Arielle - interview with Brian May's guitar protégée
ARIELLE – come what may, a bright future beckons for the guitarist-singer with a hippie heartbeat, a rocker’s spirit and a unique guitar with stories to tell
Arielle is a singer, songwriter and guitarist with an impressive body of work that stretches back further than you might think, from her tentative first release ‘After the Storm’ in 2008 to her refined debut as an independent artist on 2015’s ‘The Whale’.
Since then, this US-born musician has evolved her progressive and folk-tinged brand of classic rock with a succession of song EP and album releases, including 2018 ‘Suspension/Dimension’ where her assured plangent voice is matched by the impressive diversity of guitar styles and tone, like the progeny of Jeff Beck and Eva Cassidy.
An inveterate traveller, who describes herself as having a hippie heartbeat and an edgy rocker spirit, Arielle has assimilated a wide range of influences as well as a retinue of followers and esteemed collaborators including Eric Johnson and Vince Gill. She also struck-up a longstanding friendship with Brian May, having guested on-stage in the Queen musical ‘We Will Rock You’ as a teenager and from the fact that, just like Brian, Arielle had built her own signature guitar (AKA ‘Two Tone’).
Named for its unique dark blue and orange finish and presence of dual tone knobs, the guitar combines the best elements of her favourite guitars to create a lightweight, versatile and perfectly sized instrument for her small frame and big talent. With a Z-shape profile reminiscent of a Gibson Firebird, ‘Two Tone’ boasts an ebony fretboard, like a Les Paul, a long-scale neck and reverse headstock , like a BC Rich Warlock, the bridge/bar system of a Fender Jagmaster and an array of six pick-up combination switches, just like Brian May’s iconic Red Special. There’s also a special noise cancelling plate from Ilitch Electronics hidden on the rear and rugged Steinberger tuners at the far- end, ensuring noise-free tone and tuning.
An avowed Anglophile, Arielle currently splits her time between the US and the UK and is gearing-up for a busy schedule, following the recent announcement that Brian May Guitars will be releasing a production version of the ‘Arielle’ guitar in early 2020.
In preparation, she played a recent low-key gig at London Water Rats club in London, armed with both her trusty ‘Two Tone’ and a prototype of the new guitar. Decibel Report’s Andy Rawll headed down to the Kings Cross-roads to speak to Arielle before the show:
ARIELLE INTERVIEW WITH ANDY RAWLL
The way that you’ve come to the attention of many is through your home-made guitar, Is it just the one model ?
Well, I do switch guitars quite a bit because of alternate tunings. I’ve got the original one I’m still using it as my number one guitar. I’ve also got the new prototype that I’m working on plus an acoustic guitar and one or two others.
The most recent thing that we heard is that Brian May guitars are going to be making production version, based on your design. Are there any particular differences or changes between that and your original one?
Quite a few actually. I refer to this new guitar as the Arielle rather than Two Tone to separate it from the original. It’s kind of a hybrid of Brian’s and mine. The things that have changed are instead of the 25½-scale length neck, we now have it at 24 which is what Brian has on his Red Special. It has the same headstock style as Brian’s, whereas my Two Tone has a reverse headstock where the low bass string is really long. That does affect the tone a little. I’ll be playing both of them live, so you can tell me what you think afterwards. The location of the volume knob has changed because Brian didn’t like how close mine was to the pickups. Some of the hardware has changed as well to be common with what they use on the other Brian May guitar models like the Burns Tri-Sonic pick-ups. For the most part, they have kept it pretty traditional to how mine is.
One of the key things is that you had the individual pick-up and phase selector switches as originally inspired by the Red Special ?
It works out well, as previously I had quite a few companies contact me and asking if they could build a version of my guitar. But I turned them all down as I wanted to keep control over it, as those companies wanted to put their own touch on it. That’s why it’s perfect that Brian’s doing it because my guitar is probably closest to his.
Let’s talk about the music. You’re playing a set later here at Water Rats club in London. What can we expect from tonight’s show ?
It’s dynamic, I call my music classic folk rock and to me that’s just a hybrid of classic rock and folk with some space in between for some harder rock, a little bit of blues and some jazz influence. But, for the most part, I’d say that my heart is in the classic rock and folk area.
Would you describe yourself as primarily a singer or a guitarist?
Both. It used to be mainly as a good singer, but then I focused on the guitar. If I now try and separate them, then I feel funny, so I’ve learned to sing and play equally as well, but it took probably over a decade, so I’m now definitely both.
You’ve released quite a few albums and EPs up to this point, I understand that you’ve got some new music coming out soon ?
Yes, I’ve got a new EP coming out at the beginning of 2020 at the same time as my new guitar. I’ve been throwing a more of my Queen influences in there, so it’s going to be a little more anthemic with a classic rock vibe. I’m definitely a little bit of a throwback, so you’ll also hear other influences from the 60s and the 70s.
Talking of influences, is Jeff Beck, who played on one of Brian’s albums, an influence on your playing?
Yes. Make way for the Guvnor they’re both amazing together. Jeff Beck is one of my top three guitar players. It’s hard to know who the third one is, after Brian and Jeff, but there’s room and it varies. I have five or ten others I like, so anyone of those interchanges. What I really love about my top two guitar players is that they both make the guitar a voice. When Jeff Beck uses the whammy bar, he skips the fret and it sounds like a voice. The thing that changes the sound of a guitar, that voice, other than distortion, are the frets, that noise.
Are there already plans for a full tour once the EP is released?
Yes, I’m starting-off in the US with a tour to promote the guitar. Right now, it’s kind of at a weird middle-ground as we don’t exactly know how it will grow and what kind of venues we will be playing as it’s in between the launch of the guitar and the release of my new album. Hopefully everything will take-off.