When you think of guitar shredding, you think right away of heavy metal, of rapid solos and “whammy-bar dive bombs.” One Guitar Girl who offers her own approach to that unique art form is Ariel Bellvalaire.
Even though she is in her very late teens going on 20, Ariel has already put in a decade’s worth of experience performing and, yes, shredding, throughout her native Connecticut, as well as in New York City, where she is currently based. Ariel has also developed a knack for combining those shred-filled moments with catchy and original tunes that cut across the pop and rock genres.
I recently asked Ariel about how she got into the shredding, what artists influenced her, plus other topics like recognition through YouTube and a TV commercial, as well as a little something called “shred-busking.”
GGM: First, Ariel, some have already compared you to Avril Lavigne and Taylor Swift. Do you think those comparisons underestimate what you’re about musically?
Ariel: Not at all! Avril Lavigne and Taylor Swift are both such amazing artists! I try to create original songs that fall into a similar pop category with them. The difference is that I try to add a bit of Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen to the mix in terms of guitar solos and riffs.
GGM: Would “pop shredder” be an appropriate description of your musical and guitar-playing style?
Ariel: Absolutely! I try to combine catchy pop melodies and beats with my love of screaming rock guitar shred solos and riffs.
GGM: Prior to when you played your first gig nearly a decade ago, did you teach yourself how to play guitar, did you take lessons, or was it a bit of each?
Ariel: I took lessons to learn the basic chords, but what really helped was the fact that before I started playing guitar I was already the lead singer in a band. When we needed another guitar player, I gladly took the job! Knowing that I had to play in front of a live audience really pushed me to get better! I started out playing pop songs with power chords, but when I heard the song “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne, my jaw dropped when I heard Randy Rhoads play the guitar solo and I decided that I needed to learn that solo after about a month of playing. It took me a whole year to learn it, but after countless hours of sitting down and trying to learn all the techniques Randy used, I learned how to play lead guitar and began incorporating classic rock songs with amazing solos into my live shows.
GGM: As far as your first gig was concerned, what was the reaction like?
Ariel: My very first gig was at a bar when I was 10 years old and just a singer. The reaction was “Aww she’s so tiny!” My first gig where I played guitar and did a solo people were like, “What just happened?!” and “Whoa! A little girl just played that solo!” That’s when it hit me that being a female lead guitar player set me apart and made me different.
GGM: Following up on that, if I’m right, you made your live New York City club debut almost a year ago at The Bitter End. Was there any thought in your mind from that night about whether that old lyrical reference to New York, “If I can make it there/I’ll make it anywhere,” came true for you?
Ariel: When I did that show, I had already been living in NYC for a little while so I was used to being a musician in a big city. It was, however, my first time performing all my original music as a solo artist with a backup band. I was just hoping they would accept my original songs and guitar solos! Turns out they loved the pop songs and jaws dropped when I played the first guitar solo! Just the reaction I was hoping for!
GGM: What artists have influenced your music?
Ariel: When I was younger, I wanted to be Avril Lavigne which ultimately inspired me to become a musician in the first place and have original pop-rock songs. Randy Rhoads inspired me to become a lead guitarist and every time I write a guitar solo, I think, “What would Randy Play?” With some of my newer songs, artists like Pink and Maroon 5 have inspired me!
GGM: Among the guitars you currently own, do you have a particular favorite or two?
Ariel: My two main electric guitars are both Fender Stratocasters with double humbuckers. I use both equally, but I think my first one will always be my favorite…just don’t tell that to my other Strat!
GGM: As for that rainbow guitar you were photographed with, is it a custom-designed model?
Ariel: That particular guitar was actually used in the Broadway show “Fela!” The Gibson showroom in NYC is kind enough to let me borrow guitars and rehearse there. I was walking around the showroom, saw the rainbow guitar, and it was love at first sight! It’s Gibson Zoot Suit Les Paul Model.
GGM: Danny Madden has been your manager, as well as your vocal coach and co-writer. How did you two first meet?
Ariel: I met Danny while I was working with another musical project and he started out as just my vocal coach. After doing several different music projects and bands, he finally agreed to be my manager. It’s been great! We’ve gotten so much done and have so much fun while doing it.
GGM: Have you been getting the usual array of “I saw you on TV/the Internet” responses from fans whenever you play live or appear in person, as a result of either your videos on YouTube or your TV commercial in Connecticut for Rosenberg Orthodontics?
Ariel: Yes! Every now and then I’ll get a Facebook message from a classmate saying, “Hey! I saw you on TV! Seems like only yesterday I was sitting next to you in math class asking you for the answers.”
GGM: I read in a blog you posted on Tumblr that you shredded in the New York City subway. Which station[s] did you do that in, and what was the, uh, “shred-busking” like?
Ariel: There’s never a dull moment when shred-busking! I generally play at the Union Square or Astor Place Station. I do a mix of original songs and covers of popular songs with my friend who plays acoustic guitar and beat boxes. I literally shred and sing over acoustic guitar. We get the best reactions! Every time I play a solo people either crowd around, throw things in the open guitar case, take pictures, and sometimes, even miss their trains! I’ve had so many different things put in the empty guitar case. I’ve had people put in phone numbers, money, candy, and…their clothes. The most memorable shred-busk moment I’ve had was when a homeless man came and sat down to watch the show and when it was over, he handed me his only dollar. Of course, I couldn’t take it, but I was honored that he enjoyed the show enough to even offer it!
GGM: With the major labels having been criticized for how they sometimes, if not often, treat the artists they sign, would the plusses of any record deal you sign outweigh the minuses?
Ariel: I’m actually in the process of showcasing for different labels to find the right deal that will let me play my own original music.
GGM: Speaking of records, you have released a couple of songs on iTunes, but is a full-fledged album in the works for you?
Ariel: There certainly is! I’m constantly writing on my own and with co-writers to get as much original material as possible. The new songs on the album have some amazing solos…with pop melodies of course!
GGM: Have you yet opened for or recorded with any well-known acts, and if you haven’t yet, which acts would you want to open for?
Ariel: I haven’t recorded with any yet, but have a few things in the works. I would absolutely love to open for Pink! She is such an amazing singer, performer, and writer. It would also be an honor to share the stage with Pat Benatar and Heart. They’ve had such a big impact on women in the music industry!
GGM: Finally, Ariel, are you planning on a regional or national tour any time soon?
Ariel: I’m currently focused on writing/recording new songs, but I’d say a tour isn’t too far away.
No sooner was I done with that interview than Ariel herself was on her way to shred-busking yet again, at the aforementioned Astor Place subway station in lower Manhattan. As sure as Ariel definitely rocks, and will continue to do so, you got to love how she continues to pay her dues on that proverbial road to the top.
You can find out more about Ariel on her website, www.arielsmusic.com. Also, you can like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/arielsmusic, follow her on Twitter @ABellvalaire, and watch some videos at www.youtube.com/arielbellvalaire.
Photo credit: Johnny Rodriguez