The soundtrack of Ariel Aparicio’s life is ever-expanding. Born in Cuba and raised in Miami, he was surrounded by the rhythms of salsa, funk, and disco. The discovery of Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin in adolescence prompted him to grow out his hair and pick up the guitar, but Aparicio never segregated genres from one another. As a young man sowing his oats in New York City, he was just as happy to revel in the punk and new wave noise of the Ramones, Blondie and the B-52′s as he was when he was dancing to Larry Levan’s genre-bending, colorblind mixes of reggae, Grace Jones, electro, house and Talking Heads at the Paradise Garage.
The sound of Aerials, Aparicio’s latest record, reflects that all-encompassing love of music. “I wanted to make a dance record, but with all guitars,” he explains. “I was trying to incorporate all the sounds that I heard when I was first going out to clubs where they didn’t just play ‘dance music,’ but would bring in all these other genres that you can dance to, all within the night, and appeal to everyone.” Aparicio is neither a young act recycling old trends for want of fresh ideas, nor a veteran artist struggling to stay relevant in a rapidly changing landscape. He simply makes his music the way he lives the rest of his life: in the now.
“I’ve reached a certain level of maturity with this record,” he acknowledges. “I’m not 30 years old, and I’m not embarrassed about that.” Ariel has grown not only as a musician, but also a father, a husband, and a businessman (he co-owns three successful restaurants). “These experiences have all brought me knowledge, acceptance of many things, and self-discovery.” He touches on these themes throughout Aerials, while crafting music that reflects that breadth. Aerials moves through pulsating dance rock (“Love Left Bleeding”) to intimate ballads (“Flowers”), and juxtaposes churning guitars and shuffling beats a la shoegazer greats like Curve and My Blood Valentine (“She Can Show Us”) with driving Latin rhythms (“Amor Sangrando”). The program also accommodates “Sorry,” an older fan favorite about Aparicio coming to terms with his sexuality which features Lisa Germano on vocals. Yet the disc gels together seamlessly, because the inspiration all springs from the same multi-faceted musician.
The seven songs of Aerials began life as demos fashioned by Aparicio and his longtime guitarist, Steve Dawson. Some were tunes that had been kicking around his repertoire for a while, and others sprang forth during furious writing jags. But the project didn’t ignite until Aparicio met producer Tom Gilroy, whose tastes proved to be as eclectic as his own. Gilroy had worked on Ciao My Shining Star, the all-star tribute to songwriter Mark Malcahy featuring performances by the National, Thom Yorke, Mercury Rev, and others. “When Tom brought me the track he produced for Michael Stipe for that compilation (“Everything’s Coming Undone”), it obliterated any doubt I might have had about wanting to be in the studio with this guy,” he says. “That sealed the deal.”
Gilroy cherry-picked the highlights from Aparicio’s repertoire, then pushed him to dig deeper and make each track distinctive. They forged fresh arrangements, adding new ideas where necessary, and trimming extraneous bits that didn’t enhance the final outcome. Coming full circle, the album opens with “Love Left Bleeding,” an epic in three parts modeled after David Bowie’s landmark “Station to Station,” and concludes with “Amor Sangrando,” a Latin version of that same song that is no mere Spanglish retrofit, but a reinvention so complete it is hard to recognize as a cover.
“If you listen to the original demos, they’re the exact same songs, but the mood and delivery is often quite different,” says Aparicio of Gilroy’s contributions. “In the studio process, Tom was very focused and had clear ideas,” he continues. This is particularly evident in the newfound passion and nuance in Aparicio’s vocals. “Tom’s a really great listener, to both words and music, because he’s a writer himself. So he was very focused on the interpretation, and what my message is, and for that to come through in the delivery of pretty much in every single word.”
While the wider world is still discovering Aparicio’s charms, trendsetters in the LGBT community have been aware of his work for several years; as early as 2005, The Advocate named him as a rising star to watch. His version of Jim Carroll’s classic “People Who Died” won an OutMusic Award in 2010, and Aparicio was also the subject of OUTMusic’s 2009 “Freedom of Expression” campaign, an effort to end the silent discrimination against openly queer artists in the entertainment industry. Songs and videos from his previous releases, including the bEdRoom tapeS, All These Brilliant Things, Frolic & F***, and All I Wanted have made him a popular fixture on Logo’s NewNowNext and the Click List. Solidifying Aparicio’s post-punk credentials, Richard Butler gave Ariel’s 2009 cover of “Pretty in Pink” a big thumbs up (“I loved the version… well done!”), and his rendition ended the year as the third most-requested video on Logo TV.
Accolades are flattering, but Aparicio prefers to keep forging ahead. “Aerials perfectly illustrates where I am in my life right now,” he concludes. There are so many emotions that I deal with in the present, while coming to terms with decisions made in my past. All the experiences I’ve had in my life have brought me to this moment, and influenced my perspective as both a human and an artist. Whether it is the recent passing of my father, my past sexual exploration and how it fed into accepting my own sexual orientation, to balancing an openly queer identity in rock and roll with a Cuban ‘machismo’ upbringing. It’s not easy being a married, queer, father/immigrant Latino/rock & roller who likes punk, Gang of Four and Madonna!” Really? Hard to believe. Because on Aerials, Aparicio makes that high wire act sound not only effortless, but completely honest, too.