Photo Credit: Nate Forest
Deemed a ‘modern day guitar hero’ by Rolling Stone Magazine and one of ‘ten best rock guitarists in the world today’ by Music Radar, Ariel Posen’s virtuosic talent has clearly not gone unnoticed, both by mainstream media and by Posen’s fans alike. Initially inspired by his musician parents, he told us that he was already flying between his parents’ shows at only two months old. After the initial inspiration from his parents, Ariel Posen cites an extensive list of musical influences, which includes artists like The Beatles, Nirvana, BB King, Jimi Hendrix, and many more. Interestingly, Posen claims to be ‘just as influenced by piano players, singers, bass players, drummers, [and] horn players,’ as guitarists, saying: ‘that all bleeds into my guitar playing as well.’ Despite his notoriety as a guitarist, Posen actually began first on piano, ‘until everyone in school started playing guitar, and [he] just wanted to do that as well.’ His newest album, Headway, released 5th March, features the Americana style of slide guitar that Posen has become most known for, as well as an equally impressive vocal display which proves him not to be a one-trick pony. Having just put out a new album, Posen tells us that he’s already begun work on future projects and that he’s ‘just as excited about all the other music that [he’ll] continue to be working on in the coming months.’ We sat down with Ariel Posen a week before the release of Headway, to discuss his musical process, growth as an artist, and his feelings about his upcoming release, as well as to find out how he has responded to his widespread acclaim and to the current Coronavirus pandemic, which has had unfortunate affects for so many musicians and artists.
How did you feel when your music really started getting noticed? What was your reaction to being labeled a modern day guitar hero?
I mean all that shit is crazy. I definitely didn't get into it for any recognition in that way. For one person to go, ‘Hey, man, I love your song,’ that was great! It made me feel fantastic—made me feel like maybe I'm doing the right thing. Maybe this is the universe saying keep doing it. I'm just grateful that anybody gives a shit so if there's any positive response I don't set expectations. Of course, you set goals and whatnot. But like I really try not to get caught up in “Oh, this isn't as good as I was hoping it would be. This wasn't the same.” It's all about taking your wins as they come. And if anyone wants to spend time listening, if anyone wants to spend money buying music or buying merch, it means the world so I just focus on that.
Who are your own personal guitar heroes?
Oh, man, it's just this wide range because it started with George Harrison, John Lennon, Billy Joe Armstrong, Kurt Cobain, Tom Morello, John Frusciante all those kind of rock guitarists and then eventually I got into Stevie Ray Vaughan, BB King, Clapton, Hendrix, Jimmy Vaughn, Robin Ford. And then it took me down this other path of all the jazz guitar players, Wes Montgomery, Joe pass et cetera. All the country guitar players. It's really too long of a list. But as much as those guitar players are influential, I'm just as influenced by piano players, singers, bass players, drummers, horn players, and that all bleeds into my guitar playing as well.
You’re well known for your Americana-infused slide guitar playing, how did you start to find that sound?
About 13 years ago, I got into a couple of slide players that were playing a lot more rootsy music. And there was a type of slide playing that really spoke to me and moved me. It just really, really spoke to me. And I was playing for a lot of artists in that rootsy, Americana-ish scene. So I was kind of immersed in it. I've always liked that kind of music, like alt-country. My music isn't country, but it kind of can fall into that Americana theme in some ways. It really just means rock but not slamming, yet still songwriter based with rootsy guitar elements. That's what the vibe is to me. I say roots because my music is rock, but it's not rock. It's bluesy, but it's not blues. It’s soulful, but it's not soul. It's groovy, but it's not r&b. There's elements of Western and country; it's not country though. You know, all those kinds of things like that. There's elements of jazz, but it's not jazz music. Roots, for some reason, is all of those in one to me.
What is your songwriting process like, and how has this process changed while you were writing for Headway?
My process is very much the same as always, it starts usually with a musical idea on the guitar. Chords or melody; sometimes there's a lyric attached to it—it could easily not mean anything at the time, but it's a starting point. Other times I literally have four lines in my head ready to go, and I just write it out. I love when that happens… just doesn't happen often. Usually, the music side comes a lot easier, so it generally starts with the musical idea, and then we're off to the races. For this record, my writing process was the exact same. I got more comfortable, I’ve been doing me as a solo artist for longer at this point, so I’m more sure of myself and more accustomed and familiar to the process of writing and writing with other people from my own music. So I’m doing the same thing. But evolving, growing, getting better at it, just trying to improve. I feel like the writing improved on this record. I'm very proud of the last record, nothing against it. But I think that as you start doing something a lot more you get better at it, you get more comfortable, and it tends to show sometimes. Hopefully, it shows.
Outside of songwriting, how has the creative process differed for Headway from How Long?
Very similar to the songwriting, my core team, my co producer, my engineer, the studio we did it at: was all the same. I wanted to keep the same core team with a couple different musicians this time, which definitely influenced things. As an artist, and as a guitar player, I evolved. I'm just into different music than at that time, and I was hearing things differently. So it was just about taking different opportunities creatively, let's do it with a different element. Let's do it with this instrument. Let's do it with this reverb. Trying to experiment. I wasn't trying to make a completely different record. I wanted it to be a stepping off point from the last one, I wanted it to sound like you could listen to them in succession, which I think it does. But yeah, creatively speaking, it was trying new things. But, at the core of it, is making sure the song is served, making sure it feels satisfying. There's a build and an arc, that's what it's about primarily.
You get two years under your belt, a lot more touring, and writing after the first one. I'd like to think that maybe I'm singing better. Like I said, I think the writing is stronger. I don't know if the guitar playing is better. I feel like it's the same thing. But it's not necessarily about if something's better or not. It's more so if how its approached is different, or more right for the moment. And that's a huge part of the lyrical theme of Headway is just like making progress and evolving. That was one of the many reasons I chose that title, was that—other than relationships and life experiences that are referred to in the songs—we're making headway, we're making a second record. I feel like I've been at this for a while now, and I'm growing and learning.
Something I was really interested in is the fact that you have purchasable guitar tabs for your music on your website, and on your Instagram, you offer guitar lessons, which seems very unique as an artist. What has motivated you to cater to fans in this particular way?
I grew up wanting to learn all my favourite songs from my favourite artists, so I would always buy books and transcriptions of how to play that stuff. I got asked all the time, ‘hey, do you have tabs or notation for your music? I want to learn them.’ And I always would say: ‘Not yet, it's coming.’ And so that was on the to-do list forever. But now that we can't tour and we can't travel, I just put so much more time into the content side. So I was trying to do more engaging things like ‘hey, here's how I recorded this song. Here's how I played this song. Here's how I did this.’ And I also did these videos where I'd be like, ‘Hey, here's the solo of this song. Here's the backing track, download it for free and post your version with this hashtag.’ I’d just try to make a community engaging experience. It's really fun. I try to mix it up and do different things. That's what it comes down to.
What's been a standout moment for you as a musician? How has this helped in the way that you approach writing music?
There's been so many standout moments.Whether it be people reaching out saying, ‘You're great,’ or getting to meet people I look up to, who say, ‘hey, great job.’ Going to a city for the first time that you've never been, and it being packed with people. Even the negative experience of this reviewer didn't like it, or a couple shitty YouTube comments, or no one showed up to a gig. That all kind of inspires, because if no one shows up to a show, you still have to put on a performance for the few people that are there. If it's packed, you have to not let yourself get carried away in the moment you have to still maintain composure. You know, if you get compliments, you can't let them go to your head. You need to stay down the path. If people say bad things, you can't take it personally. All those things really help shape you not just as an artist but as a human being. It's all very important.
Has COVID altered the way that you record new music? If so, do you think you’ve seen a positive or a negative change in your recording process?
I don't think it's been either. I don't think it's been negative or positive, to be honest. I've always done a lot of video stuff, and I've always been savvy to make sure we get a lot of content recorded. And I was already doing a lot of sessions from home. I have a full studio here. I'm set up to record tracks, vocals, acoustics, and produce. So it just went from, ‘okay, these are things I do when I'm not on the road. Now, this is what I do all the time.’ I'm very grateful that I'm in a position where I can still make a living and be busy and creative without playing concerts. I'm very grateful for that. I know a lot of people aren't as lucky, so I don't take it for granted. I honestly like being home. I do miss it though. I did a session in a studio two days ago. And it was just like, ‘oh my god, people and not being in my own house! It makes such a difference.’ But in a lot of ways, too, it's a lot more efficient. I know where everything is, it doesn't move here. I turn everything on, and I'm ready to go. There's not a lot of time wasted. I just miss that personal element of hanging. And so yeah, to answer your question, it's been okay. I'm very excited for things to go back to normal, where we can travel and do recording sessions with people again—obviously play shows—but I'm just trying to enjoy what I can and make the most of it.
COVID has definitely affected how this album rollout has happened. My first single came out in September. Normally you put out a single and tour. Then you put out another single and tour again. You milk each cycle as much as you can. So it's had to rely solely on digital. More videos. More live videos, more lyric videos, more music videos, more interviews, more anything you can do to give something to talk about online. So that's the only thing that's changed. At the end of the day, people are still listening to music on Spotify; it's gonna be the same in that regard. And then in terms of touring, I have a lot of stuff on the book, is it going to happen? Who knows? I'm not pessimistic, but I'm a little skeptical. Touring still seems very far away. And I have stuff on the books that was rescheduled from last year. I'm not holding my breath. I have stuff for next year already. I'd be elated if it happens, but I'm not holding my breath. Of course, once it becomes normal again, I'll be there right away, but I am not interested in touring in a different capacity. I want to go back on the road when it is how it was.
So what are you most excited for people to hear on Headway?
An album is a listening experience, and people listen to music really differently. Some people want a song or two, and then they check out. I personally love when there's an artist or a band that I'm a huge fan of, and their album comes out. I just love the experience of listening to the whole thing, and getting to know it. I just hope the songs resonate with people. Hope it connects with people, and that they can relate to it. I'm just curious to know what some of the favourites are and what speaks to people?
Have you already started work on any future projects?
Plenty. It took me a few months because, right when the pandemic started, I was still finishing up this record. And then I had a few months where I was just a little burnt out, I had put so much time into this last record I wasn't feeling creative at all, or even inspired. And then around the fall, it kind of hit me like a ton of bricks, and I've been really going hard on new material. So I have a lot of work to do still. So yeah, as excited as I am for this album to come out next week, I'm just as excited about all the other music that I'll continue to be working on in the coming months.