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Aria Lanelle Talks Homelessness, EP Trilogy & Grandmother's Strength

Singer also discusses challenging her vocal skills and songwriting

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It's been a long journey for Aria Lanelle. With the recent release of her pounding and slinky My Name Is EP, she is ever-present, vulnerable and willing to peel back the layers of her emotions in a way many artists fail to do. On the saucy opener Then to Now, the singer conjures up a message of empowerment, as it pertains to her own personal struggles, homelessness and her slowly simmering stardom. "My journey has been really crazy. When I'm singing, I remember looking at the moon at night and wishing hard I could be anywhere but where I was," she reflects to Popdust. "I was singing about, literally, being in my car. At one point, during the recession, my family was homeless for a little bit, so I was looking out the window of the car. We were living in our car, and I was just like, 'I want to make it out of this. I have to.'"

Lanelle did make it out. The pain and resilience is palpable in her vocal delivery. Tracks like My Name Is and Mary's Peace are overwhelming, emotional and raw. The latter song clocks in at only 46 seconds, a ghostly and moving choral chant as a tribute to her late grandmother. She explains the intentions behind the song, "My grandmother is Mary. She heard all the other tracks, except for 'League,' and she saw the album artwork. She'd been there through the whole process, so I just wanted to dedicate a song to her, you know, just to involve her again -- kind of like her spirit in the work and have her memorialized in that time period."

The entire EP is essentially a collage of snapshots from her life over the past year, pasted together into a cohesive and resonating piece of art. "It was a really interesting year. It was my first full year of college, and then on top of that, my grandmother's cancer got to stage four. I was at home taking care of her. I was at home with her all day when my mom had to be at work. It was a really, really dark time that I had to work through, but then I saw moments of joy and light on the other side."

Lanelle opens up to Popdust about her inspirations, life lessons, how standout cut League came about and more in our exclusive Q&A session. Dig in below:

Who inspires you these days?

My mom inspires me. She's in the army. Her strength really inspires me, as well as my grandmother, who passed away in December. My grandmother was one of the strongest people I knew, even throughout her battle of cancer.


What is the biggest lesson you've learned?

My biggest lesson about life was that your circumstances do not define you. It single handedly taught me that no matter what you go through in life, you are still you. That is so much more than any horrible circumstance that you go through.


How did League come about?

Well, I wrote this about someone. I was just really angry and talking about how I'm worth more. I'm awesome, and I don't deserve that kind of a treatment. So, I'm like 'this could be a song.' I'm jotted down notes in my iPhone notes app or whatnot and soon, I was like, 'wait, this is kind of good.' I came up with a melody for it and then produced the beat. I experimented some more with trap-esque production to give it more of an aggressive feel to match the vibe of the lyrics. And then when I got through with it I was like, 'whoa, this is lit.' Then, my mix engineer added those DJ stops and starts of the track. It was one of my favorite songs.


It's a song Beyonce would do. There is something about it that is larger-than-life.

Thank you. I always like to create a cinematic feel to my music. It's larger. You could think about those scenes where you're in your car driving and the camera is panning through the trees, like over the mountains or something. That kind of scenery often plays in my mind when I'm creating a song.


You also previously talked about how you deconstructed genres throughout this EP. What does the process of building a new song look like?

Well, it comes down to the initial vibe of the song. Maybe I want to write something that has a little bit more of a house influence because I do a lot of house collaborations, so maybe I"ll take a beat that I'm thinking of in my head and I'll be like 'POW! POW!' and then I'll add some house piano stabs over the top. I just really like taking little small elements of whatever genre to reference and kind of mesh it with the song so it's a really left field interpretation.


How did you push yourself vocally on this record?

I have in my mind, 'oh, I haven't tried this yet.' So, it will be my mission to write a song with that in mind. Take 'League,' for example. The rhythms are a little bit more trap and vocally a little bit more aggressive. I hadn't really done that prior to this, so when I was writing the song I thought 'I want to write a song that's more percussive and rhythmic for the voice than a whole lot of vocal dramatics. I wrote from that point of view with the rhymes. On the other hand, with 'Mary's Piece,' that song was all about just the voice, a cappella, and trying to create a gospel song.


Being an independent artist, what lessons have you learned?

The lessons that I've learned in the past year have been standing up for your vision and being confident in that vision. As a female artist, people will tell you, 'oh this is what I think you should do.' You have to stand up for yourself and be like, 'no, this is what I want and I'm going to see this vision through to the finish product.' If it works, then that's a diamond in my crown, and if it flops, then I'll take the responsibility for that, too. But you've got to not be afraid of failure.


Having southern roots, have you ever thought of exploring country in your music?

My grandma and I had a running joke where I couldn't stand bluegrass. I just couldn't stand it, but she would always turn it on just to mess with me. She would be like, 'oh, well, there's that blue grass.' One day, I was joking around and I was like, 'grandma, one day I'm going to create a song with a banjo and make it cool.' And she's like, 'baby, I believe you will.' Someday, down the line, I'm going to create something, and people are gonna be like, 'wait, is that a banjo in an R&B song'? It's going to be so left field.


What have been some of the pivotal moments in your life?

I'd say when I had my first real show, and my family got to see me perform. Another pivotal moment was when I won Session One, R&B division of the John Lennon songwriting contest. That was really pivotal because it was other people telling me my songwriting skills were good. You have to have confidence in yourself, but to hear other people who are in the craft tell you that is amazing. Also, just my time getting to know myself as a producer in college, that whole time was really pivotal. I was exploring with so many songs and trying to really figure out my identity as a producer. That experimentation helped me, and I felt freedom in my work.


Is the next installment in your trilogy already done or have you not even thought about it yet?

I never stop working on music. It is kind of in the works. I'd say it's more than halfway done. All three of the projects kind of like the triptych, you know the paintings with three panels. I'm definitely moving forward with the third EP and that, too, is sounding really, really exciting.


What sounds are you wanting to explore with this new one?

I'm willing to explore brighter sounds mixed with more aggressive sounds. That's all I'll say, I'm not going to give too much away. This current EP was a little bit more mellow, and the next EP is going to be a little bit more vibrant, kind of like completing the circle where I started out with kind of a peppier moment. The last EP kind of ties the both of those worlds together.


When are you aiming to release the third EP?

You know, I'm not sure about that but I'm definitely aiming for sometime next year. Just be surprised when it drops. Hopefully, it'll be be sooner rather than later. I don't want to tie my own hands on that. I don't want to Frank Ocean everyone and be like, 'oh it's coming out,' and then it never comes. out.


What are your plans for the rest of the year? Are you planning to tour?

I'm actually doing a show in Boston in September at the Wonder Bar. Artists like Ugly Sexy and Blkwtr will performing, as well. I'm looking forward to doing more shows. There are some collaborations that should be coming out soon.


Make sure you grab a copy of Aria Lanelle's impressive My Name Is EP now on iTunes.


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