A few words with Sexy Minnesota Jew and Acoustic Pop Musician Ari Herstand

On Friday February 26th, Ari Herstand, one of Minnesota’s Hottest Jews, and a fabulous musician, is performing at the Fine Line in Minneapolis, releasing his Live at The Pause DVD/CD and premiering his Rose Stained Red music video. Casey Carlson (of American Idol), Ben Kyle (of Romantica) and Skyler Stonestreet will be joining him.
TC Jewfolk Editor in Chief Leora Maccabee caught up with Ari this week in advance of the show.
LM: Let’s start with the obvious. Why should the readers of TC Jewfolk head to your concert at the Fine Line on Friday, February 26th?
AH: Seeing a Jew rock out on stage is our favorite past time isn’t it? In addition to the obvious shared identity thing, my show is quite a unique experience. I incorporate a live looping technique and play the trumpet, acoustic guitar, keyboards, tambourine and beat box. You can check out a YouTube of me performing on Cities 97 “Live from Studio C” here.
LM: How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it before?

AH: My studio album can be described as acoustic pop. Think Dave Matthews Band meets Coldplay. My solo, live show (what my DVD is) is completely different. The songs are the same at their core, but the approach is what makes it so unique because I incorporate my live looping technique.
LM: Explain looping. And how is looping live different from looping in the studio?

AH: On stage I build everything on the spot, live. Nothing is pre-recorded. Typically I record a beat box and then click my pedal to start the looping. Then I layer different instruments on top of the beat like acoustic guitar, keyboards and trumpet and record/loop them all on the spot. I create a very full sound with just me and my loop station.
LM: Is it true that you self taught yourself piano? And that you started playing guitar at 14? What other instruments do you play and what’s your favorite?

AH: I’ve been playing piano since as long as I can remember. In the 2nd grade I begged my mom for piano lessons but once I began them I didn’t really like them so I quit after a few months and taught myself the rest. Freshman year before high school I remember sitting in a room with a bunch of my friends and my friend Danny came in with a guitar and played everyone a song. When he finished, he set the guitar down and left the room. Two girls – one of them my girlfriend at the time – looked to each other and said “guys who play guitar are so hot.” And here we are.
I picked up the trumpet in 5th grade for band class and played drums for a few years in middle in high school. I don’t really have a favorite instrument, but rather use each one for a different purpose. I couldn’t stop playing any of them because each one is a part of my musical makeup.
LM: When did you decide you wanted to be a professional musician? Were your parents cool with that?

AH: Ha! Great question. Is any Jewish parent ok with their child pursuing a career in music? I realized my freshman year of college at the U where I was a music education major that teaching music wasn’t my thing and I needed to song write and perform. I sat my parents down winter break of that year and told them I was going to drop out of school and pursue music. My dad cried.
Luckily, we found McNally Smith College of Music [in Minneapolis] which was a perfect fit and I transferred there after the U and studied music business and learned how to pursue a career in music (and make some money too!).
LM: I have to ask it, since we’re talking to a Jewish audience here. Does your music reflect your Jewish background at all? Should we be looking for shouts of “mazal tov” and “l’chaim?”
AH: I am not a Jewish musician, but rather a musician who happens to be Jewish. I’m not going to remake the next Misheberach or write the next summer camp hit. I was, however, a summer camp song leader for 4 years and I taught music at Sunday school (Temple Beth El in Madison and Temple Israel in Minneapolis) for years. I have the background, but I write and perform secular music.
However, knowing that I’m Jewish you’ll probably hear undertones in my songwriting because all of my songs are very personal. I have a song where I sing “I’m falling in love with a Christian Dear.” That was an “oy vey” moment for my parents as you can imagine.
LM: What’s your favorite part about the Twin Cities? What’s your favorite Jewish spot in the Twin Cities?

AH: My favorite part about the Twin Cities is by far the arts community – specifically the music community. There is such a vast community of artists and musicians who are very supportive of each other. Most local shows you’ll see a bunch of musicians in the crowd out supporting their friends’ bands. And rarely will you find competition in Minneapolis.
I haven’t found my favorite Jewish spot yet. Any suggestions? I guess if I had to pick: maybe St. Louis Park.
LM: Before you started playing music full time, you were a Starbucks barista. Do you think your work at Starbucks prepared you at all for being a professional musician?

AH: It forced me to find a way to make money playing music quick!
LM: How did you get your gig at Carnegie Hall? And don’t you feel a let down that you’ve already played that stage? Where do you go from here?

AH: I played trumpet in the National High School Wind Ensemble my senior year of high school at Carnegie Hall. It was an incredible experience. To a pop musician, though, the pinnacle isn’t Carnegie Hall, but maybe Madison Square Garden or the Hollywood Bowl. To me, it’s Alpine Valley in Wisconsin as I’ve seen nearly every Dave Matthews Band show there over the past 10 years and I’ve been dreaming of performing at that venue since I was 14.
LM: You’ve performed with a lot of music greats including Ben Folds, Cake Joshua Radin, Matt Nathanson and Eric Hutchinson. Can you pick a favorite concert or musical experience?

AH: My favorite by far was the performance with Ben Folds. He is one of my musical idols and sharing the stage with him was such an honor and I got to meet him afterward which was a big star struck, fan moment for me. The crowd was the most receptive crowd I ever had as the opener and I gained many fans from that show. You can watch a video of me performing that show here.
LM: If you could pick an artist that you haven’t performed with yet, that you would die to share a stage with, who would it be?

AH: Dave Matthews Band
LM: We’re thrilled that you call Minneapolis home. But what does that mean exactly – how often are you trolling our streets? And do you ever think about moving to a larger music scene like New York City?

AH: I am here most of the year. I’ll head out on tours here and there around the country, but Minneapolis is definitely my home (for now). I absolutely love NYC though so as soon as I can afford it I might have to head out there for a bit. A return to Minneapolis though after that is most likely.
LM: Is it true that you write all your own songs? Where do you get your inspiration? And is she Jewish?
AH: Yes, all of the songs on my albums are originals by me. There have been a couple Jewish ladies who have inspired a few tunes over the years – obviously not the “Christian Dear” one though. My inspiration comes from all over – but always personal. I’m quite socially aware so a few songs are about social issues (sometimes political sometimes not) but overall most songs are love/anti-love songs or other experiences I’ve had.
LM: Is there anything else our readers should know about you?

AH: I sport a Chamsa necklace. Check it out at the show!

Check out Ari Herstand at the Fine Line on February 26th! Watch his promo video for the show here: