Ari Hest

If there’s a renaissance man of indy artists, we may have just found him. Ari Hest is perhaps the banner holder of our favorite anthology of independent musicians – the PEV collective. He’s certainly talented enough if major label interest is any indicator; he released “The Break-In” on Columbia Records in 2007. However, a lack of creative control led to a breakaway from the giant company, and to one of our favorite projects, the “52 Project”. Every week for a year, Hest wrote, recorded and released a tune to his eager subscribers, culminating in a year-end vote for the 12 best songs to be reworked and digitally released on the album, “Twelve Mondays”. Completely awesome, right?

However today, we’re talking about a new record – the just released “Sunset Over Hope Street”. Ari speaks of his latest effort, “I didn’t’ set out to make an album of these songs necessarily. I had a bunch of songs that I produced with my good friend Alex Wong and he really helped in putting the album together. And this process was a little different than past records because I really had the benefit of taking my time.” The results are absolutely noticeable to be sure – an effort truly reflective of Ari Hest as the singer-songwriter. And as any good artist would, Hest is on the road non-stop, averaging 150 shows a year. He’ll be covering the states before heading to Europe, so keep an eye on his schedule. Now, pick up “Sunset Over Hope Street” and keep reading for much, much more in the XXQ’s.

XXQs: Ari Hest (PEV): Hey Ari, how are you?

Ari Hest (AH): Hey Richie, how are you man?

PEV: Good man, thank. So where’d I catch you right now?

AH: In a hotel room in Seattle. We have a show here tonight. We played in a place called Bellingham last night, like an hour outside of Seattle and are getting ready for a show here tonight?

PEV: Did you get to see the town yet?

AH: Oh yeah, I’ve been here a bunch of times before.

PEV: How is life on the road for you?

AH: It’s good. You know if I think only about it being on the road and not what I miss at home, than it’s great.

PEV: Are there the good and bad parts?

AH: Yeah the bad parts are just the strain on any relationships you may have back home. But you know if you’re present and in the moment not to get all Buddhist on you  - but if you are present with it you can focus on the music and having the best time with it.

PEV: And with home life, how has everyone reacted to your career especially seeing where you are now and what you’ve accomplished?

AH: You know my family is obviously excited and supported. As for my friends, I don’t think things have changed that dramatically over the past few years. I don’t think anybody is shocked about what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this for a good ten years now so people know that I’m in and out of town at times and that I’ve had some success. They are all real supportive.

PEV: Since you’ve been doing this for so long and you’ve obviously reached a great level of success – but what was it like when you first started out?  When you first getting into the business?

AH: Well, I was like 20 years old and had an EP that I used as my business card essentially. And an agent found me when I was in school – I put some stuff online and that’s how he found me. He started to book me at a lot of college campuses, mostly in like the upper Midwest like North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. So I started doing shows there in all these schools I’ve never heard of. Some shows were really good and then again some shows were super humbling.  In the beginning I was just trying to be a stage performer and get confident in my song writing, which tends to take a while.

PEV: Do you remember your first live performance?

AH: My first live performance was actually at the end of high school in a Battle of The Bands. I played a bunch of cover songs with a friend of mine and I didn’t look at the crowd once – I just stared at my guitar the whole time… Just waiting for the whole process to end. I wasn’t really taking advantage of it, which might have been why we lost. But the math teacher was a really good Axel Rose impersonator and he did a version of “Welcome To The Jungle” and the whole school flipped out… And that was that.

PEV: You can’t compete with that.

AH: No, no you can’t (laughs).

PEV: Well, obviously now, you’re much more comfortable as a performer but is there still something that still goes through your head before you step on stage?

AH: Um, it’s a different something that goes through my head. It’s more of a thankfulness that I get to do what I’m doing. I’ve kind of taken it all in and know that I’m a performer and know that I’m a writer and know that this is what I want to do. Depending on the show, there may be some jitters but once you get out there, it all makes sense.

PEV: Was there a certain time that you started to realize to yourself, “Okay, I’m really onto something big here…”?

AH: Last week, was pretty good.

PEV: Yeah (laughs)!

AH: No, I think it was somewhere around 2005, 2006 when I was on Columbia Records and I started to write songs that felt like it was coming from an honest place. They were really well crafted, unlike before I felt like I was writing songs that sounded like something I was “into” but not necessarily like –- I just didn’t really know myself then. So things started to change around that time and this new record is more of what I like to do now.

PEV: Speaking of the new record, “Sunset Over Hope Street”, I’ve been listening to the album and the songs are fantastic, really well put together, and just a great experience to listen to. And I wanted to know about your mindset when you created this album and where did you draw your inspiration?

AH: I didn’t’ set out to make an album of these songs necessarily. I had a bunch of songs that I produced with my good friend Alex Wong and he really helped in putting the album together.  And this process was a little different than past records because I really had the benefit of taking my time. I couldn’t do that with Columbia -with those two albums – and that last time I was able to really do this was with “Twelve Mondays”, which essentially came off of the “52 Project”. I don’t know if you know about that project? I can get into that later. But I had that luxury this time.

PEV: Tell us more about the 52 Project. What made you create that whole concept?

AH: You know I did it because I wanted to see if I could do it. I did it because I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I was on a big label like Columbia. They were not willing to do any new concepts and they were not willing to do something like that. They do things a certain way and you can’t really argue with it. When I got off in ’07, I knew I wanted to try something crazy and reinvent myself and see where it takes me.  And I was really into it and I just throughout the year I kept a really good mentality about it. There were a couple of weeks where I struggled, but I got through it. I think on a personal level it was good to work that hard and I think a lot of good things came from that.

PEV: The way you’re talking you sound a little freer, since leaving the big labels.

AH: Yeah, for sure.

PEV: It sounds like now you able to write more of what you enjoy. Do you find that there is a big misconception about the connection between labels and the artist?

AH: Sure. I think in my case, there was some artistic  -- well let’s just say they wanted me to sound a certain way. They signed me really because I had one song that they thought reminded them of other people they had on the label and wanted to make me a bit of a carbon copy. So, at the time, I was 23, 24, I went along with it. I was curious about what it would be like to be on a big label.  But I didn’t know myself that well, and I wasn’t creating stuff that was coming from a real place. I think I’m in a much better position now to do what I like. And the 52 Project was something that if I wanted to write a certain style of song one week, I did it. I can’t do something like that on a big label.

PEV: One of the fist songs I ever heard from you was “Cranberry Lake” and I was blown away. I thought it was just a beautiful song.  This song you did with Amy Kuney, are you surprised about the great response you’ve received from this song?

AH: Not surprised about it. Aside from being a good song, I think it may be a little more of a catchier melody. The lyrics are great, they were done by Amy and I wasn’t surprised by it but really thrilled by it. Satellite radio has been very supportive of it. It’s an important song in my set now. It’s just a great feeling.

PEV: Okay so before we leave, I wanted to hear about what you like to do when you get to kick back and relax. When you are not writing or performing, what can we find you doing?

AH: Well, I get back from this trip at the end of April and throughout April and May I’m in and out of town but I actually play baseball on an amateur baseball team. It’s a team with a bunch of guys I knew from high school and some others we’ve met and it’s a pretty serious league for people that aren’t pro or semi-pro ability but it’s for baseball loving people. So I’m actually missing some games because of my schedule in the beginning of the season. But I’ll get back and do that and it makes me happy to do something I love, back home. I’ll take some time off music and be a bit of a hermit. Start cooking for myself.

PEV: No more hotel food?

AH: No none of that. No more living out of a suitcase and eating crap.

PEV: I think that’s really cool though that you are so into baseball.

AH: Yeah, it was something I was real into in high school and just something about me that I don’t want to give up. Maybe I still think that deep down there is a chance to make it in the pros (laughs).

PEV: Hey man anything can happen! Now you get to travel around and play with such great musicians – is there someone we should all be looking out for?

AH: Well, whenever I get asked questions like this I refer people to friends of mine that I feel don’t get enough recognition. So one person is a Colin Smith. Colin has one solo record called “The Wilderness” and it is a record to check out. The songs are great.

PEV: Oh cool, we are actually featuring Colin. Small world.

AH: Yeah, he’s great.

PEV: Okay so finally, what’s next for you?

AH: Tour, tour, tour, tour. We are out for a while, and then go home for a bit. Then it’s off to Europe. I’m excited to go to Germany, Ireland, Italy, and some new places.


PEV: That sounds like a blast and I can’t wait to catch you when you come to our area.  I really appreciate the time Ari, thanks so much again and good luck on the tour.

AH: Oh my pleasure thanks for the interview.



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