Pop singer Ari Gold is in a much better place than three year ago. After dealing with both personal and professional difficulties, he traded adversity for a new sense of optimism, reflected on his second album, "Space Under Sun."
Gold purposely took a lengthy break after his 2001 self-titled debut, which garnered him an Outmusic Award for Outstanding Debut Recording.
"Three years ago was the end of a lot of big stuff in my life," says Gold, 27. "My five-year relationship ended, I went through changes with my professional situation and there were a lot of things that were going on with my family."
The album’s title track, "Space Under Sun," appropriately sums up how the photogenic artist overcame this difficult time.
"That song provided a lyrical framework for the project. It is about finding a place in the world," Gold says. "I think it has become a very positive album. It is about overcoming some of my struggles and being a survivor."
Gold, who grew up in an orthodox Jewish family in the Bronx, admits that he has still not completely found his own "space under the sun."
"I’m definitely heading in the right direction, he says. "I know for sure that I’m most happy performing, writing and making music. That’s the one thing that remains constant in my life."
Gold describes "Space Under Sun" as "an intergalactic hybrid of ‘80s and contemporary R&B, spacey pop and funky smooth soul."
In other words, Gold’s music can be classified as catchy, middle of the road pop that features his light, soulful vocals and some techno production tricks that give the compositions a current flavor.
He wrote most of the lyrics on the CD, but received help from famed songwriters and producers such as Peter Amato (Leanne Rimes), Marsha Malamet (Luther Vandross, Chaka Kahn) and Steve Skinner (Rent, Bette Midler).
"During the creating of the album, I basically went wherever the music sent me," Gold says. "If there was a producer in Atlanta that was recommended to me, I flew out there to work on a song. In the end, I spent time in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and London to record."
Gold is a member of a select group — openly gay, male pop singers.
"If you’re measuring success by access to MTV or access to major record labels it is very possible that my sexuality has stopped me from being in those type of mainstream places," Gold says.
"Gays have more visibility on television, but music seems to be the last frontier. The most MTV will do is feature a Christina Aguilera video with two kissing men," he adds.
Initially, he was even advised not to disclose his sexual orientation.
"This was part of my struggle three years ago," he says. "These people did not understand my vision and wanted to keep my sexuality under wraps."
But for Gold, hiding his sexual orientation was never an option.
"As an artist you write about your life," Gold says. "How can I not include such an important part of my life in what I do?"
The song "Fan-tastic" is an ode to gay divas and Madonna in particular, he says. But Gold adds that gay men should not just look at women as role models.
"There is noting wrong with female role models, but we really need some gay men who can serve as an example," he says.
Part of a commercial pop image is a heavy dose of sex appeal. Gold is not afraid to take of his shirt and flaunt his toned torso. In fact, in conjunction with his new album, the singer also released a 2004 photo calendar.
"Even though I can be shy, I like to show off at times," he smirks. "I love fashion and style, and my music is sexy. Showing off and creating a fantasy is just part of the whole package.
"If Christina and Justin can do it, why can’t I?"
Fall from Grace
Club king and Madonna protégé Junior Vasquez has been fired from New York's Sound Factory. Insiders say Vasquez' time is up and that the influential gay DJ and house music pioneer should consider retirement. Vasquez was scheduled to put out a new remix record this month. No word yet how his ungracious exit at one of Manhattan's leading dance clubs will affect the album's release schedule.
FLASHBACK: "Fight for the Right to Party" Interview with Junior Vasquez (May, 2002)
Arjan: You have been successful at creating remixes and anthems for over a decade now. What is your secret to longevity?
Junior: Probably having a permanent residency because it helps me to try out ideas for new productions on the dance floor to see how the crowd reacts. Of course, I am also very dedicated to what I do and I am extremely competitive. The crowd challenges me as well, which makes me challenge myself.
Arjan: Do you have any desire to go beyond remixing to make your own songs?
Junior: Yeah, I am getting more into originals productions. Right now, I am working on an album on which I’m co-writing new tunes with another artist. But honestly, I very much like remixing and reproducing songs. It is fun to find underdog songs and re-work them.
Arjan: Have you gone through different stages as a DJ?
Junior: I think so. Especially, with the club scene undergoing changes all the time. Clubs close down, new ones open. That struggle has changed me more than the music itself.
Arjan: You call it a struggle?
Junior: Yes. Don’t get me wrong. I love what I am doing. But the struggle of the actual law enforcement trying to control the scene really tires me out and I sometimes think it is not worth it.
Arjan: What did you think when Twilo closed?
Junior: To be honest, I didn’t really care. It is pointless. When anything closes, I don’t look backward, I just look forward to what’s next.
Arjan: Dance music has evolved quickly in the last years. Where do you think dance music will go next?
Junior: We are going back to old-school from the late eighties and early nineties. Like the old Sound Factory movement - not really Chicago house, but slightly more industrialized.
Arjan: How import is the gay audience for you?
Junior: Very. Extremely. It is my base crowd and everybody else like to party around that.
Arjan: Any idea why dance music is so big in gay culture?
Junior: Because we are happy, carefree, we are gay. We just like to party I guess.
Arjan: How is the current club scene at Earth?
Junior: It is an ongoing fight for the right to party
Arjan: Fight to right to party?
Junior: Yeah, and I am not referring to just closing down clubs, but to all concepts of the right to party. Maybe one drink to many, one snort of something to many, or the fact that you party a little bit later than 4am… That’s okay. That’s the right to party. I would like to put out the message that I don’t tolerate excessive drug use. I am not for that at all. But drugs are here and have always been here, alcohol is here and will always be here. The politicians should work with us and not against us. That will only drive things underground, and I will go right back underground with it.
Arjan: You will just go where the party is…
Junior: Exactly. I will MAKE the party...
Nelly Furtado Embraces Diversity
From the ashes of of teen pop rises Nelly Furtado with her fresh take on music. On her latest album "Folklore," the Canadian singer spreads a message of tolerance and diversity with empowering lyrics and exotic rhythms.
Furtado, 25, describes herself as a "spunky girl" who does not fit a mold. And it's important to her to connect all kinds of people, including gays, to her unique brand of genre-crossing music.
Though involved with a man and raising a newborn these days, she says she has been attracted to women in the past. "Women are gorgeous," she says. 'They are the sexiest."
After the success of her debut album "Whoa Nelly!" Furtado decided to take a long break. In 2002, "Whoa Nelly!" garnered Furtado a Grammy for "Best Female Pop Vocal Performance."
"Two days after the Grammy Awards, I felt this need to settle down and have a family," she said, from her home in Toronto. "I guess I was looking for some balance in my life."
She found true love with musician Lil' Jaz and in September the couple welcomed a baby daughter. In November, she released her much-anticipated second album, "Folklore."
The album is a well-rounded kaleidoscope of world beats, music styles and instruments that (oddly enough) fit well under Furtado’s innovative direction. The singer wrote and co-produced the majority of the songs on the CD with longtime collaborators Track and Field (Brian West and Gerald Eaton).
Furtado, who was born in British Columbia, says "Folklore" is inspired by culture, love, fresh energy and other sentiments often associated with folk music.
On "Folklore," she combines musical diversity with a message of tolerance.
"My music has a message of diversity and open-mindedness," she says. "It reflects many identities, whether it is cultural, racial, musical or sexual. It's genderless. Guys, girls, gay and straight, love my music."
Furtado says her lyrics seem to have appeal for many young gays grappling with coming out. "Many fans have written me [about] how my music has helped them to accept who they are,” she says.
"Folklore" is a departure from the quirky, youthful exuberance she demonstrated on "Whoa Nelly!" Besides the happy-go-lucky “Fresh Off The Boat” and energetic “Forca” the singer explores darker sentiments on her latest CD.
She has matured emotionally, which has given her additional confidence, as a vocalist and a songwriter. "The music business can mature you at a rapid pace," Furtado says. "Of course, being pregnant and in love has also grounded me."
The song “Explode” is a haunting track that deals with teenage angst, rape and drugs.
On the poignant “One Trick Pony,” Furtado depicts a healthy dose of attitude when she sings, "Nobody can control me."
The single "Powerless (Say What You Want)" features the famous Kronos Quartet, and deals with the pressure on the star to conform in the music industry.
On the lullaby "Childhood Dreams," Furtado mixes authentic church organs and Indian tablas. Equally refreshing is her unlikely duet with Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso on the breezy "Island of Wonder."
Despite the CD’s modest Billboard chart entry at number 38, Furtado is confident that the album will find its audience.
"I think this record will be around for a while," she says. "My first record only sold 6,000 copies in the first week, so I’m not complaining now."
Sarah McLachlan is certainly not known for underground dance music. Instead, the Canadian songbird has reached superstar status with her unique brand of dreamy folk-pop and ethereal vocals.
On her latest album Remixed, the star crosses over into electronic music with remixes of her songs that originally appeared between 1992 and 1997.
In the fall of 2003, McLachlan also released "Afterglow," her first studio album in six years. The effort garnered her a Grammy Award nomination for "Best Female Pop Vocal Performance."
Some of the world's most influential DJ’s and remixers were invited to contribute to "Remixed." Tiesto, Brian Transeau (BT), DJ Monk, William Orbit and others took on the challenge of transforming nine of McLachlan’s atmospheric songs into vibrant club tracks.
The result is a compelling mix of dance, trance, chill out and electronica that lifts McLachlan up to the ranks of Bjork, Beth Orton, Moby, Faithless and other genre-crossing electronica greats.
From the star’s 1992 album "Solace" comes the William Orbit mix of "Black." Orbit’s previous credits include his collaboration with Madonna on "Ray of Light." The remixer displays his edgy techno wizardry and turns the song into a futuristic sonic adventure.
BT shows off his prolific soundboard talent with the pulsating dance mix of the singer’s 1997 song "I Love You." The fierce beats and subtle tempo changes create a stylish soundscape that fits McLachlan’s original vocals well.
With his album "Nyana," Dutch superstar DJ Tiesto has created a renewed interest in trance music. He uses his mind-expanding strings and synth beats to mash up McLachlan’s hit "Sweet Surrender" into an uplifting club track.
As a bonus, "Remixed" also includes Tiesto's In Search of Sunrise Remix of “Silence.” The song was previously featured on “Karma, the 1997 album by Vancouver-based electronica duo Delirium that includes McLachlan’s guest vocals.
Year in Review
It was not only ground breaking queer television that captured headlines this year. Some eclectic and long-awaited records by gay artists and queer favorites were released in the past 12 months.
Soul diva Beyoncé Knowles was able to maintain a No. 1 position in the Billboard chart for a staggering 17 weeks. Even though a painful slip of the tongue upset some of her gay following, she apologized and moved on. Her R&B infused pop on “Dangerously In Love” has put her in position for 2004 (and the February Grammy ceremony).
Hunk Justin Timberlake established himself as the new poster boy for male pop and became an instant gay icon when he told New York’s Next Magazine, “Music is music — it’s the universal language. And whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, you know, whatever, you like what you like.”
Pop princess Christina Aguilera gained respect from gay fans for the explicitly gay and transgender images in her video for the song “Beautiful.” At the GLAAD Media Awards, the singer received special recognition for furthering the gay acceptance in the mainstream.
The Cash family and the music world experienced loss this year with the passing of country legend Johnny Cash in September and his wife June Carter Cash in May.
Daughter Rosanne Cash continues to carry her family’s torch of quality country-rock. The singer put out “Rules Of Travel,” which was one of the best records of the year.
If there was an award for Best Publicity Stunt of the Year, the most deserving artists would be Madonna and Britney Spears for their carefully planned smooch at the MTV Video Music Awards.
The two artists received more credit from the media for the kiss than for their new record releases this year.
Madonna's “American Life” was a disappointing effort, despite raising some valid questions about materialism in American society. But it is hardly credible for the diva to kick the system that created her.
The Britney phenomenon lives on with the release of “In The Zone,” which turned out to be a chaotic barrage of beats featuring the popster’s breathy vocals. It shows once again that sex appeal often overshadows artistic effort.
Speculation about Clay Aiken's sexual orientation is as prominent as his larger-than-life vocals. The runner-up of American Idol’s second season had one of the best-selling singles of the year with “This Is The Night.” His debut record “Measure Of A Man” surprised many for its mature pop sound.
Nelly Furtado shows that there is hope beyond the teen pop ruins. The spunky singer is on top of her game with the genre-crossing “Folkore” that features an intelligent mix of world beats, the Canadian’s fresh energy and a message of tolerance and empowerment.
Gay singer-songwriters Rufus Wainwright and Eric Himan also made their mark this year. Wainwright returned with the majestic “Want One” which chronicles his depression and struggle with life in New York City.
Himan released his third album “All For Show” on the independent Thumbcrown Records. The crooner’s acoustic tunes feature his earnest and personal lyrics. The small-framed and tattooed coffee house singer is a welcome face in gay music with definite break-out potential.
Annie Lennox made a comeback with the cathartic “Bare.” The disc showcases the singer’s ability to touch hearts and minds with her poignant and honest lyrics. DJ Peter Rauhofer turned two of Lenox’ tracks (“A Thousand Beautiful Things” and “Pavement Cracks”) into gay club anthems.