In order to make authentic, honest work, Ariel Crocker, the Phoenix musician, author, photographer and visual artist who creates under the name r.ariel, retreats into solitude.
“I think to be authentic, if you want to make something genuine or sincere, be that a book or music or whatever you’re working on, I think that has to be a pretty personal process," says Crocker, who just finished her fifth record, Where Are You, and her second novel, No One Likes Us. "I’m hyped for people that can work in band settings or have a ton of editors on their stuff, but I think that as far as underground local music goes, for a lot of us, there’s one person doing the bulk of the work."
But now, eight years into her music and writing career, Crocker, 28, finds isolation more taxing than it used to be and is looking for a new approach.
“As all of my friends will tell you, I just hole the fuck up. I don’t go outside for a long time," she says with a laugh. "When I’m writing an album, I have to still work, because I’m not rich, but I will go to work and then come home and then work on beats until one or two in the morning and then repeat the same thing.
“I’m trying really hard to actually get myself out of that right now," she adds. "The last three albums have been like that, and it’s completely cut everything, and it's just work. I think that for a while, it sort of impaired the creative process."
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Crocker’s new novel and record are not companion pieces, but they're born from the same DNA. Both focus on small and unlikely stories of the surprises of love and internal growth. Neither project is straight autobiography, but both are reflections of her personal life. Through hazy dream pop and stream-of-consciousness storytelling, she dives into introspection, with increasing rigor.
“I think that I took more time to work on production and on beats with Where You Are. I think that’s where the majority of my growth came from. I think I also grew up a little bit, as far as lyrics are concerned. I decided to be a little bit more fearless and okay with what I want to say. It's probably a mixture of life circumstances and growing into myself as an artist and becoming more confident and secure in what I’m doing, being aware that vulnerability is actually pretty powerful if you allow it to be."
Relatively late to picking up instruments (she first got a guitar when she was about twenty), Crocker is playing catch-up in many ways while simultaneously hoping to be more honest and reflective in her work.
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“A friend of mine was joking with me recently: 'Oh, you should go back and listen to one or two songs from your old albums,' and it’s just cringe-y as fuck listening to my older stuff!" she says with a laugh. "It was really heartfelt, and I don’t dismiss any of my works, because it’s all important to get where you are, but I didn’t start playing music till I was nineteen or twenty, so I didn’t really have what a lot of my peers have. A lot of them have been playing their instruments since they were five or six or seven or something like that. A lot of [my progress] has been about learning and growing as a musician."
While that has not stopped her from making music, it still seems to sit in the back of her mind as she measures herself against other artists.
“I really don’t like showing people stuff until I’m at least pretty happy with it, because I don’t want people to say something and then have me freak out and change all of it. I’m also really receptive to my friends and really supportive, and I think that I almost start writing what they’re going through instead of what I’m trying to reflect on.”