Ariel Beesley Talks About Single "Palm Springs", Her Upcoming Album, Live Shows, and More
Ariel Beesley came to our attention in recent months via channels that have increasingly become the norm rather than the exception: Instagram, Spotify, and other online platforms and resources. Although wading through the proverbial sea of online content in hopes of discovering new, captivating work often feels too daunting and laborious a task, this time the efforts of those opaque and dubious algorithms fortunately got it right, suggesting an artist both new and intriguing to us. While notably well-versed in new wave and associated genres, Ariel Beesley deftly balances tribute with innovation, and mainstream appeal with heartfelt individual expression.
With new single “Palm Springs” coming out June 17, her debut album set for release before year’s end, and a special June 25 show at the Echo on the horizon, the timing felt perfect for an in-depth one-on-one with Ariel, who graciously shared insights into her recent recordings, upcoming album, personal and creative background, and more.
Bobby Weirdo: You have a single coming June 17. Can you share the title at this point?
Ariel Beesley: The song is called “Palm Springs”, and it’s the first single from my debut record. I’m really fucking excited about it. That’s the first time I’ve ever told anyone.
BW: Will that be digital only, or will there also be a physical version?
AB: We’re going to do digital at first, but I do plan on doing a seven-inch release with the single and a bonus surprise track on the back.
BW: And “Palm Springs” will also be on the album?
AB: Yeah. I’m really excited this song because as soon as I wrote it I knew it was going to be the first single from the record. When you listen to the record -- for me at least --there’s definitely an arc throughout it. I wrote the first part of the record when I as falling in love, and I wrote the middle of the record when I was falling out of love, was a wreck, and really fucking angry. And then I wrote the end of the record when I was falling back in love, but with myself.
When I wrote “Palm Springs”, I felt it had that arc within it as well – you hear me going through a breakup and concluding with the idea that I’m really fucking good on my own.
BW: So when the album comes out, does that mean the track order will be in the chronological order of these events?
AB: I’m not sure — I’ve thought about that. I know all the songs that are going to be on [the album], but don’t have the order. That would be interesting, but I might do it with more of a put-the-pieces-together kind of vibe. And when I talk about the arc, that’s just how I envision it and feel when I listen to the record. The best thing about music is that it’s so interpretive to everybody and their own experiences. So maybe people will feel other things -- that’s just my personal journey with it.
BW: Is there a label at this point for the album?
AB: Some labels are interested, but I haven’t signed any deals yet.
BW: What other people are involved with the making of this record? Is there a producer?
AB: Yeah, the producer is Justin Warfield from She Wants Revenge. We put together a band of incredible musicians, and recorded the whole record live. That was super important to me instead of just playing tracks, playing to a click, and all that.
So Justin’s the producer, and I have my manager Andrew Brightman, but it’s really just a one-two punch team.
BW: So when you were recording live, that means the entire band was in the studio simultaneously recording the tracks?
AB: Yes, we were all playing together, almost as if it was a show. It’s really important for me to hear the emotions in the song. I know I’m capable of singing to a [pre-recorded] track, but there’s something about a live performance -- when all the people are playing together -- that just invokes this energy and gets the emotions out more than if I were to sing to something already recorded. You can feel people’s presence when you’re all playing together.
BW: Is there a timeline for when your debut album will come out?
AB: Definitely in 2019.
BW: Were the production process and team the same on your self-titled EP as they are on the upcoming debut album?
AB: No -- the EP was produced by Mark Needham. It was a similar process in that it was all recorded live, but it had a different band, which was equally amazing. I’ve been super fortunate to have such killer musicians play with me -- it’s really humbling. Both my live band and the people who recorded with me are so talented.
I spent over four years writing the songs on the EP in L.A., New York, Stockholm, and London. The EP [process] was prolonged, with a lot of traveling. The record will have some of the EP on it, but I wrote the majority of it in the span of two months. I went through a really crazy breakup and wrote eight songs in two months. So they were very different in that sense.
BW: You’ve told me you use voice notes on your phone to write songs, and you also play the ukulele. So what’s the process for you to go from idea to demo-ing something in a group setting?
AB: I wrote the majority of the record by writing [the songs] on the ukulele. It’s funny, because if you listen to my music, it’s so not in that world at all. But that’s just always been the instrument I write with to create the simplistic version of my songs.
Then I bring them to the synth player in my band, Dan C. Wright. He also has a band called 3D FRIENDS, which is really sick. When I write the songs on the ukulele, I think, “OK, I want this to be a synth sound, and I want this to be the drum sound.” I write all that down too, in my journal. So while I write the lyrics, I write the sounds I want [on each instrument]. Even though I don’t know how to play those instruments, I know exactly how I want them to sound.
Then I go in to Danny’s home studio, and he helps me put what’s in my brain on the record. We created a lot of demos with that, and then I brought those to my producer, Justin. He listened to them, formed a band, and then we all played them together.
BW: You’ve been very clear about your influences, both verbally and musically referencing The Cure, New Order, Psychedelic Furs, and Blondie among others. I feel like your EP is sincere in that it’s not caricaturing the 80s as a musical era, and it’s done correctly, using that time and sound as an inspiration for making new music in 2019.
AB: Thank you -- that means a lot to me.
BW: The process of accurately channeling those sources of inspiration and synthesizing them into your sound must be a challenge. Do you actually bring a record into the room and point to a particular sound on a given record, or do you mention bands and songs? Even with the synth demos you mention, it seems like a big jump to go from the idea and ukulele to the sound of your EP, for instance.
AB: Yeah. Thanks for saying that, because it actually took me a really long time to get to the point of it not sounding cheesy or like a replica. When I first went to Stockholm is when I stated doing my co-writes. I was very clear about what my influences had always been. My stepdad introduced me to The Cure when I was eight years old, and I never went back. That’s always what I’ve listened to.
But when I first started doing co-writes, I was having a really hard time because I felt like everything I was writing sounded like it had already been done. There’s a very fine line between having your influences heard, and just sounding like something that’s already been done. I really wanted to create a sound where you could hear where I come from, but [it would still be] something that is uniquely my own.
It took me a really long time to do that, and the first song off my EP, “Slower Than Usual”, was the first song where I felt like I nailed it for myself. You can definitely hear the New Order references in there, and the whole vibe of nostalgia and sentimentality. But at the same time, I feel like it’s me, and I said exactly what I needed to say.
Also, the thing about my music is that I really do write in a diary sense. Every one of my songs -- without fail -- is about a very specific person, a very specific thing that happened to me, or an emotion that I felt. So it was really important to me that while I was putting in all these 80s factors, the message of the songs didn’t get lost. And I think that because I write on the ukulele and it comes from such a simple place lyrically, it’s easy for me to see that through when I’m in the studio.
BW: You mention the experience in Stockholm. That was in 2015, right?
AB: Yeah, and I’ve been back many times -- I really fell in love with that city.
BW: The first time was to take part in Avicii’s songwriting s camp. How did that happen and what is it exactly?
AB: I was writing and recording in London at the time, and my manager called and told me that I’d been invited to Avicii’s songwriting camp. I was like, “what is songwriting camp?” -- imagining a fucking summer camp. He told me it was where a bunch of writers got together and wrote as many songs as they possible could. Some of them would be trash, and some of them would be great. It was Avicii’s thing, and I would be working with different people.
I was totally thrown off, because I’m not trying to be an EDM artist -- that’s just not my vibe. I respect that a lot now, but I will admit I totally didn’t before I went there. So I was really curious how that was going to work, but it ended up just being people who were down to experiment, and Swedes are crazy good at music. They’re ridiculously talented.
A lot of the influences I have-- although they’re new wave -- come from pop sensibilities. For me, The Cure is the greatest pop band of all time. And Swedish musicians are like pop machines-- they’re just so fucking good. So when I went there – even though it was Avicii’s camp -- it really wasn’t geared towards EDM. Some people were doing that, but they really respected the fact that I didn’t want to, and were into my influences. It was interesting because I definitely did not love all the songs that I wrote there. There were definitely some that I walked out with thinking, “I’m never going to do anything with that,” but it was also cool because some of the songs [might not be something] for my record, but are good, and something I could sell or give to someone else.
Also, it was incredible to meet so many insane musicians in a place where I didn’t know anybody. I went completely alone, and accumulated a family over there. That’s where I wrote “Slower Than Usual”, and that time is when I really delved into my sound and what I was doing.
BW: And when you’ve gone back since then, it’s been to hang out with friends?
AB: No-- every time it’s been to work. The first time I was there it was in the summer, so I would stay in the studio until 2:00 in the morning. I would go out, and it would look like 2:00 in the afternoon. We’d all go to a bar then, and it was just like a dream. I love that place.
BW: You grew up in L.A., and are very clear that you’re specifically from the Valley. For someone not from L.A., how do you explain what that specific delineation means, at least for you?
AB: I don’t know. The reason I’m laughing is that I think part of that comes from this weird thing in my life in high school. It’s so stupid, but there was such a thing between 818 and 310 kids. We’d have parties and it would be 818 [area code] vs. 310 and it was so silly. I feel like when I’m doing interviews that comes out, and it’s a silly pride thing.
But I will stand by the Valley for life, and I live in North Hollywood now. I went to art school in the back of a Korean church in the middle of Van Nuys, and it’s just a really special place. It has a lot of music history, too. In the ‘70s, The Runaways lived there, and a lot of sick bands are from the Valley.
BW: After high school, you studied at The New School in New York. What did you major in?
AB: I was a poetry major. Poetry is where I started; my words are my babies. I feel like there are two types of people who listen to music: people who hear the lyrics first, and people hear the musicality fist. I hear the lyrics and melody first.
So I majored in poetry because that’s how I started writing music. I started writing poetry at a really young age, and then I learned a couple guitar chords, and started putting [poetry and music] together. But ultimately, I was going to a ridiculously expensive school to study poetry, and it just wasn’t for me. I love learning, but I’ve never enjoyed school. I’ve always had a really hard time being in a classroom. I got an opportunity to leave school, travel, and be on my own, and I definitely learned a hell of a lot more outside the classroom than I ever did in one.
BW: And that opportunity was modeling?
BW: So the timeline is that in high school you were writing poetry…
AB: And music -- I’ve been writing music since I was fourteen.
BW: And that was on the ukulele?
AB: Guitar and ukulele.
BW: Then you went to The New School and kept writing your poetry and music, putting the two together…
AB: Yeah, and I was playing a lot of shows by myself in New York with the ukulele.
BW: What places were you playing?
AB: SideWalk Cafe and places like that. Now I’ve played Brooklyn Bowl and Baby’s All Right, but at the time I was just doing open mics.
BW: And then when you started modeling, what was your thought — to put music and poetry to the side for a while, or at least compartmentalize it?
AB: No. When I signed to my modeling agency at eighteen, I really saw it as a way to open doors for myself, escape college, travel the world, and sustain myself as a teenager. When I signed, I told my agency that I was a musician first and foremost, and they just kind of didn’t pay attention.
But on every single job I did, I brought my ukulele to the shoot. I would basically try to force the photographer to shoot me with a ukulele, so when the photos came out I would look like a musician and not a model. Some of the companies were like, “what the fuck?” But I’d hustle it and start playing my songs on set in case there was a fashion video or behind-the-scenes video that needed a song. I started getting stuff from that.
And then it started catching on. It got to the point where my agency started getting calls [from companies] who wanted the girl with the ukulele. So then I started getting interviews specifically for my music and I ended up doing a fashion film for NYLON magazine. They used my song, showed me playing the whole video, and that’s how my manager found me.
I didn’t know how to go about it any other way; I didn’t have a lot of friends that were musicians at the time. My manager found me, we had a meeting, and he told me he thought I could do a lot more than play the ukulele. I told him my influences, [about] the music I would actually like to create, and that I just didn’t have the means to do it. And now I’m doing it.
So I never wanted to be a model, but am definitely super grateful for it. I recognize that it opened a lot of doors for me. I’m not a model who started doing music -- it’s very much the opposite. I like to be clear on that, because as a woman, people are quick to say, “Oh, she’s just a model and a pretty face” and that totally takes away the validity of [my] writing music.
BW: The NYLON video you mentioned is different than the NYChapters mini-documentary you’re in, right?
AB: Yeah -- I forgot about that documentary. I play music in that one, right?
BW: Yes, and it shows you busking somewhere.
AB: When I first lived in New York, I busked everywhere. I was so, so, so, so broke. I would busk on the street and go buy one dollar pizza.
BW: Considering your non-80s influences for a moment, is Frank Sinatra particularly influential for you?
AB: Huge for me. Oddly enough, my mom actually doesn’t love music, but she loves Frank Sinatra and Blondie. The first record I ever bought was Parallel Lines when I was five because of my mom, but the first CD I ever owned was Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits.
My favorite vocalists are Frank Sinatra and Robert Smith. When you first read about them, you don’t think of them as going together, but for me, they’re two of the best examples of truly emotive singing. As I was talking about earlier, I think it’s so important when you’re listening to a song to be able to feel the emotion in it, because that’s what connects it to your own life.
When I listen to Robert Smith, I feel like I don’t know if he’s going to make it through the song, or if he’s going to start crying. There’s just so much emotion in his voice, and Frank Sinatra is another perfect example of that to me. I feel like “My Way” is one of the greatest songs ever made, and you can hear it in his voice -- the lows and the highs, and you can hear where he’s suffered. So that’s always been really important to me to emulate.
BW: Thinking about non-musical influences and interests, do you feel a particular connection to Babe Ruth?
AB: Yeah! I played baseball for five years when I was a kid, and I was really obsessed with the Yankees. I was particularly obsessed with old-time Yankees, like Babe Ruth. I had the same number [as he did], which was 3 -- my lucky number. I was born on January 3rd, and the first solo I ever had was in my third musical theatre show, so it’s a consistent number for me. I fucking love Babe Ruth.
BW: As long as we’re on the topic of unexpected connections, what’s the story behind your Fergie connection? Was that through Libertine?
AB: Yeah, that was fucking crazy.
BW: So you played an event after party, and you met her there?
AB: I got booked as a model in a campaign for the brand Libertine, and when I went to the fitting, they asked me about my music. They played my songs in the office, and said that they were having their fashion show [in L.A.] instead of New York, where they usually have it every year. They asked if I’d be interested in playing, and I said “hell yeah!”
So they had the fashion show, and then I was setting up before I played. My agent came up to me and told me Fergie was there and that we needed to figure out a way for me to talk to her, because it’s fucking Fergie, and that would be amazing. I said, “We don’t need to figure out a way for me to talk to her -- why don’t I just go talk to her?” She was in a group of people, so I told her I was sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to introduce myself and that she was a badass performer.
She was so fucking nice. She could have told me to get out of there, that she didn’t care if I was performing, and that she wouldn’t even be there for the performance. But instead she said it was amazing and brought me over to the press and took a bunch of photos with me.
Then, while I was onstage playing the third song, I looked out into the audience and Fergie was standing front and center, full-on going for it -- dancing and yelling. I was just like, “What the fuck is happening right now?” After I performed “Love Me Better”, I said “Fergie just watched me -- what the hell?”, and then she just screamed “Love Me Better”!
After the show she came up to me and said ridiculously kind things, and the next day she posted a video of me performing in her Instagram story and used one of my songs as a background to her whole story. And that song I didn’t even play that night, which meant she went home and looked it up. All in all, she was just a really, really, really nice person, and it was really cool.
BW: Career-wise, you’re in an intriguing place right now. On the one hand, you play local shows at places in L.A. like The Satellite and Harvard & Stone, but on a more abstract level, it must be surreal to see that hundreds of thousands of people stream your music. So there’s a local element to what you do, but there’s also a more far-reaching international element as well. I’m curious where you see things going for Ariel Beesley in the coming year and beyond.
AB: I’d never played the songs on the EP live until September. It has been really crazy, because for me, that’s not a long time. But people I don’t know are coming to my shows and singing all my songs. It’s one thing for my best friends to come and sing all my songs, and me being like, “Alright bitches -- you have to do that, because you’re my bitches!” But people I don’t know at all, coming and singing my songs at these venues? That’s been super emotional for me because I feel like all you’re ever trying to do as an artist is connect with an audience, and people singing your songs at shows is that [connection].
As far as the smaller venue thing you mentioned, it has steadily been going towards bigger venues — which I’m really excited about — but right now I’m grateful playing any show, because I just love being on stage so much.
I’ve played a couple shows at The Satellite, and if they asked me again, I’d play there again. I just love playing music, and if it’s a cool night with cool bands involved, I’ll do it. I don’t think I’m at a place right now where I could say, “Oh, I don’t think I want to play that small venue”, because it would be like, “Girl, you haven’t even been playing for a year.” Even though – as you say – the numbers are really good and that’s gratifying, I think you have to be humble and levelheaded about where you’re at.
When I played the Echoplex and there were eight hundred people there, I was flipping out. But I get just as excited if I’m playing a show for two hundred people. I actually just played Harvard & Stone last week, and I didn’t think anybody was going to be there because I started at 11:30 on a Wednesday night, but the place was packed with people screaming my songs. I was so taken aback [that] I almost started crying on stage.
Something that it really brought to my attention -- and I said this to the audience -- is that I’ve always said that I write music because I’m trying to give people a voice to express things that they don’t necessarily know how to themselves. I want to write to make people feel less alone, so when they listen to a song they say, “Oh, I’ve felt that too.” Because when it comes down to it, we all have different life experiences, but a lot of us go through the same emotions.
But what I’ve come to realize while being on stage and hearing people singing my songs is that I’m the one that feels a hell of a lot less alone. Because most of the time I’ve written those songs from a pretty dark place, and here I have people backing me up, singing them. I feel like actually I’m the one benefiting from that, emotionally. Hopefully it’s both [who are benefiting].
BW: At this point, you still haven’t released that much music, haven’t been playing that material live for very long at all, and yet you’ve already played a show that drew eight hundred people that you don’t know. In this era of social media, streaming, and the decline of more traditional platforms, do you have a sense of how you’re reaching those people who are discovering your music?
AB: I really don’t know. I get messages from people all over the world, messaging me about how one of my songs got them through a break-up, or that one of my songs is what they listen to walking to school. A lot of those people are in [places like] Brazil, England, and Mexico, so I really don’t know how they found me.
I’ve been lucky that Spotify has been supportive of my music so far, and I’ve gotten my music on a few radio stations, too. Whatever is happening, I hope that it can continue. I’m really excited for the record because those songs on the EP are my heart, and they will forever be special to me, but [the EP] is such a small piece of what I’ve been working on. The music I’ve been working on now is the music that I’m most proud of. I can’t wait to show everyone and actually put it out, so it’s not just me in my bedroom listening to mixes.
BW: Do you ever randomly go out and listen to shows in L.A., or are you more focused on your music?
AB: I go out all the time; I love shows. I’ll go to a show even if it’s a band I don’t like. I just love seeing live music; it’s so fun. My favorite part is seeing the audience reaction. I love seeing how people connect to the music, and as I said, it makes me feel a lot less lonely.
I also go to shows alone. Last year I saw LCD Soundstystem and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs by myself at the Hollywood Bowl. That was the biggest show I’d been to by myself — usually I’ll go by myself to [a place like] the Bootleg Theater. It’s super strange, but really fun, too.
BW: Are there any shows or bands in the last year or so that have made a particular impression on you?
AB: Yes. I just saw this band Pink Sock at the Echo, and they were fucking amazing. I saw a band Perfection— which is like a super group made up of people from different bands — also at The Echo…I see a lot of great shows at the Echo. I love that venue. I’m about to play the Echo [and am] really excited.
BW: So the single “Palm Springs” is coming out June 17, your debut album will be out before the end of 2019, and you’ve got live shows coming up.
AB: I’ve actually got one [show] that I’m particularly excited about. On June 25, I have put together a benefit show for the ACLU. As a woman – but also as a human – I took the abortion ban hard. It was extremely triggering to me. I got super angry and felt really helpless. I felt restless and wanted to do something. The only thing I know how to do is music, and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that music is the best thing to bring people together.
So I’m putting together this benefit show, where all the money is going to the ACLU. It’s going to be girl-centric bands all night at the Echo, and there will be vendors. I’m really excited about that show.
BW: You have a lot going on, but is there anything else we should mention about what might lie ahead for Ariel Beesely in 2019 and beyond?
AB: Hopefully just continuing to make music I’m proud of. When people come up to me at shows and tell me [how they connect to my music], that means everything to me. So I hope I can have more experiences with people like that, and travel more places. I want to continue moving forward, growing, and learning.
You can listen to Ariel Beesley on Spotify here.