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An interview with Ari Hest: More than just your average singer-songwriter

Observer Scene | Friday, September 24, 2004

Ari Hest doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone.Quietly confident, the twenty-something songwriter pens insightful lyrics that reveal his determined outlook on life: “Never was there any doubt/I would make my way out/I want to know what life’s all about/And I will get there.”Although he may fall into the group of singer-songwriters automatically categorized as following in the wake of John Mayer and other commercially successful artists, Hest deserves credit for the name he has made for himself through his hard work and ever-developing musical talent. This summer, he released his fourth album and major label debut, Someone to Tell. This follows Story After Story (2003), Come Home (2001), and an EP, Incomplete.Despite ranging from the infectiously exuberant to the entrancingly mellow, Ari’s songs all share one key aspect: intelligent lyrics with actual meaning, a quality not often found in the manufactured guitar-pop so overplayed on the radio today.Scene Music Critic Maddie Hanna sat down with Ari Hest to find out just what inspires this talented singer-songwriter.

First of all, how would you describe your music to the average college student?It’s pretty exhilarating music, guitar driven, The songs are really personal and relatable to everybody. Stylistically, its rock, but with some jazz and funk. It’s not really clear cut what kind of music it is…it’s pretty diverse.

How did you get started in the music industry?I started playing frat parties at Cornell. I would just play four-hour shows, mostly cover songs. At first everybody would get a drink while I played my own songs, but that started to change, I liked playing music; I didn’t like school. I transferred to NYU to be closer to home and to be closer to the music scene.

When did you start releasing albums? Was it a difficult process?I made a demo CD when I was still actually right at the end of my Cornell thing. I recorded 6 songs in the studio and used it to get shows in New York. That little EP was called “Incomplete.” It was my first studio experience as a writer and a performer.

Actually, it wasn’t really hard to make the record. I have just been playing so much in the past few years that I developed somewhat of a name for myself, and Columbia caught on to that. They also liked a lot of the songs on my last record, Story after Story. They came to me and asked about a record deal. Even though I’ve had a little bit of a name for myself…the songs from three or four years ago are still new to a lot of people.

Who are your musical influences? I started playing guitar when I was 15. At the time I was listening to the Beatles a lot. In terms of songwriting and guitar playing I looked to them for the most inspiration, and I still do now. I was really into whatever was really cool at the time: Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana. Whatever was hot was what I was listening to; I didn’t really have that much of an appreciation for music yet. It didn’t start becoming such a big deal for me until I started making music and realized that what’s on the radio isn’t necessarily all that’s out there.

(Now, some influences are) Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Rouse.

Just wondering – do you find yourself being pigeonholed as the typical “sensitive singer-songwriter”? Yeah, I’m pigeonholed to that extent, but I’m comfortable with that term. Those people are hot today, but just because I’m a singer-songwriter doesn’t mean I sound like those people. But it’s the kind of thing that will help me develop a bigger fan base. At the same time I don’t really understand why I’m being compared to those people, I just don’t get it. But I like all of them, its not like I’m like, damn, why am I being compared?

What is your favorite part of being Ari Hest? I don’t know, I guess people that can do something that they love and other people can relate to are lucky people. I didn’t realize that when I started playing music and thought it was just about me being happy. If I was doing something else, I probably wouldn’t have that feeling, and I just consider myself lucky for that.

Word association: what do you think of when you hear “Notre Dame”?Football.

Who have you toured with, and who has been the most fun?There’s a guy named Bob Schneider that we toured with and who was really fun. It was our longest tour, back in May. I’ve opened for bands that people have heard of, like Maroon 5, Guster, Jason Mraz. It was a really good experience for me. (I’ve also toured with) The Clarks, Pseudopod.

Which of your songs is your favorite? I don’t really have one, to be honest with you. They all mean something a little different. The ones that you like the most recently are the ones that mean the most to you on stage. But “A Fond Farewell,” “Anne Marie,” “Someone to Tell” – those three are the most fun to play right now, because they’re fresh.

If you could be any artist, past or present, who would it be? Paul McCartney would be nice, Sting would be even better because of the tantric sex.

What’s your five year plan? Don’t have one, I’m really not into plans. I guess I’m a little bit different than most people, I feel like in my experience if I expect something to happen and get disappointed… It’s better if I don’t expect anything great to happen.

Why should Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students come out and see you on the 27th?What do you think? What are your reasons for liking it? That’s a hard question to answer. Some people really like my music, I don’t really understand why.

Ari Hest will be playing in the Noble Dining Hall at Saint Mary’s on Monday at 5 p.m. Tickets are free,