With the perfect mix of sweetness and strength, the voice of Melbourne singer-songwriter Ariela Jacobs is a killer beauty to behold. Don’t miss her latest EP Dare You To Run featuring four of her best songs to date, including well-crafted acoustic-pop loveliness Leave Your Light On, plus direct and vulnerable piano ballad Say So. Recently, WildnFree spoke to Ariela about her lucky moments at BIGSOUND, her songs, her singing, an update on her creative project The Dirt Collective and the sweet connection between a book on WildnFree’s bookshelf and Ariela’s family. Bubbly, honest and sweet, here’s all the things she said.
WF: Tell me all the best things about BigSound!
AJ: I had a great time and lots of good things happened. I played the Empire Hotel early in the night, the windows were open and it was open to the public so we had a great audience, which all felt extremely lucky.
Mama Kin played after me and she was the best shit I’ve ever seen in my life. She is everything. I went up to her afterwards, touched her and said, “You are everything! Let me be you!” She’s nurturing, sexy, strong, all those good qualities you’d want to see in a very male focused industry, she’s my idol now.
I was in the Uber heading to Larouche on my second night, triple j was on, and they played one of my songs for the first time – Say So! It was a really nice omen before playing the show, it was a great to know I’m doing the right thing. It was a really nice acknowledgement.
WF: Feels like you’re gaining some momentum right now, especially given how great these new songs are!
AJ: After the last EP, I almost gave up. I focused on The Dirt Collective (Read our last interview back in 2016 for more info) for a while. I knew that I loved music and it made me happy, but every time I stepped into the industry side of it, I’d start to question a lot of it. I had to take some time out to differentiate the two, and realise that my self-worth is validated by my own happiness, and I don’t need the validation of others. I needed to do some deep healing.
Stephen Mowat and I produced Leave Your Light On together and it did pretty well pretty quickly, not in Australia, but funnily it took off in Sweden, which was very random! So, we put together this EP. Usually, it takes quite a long time, but this process was quick. It wasn’t some type of magical journey or anything, it was me and him, him doing beat and sounds, me playing piano and guitar. It was time for these songs to come out.
WF: Saving Grace, the B-side to Say So, is such a lovely stripped back number of just you on keys. I hear it was “Written two years ago to breathe life into a story that needed to be laid to rest.” What’s that about?
AJ: I had a really long period of writer’s block, and during that time, weird things happened, I had a locked jaw, I couldn’t sing, We had a family friend pass away, then a week later my grandmother started to pass away, and I sat at the piano at a friend’s place and it came out very quickly, I had tears streaming down my face. It was about an ex-partner from years ago that I hadn’t really recovered from. It was the most honest song I’d ever written, it needed to come out, the story about that relationship needed to end. I wasn’t going to release it, we recorded it just for me, it was like a journal entry, but we needed a song for a B-side and thought it was perfect. It’s the scariest thing.
AJ: It’s so raw, it is what it is, and it’s scary because once you release something and it’s open to scrutiny, you can get some beautiful reviews, and then you can get reviews saying negative things about something that’s really personal. I get that you could be negative about the production, but about the experience? It makes you think, “‘Who are you? You don’t know what this is about!’”
WF: Totally fair call. Say So – what a beauty, there’s no mistaking what you’re saying with it. Tell me more.
AJ: The most straightforward song I’ve ever written in my life! Because of that, I felt it was the poppiest thing I’ve ever done, so because of that, I felt hesitant as lyrically, I tend to be quite vague. Say So, is not the case. It really is what it is, but it’s also about self-sabotage, like ‘I’m crazy, you’re crazy, this is probably bad for both of us, but let’s do it anyway.’”
WF: There’s beauty in being simple and direct in ways people can immediately relate to.
AJ: It’s true, I think songwriting is based on the individual interpretation of a song, it becomes more about the communication between the listener and performer, you take from it what you need. Wherever you’re at in your life, that’s what you’ll take. It’s why I don’t tend to talk about my songs on stage before I play them, not because I don’t want people to know about the song, it’s that I like the beauty of people interpreting things themselves, rather than having one put on them.
WF: Where’s The Dirt Collective at?
AF: I can’t multitask! If I’m not focusing on music I’ll focus back on The Dirt Collective. There’s good reasons why I’m taking a break, it was hard at times. I don’t think I was emotionally prepared for some of the things I was reading…
WF: The actual dirt
AJ: …I wasn’t prepared for the actual dirt, that’s very true. I think I have to change the direction. If I wasn’t doing music I’d work with young girls, I have before, because I think that’s where all the shit starts, based on experience. I’d like The Dirt Collective to transform into a physical space for young girls, mostly teens. I think right now it’s a good outlet for people who are writers and need a space to dump. I love it, but it was hard to manage.
WF: Tell me about your extraordinary voice and your pathway into singing.
AJ: I was actually a bit tone deaf when I was a kid, and my sister begged my parents to get me singing lessons because I would walk around singing non-stop. My first singing teacher was a puppeteer, she was awesome. Before that, I tried out for the school choir and didn’t get in, I wrote a letter of complaint to make sure I got in haha! I went back and sang On My Own, for the Year 6 Les Mis performance, but didn’t get any of the singing roles! Hilarious. But, I won Scopus Idol, at my high school, which is now the bane of my existence. There’s a story and photo of me in my parent’s living room about i! From the Jewish News! Ridiculous.
WF: Huge. Put in in your bio!
AJ: I should, so funny! I guess I was never really encouraged from a school perspective, I just did it because it made me happy. I wrote my first song when I was 14, it was the daggiest song ever, but I didn’t care. No one else in my family is really musical, although my mum is a classical pianist, but she gave it up when I was born, I think I must have heard her in the womb. Sometimes I catch her playing when I come home, she’s unbelievable. Her dad was a famous writer too.
WF: Yes! I was going to ask you! I picked up a beautifully bound book in a second hand bookshop called The Hollow Tree by Jacob G. Rosenberg…
WF;…I loved the typescript and illustration on the cover, and could see he was an Australian writer, so I bought it…
AJ: The most beautiful story ever.
WF:… and when I finished reading it, I guessed that he might be your grandfather after seeing your name in the book’s dedication?!
WF: Yes! He wrote heaps of other books, but he wrote this one just before he passed away, they found the book finished on his desk. It was beautiful, yet not quite ready, but as a family we decided to publish it. Because of him, I wrote Jacob’s Song, which was the first song I put on MySpace. I decided to start taking music seriously at that point.
He’s kind of my rock, I was very close to him. We were both writers, he’d tell stories and I’d play piano, he would say more in a look as opposed to words, we knew we just ’got’ each other. The Hollow Tree was heavy. He writes about his experience in the Holocaust in his other books, but this one was more cryptic and vague. Writing was his outlet, he wrote poetry, but he couldn’t talk about it. When the memorial days would come up, we’d light candles together, but no words were said. It was too hard.
What a beautiful legacy left from a brave grandfather to his granddaughter.
Listen to Dare You To Run and be blown to bits by her voice live at the EP launch on Tuesday October 24 at The Workers Club. featuring guests Angus Robb and Jack The Fox.