As someone whose adolescence was defined by a nagging sense of having been born in the wrong time, hearing the title track to Arielle’s ninth studio album, “Analog Girl In a Digital World,” and then speaking with her for the first time felt as if I had discovered a kindred spirit. She had an affinity for music from the ’60s and ’70s that her peers didn’t necessarily share and finds herself unable to relate to a lot of what the present-day culture deems cool, which only makes her artistry that much more engaging.
Having friends such as Brian May and Eric Johnson around doesn’t hurt, either, because she’s taken their guidance and created a signature sound that combines the ghosts of the past with her own experiences as a millennial prodigy trying to find her place in the world.
Our conversation touched on the new album, her friendship with May, and how planting trees has given her a deeper sense of purpose during the pandemic.
MNOD: Your upcoming album, “Analog Girl In a Digital World,” is really impressive. Describe how the concept for this project came together.
Arielle: I wanted to incorporate the sounds of my favorite music from the ’60s and ’70s. I’ve always loved analog recording and really tried to capture the essence of that era. The music from that time had a cohesion to it that has gotten lost today. I recorded half the album in analog and the other half in digital as way to represent the best of both sides. All of these songs were cut in one take, which is the best way to go. There’s only so much energy allotted to one performance and going with the first take of a song on an album makes it easier to recreate within a live performance.
MNOD: After listening to this album a few times, I notice a definite sense of unable to relate to the current era. Is that something you’ve always felt or has it popped up more recently?
Arielle: I think it’s something I’ve always felt. When I was young, I spent a lot of time around my parents’ older friends and the things I liked never really meshed with people my own age. I was listening to older jazz and stuff at a time when other kids were listening to Backstreet Boys. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to catch up to the times in terms of technology and social media, but I finally decided that I couldn’t keep up anymore. Culture moves fast and I’m usually right back to feeling old again when I can’t relate to the latest trends.
MNOD: What was the moment when you realized that music was your calling in life?
Arielle: When I was younger, I watched Queen: Live at Wembley and became fascinated with Brian May’s guitar parts. The way he was adding to the music and the sounds he was getting from his guitar. I began singing when I was five, so that definitely came more natural to me than playing guitar. The guitar was the harder route. Now, I think about it in terms of which one would suffer more if I stopped doing both and I’d say they’re probably equal.
MNOD: Because Queen had such an influence on you, your friendship with Brian May must feel surreal at times. How did that come about?
Arielle: We became friends pretty quickly. We connected around the guitar, but our friendship really started around other things. We’re both very sensitive to struggles with mental health, so, when we get together, we’re not always talking solely about music. This will be our fourteenth year of friendship. My signature guitar that is coming out this year was actually Brian’s idea. I had discussed the concept with a few companies initially back in 2012, but they didn’t work out for whatever reason. People kept asking me what kind of guitar I was playing when out on the road and I started thinking that it would be cool for people to be able to play it on their own. Brian finally said it should be released under Brian May Guitars and it comes out on March 28.
MNOD: We’re a full year into the pandemic at this point and touring doesn’t appear to be returning quite yet. What else have you been doing to fill the void of not playing live?
Arielle: I was touring the US and UK for the longest time until everything came to a halt, so I’ve been focusing on some other things during the shutdown. I’ve been planting trees and raising monarch butterflies. Sustainability has always been a big thing for me and I started thinking about how many trees were going to be cut down with my name attached, so I began trying to plant trees at the same rate that I’m using them to make the guitars. A lot of these exotic woods are endangered and I calculated that 35 trees will have been replanted by the time my signature guitar comes out. I’ve also started a non-profit called Tonewood Forest, which is something I’m very passionate about. I wanted to create something that would outlive me by a long time and committing to the environment is important to me.
MNOD: I’ve discussed the future of touring with numerous artists during the last year and they’ve all had similar takes on the best way to move forward. What would it take for you to feel comfortable again?
Arielle: Right now, I miss it terribly. I’m in Florida, so people are gigging all the time down here and I’ve seen quite a few not wearing masks. I tend to get an older demographic coming to my shows and I don’t want to be responsible for anyone getting hurt or dying. We all need to stay safe.
MNOD: Did you have any concerns with releasing a new album despite not be able to bring it to a live audience right away?
Arielle: The way I usually put together an album was to come up with songs while on the road and then see what stuck with the audience during the show. All of these songs on the new album have never been played live before, so the way for me to validate having an album out right now was to make it a true expression of a concept album. Even the segues in between songs were important, because I wanted the listener to feel like every track is connected as opposed to having just a bunch of standalone singles. My influences as a songwriter include Sting, Bread, Chicago, and James Taylor among others, so I try to merge them into my own style.
MNOD: As a guitar player, your soloing on this album feels very much in service to the song instead of just an excuse to show off. Is that something you’re conscious of?
Arielle: Thank you for saying that. I think that’s one of the highest compliments a guitarist can get, because I’ve always tried to find a balance between staying true to the song and showing people what I can do. Sometimes, a song will call for a very simple solo and other times I’ll use a 12-string guitar, because I want a sound that you can only get from a 12-string. I’m always thinking about where the guitar belongs within the framework of a song. Melody and vibe are more important to me than showing off.
MNOD: I’ve discussed the differences between US and UK audiences with others in the past, so I’m curious to hear your observations given the extensive touring you’ve done in both areas.
Arielle: The UK audiences have such an open mind when it comes to different styles of music and they tend to be more supportive of up-and-coming artists. They respect their time off, so, when they go out, they’re invested in hearing live music. I’ve seen so many neat places over there and it’s much easier to travel there, because it’s smaller and takes less time to get places. I’ve found that I can often draw more people over there.
“Analog Girl in a Digital World” comes out May 7.
See http://www.imarielle.com for details.
For more information regarding Arielle’s signature guitar, visit https://shop.brianmayguitars.co.uk/products/bmg-arielle.html