At a time when the world is in crisis due to the Corona Virus and following several years of violence and hardship for communities and families, especially in the US, the new single from Arielle Silver serves as a timely reminder to us all to think about and value “What Really Matters” in life. With an album due out later in the year, Arielle spoke to ThisIsTheLatest about her song-writing inspirations, the power music has to help and inspire people and what she’d like her artistic legacy to be.
TITL: Who or what first inspired you to pursue a career in music and has music always been your main objective or did you have other career plans at one point?
Arielle Silver: My first career choice was astronaut. I went to Space Camp, in high school took astronomy classes at the local college, and ultimately chose my particular college because of their NASA research facilities. But my understanding of physics is not quite sound. In the end I decided it best for humanity if I contained my exploration of outer-space to songwriting. Besides, I figured I should do something with what I learned in all those years of clarinet and oboe lessons.
TITL: Which two bands or artists would you say you’re most inspired by in terms of their career and the music they’ve shared with the world?
AS: My heroes are songwriters. When they’re artists, too, that’s the bullseye. And they’ve got to tell me a story. Send me on a road trip with Lori McKenna and Chris Stapleton on the speakers and I’ll chew on their songs till the road runs out or the tank runs dry.
TITL: What would you say is your unique selling point as an artist? If you had to advertise yourself on a billboard, or on social media in just a few words, what would they be?
AS: As a songwriter and as an artist I’m interested in the whole picture, not just the pretty parts. How do you put that on a billboard? Maybe I’d just write, “It’s complicated.” If there’s more room, I’d steal from my bio: “A consummate storyteller, Arielle’s narratives crosscut exacting details with universal themes.”
TITL: Your new single “What Really Matters” was inspired in part by the horrific by Thousand Oaks shooting of 2018 and two huge California fires from which you yourself had to evacuate, but how easy or hard did you actually find it to write?
AS: Well – important correction here – I do not live in the evacuation zone. Friends who lived close to the fires were evacuated and watched their homes from afar. Los Angeles and Ventura counties, like much of California, are wild places. We humans build homes and communities and lives here, but there’s a lot of forest and untamable grassland. Particularly as earth systems change and the climate shifts, the wildfire season here has grown. Winter rains spur new growth, which turns into tinder in the summer heat. I’m not sure which is worse for the fires, actually – a wet winter with more growth or a dry winter, like the one we’re in now. What I do know is that this February was the driest on record and though technically we’re not in wildfire season, there have already been many reports. Either way, when the fierce winds that we inevitably get come through, a spark from a car or a utility line or campfire doesn’t have to search long to ignite.
As for “What Really Matters”, it was an atypical writing session for me, and I think that’s directly a result of that week’s sensory assault and news cycle. It started with a question – “What would you take if your world was on fire?” and, lyrically, I steered straight into the fire. By the end of the session the song was done, pretty close to as it still stands. For a long time, I distrusted it. It had come too fast. Almost like wildfire. But every time I played it, I received positive responses. The producer, Shane Alexander, absolutely loved it. And when we brought it into the studio the band just ran with it.
TITL: What do you want people to take from the song when they hear it?
ASl First, I want them to enjoy the energy of the song. Second, I hope when they listen to the lyrics they consider the question: When you’re scraped down to the bone so much that you put aside your vices and entertainment, what do you find really matters? What are your values? We all need to answer that question in order to build meaningful lives.
TITL: Would you like to see more artists writing and sharing more powerful, honest material such as yours? Do you think it’s important as an artist that you use your platform as a way to send a strong message about topics and issues that matter?
AS: Yes to both. But that’s me. I like music that says something, that makes me ponder. I do believe that public figures should speak up about issues of importance to them. Songwriters and artists of all kinds have a long history of activism. People look to artists and to art to understand nuance, help them clarify their values, and give them courage to speak up.
TITL: More generally, who or what most inspires or influences your song-writing?
AS: I am deeply inspired by literature, art, nature, and relationships. The interior world fascinates me. Why do we make the choices we make and how do we live with the consequences? What is faith?
TITL: What to you makes a song iconic, and with that in mind, which would you choose as the greatest ever written (so far)?
AS: Just one song at the top of the heap of all the others? I won’t say “the greatest song ever” – I don’t know how to decide that — but “Me and Bobby McGee” is certainly iconic. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose / Nothing ain’t worth nothing but it’s free.” When Janis Joplin sang it, she seemed the epitome of that kind of freedom. There’s a personal story in the song, but it speaks to some universal truth. That’s iconic.
TITL: How do you feel about social media? Is it something you consider to be more of a benefit, or like many things, would you agree there are positive and negative sides to it? To what extent has it helped your career?
AS: I used to think of Facebook like the center of a small town made of all the people you know. That’s where you’d bump into each other and talk about the news or share some tidbit about the kids. I still appreciate it and the other platforms for the connectivity and learning opportunities. Songwriters trade info on venues. Creative artists can collaborate. New music releases can be heard and shared. I couldn’t have made my new record without social media – it enabled me to connect with people and let them know about my aspirations.
But on the other hand, social media has revealed giant cracks in our education. We need to be better at critical reading, discerning between ethical sources of information and marketing ploys, anger management, and civil debate. My folks used to tell me to “think before you speak.” In general, “think before you post” is a good rule of thumb. Also “you don’t need to comment on everything.” Wouldn’t it be lovely if most posts and comments were about cheering people on rather than tearing them down?
TITL: Are there any tour or performance plans in the pipeline, maybe an EP or album coming?
AS: “What Really Matters” is the first single off the new album, ‘A Thousand Tiny Torches’, slated for later this year. I’m thrilled with the record and can’t wait to share it. Definitely shows, here on the West Coast and this summer in my New England stomping ground.
TITL: Which three artists would you most like to share a stage with and why? Where would you play?
AS: I’m just such a sucker for songs. Give me a bunch of songwriters and let’s do a round in my backyard. So many good songwriters here in Los Angeles, let’s do it at the Greek Theater. Doesn’t everyone want to play at Red Rocks? Put me on stage with Brandi Carlile, KT Tunstall, and Patty Griffin.
TITL: Lastly, as someone who is a part of such a cut-throat business that’s had several highs and lows in recent times, where do you see the music industry going in the years ahead, and what part would you like to be able to look back, several decades from now and say you played in it?
AS: I don’t know what will happen in the big machine of the industry, but I do know that folk and Americana music will continue in the festivals, listening rooms, and singer-songwriter series. We’re not a flash-in-the-pan genre, and much of it flies below the radar because it’s done grassroots style. Making a living writing songs, singing them, listening to others sing theirs, and connecting with people. That’s the part I’ll look back on and say I played, and I’ll have lifted up other women songwriters along the way.