In 2000, Jewish-American R & B artist Ari Gold appeared on the New York music scene with his stylish and danceable first CD. Immediately he drew fan and critical attention not just for his smooth, up-beat songs (many of which are love songs from one man to another), but for being the first R & B artist in U.S. history to come out as gay at the beginning of his career. Since then the Bronx-born former yeshiva student (who was “discovered” at the age of five while singing at his brother’s bar mitzvah) has released two other albums, 2004’s Space Under Sun and 2007’s Transport Systems, which contains the hit single “Where the Music Takes You.” On Aug. 2, the song hit #10 on the Billboard Club Charts. Gold has also been nominated for the “Because You Deserve An Award” NewNowNext Award alongside comedian Margaret Cho. His 2005 music video for “Wave of You” was also named one of the Best Videos of 2005 by MTV’s gay LOGO Channel and received heavy rotation on several other networks.
Along with musicians Liz Clark and Brian Kent, Gold will be one of Southern Utah Pride’s 2008 featured perfomers.
JoSelle Vanderhooft: What attracted to the R & B genre when you started writing and recording?
Ari Gold: It’s definitely been something I’ve loved from a very early age. I grew up in the Bronx, and I really loved a lot of radio and top 40 [music], but I was particularly attracted to the more soulful stuff that was playing on the radio. I just feel it. Maybe it goes back to some Jew/black connection, because I think there is a connection there as far as a soulfulness and a history of oppression and that type of thing.
JV: What would you say your other musical influences have been?
AG: I love a lot of that ‘70s soul like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gay and Al Green. I like [them] because I feel like their music was really sexy and soulful, but they also seemed to be wanting to say something about the time we live in, and I think that’s something that is often lacking in some of the pop music today. I love tons of ‘80s stuff. Whitney Houston taught me how to sing. I used to sing to her records. Madonna obviously has been a really big influence. She also seems to want to say something with her music as well. As someone growing up very religious, she gave that message to me that it was OK to be gay, and that was really important to hear because nobody else was saying that at that time. And then all the artists from the UK who came out of the closet like George Michael and Elton John and [2008 Utah Pride Festival headliner] Meshell Ndegeocello, who paved the way for an artist like myself to be out at the beginning of my career.
JV: If I’m not mistaken you came out at beginning of your career instead of later like a lot of singers who wait until they get some success and then come out.
AG: I came out with my first albumin 2000 and I included male pronouns on that album. It was something I thought was really important for me to do, because I came out in my life and I knew, as a song writer, that I wrote about what was going on in my life. So I had to write about this now – that I accepted who I was as a gay man.
JV: When did you come out?
AG: I came out to my friends and family when I was 18 years old. I had started some of the writing and recording of my first album then. My first album, you know, like many first albums was in the making a long time. Basically I thought I was getting assigned to a record label, and when I played my music for them and they heard the male pronouns they were freaked out to say the least. Unfortunately, some of those executives were gay themselves, and they told me it was never going to fly. So I was like, you know I’m going to put this out myself and see what happens. And I got a really great response from the mainstream press and gay press for being bold.
JV: Aside from the executives, how has the industry treated you as an openly gay artist?
AG: I feel incredibly blessed to be able to do what I’m doing and to be blazing a trail for other openly gay artists. I know that’s already happened because lots of other openly gay artists have said to me that I helped them know that it was possible. I see it as my responsibility in a way, and I think it’s a real gift to be able to do something like that. It’s not to say that I don’t come up against a lot of challenges. Even to this day I’ve gotten responses from people who work for some of the very large conglomerates that basically own lots of the radio stations and who control what it is we listen to. When trying sometimes to get on their shows – even when there’s already somebody there that’s interested in having me – I sometimes will have to go through all this red tape and they’ll tell me I’m not mainstream enough – [it’s] a code for “too gay.”
JV: Yeah, because how can you not be mainstream enough when you have a single on Billboard top 10?
AG: Exactly. My music has always been pop music and even if I am speaking specifically about my experience as a gay man, I think that is universal and we’ve already proven that in other genres. On television, in film and theatre we’ve proven that everybody is interested in these stories. It’s sort of surprising that in many ways I think the music world has been the most difficult nut to crack as far as putting out gay stories, our stories. You wouldn’t think that would be the case because music is supposed to be about sex drugs rock and roll [and] freedom of expression.
JV: Why do you think cracking the music industry has been more difficult?
AG: I really don’t know. The answer does not lie in the fans, because I think the public really will accept what is given to them, and especially now a-days young kids are much more sophisticated and savvy. That’s not to say homophobia doesn’t still exist in schools – it’s still an issue that needs to be addressed, but [things are] a lot more advanced than when I was a teenager and certainly when the generation above me was a teenager. So I think the fans want that. Straight girls have gay best friends and they want to hear the stories and even the straight guys are coming around [laughs]. I only sort of blame the people who are in positions of power who don’t want to take the risks.
JV: So what’s a nice Jewish boy doing coming to Springdale, Utah on a tour that includes so many big cities? How did you get hooked up with Southern Utah Pride?
AG: I believe that this is something new for [SUP] to have the budget to bring out somebody like myself. I tried to be very flexible because obviously this is how I make my living, but it’s really important for me to reach the fans everywhere. I think Utah deserves to have their gay pop star like any other place in the country. I’ve heard it’s actually a beautiful place.
JV: Oh, yes.
AG: I have been when I was younger, but I haven’t been in a long time. But to me, sometimes the best places are the smaller towns because they really appreciate the fact that you’re there – especially somebody who’s doing what I do.
JV: Do you have another album in the works, or what’s going on now? Because it seems like your star is rising, as they say.
AG: Well, thank you! Actually I finished shooting the video for the second single which is “Human.” That should be appearing on Logo probably next month, so I’m very excited for people to see that. It’s a total fantasy, surreal-type of video like something I’ve never done before. I’m only on my second single on this album, so I’m still really committed to promoting it and making sure that as many people get to hear it as possible because I’m really proud of this one. I think I already have the concept for the next [album] and I’m always writing, of course and I’ll probably be touring and promoting this one for quite some time.
JV: Will we hear any new material in Southern Utah?
AG: No. [laughs] None of these people have ever got to see me perform any of this new stuff, I’ve never been to Utah to perform, and there’s so much to choose from my own catalogue already. I’ve been doing the show and it’s been getting really tight and really good, and I just want to put on the best sow possible. I’m not really about trying out new material right now. I sing a lot of different kinds of my songs, some remixes and even ballads, that will really take people on a journey that I hope is transformative for them, ultimately.
JV: Do you have any other interests or artistic avenues that you pursue?
AG: I consider myself to be a songwriter first and foremost. But I have been working on some TV projects and I had my coffee table book out, so I’m always looking for new ways to tell the story, new avenues and new mediums. I’m really excited about branching out though music is for sure my first love. I think there will be lots of cool things on the horizon that will expand the trademark.
Visit Ari Gold on the web at arigold.com or myspace.com/arigoldtheartist.