Already championed by Okayplayer as "one of the hottest new voices on the scene", singer-songwriter Aria Lanelle's star is most certainly on the rise. With her new EP My Name Is due for release next month and big plans for the future, she kindly agreed to this interview to chat new tunes, music icons and ultimate inspirations.
PW: Please introduce yourself.
Aria Lanelle: Hi, I’m the artist Aria Lanelle! *waves*
PW: How would you sum yourself up in three words?
AL: Singer-songwriter, producer, artist.
PW: When did you first realise you wanted to be a singer and did you have any other ambitions prior to that?
AL:I first realized I wanted to be a singer around 4 when I first heard Whitney Houston sing “I Believe In You And Me”. I thought about being a gymnast because of people like Dominque Dawes at the Olympics, but music was the only thing I was ever really serious about.
PW: Can you recall the first concert you attended and record you bought? What impact, if any, did they have on you?
AL: My family is very musical, and also very churchy, so I’m pretty sure my first concert was a gospel concert. I think the first record I bought was a “When Doves Cry” by Prince. The kick on that song was entrancing. Those experiences were super formative. Being around live music was such a regular occurrence that it became like breathing for me, and experiencing Prince’s music as a teen really opened my mind up to what an artist could do, be, and say.
PW: Which bands or artists did you grow up listening to and have those influences/artists from your childhood changed much as you've gotten older?
AL: I grew up on a lot of gospel artists as a result of my family. I learned about phrasing from Shirley Caesar, vocal dramatics from Rev. James Moore, harmonization from The Clark Sisters, and jazz stylings from Daryl Coley.
Outside of gospel, my grandmother would play me everything from Paul Robeson to Alanis Morrisette because she wanted to make sure I was exposed to all different types of music. Even though I do mostly electronic-based music, you will always hear that original root of gospel underneath it all. I call it flavor!
PW: Is there a particular band or artist you think you sound most like or do you make a determined effort just to be yourself?
AL: When I was a kid, I wanted to sound exactly like Mariah Carey because I thought she had the most gorgeous voice ever. But when I went to college at Berklee College of Music and started having vocal lessons, my vocal coach was like “she’s already in her shoes, what are yours like?” A little door opened in my mind and I realized how much better it was to be myself, even if it was a little bit like journeying into the unknown. So if you get a whiff of any of my inspirations when I sing, cool. But these days, my intention is to always just sound like the highest expression of myself.
PW: How easy or difficult do you find the song-writing process? Can it depend on what you're writing about?
AL: Song-writing is like breathing for me because I’ve been writing songs since I was about 8. I generally write a song a day, sometimes more if I’m feeling extra inspired.
PW: Who or what most influences your song-writing?
AL: I am influenced by everything, whether it’s a personal experience or overhearing someone’s conversation. I’ve looked a bouquet of flowers and gotten inspired! My songs are the closest you can get to reading my mind.
PW: What, to you, makes a great song and with that in mind, which song would you say is the greatest ever written and why?
AL: To me, a great song expresses an emotion in such a way that you can either relate to it or you want to be able to relate to it. There are so many amazing songs in the world that it’s hard to choose the greatest song ever written. Maybe a contender would be Prince’s “Question Of U”.
PW: Tell me about your latest single "League." Is there a story behind it?
AL: I got tired of seeing all of these broken-hearted, why-can’t-he-love-me-type of songs, so I decided to write from the point of view of “I love myself too much to let someone walk all over me”. The lyrics and beat came to me so fast that I could hardly record everything quick enough. Then, my mix engineer Anthony Majors added these little DJ-esque stops and starts to the track - which earned him a co-production credit - during the mix and I knew the song was going to be extra-specially awesome.
PW: The track is taken from your new EP My Name Is. What can you tell me about it?
AL: My goal is to always grow and experiment with new directions…I never want to give you the same thing that I’ve done before musically. My first EP ULTRAGIRL is super-bright with elements of 80s funk and pop. However, when I was creating My Name Is, I was helping take care of my beloved grandmother during her final stages of cancer, so I experimented with darker sounds and more introspective lyrics to match my mood. I wrote every song, and produced 4 out of the 6 songs myself—the exceptions being “Read Your Mind” - produced and co-written by the amazing featured artist Planetarian - and “League” - which had subtle, but important production finishing touches added by my engineer Anthony Majors Jr.
PW: Do you have a favourite track on the collection and if so, which is it and why?
AL: My favorite track on the EP is a song called “Your Love”. In creating this EP, I learned that every time there’s bad in life, good is right there next to it—and the song “Your Love” is a celebration of that. I created the beat, experimented with different vocal ranges - one of my friends actually thought it was a guy doubling my vocals in the verse, not realizing it was me doubling myself - and then called on one of my fellow alums Rod Bonner to provide his shimmery talk-box because I’m obsessed with g-funk, Roger Troutman, and that whole vibe. “Your Love” is the kind of song you can blast out of your car speakers, put your drink up in the air at the club to, grab your significant other and smile like dorks… just be unabashedly happy to.
PW: What are your upcoming tour/performance plans?
AL: I have a Rockwood NYC show coming up June 15th, and will be announcing more shows soon!
PW: If you could play a venue anywhere in the world with three other bands or artists who can be living or dead, where would you play and who would you choose?
AL: Madison Square Garden with Prince, D’Angelo, and Kendrick Lamar.
PW: What are your thoughts on social media? Would you agree it's a necessary tool for bands and artists today?
AL: I think social media can be a really positive tool for artists, when you keep it in perspective. My own social media is a fun snapshot into my personality. I’ve seen people parlay entire careers off of funny tweets or a streamlined Instagram aesthetic, which is awesome. I only think social media is negative when it’s used to start beef with people, when you begin validating yourself by your follower count, and/or when you lose track of offline life.
PW: Finally then, whose career would you most like to emulate and at what point in your career would you be happy to say "I've achieved all I ever wanted?”
AL: Hands down, Prince. He exemplified musical excellence, always kept learning, made whatever music he wanted, and lived by his own value system. He was The Artist first and foremost. If I die of old age having experimented with every type of music I wanted to, pushing the boundaries of music - and the entertainment industry in general - with tangible evidence that my art had real influence on the world, I’d be able to say “I’ve achieved all I ever wanted”.
Give "League" a listen below and for more information on Aria Lanelle, visit her website, give her page a like on Facebook or follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Her new EP My Name Is can be pre-ordered on itunes.