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Q&A: ARI HEST

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Throughout 2008, New York-based singer/guitarist Ari Hest was a songwriting machine, composing and recording a song per week as part of his 52 project.

He reworked a dozen of those songs for his latest album, Twelve Mondays, which was released March 10. Hest recently spoke about his challenging and productive ’08, shaping up the material for the album and whether he’d work with a major label again.

Medleyville.us: On your blog, you recently wrote that you are officially in denial now that your 52 project is over. What life and artistic lessons did you learn last year as you fulfilled your song-per-week commitment?
Ari Hest: “As far as life lessons, I don’t think it was a particularly good thing for my social life to be doing a song a week. I narrowed down my life to just do work for such a long period of time, and the rest of my life I just pushed aside. If I would do something like this again, I don’t think I could completely ignore the rest of my life. I feel that after a year, I’m a year behind everybody else.

“As far as artistic lessons, it’s kind of the opposite. I got into a really good routine, and kind of naturally got better with figuring out melodies, what instrumentation I should use and how to arrange things – everything clicked after a while. The hardest thing about it was finding lyrics that were meaningful. But aside from that, getting the musical parts down got easier. I knew where to go next a lot quicker than I used to because I was using that part of my brain so much.

“So artistically, it was great, but for the rest of my life, it was pretty difficult.”

How much reworking was done to the fan-selected songs from 52 that make up your new album?
Hest: “Not a whole lot. I tried to keep as much of the character of those songs as I could while still adding something to them. There are very few songs that I recut the vocals on; there are a few that I put drums on that didn’t have drums before because I didn’t have time [during 2008] to do them with drums, but I always intended them to [have drums]. They’re very much the same – it’s really just a better mix and a slightly better arrangement on most of the material.”

Do you plan on reworking other songs from your 52 project for future albums?
Hest: “Maybe a handful. I don’t want these songs to go to waste – not that they’re really going to waste. They’re still available through the project, and people can still sign up for 52. I do think that there will be a few that I want to do more with, but I also expect to be writing new material pretty soon. I have started doing that; I just haven’t started writing lyrics. I have quite a bit of music that I’ve written this year; I just don’t know what to write [lyrically] yet.”

Will the tour supporting Twelve Mondays be with a backing band, and if so, who are the other players?
Hest: “The 12 Mondays tour is going to be about five weeks long – so far, at least – and I have a band for about half of it. The band is the same guys who helped me make the record: [drummer] Doug Yowell, [bassist] Rob Calder and [guitarist] Thad DeBrock. All of those guys contributed majorly to the [52] project and to the album, and they co-produced the album with me. I can’t say enough about how much they helped me get through [2008]. There were some rough moments where I felt overwhelmed with how much I had to do, and they really stepped up and helped me out, so and I’m very excited to hit the road with them.

“For the second half of the tour, I go farther out West, so that will be a solo tour, but equally as exciting to me. Some of these songs I haven’t had the chance to just play solo acoustic, and I think it will be interesting to see the result.”

After your experience with Columbia, which released your albums Someone to Tell and The Break-In, are you an indie guy now and forever, or would you entertain the thought of working with a major label again?
Hest: “I’m an indie guy now, and I think if I see some change in direction as far as the bigger labels go in how they plan to market music, how they plan to treat artists and [if they] break out of their past ways of doing things – if they’re able to change, I don’t see why not. They have steadfastly stuck to certain principles that have put them in a real bind, and I was in the majority of the people who felt like they were getting the shaft.

“I’m so glad I’m out, but at the same time, if a [major label] decides that it wants to be with the times a little more, I don’t see why [working together] would be such a bad thing. I’d love to have people really helping me out and pushing the material.”

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Ari Hest on tour (schedule subject to change):

* March 12: Café 939 Berklee – Boston
* March 13 and 14: Joe’s Pub – New York
* March 15: Tin Angel – Philadelphia
* March 17: Club Café – Pittsburgh
* March 18: House of Blues – Cleveland
* March 19: The Ark – Ann Arbor, Mich.
* March 21: Scuba’s – Chicago
* March 22 (day): Gino’s Place – Danville, Ill.
* March 22 (night): Kessler House – Indianapolis
* March 23: Kessler House – Indianapolis
* March 24: Preservation Pub – Knoxville, Tenn.
* March 25: Rhythm & Brews – Chattanooga, Tenn.
* March 26: Douglas Corner – Nashville, Tenn.
* March 27: Eddie’s Attic – Decatur, Ga.
* March 28: Evening Muse – Charlotte, N.C.
* March 29: Melting Pot – Athens, Ga.
* March 30: Abbeville County – Abbeville, S.C.