Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ari Hest Interview

Photo by Laura Means
  Ari Hest is a singer-songwriter that has essentially found success through every stage of his music career. After releasing two successful album on a Columbia Records, Hest decided that the major label platform was holding back his musical creativity and process. In 2008 Hest left the record company and began the challenging himself by putting out a song a week for an entire year, properly titled “52.” The songs created were sent weekly via e-mail to fans, who paid a small flat fee.
  Over the past year, Hest has been very busy touring, collaborating and has relaesed two very impressive albums. In the fall of 2010, Hest released an album with fellow NYC resident, Rosi Golan album under the project name The Open Sea. Most recently, Hest released “Sunset Over Hope Street,” which ahs recived rave reviews from fans and critics. I had the chance to sit down with Ari,while on tour, to discuss his latest album, working with producer Alex Wong, and future side-project plans...
How is the actual set-up of this tour. Just you and a drummer?
Hest: It's just myself and the drummer. I play acoustic guitar and also some keyboard. The drummer has kind of a hybrid drum kit, where he sits on a hone. He loops himself, he's running a couple of tracks at some different places, and he is also just playing a kit. It's pretty interesting.
Sounds like fun to watch. I know you get this all the time, but the "52 Project" that you did a couple of years back, after you completed that, what were some of the things that saw that you had grown from? Can you crank out a song now, no problem?
Hest: Well, I tell you what happened. I released that I could crank out a song if I practiced it a lot. If I am in the practice of writing songs everyday or every other day, getting ideas and following through with them, and not just saying "I've got this idea, but I will get to it at some point." If I actually sit down and not be lazy, and follow through with it then you just get in the practice of doing things. It feels very productive, and then it gets a lot easier, because you are working the muscle in your brain. The "song-writing muscle" so to speak.
What about right now, you have the new album out (“Sunset Over Hope Street”),but do you continually write?
Hest: I try to, but on tour it can be difficult. What I do, when I'm on the road and even at home actually, my cell phone has a voice recorder. If I get an idea, I will sing it into the phone. On this tour, I haven't really been able to sit down and flush out the ideas, but I will when I get home. I'm still getting ideas, but it is difficult to get everything down when I'm tour managing and have a lot of responsibilities.
So when you get an idea, is it usually a melody first?
Hest: Yeah, the melody first and then I try to build some type of parts around it. Usually guitar(parts), but sometimes piano.
Are you a music guy first?
Hest: Yeah, I have always been a music guy first.
Have you ever tried it a different way?
Hest: Yeah, I have. I like to separate the two. I have trouble writing everything at once, but I have done lyrics first and then the music after and it has been okay. I just prefer music first, because I get more music ideas. So it just makes more sense to start with that.
For the writing process for this album specifically, what were some things that turned out differently in terms of the process of creating the album?
Hest. It was a similar process I think. There were very few songs on hear that were written after the production started. The producer (Alex Wong) had heard a bunch of the stuff I had done, and he heard those 52 songs also. There were a couple that he was interested in re-working. So we kind of started with those. Then we did some stuff that I did after "52" and there really wasn't a shortage of songs, but I decided that I had time to release the album so i am going to wait to see if something comes up. I waited a little while to see if something would come, and a couple of songs did. "If I knew You'd Say Yes" was like the last edition to the whole thing, and "A Good Look Around" also.

What attracted you to Alex Wong for the production of this album? I am a big fan of the paper raincoat...
Hest: I had heard the Paper Raincoat before, but I actually got hooked up with him through a tour I did with Vienna Teng. He does a similar thing to what Doug (drummer) and I do, with Vienna. So I toured with him a little bit, got to know Alex a little bit, and he was interested in getting involved with the "52 Project" if he could for a song or two. I sent him a song that is actually on this record, "Sawn Song," towards the end of the year and he put this interesting percussion around it. He kind of gave it a vibe that wasn't there when I wrote it, and I really liked it. At the same time, it was a different mentality that I was used to and I wanted to get away from being the producer, because I had just done that with so any songs. I wanted to get away from the same kind of ideas and work with someone who was challenging for me and kind of looked at things differently. Alex was that guy.
Alex is definitely known for his amazing orchestral arrangements. Did he do all of those arrangements on the record?
Hest: yeah, he wrote the string parts and got the string players to come in. My band, wound up playing on most of the record, the drummer bass player and guitarist. But aside from that, he played a little bit of drums and some other little things. A lot of different people contributed.
So with this album(“Sunset Over Hope Street”), do you feel that you have achieved your "true sound?'
Hest: I think vocally, these have been the best takes that I have ever had on the record. I think that this is the closest thing to a cohesive album, that I have had. What I mean by that is you hear different instrumentation show up in different. Its not just what you may be used to with me, where I will take a folk song and follow it up with a rock song, and I will follow that up with something else, and they will all sound different. I have always approached things that way, not really caring if there was an overlap of sounds. I don't know which way is better for me. I like to be varied, but I do think that he (Alex) did a good job at keeping the songs varied, but instrumentation close enough to where it sounds sonically similar throughout the record. I think that is what most people want in an album, to have themes come up again and again, which makes it a cohesive album. So this is the closest thing that I have done to that.
I read that on this album, most of the songs were written as guitar driven and then you shifted them into piano driven. Was that a challenging process?
Hest: That was a challenge. It was one that I had though a bout a little bit, but one that Alex kind of forced the issue with it. Which was a good thing. He took songs and said things like "let's try an organ for this one." I had never played an organ before, and we ended up with it on a song called "One Track Mind," which is essentially an acoustic/vocal song that I wrote a year ago. He just changed the vibe of it completely, which is great! That's what I wanted, for him to take it in whatever direction that he wanted for it to go.
I'm a big fan of "The Open Sea" project, with Rosi Golan. How did that originally come together?
Hest: I met Rosi through my manager, who is a fan of hers. He gave her my last CD, "Twelve Mondays" and she liked it. We met about two years ago, and became friends and starting writing together a little bit. We noticed that or voices sounded really good together, so play each others shows from time to time. We became very good friends, we live near each other in Brooklyn, and we just kept writing and writing until we had a collection that was interesting and enough for us to put something out. It took a while, because both of us had touring schedules that were pretty involved. She does a bunch of co-writing, and trips to write songs for other people and with other people. It was definitely a long process, even though the EP sounds like it is stripped down and not a lot of thought went into it. I'm actually glad it does. We could have very easily thought too hard about it, and we didn't(laughs).
How did you decide to go with just the two voices and piano?
Hest: Well, we knew that the point of it was hearing the voices together, so we didn't want whatever else is around it to get in the way. If it was going to be there, it needed to be complimentary. The songs that we wrote were sweet songs that you may not hear the lyrics, if there was to much going on. We wanted the vocals to be at the forefront, so that you could hear what we were saying. So that is why we made something that is stripped down.
Any future plans with that project?
Hest: I could see something happening, but she is about to put out her next record. Maybe after she supports that for a while and tours, maybe the end of this year or early next year we will get together and start writing again.
You mentioned co-writing earlier, is their anyone that you are specifically working with right now? Or any future releases soon?
Hest: There are plenty of people from back home that I write with. I have other side-projects in the works, but I am not sure when they are going to develop into something because of schedules, more than anything. For instance, Sarah Siskind who I just tour with for a while, we have been writing a bunch of songs together too. She is about to put out her record, so we kind of have to wait for that to happen to really look at recording the songs we wrote. That would be the one that I am most excited about, because I have been a huge fan of hers for a while now, and we have become very good friends too. The music (that we have written) is interesting. I really like her chored voicing, and her voice is just like nothing I’ve heard before. So I am looking forward to that whenever it happens.
What kind of advice would you have for a musician starting up right now?
Hest: I would say do everything yourself. D.I.Y. is not just about being able to record yourself, although that is an important component. It is kind of getting easier and easier to do that. There is really no excuse at this point to not do it yourself. I could see if you wanted to have a producer help you because you wanted to figure out your sound and you want help with that, then it makes sense to go outside of your own space. If you learn how to record yourself, and you can at least put together a decent demo, than it just makes more sense to do it that way without any one's help. If you have a laptop or computer, you can get Apogee Duet and you are set. Sarah just recorded her whole album on Duet, a laptop and one microphone. You don’t need much, that’s what I was getting at. D.I.Y. means that you need to figure out how to be a businessman, which is a very hard thing for a musician because most of us, including myself, are pretty scatterbrained and don’t really like to schmooze. You have to be “that guy” a little bit, in order to get what you need done. I have learned that over the course of ten years of doing this. That you need to find opportunities yourself, and can’t wait for other people to do it.
What is your take on social networking as an artists. Are you a fan of it?
Hest: I am a fan of it, but I am also thoroughly confused by all of the different ways you can access people. It is kind of overwhelming at times. So I like to keep it as simple as possible. I also like to be private, some what. So talking about what I am eating for breakfast is not something that I would be tweeting about(laughs). Things that are personal, you are not going to hear from me. I am going to keep it about music and shows and whatever I am doing music wise. I think that it is a great thing for someone who is starting out to be able to have that kind of access, but it is also not for everybody. That’s also one of those things that I feel like I have to suck it up and be apart of it even though I’m really not nuts about tweeting or blogging. I want to just play, but that is lost now. It’s not that world anymore. So I have to do a little bit, and its not that I don’t appreciate that people want more from me, I get it. But the point of what I’m doing is my music. The purpose of me touring and writing is to create music and nothing else. Its really not about updating people about things that have nothing to do about music. If I take a picture on the road that is interesting or video that is funny, I might throw that up there. But that is the few and far between stuff. In general I am going to keep it light.
I can respect that. Sometimes, as a consumer of music, I feel spoiled...
Hest: Yeah, I am just overwhelmed by it. I don’t really follow people on twitter just because. I have like my friends, and I know what kind of music I like and things I like and I will seek it out if I’m interested in something on a certain day or certain time. For me, it isn’t worth it to be interrupted every so often by something. I don’t understand why someone would want an update every fifteen seconds from some other person they are following(laughs). To me, you aren’t living in the moment at that point. Its all about information, whatever. Information is here and now.
Perfect day, driving with the windows down, what are you listening to?
Hest: Well, there are many answers to that question (laughs). We have XM Radio in the car, and we listen to the 80’s station. It is very hard to go wrong with that station, especially on a nice day. We listened to Tears For Fears all day, so maybe “Head Over Heels” or “Shout” even would be appropriate. It is bang on the top of your car, type of thing as you are listening. So something like that(laughs).

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