She may be young in terms of age but in listening to her songs, there is no denying they have an “old” quality about them, songs that sound like they should be coming from someone with far more life experience.
Ariana comes from a musical family, growing up in Vineland, in the Niagara Falls region of Ontario. She still calls the region home today, insisting that small-town life is more than ideal for her. It offers her the balance of being able to travel throughout some of Southern Ontario’s most populated cities while still allowing her the opportunity to return to her peaceful surroundings once the show is done.
“I see a lot of positives about living in Toronto and had actually considered moving there on a full-time basis a year ago,” Ariana says. “But at the end of the day, I don’t think it would have been a good plan. “I love the country. We are surrounded by wineries here and it is just beautiful. It is nice to go to Toronto once in a while but living there full-time definitely isn’t for me.”
The fact that Ariana’s bandleader is her father, a celebrated guitar, banjo and ukelele player in his own right, helped to keep her anchored in Vineland as well. She grew up surrounded by music and learned to play the guitar at age 12, so it should not have surprised anyone that she ended up pursuing music as a career.
“My father has been playing for the past 30 years and actually has won a number of awards for his work,” Ariana says. “So growing up, music was always around me and it just made a whole lot of sense for me to do something with music, as well.”
Ariana’s father also turned her onto the work of Patty Griffin, a celebrated folk artist who has influenced Ariana’s work rather dramatically.
“My father played me Patty’s song Mary, and as soon as I heard the song, I was so jealous that I hadn’t written it myself. Her music has served as such a great inspiration with the songwriting and the melodies that she has written over the years.”
Having the unconditional support of her parents was a huge boon to Ariana when she finally jumped into the world of songwriting and playing. Like virtually all musicians, she admits that it took a little while for her to hone the craft of songwriting.
“I was always making up songs, even when I was little. Some of the first songs I wrote as a little child were about dinosaurs,” she laughs. “It was when I turned 17 that I found my style.”
Indeed, Gillis does have a rather unique style to her music. Mixing a modern take on folk music with elements of pop, one listen to Ariana’s voice and it becomes clear that it is her secret weapon, a surprisingly powerful yet emotional instrument.
On a whim last June, Ariana uploaded a video of herself performing the track “Eclipse (All Yours)” to You Tube. The video for the track, originally composed by Canadian alt-rock band Metric and released in conjunction with the film Twilight: Eclipse, proved to be an instant hit for Ariana, racking up more than 168,000 hits in just over a year. While it might not be the certified viral smash in the same sense as Rebecca Black, Ariana is the first to admit that she is not looking for overnight success, preferring instead to cultivate an organic following via passionate, well-written songs.
“When I was 17 years old, I wanted something to immediately happen with my career,” she admits. “Looking back upon that time though, I wasn’t ready for it. I realized that it takes a long time to get experience and to figure out who I was as an artist. In the past few years alone, my voice has changed so much, my guitar playing is much better; I have recognized that it is a journey that takes time.”
With one full-length CD to her credit, 2009’s To Make It Make Sense, Ariana has been widely acclaimed by both peers and industry folks alike. Ariana was awarded the distinction of Young Performer of the Year at 2009’s Canadian Folk Awards and also brought home two Niagara Music Awards for Album of the Year and Top Female Vocalist in 2010.
As far as the future is concerned, the 20-year-old is going to take things one-step at a time and see where the road leads her.
“I don’t try to focus on what people want from me,” she says, referring to what people might expect of her or her music. “I just tend to do what I do and make sure that I give 110 per cent at each show and with each song.”
Article published in July 5, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript