Photo: Brady Wills
You’ve been up to a lot lately. How’s this new year been for you so far?
It’s been great. I finished off 2010 doing a few dates with an artist named The White Buffalo. He’s a real road dog and grassroots kind of guy. He packed a tour from the East Coast to the West Coast just based on word of mouth. The shows were really fun. Since then, I’ve been booking up a storm for 2011 and getting ready to put the new record out on March 15.
Nice. Speaking of touring, you recently went on the road with Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett. How did that happen?
I met Chris at a one-off show I did in California opening for him and his former bandmate from No Use for a Name, Tony Sly. They were both playing acoustic sets and some old No Use for a Name songs together at the end of the show. Chris and I chatted and stuff and at one point he said, “You’re really good, man. We should do some more shows together.” We also talked about Hanoi Rocks. He’s a massive Hanoi Rocks fan, and I also like Hanoi Rocks a lot. Anyway, a couple months later I got an email from Chris’ booking people who asked if I wanted to open his entire US/Canada tour. I was like, “Absolutely!” It turned into just this amazing thing. I ended up having an incredible connection with both Chris and his band and his crew. It just really became this family. My wife Adrienne Pierce, who’s a singer-songwriter, came along also and she sang a song with me every night that went over really well with Chris and his people. It was really just a great experience.
Nice. Hopefully you guys can collaborate in the future.
Yeah, I’d love that. Chris has a really short period to do his solo touring, because the Foo Fighters are making a new record now, so I feel very fortunate to have been there for the whole touring cycle of his record.
So the song you were talking about that you did with your wife, was that “All I’ve Got Is Love”?
No, we actually sang a song from her record called “Let’s Pretend.” But “All I’ve Got Is Love” is a song we wrote together for my new record and is one of my favorite songs on the record.
Did you play any of your new songs on the tour?
I played primarily stuff from the new record. I was really excited about this record because I toured my last record longer than the normal cycle — like two and a half years. I had already done those songs so many times and they weren’t really written to be played acoustic. I’ve been doing a lot of acoustic stuff. The new record is a total rock record but for some reason all these songs just sound right with acoustic guitar — it’s great. I love playing these new songs live because they’re really good with just acoustic.
When you perform, even though it’s acoustic, you still bring that rock energy and emotion to the performance.
Totally. I’ve seen guys that inspire because of how powerful they are. I’m definitely coming more from the Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, or even early John Cougar [Mellencamp] school. I like a lot of rock. In my free time I’ll listen to everything from Mastodon to… all kinds of stuff. I love Americana and roots rock, but I also enjoy heavy rock. So even when I’m playing acoustic guitar I approach it very physically. Of course, I’ll also play with a full band too sometimes.
You opened a show for Silversun Pickups not too long ago. How was that?
They’re great. I was on tour in the UK doing a bunch of shows and some little festivals. I saw that Silversun Pickups were playing, so I basically ended up talking to the bookers and they were like, “Yeah, we’d love to have you open.” Also, I was living in Silverlake, CA at the time, which is where Silversun Pickups are from. So we were all in London and it was really funny because we were all from the same neighborhood in Los Angeles. I had a really strong backing band and the show was completely sold out. It was really good.
Tell us a little bit about ‘Ghost Town Directory.’
I wrote a lot of the songs on tour. My last record, ‘A Force of One,’ was more of a studio record with lots of quirky sounds and synths. It was more of a Cars or Fountains of Wayne kind of trip. My older stuff is similar but a little more power-poppy. With the new record I was writing the songs on acoustic guitar very naturally and about more personal topics. The songs are more from the gut with less detached lyrics.
I approached a good friend of mine named Noah Shain, who’s produced a bunch of records. Noah’s records are tremendous, they always sound great. He’s worked with As Tall As Lions and MeTalkPretty and a bunch of different bands. I thought, “Noah will help me make the best record I can make.” We had such a great connection and we did it so fast and it was a lot of fun. We kept joking around calling it the red state rock record [laughs]. It’s not at all though — we’re both super liberal. It’s just that some of the stuff has a little bit of a Bob Seger vibe. We were just doing what was coming from the heart.
Noah brings out something a little bit different.
Totally. Noah brings out a more extroverted version of me. And I’m less prone to second-guessing myself with him. He always pushes me vocally. I sing more passionately and I’m less worried about every word. On my other records I would record verse by verse, whereas on this one I would sing them the entire way through a bunch of times. Which is the way they used to do it — people would just take a bunch of cracks at a song. It’s a lot more fun just to sing and go for it.
Did you play all the instruments on the record?
I did all the instruments on the record except for drums. The drums were handled by Chris Cano who played in a band called Orson and also for about a year with Ozomatli. He’s awesome. I kind of have a limited palette as a drummer. Chris is just a groove machine. So we just laid the stuff down with him and then I just put everything else on top.
Did you jam out it all out in the studio with Chris?
Yeah, exactly. First we kind of hashed out the arrangements at his house and then we took them to Noah’s studio. I basically did rough acoustic guitar and vocals for every single song on the record and then Chris just played along to the rough acoustic guitar and voice. And on the song “One Silver Morning” we actually ended up liking the version so much we kept the scratch vocal and guitar on the record.
Did you have to give Chris much direction?
Chris and Noah have made a lot of records together. And Chris and I have a really great connection so it was very family-oriented. Everyone was really open and easygoing. We were all on the same path and we all understood this was going to be kind of a dirty Tom Petty-style organic rockin’ record. There was definitely direction, but it was pretty intuitive. Chris puts this fire beneath me. All my riffs and songs make sense when he’s playing drums on them. He pulls them into focus.
What does ‘Ghost Town Directory’ mean to you?
‘Ghost Town Directory’ is my brashest and most honest and passionate record. It also has my most universal songs, in a way, which is funny because they’re totally about my life and are really personal. They just sound like things people could connect to, whereas my other records were a little quirkier or brainier. ‘Ghost Town Directory’ is more heart than head. Also, the production is just a lot bigger. Everything clicked on this one.
You seem to put a lot of work into your lyrics.
I definitely grew up loving lyric driven music. Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bowie — they all wrote amazing lyrics. I tend to write a batch of lyrics when the song is initially written and then when I get close to recording I’ll rewrite them. It’s rare that a song goes onto the record with the original lyrics that I had. I tend to rewrite a lot in the very last phase. My wife is an amazing lyricist and I think having her around causes me to look at my own writing. And so for this record in particular I wanted to go deeper with the lyrics and not settle. I wanted every line to resonate and for me to feel good about singing it a few years down the line. I’m really happy with how they came out.
Great. You have some tour dates coming up. I’m sure you’ll be bringing this new record with you out on the road.
Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing people on the road. I’m just going for it.
Awesome. Thanks for the chat, and enjoy the tour.
Right on. I really appreciate it.
Pick up Ari Shine’s new record, Ghost Town Directory.
For Ari Shine’s upcoming tour dates, check out his official Myspace page.