Photos by Louis Browne
New York, for all its the-city-is-not-what-it-used-to-be detractors, remains one of the most nightlife-oriented cities in the country. While DIY performance venues continue to close (RIP Silent Barn and the immortal Shea Stadium), in lieu of a thriving alternative scene, local DJs have become the names you look for on flyers — the new rock stars. “Go fuck yourself,” a riot grrrl outside of Saint Vitus might shout, but blasphemy or not, this isn’t the 70s and dance music rules New York.
This is clearly something indie pop artist Ariana and the Rose understands, as her immersive party ‘light + space’ combines New Yorkers’ two greatest loves: disco and spectacle. The House of Yes live-music-party hybrid almost always sells out.
The Long Island-born, Manhattan-bred singer’s penchant for glitter, synths, and performance has led to Lady Gaga comparisons, but the confessional nature of singles like “How Does That Make You Feel” and “For Your Love” don’t suggest she’s putting on a persona. Rather, the deliberate and clear falsettos of “Survival of the Fittest” evoke early CHVRCHES. But if the quality of her work thus far is any indicator, Ariana (‘the Rose’ is a nod to her shifting collaborators; the machine to her Florence) won’t have to suffer comparisons much longer, carving out her own place in the genre with catchy hooks and genuine inspiration. The world desperately needs more smart dance music, and it seems Ariana is game to deliver.
You recently posted on Instagram about how when you were 18 you were writing quirky love songs on a piano — which is quite the departure from your music today. How did you settle on your current sound?
Ariana: I still sit and write those songs but now they’re more of a release for myself. I fell in love with synths after I started playing piano and writing. I’ve always felt that the story and melody are the most important part, which is very present in any song I write, no matter what the instrumentation is. I was in the studio one day shortly after moving to London and the producer I was working with had all of these amazing analogue synths and it just sparked something in my creativity. I love how lush and dreamy synths can sound, that really changed everything for me and started my love affair with electronic music.
You make dance music but your lyrics often explore the act itself, too. Are listeners correct in presuming the dancefloor is a sacred space for you?
Yes, absolutely. I’ve actually had two different instances this year where I’ve just totally lost myself on the dance floor with my best friends. There is nothing better than a night out dancing until your feet hurt and leaving on a high. It’s more about the energy in the room than everyone being drunk or partying. Being on a dance floor isn’t about the scene for me, it’s about who I’m dancing with.
For me, the swelling synths in “Supercool” immediately make me think of the pulse of the city. Does New York City sneak into your work often?
Thank you! Yes, absolutely. New York has always been and continues to be one of my biggest sources for creativity. I liken the city to an energizer battery. Everyone has their opinions about New York — they say its over, its not cool anymore, everyone left — but I think they’re just not stumbling upon the right things because the city has so many interesting things happening, specifically in night life. There are so many amazing performers coming out of the underground club scene. It constantly inspires me and keeps me on my toes.
Are your songs conceived as bangers? Like when you sit down to write a song, are you doing so with the future production in mind? I’m just imaging you pouring your heart out and then being like, “Great. Now let’s make it a bop.”
When I went into the studio the day we wrote “Lonely Star,” I was like, I want to write a banger! The world is such a heavy place right now; I just needed to lift myself up in that moment! Sometimes the songs start in this really personal, intimate place and then gradually morph into more of a bop. I try to let the song tell me what it wants to do rather than strong-arming it into anything. My favorite songs are the bangers that are pouring their emotions out to you, the ones you can dance and cry to at the same time.
In “How Does That Make You Feel” the titular question serves as the chorus. I’m just curious… did the person in question ever listen to the song and tell you how they felt? Has anyone else confronted you about writing about them?
I wrote that chorus to all of my past lovers in a way! I was newly single and feeling very empowered and just kept feeling like I was running into these situations where being a confident woman was something to take note of, as if it was almost unexpected and it really started to bother me. In today’s world that should not be surprising, that should be what is happening.
How does your identity — sexual, cultural, etc. — influence your work?
I’m a very open person. I share who I am, my opinions, my creativity, really so much of myself in the most honest way I can with people. I identify as a human and a woman first and foremost and then the sub-categories that define me are things that come up in conversation. I find that people usually place their own opinions and descriptions on you and I try my best to not get wrapped up in that. I work as an artist to create a safe space in my music, in my visuals and at my shows for people to feel empowered to be true to who they are, whatever that means to them today. I try to lead my example rather than telling people to be that way and hopefully that inspires someone along the way.
How do your bandmates factor into the creative process of Ariana and the Rose?
I’m so lucky to work with such amazing musicians. I write my music with different songwriters and producers, sometimes alone and sometimes with other people. My band helps me to bring all of those recordings to life in our live shows. My goal is to create a set that really feels like it’s larger than just 7 or 8 songs strung together. My band mates and I build out interludes and musical sections so the audience can get lost in the music, more the way they would dancing in a club but it’s live instead of a DJ.
Your videos are dope and your live shows are also high production. How important is the performance aspect of your art?
Thank you! The performance aspect has always been my driving force. I love writing and absolutely feel the need to do that, but I make music to ultimately share it and give it away to an audience. The videos and live shows feel like the final step in the creative process to me. It’s giving a face to a body of work. Getting to see how people react to the songs live is my favorite part, watching a room dance and party to my music is the best feeling in the world.
“Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift or Mariah?
Oh god. That is so tough. I’m gonna go Mariah. Really just out of respect to her entire existence, she’s a legend.
Do you have a dream collaborator?
Robyn. Forever and always Robyn. I would also love to collaborate with any of Diplo’s many super-groups. Major Lazer, Silk City, whichever group he’s in, I’d like to collaborate with.
What inspired your latest single “Lonely Star”? It’s been such a shitty news cycle for basically a year and the sentiment that ‘we’re not alone’ feels so needed right now.
That’s literally exactly what inspired the song! It’s been horrible news day after horrible news day and I went into the studio was just said “enough.” I want to write something that unifies people and brings them together. Every artist deals with the social and politically climate of the world differently in their art. For me, I’m not trying to create things to escape it, I want to make things that let people deal with it on their own terms. I want to give them a space to feel however they want to feel. Music means something different to everyone which is a beautiful thing, I want my music to be a place for people to go when they need to take a breath and just feel whatever it is they’re feeling in that moment.