A few years back, Phoenix, Arizona-based Rachel Ariel Crocker, who goes by R.Ariel, gave up photography. It had been her main source of artistic creation and release but, she says, it no longer fit or fed her. She turned to music, partly to explore a new source of creation, partly because her mother committed suicide and it proved glorious catharsis. It stuck.
She's a writer, too, having published In North America in 2015, based on a four-month music tour of the US and Canada. Therein, Crocker explored a stream-of-consciousness reflection on music as career, on travel, on being a woman while pursuing these things. It was "lightly edited," she says, nudging attention toward her more recent book release No One Likes Us, a collection of short stories, and a sneakily included collection of poems titled How to Move On (And Other Things I Haven't Learned Yet). This isn't even mentioning how Brian Eno trumpeted R.Ariel's praises circa 2014 for the NOISE Festival, a British not-actual-festival that seeks to demolish the difficult entry into the music industry for regular folk. That was based on the first real song she ever created, she says, and it was a bolt of confidence she's carried since.
"I have no formal training at all," she says by phone. I'm not positive, but it sounds like she's nursing a cigarette. "My family never really had money to get us lessons, and then, also, I'd probably say there was a bit of sexism—people were encouraging my brother to play guitar, but not me."
After years of attending underground and DIY shows in her hometown as a teen, however, she picked up a guitar of her own and set about learning to play.
"It felt really obsessive," she says. "I'd sit there for six hours straight trying to play the same thing on guitar over and over and over."
Albums eventually followed, like the one-two punch of 2015's Changer and This World, which were released both digitally and on cassette (the cassettes have sold out, in case you're wondering) within a couple months of each other. She wrote of poverty (the Crocker family amounted to eight people in a two-bedroom house), loss and love, heartache and wanderlust. Crocker's voice on these albums is a stunner, reverb-laden and gorgeous over lilting backing tracks and simple yet haunting beats. Guitars were present on these releases, but a change was in the air; by 2017's Oh, Crocker phased them out in favor of more hands-on production and beat-making.
"I don't want to say I completely dropped guitar, because I still play guitar every day," she explains, "but I started messing around with beats and keyboards and I've just fallen in love with the production and the beats. If I can make a beat that slaps …"
Cut to January this year and the release of Where You Are, the natural and powerful evolution of a musician unafraid to experiment. The fidelity's higher, the vocals are more assured and the production of it all is decidedly more focused over previous efforts. R.Ariel found her sound, and though there is familiarity creeping up from the corners of an indie sort of darkness, there is also hope and beauty.
Crocker tours extensively, and often has more tour dates per year than most big-name musicians can muster. It's mainly about loving to travel, she points out. She still writes literature, too, and recently has started kicking around the idea of getting into videography. A few days before our interview, she says, Crocker traded a guitar to a friend for a Nikon. She's learning how it all works—DIY, btw, just like the music—and says she wants to help her fellow musician-friends make videos. Her live show already features a visual component, though what that looks like moving forward is anyone's guess. Who even knows what else she might do?
"Who was it … Nina Simone? Who said that anything you say as an artist is innately political?" Crocker muses. "Because you're suggesting a way of being and a way of processing. My suggestions in my music are of self-love and self-reflection; taking responsibility and accountability. Some people would say that's political, I guess, but I'm much more communal-based—sharing of art itself, I think, is a radical act, and I'm much more interested in people practicing vulnerability."
8 pm Friday April 5. Free.
Desert Dogs Brewery and Cidery,
112 W San Francisco St., Ste. 307,