#SXSW 2017: ARIANA AND THE ROSE
Story+Photos / MAEGHAN DONOHUE
In a world where the production of pop music— and especially the branding of pop female musicians—is so tangled with artifice, Ariana and the Rose is a refreshing burst of authenticity. Her lyrical motifs possess the emotional depth of a singer/songwriter, but are set against opulent synth-pop soundscapes that resonate with the prevalent sonic aesthetic of today. With a background in theater, it comes as no surprise that performativity and visual representation are almost as essential and compelling as her actual music when she takes the stage. Last year she debuted a multimedia experience combining music performance, theater, and a dance party that seems reminiscent of 1960s Exploding Plastic Inevitable with an extra dash of 70s and 80s-esque glam, but sans Warholian sadism, of course. She plans to bring this immersive experience, entitled Light + Space, to New York City later this year.
Ariana, herself, is a walking piece of art, poised yet whimsical, which is why upon meeting at SXSW it was imperative that we journey back to the other side of town despite exhaustion, humidity, and blisters, to take photos against a sculptural backdrop as incandescent as she is.
Ariana and the Rose drops her highly anticipated EP Retrograde this Friday, March 24th, and if her single “Love You Lately” is any indication, it will traverse the treacherous terrain of love and alienation with unrelenting candor…but somehow will still land us all on the dance floor.
Ariana and the Rose.
Where is your band based?
London and New York. I live on a plane. Everyone writes “London by way of New York”, but I really live in both places.
How would you describe your sound?
It’s electronic pop, fused with live instrumentation, so it’s this cross between a live band and electronic flavors.
There is some real depth in these songs, something which is notably absent in much of the pop genre. To what do you attribute this kind of depth?
I attribute that to loving singer/songwriter music. I started at a piano. Almost every song on the record was started on a piano or a guitar. So I think that is it, and that I love lyrics. I’ve been obsessed with lyrics my whole life, I love artists that write amazing lyrics. Jagged Little Pill was a huge record for me. I just think that things that elevate pop songs are important: Structure and lyrics. I think that’s why people like artists like Lorde so much, because there’s something about it that feels elevated; it’s pop music but there’s something that’s really smart and her lyrics are really poignant.
Who inspires you musically?
Currently, there’s nothing Solange can do that doesn’t make my mind explode. I think A Seat at the Table is a brilliant record; I’m obsessed with all the visuals that she does. The video for “Cranes in the Sky”, I mean all of it. There’s something like 23 scenes in it. It’s insane. From forever M83 has always been a really big influence for me, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, which was their big record, I lip-synced to that, to this day I listen to that over and over and I’m always listening to it thinking ” God, that’s so cool; I wish that I could make THAT music”. And then I love people like Kate Bush and female-fronted projects… really strong female artists. Goldfrapp—I love her. Yeah, just really strong females that aren’t afraid to be a little weird and do something different, and I find that to be really connecting. It’s interesting because I feel like the people whose music really influenced me also happen to be obsessed with visuals and creating a world in the same way that I am. I’ve definitely picked that up and felt like there was a permission from watching those women do that– I thought “I can do this, there’s a place for this in pop music.”
Who outside of the realm of music inspires you? Artists? Philosophers? Filmmakers? Writers?
Oh my God, so many people. I would say my biggest influence outside of music is theatre. It’s always been that way, I started in theater, I was an actor for a really long time. Live theatre is the most inspiring thing to me in the world. I got really into the immersive theater scene in New York; I went to NYU, and then after that I joined a theatre company and we did a lot of the stuff downtown in places like La MaMa and PS 122, and that put me in that whole world. I mean, there are shows like Then She Fell—New York-based immersive theatre shows— and I remember seeing that stuff and being like “Oh my God, people need to be doing this for music, this is crazy.” And so I created a show called Light + Space which we did in London last May… this hybrid version of theater and a live music show and a party, and had I not been so involved in theatre I would have never thought to do that. We’re bringing it to New York, we’re going to do it in New York in the Fall.
Sounds like and old-school acid trip to me…
It’s literally like… we’re like recreating Danceteria from the 80s.
So why music instead of theater?
I think what I love about music is that you have these snapshots, right? They’re three minutes and however many seconds, or six minutes, or nine minutes or whatever you want to do…no four walls put around it and you can reach so many people, but then you get this element of being able to touch people in person when you play a show, and I think that’s what I loved about theatre, too.
What is the hardest challenge you personally face in the music industry?
As an artist, the hardest thing I think is endurance. There are ebbs and flows of everything, right? Some weeks it’s a marketing problem, some weeks it’s a touring problem, some weeks it’s a … whatever’s happening… but I think that for me and for a lot of people it’s just been about how do you behave and do you have hustle, and trying to maintain your artistry and push yourself to become a better artist while also pushing your career forward. And at the same time trying to maintain a balance. And just to have a positive attitude and not get down. You hear people talk about the light at the end of the tunnel, but I think that it’s hard to talk about it when you’re in the thick of it, because you kind of almost have to cut it out of your mind to stay there. Some days feel amazing, and some days feel super hard. I’m fortunate to do things now that me three years ago would say, “Are you kidding me, you’re stressed out today? Look at what you’re getting to do!” You’re constantly going to be striving to be better, to reach more people and to be doing more, and I think that it’s just being able to take a step back. I think that’s always my personal struggle.
If you could change one thing about the world right now what would you change?
Oh man … open-mindedness and fear? I don’t know if there would be a way to do this, but to open people’s minds to being willing to talk to others who they are afraid of. I think if people could put their fear aside for one minute to sit across the table from someone that they never would have in a million years because they disagree with their lifestyle, religion—whatever it may be—I think we’d find ourselves in a very different scenario. We’re a very divided country at the moment, a divided world, and I think that really stems from fear.
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