humanity) are pretty girls with perfect teeth, perfect tits, suggestability (will she or wont she sleep with me) sultry off camera gaze, size zero with every rib cage protruding perfectly from paper skin awaiting your approval. And then the song - a 3 minute hook-laden anthem with a 'milk and water' lyrical content bereft of any linguistic ingenuity - the proven formula!

In my years as a reviewer I come across many bands/artists who have so much more to offer than this, so much more depth and long term, good time slabs of rock and fucking roll - but we dont get access to it if they aren't in bed with the money shakers. One such example of injustice is Michele Ari. Now I'm not sure exactly how many years I've known Michele (and we have become friends over the years - though we've never met in person yet) but I do know that the first time I reviewed her music was in 2006.

Michele Ari
'85th and Nowhere'
With a voice like this her life was surely always going to take this path. What a tragic waste of such natural ability had it not! Michele Ari sings in a way that most people could only ever hope for. She has such melodic pull. A capability to evoke countless emotions. It’s a haunting almost. A subtle presence that gently ghosts you, yet so firm in it’s manifestation! It’s the perfect narrator for her lyrics, bringing an intensity of unquestionable depth! 85th and Nowhere is a 6 track mini album of considerable ambience. An inspired vehicle in which to introduce us to Michele. Opening song “My Sleeping Beauty” is an achingly heartfelt composition that seems to combine bitterness and poignancy together in uncontrived similarity. A penetrating insight I’m sure! Second track “Please” and third one “85th and Nowhere” have bounciness, good guitars and rock n roll drum beats. The former containing a lyrically acerbic outpouring of frustrating anger, and the title track, with a new wave kinda feel to it, finds Michele sounding like Deborah Harry did when she was at her best in the 80’s .Nevermind is a call to arms for reckless abandonment and self indulgence and it’s all wrapped up and complimented by excellent guitar riffs. But the gorgeous ballad “Pretty” is where her voice is most powerful. A full and infiltrating richness so overwhelming and formidable nothing could ever possibly distract from this! The album closes with the acoustic, summertime sounding jangle of “1000 Kisses” and it’s lyrical leanings that suggest someone is falling in love, or at least liking someone enough to want to kiss them 1000 times. It’s an endearingly lovely smiley joyous song and an inspired choice to end on! Michele currently resides in America but is in the process of relocating to London. I think England’s shores may possibly allow itself a warming smile at the thought of her arrival.

And I meant every word, I will never be the type of reviewer who complements every single record he writes about just because 'he's a nice person' no - I take my position far too seriously for that - and, thanks to my education, I know a million different ways of saying 'this record is shit' and still manage to keep it interesting over 300 words and I have used such weaponry on many an occasion though never, as yet with Michele Ari. When she released 'Uncharted Territory' in 2012 I was proud to be there again, this time to tell people how much she had actually developed and grown, and was continuing to do so, at an impressive rate, with every heartbeat.

Michele Ari
'Uncharted Territory'

The girl will one day be the star making you sit up and listen to her songs. Why this is not already a fact of life is a dizzying perplexity. With confidence I have championed the absolute existence of her abilities on many occasions and remain as convinced now as then that her arrival on the ‘bigger’ stage is imminent. She can no longer be ignored when making music like this. She is far too listenable to exist in the peripheries and is certainly a kick and a shove better than some of the one-trick ponies who manage to infiltrate our lives and trudge insignificant humdrum psycho-babble through our speakers when they have no business doing so. Of course, it’s the quick hit money merchants closing ranks and opening doors for the latest cash cow to preen, prance and cajole the easily pleased long enough to generate enough ugly dollars for them before leading her/him/them/it over the nearest mountain to tumble in to the ‘surplus to requirements’ ocean below - sinking without a trace and leaving no memory. If Michele Ari does not crash into your life - the proper, well earned way with this EP - then we are a planet of slack-jawed morons born without ears - or fucking sense! Please do not let the precious cargo of our rock & roll music become cluttered with reality show dullards and plastic surgery wannabes who shall do anything for their career (except write their own songs) They wont care long enough to still love you in the morning but Michele shall be there to love you, make breakfast, do the washing up, have intelligent conversations with and come back to you, just to you, every moment of the rest of your life. So grab her curvaceous resonance while you have the chance and thank your lucky stars for that - or you’ll be left upon the shelf with the shallow, the fatties and the mono-syllabic wallflowers. And I know you’d hate the shame of that wrong choice, eh! 

As always, the new EP Uncharted Territory whips up a feisty hurricane of post-punk, indie rock, new wave, mod pop au jour across 5 tracks. This time though, more than previous outings, the emotional conflicts Michele has been at battle with are clearly laid out in wounds, victories, lessons learned and lessons forced. On the catchy, yet backbiting . Wounded Man there is an almost contemptuous loathing for the unnamed cause of her bile as she muses ‘on your knees you were humbled’ all neatly sound tracked with a stunning indie/new wave, victorious ’fuck you’skip (consider Kirsty MaColl twinned with Martha Wainwright) The weapons of mass destruction are laid down for the purposes of the title track and a more sentimental, almost pleading desire for something new and unsullied distracts her as she almost begs you to ‘come on don’t ignore me, it’s uncharted territory’ - her honesty and her humanity ( a desire to be loved or at least understood) is something every one of us is born with but don’t convey it so humbly - or so cleverly. 

Her greatness for writing a good, uncomplicated song manifests itself with glory - the best thing on the EP - Little Wars deals with (in my opinion) the breakdown in adolescent relationships and all the ferocious violating of the others feelings which that brings ‘the fights and the breakdowns, the crashes and the shakedowns, these little wars’ but, once again, narrated to such an intelligently crafted, hook ridden post-punk/garage pop body of music you wonder if her vitriol is a joke or a deliberate nonchalant head-tossing weapon designed to drive the earner of such words to utter despair. Either way it’s a beauty. On the slower Live Without This we are introduced to a spirited tenacious intent to hike through something that once meant everything but now means nothing . The song begins immediately at the start of a discussion - ‘what does that mean, is that any way to start?’ - and slaloms onwards through the disappearing relationship and the realisation you can only make so many allowances in the name of love, and you’ve used them all up with nothing left to justify still being around. The EP closes with the frivolous seductive beats of Real - a song that makes you think you know what’s on offer but then punishes you for being so one dimensional - it’s possibly unquestionably cool yet bizarre. Clever goodness.Uncharted Territory is a great collection of emotive, well composed, earthy rock & roll songs with that indie edge that’s always been a massive part of the Michele Ari sound. Her creative fire has been re-fuelled and she sounds stronger both figuratively and literally. There is a natural , effortless easiness to what most definitely wouldn’t be effortless or easy. She’s been through the wars - and this is her story. Intimate, confessional and bittersweet. Maybe music like hers never existed until right now - but regardless, here it is, and it sounds like something new to me.

Such was my admiration for her hard-working rock & roll honesty, the sheer determination to be recognised for the human being she was born to be it began to frustrate ME possibly as much as it did her that again and again she was overlooked by blinkered A&R men with specific instructions to hunt out one kind of particular human being with one specific marketable asset! I interviewed Michele earlier in the year and we discussed some of those things
Michele Ari Interview  

When you struggle past the barbie doll lyrics, candy floss tunes and patronising dance moves you very quickly find people like Britney Spears have fuck all else to offer. Such vapid, money making mediocrity must, surely, be the kiss of death to any other solo American female artists who haven't firmly established themselves within their own rock n roll zenith. But as unsigned champion of DIY's singer/songwriter discord, Michele Ari has continually proved - as your peers but remain glaringly overlooked even when proving damned hard to write off. 

Descriptive lyrical observations sketch out another nameless protagonist documented on the dramatics of a song. Delving into the beating heart of the human condition with such an indulgent romanticism for the narration of what swings from crippling confessional outporings to brutal insecurities worsened under the glare of being showcased so publicly. Writing songs that you know will be heard by others, is surely such a solitary pursuit, and no business for the introvert. And the music - a series of reference points from where it  derived from. The jarring post-punk edginess which brings an urban rock fanzine kinda shimmer to the very aesthetics of all she stands for. Blurred together with feral garage moments and skipping indie jauntness. Even sweet stringed, heart wrenching backdrops can be pulled from such ‘tough as nails’ euphonies for the purposes of poignant, forlorn ballads. This is everything - from recognisable radio transmissions of the distant past to bang up to date rock & roll. Catchy, riff laden songs possibly too quixotic for mainstreams ignorant claims of incandescent grandeur - a short lived, dictated shelf life anyway that no serious musician would be comfortable wallowing in. With Michele Ari it’s her seamless changes of direction, the genuine desire for making music she was born to. That’s the moments that remind me just how accomplished she really is. Scrunched up messiness and euphoric, wide eyed prettiness - she’s all of that, with the intensity of a snarling tiger for a soul. 

You’ve received favourable mentions in the UK music press on many occasions which is a great achievement for an unsigned artist from America who hasn’t yet set foot on British soil. How difficult is it to try and keep that momentum going when you’re so far away? 

Thank you. If you consider how difficult it can be to get out your art just around the block you will have your answer. I'll never forget the day I got my hard copy of my first glossy interview in the mail. It was in an internationally distributed music magazine from the UK. I showed it to some guys who worked at a record shop in Nashville where I was living at the time. My CDs were in the "local" section which is generally where dust likes to hang out and one of the guys said he doesn't push our stuff because "local music doesn't sell." I suggested moving it to the "Just happens to live here" section. I could get played on Radio One by someone who interviewed Pete Townsend but not get into a Nashville music festival that I could walk to. So, the difficulty has been more of how to make my mark in both places, or all places, when I am just one person and I'm funding everything alone. I've recently moved to NYC to remedy my southern blues but it's come with a price tag. Raising your cost of living is about the dumbest thing you can do as an artist but the south
just wasn't cutting it for me as much as I miss the fresh air. I needed to be somewhere more progressive and accepting of new ideas and although Starbucks has taken over every corner of the city there is still some bite to the place if you know where to look and I think that I do. 

You’ve released two mini albums/EP’s to date so far and, with a new single, a third is on the way. Was the writing process different on each record?

Yes and no. The place from which I write is always the same. It all comes from the soul and even a collaboration is all under my direction. My ability to cut to the chase has improved and the "muscle" I use to write with has become more developed. As time passes I live more life to write about and learn things that open up new viewpoints to write from and about. To prove to myself I could do it alone my second EP 'mal a' propos' was all me. I collaborated on the new material for "Uncharted Territory" but by then I had the confidence to prove or not prove anything at will. Who knows what I will do next? I would love to write with all kinds of people then return on my own, rinse, repeat sort of thing. It’s all exploratory and always experimental. I never want to make the same song or record twice. I don't want to bore people though of any accusation leveled at me "boring" has not been one of them. It’s always an uphill fight for unsigned musicians trying to get themselves and their music noticed by the right people and for the right reasons.

How tough is it to crack America for people like you? Is there a tried and tested circuit that A&R men frequent when searching for something new ignoring anything or anyone not gigging at those particular places?

It is an uphill battle, and I don't think there is a tried and tested circuit, but I don't determine any of my actions by the norms of the day. You can check back with me on my death bed to find out if I was right or wrong about this. I try not to be swayed by press and bar talk because today's "next big thing" could be tomorrow's horror story. I wish people well but I have been bar stools next to people who just got let go from their label or who went on some hot tour and fell apart or got fired. It's not pretty. The whole thing is very arbitrary. What works for one person may not work for another. It would be nice if there was just one answer but in my experience it is not the case. For all I know it takes a thousand little answers to answer the big question and I may have already gotten a few right. I think a bigger problem is that too many are willing to accept mediocrity—because there is money behind advertising it—than one should. That's the kind of thing I just need to ignore or it will upset me. If people want to listen to Black Eyed Peas they can. I don't know that many words that rhyme with "party" so they can have that share of the market if they like.

I know that your plans to come to the UK a few years ago fell through quite dramatically at the last minute. Do you still intend to make it here eventually or is that no longer a priority for you? 

It is a priority that sits in the pit of my heart repeatedly stabbing me till I bleed—should you want insight into the drama. I accepted bad advice to fly on a one-way ticket and buy the return later. In our post 9/11 world that sets red flags flying and, as I am not a terrorist, I simply didn't think to cover my bases in that way. Trying to convince immigration that I was a nice girl was futile. The interview process was unwinnable as their minds were made up. They held me behind guarded doors and then shipped me back. It was really ugly and depressing. I had no choice but to persevere and so I moved to Nashville, toured, released another EP and am now in NYC doing it again. I'll get to the UK. I'm certain of it. Until then I got everyone back with the song "Little Wars" which will be on "Uncharted Territory."

You’re a big fan of the music scene in the UK. Who is the UK equivalent of you, musically?

I hope nobody though I've come to realize I move onstage much more like Richard Butler than I do any female in music that I know of. I had not been cognizant of it before I saw them live recently and there it was—in the body of a man. Perhaps mine is not a direct steal but a similarity rooted in similar wavelengths. I'd say I come from a Furs/Smiths/Costello/Bush lineage more than Spice Girls or Coldplay. Really though, I don't want to be "just like" anyone or "the next so and so." People can be "just like" Michele Ari if they want but not the other way around.

You are your own manager, booking agent, press officer, tour manager, pr and promoter. Such versatility must wear you out? Does it all get in the way of the other parts of your life, which also rely on your input? 

Completely sometimes. More than the versatility the big factor is the one people don't see which is the human one. The amount of volatility, emotion and, let's face it, total insanity you can have surrounding you is often the largest distraction besides financial ones. My story as an artist is no different from any other artist's story in this way and I am lucky to be surviving it at all. I hear a lot of stories from artists who have  quit, some overtly and some covertly. I know why people feel that way. I have days that are just dreadful. This is a tricky bit and I think the more you stick your neck out the more likely you are to have your head chopped off. Some carelessley call these things "bad luck" but I call it the chance you take and the price you have to pay to. In the end it's only a head. When did you first begin to seriously realise that being a musician was actually all you wanted to do? Day one. I had a lot of ambition and smarts and, sadly, that's just not that cool when you are a kid. If not for my intense interest in music I never would have made any friends. Like every other outcast I sought out the "freaks" and thank god for that because I was utterly out of place anywhere else. I always knew I was different but it took me a while to figure out why and be OK with it. While I loved my family I saw suburbia as a prison. It worked on me ceaselessly and my frustrations with it ran perpendicular to my goals as an artist. I did many other things in the arts to pacify myself until one day the elephant that had been in the room all along trampled me. That was when I was forced to face facts and boy was I in for a thrill ride! It took living some life to really understand for myself that the only way to live life fully and to be happy is to be who you are even if who you are challenges others, something I've come to realize is not my problem. I'm not a lot of fun at Tupperware parties as you might imagine.

If you could have anyone you wanted in your band who would they be – pick a drummer, a guitarist and a bass player? 

I don't know how I could settle on just a handful. More than anyone famous what I like are people who are pleasant to be around. I'd even take a lesser player if the better one was a bigger jerk. Skills can be acquired and talents honed if someone basically has the goods. Teaching someone how to be a decent person, if it does not come naturally to them, generally gives one the equivalent of that horrible constant barb-making family on "Everybody Loves Raymond." Rock and roll is not necessarily about having the best player. It's about having the most passionate. Those are the ones I want to be around because the more passionate they are the better they will want to be without anyone asking that of them. That said, is Paul Weller free by chance? 

What influences you both musically and in general?

What really inspires me is the writing process itself. By the time I sit down I have already had, observed or imagined an experience and it has its own value to me. But when putting it to paper and music you can fully control the situation, twist and bend it if you like, find tones to match the mood, give it a happy ending, give someone better qualities than they really had or turn them into a monster or be able to say something you weren't quick enough to say right in that moment. That is a gas. In general what inspires me is the human 
condition. It is the most fascinating stuff and provides an unending source of commentary, supposition and wonder. 

If your career were to end tomorrow would you regret a single part of it? 

All things considered, I'm pleased with what I have accomplished thus far even though it isn't anywhere near enough. This started as a "Field of Dreams" proposition. I have been building it. Some people have come. I would like to see more because I feel very passionately that I've got something of real value to offer if only more people knew about it. I know this because people who listen to my music come back with very thoughtful things to say about it and because the allies I have are deeply loyal and supportive. Regret is one of the worst emotions because it says "I was wrong" when in that moment you were certain you were right and that you did your best. You can't build a life by coddling or promoting what is "wrong" about you or what others find disagreeable about you. I think you can only build a life by strengthening what is right about yourself because we may be more right than we think.  

What 10 words best describe the person you are? 

I am Miss 'Tries Very Hard' and not Miss 'Perfect'. 

Do you have anything you’d like to say before this interview ends? 

God Save the Queen?

So there we have it. Just one of many genuine talents overlooked by the industry because they have an attitude and a presence that can't be re-worked, that WONT be re-worked by money loving con-artists. The utter wankers who reach out to control every bit of what you hear and what you read. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe she doesn't have what it takes, but I don't like being wrong and I don't get myself into the position of being wrong if i can help it which is why if I'm not 100% convinced that my opinion is correct then I certainly wont write it down in a public place to be documented. Anyway - can everyone be wrong...?

Probably the most important artist you have not heard yet.
-The Manila Standard, Philippines, Mondo Castro

Far more than just a framework for a voice... the listener is left in no doubt that this is a musician who has much to add to the world of music
Tim Whale
Indie Bands Blog, UK Review

It’s an ep that makes the listener aware of just how gifted Michele Ari is. And this stuff is catchy enough to be on the radio, though has enough edge to be taken seriously
. -Anna Marie Stjarnell, Editor
-Collected Sounds, Sweden Review 

With so much faith placed in transitory fame these days, it's a relief to encounter an artist who tells it straight.
-Bluesbunny, Glasgow Review

...Enigmatic lyrics and the vintage left-of-the-dial rhythms
 -Jakob Dystra
-Girl Posse, Review 

*Some parts published in Subba Cultcha*

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