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LA LA Land: Mental healing in a Hollywood speakeasy with ARI

Mental healing in a Hollywood speakeasy with ARI

The Dirty Laundry is a speakeasy in East Hollywood where you can occasionally bump into a celebrity and often see people you kinda remember from a movie or TV show. You find it – with some difficulty – in the basement of an unassuming apartment complex just off Hollywood Blvd. In order to get in, you have to push the correct buzzer on the wall (the answer is on @DirtyLaundryBar) and descend the partially hidden staircase into a pretty good replica of a lux 1930’s speakeasy bar, befitting Rodolph Valentino who reportedly was a patron, outfitted with leather booths, suspender-clad bartenders making flaming drinks, and Edison light bulbs. And a velvet rope line in front of a bookcase.

The bar opens at 9 p.m. and the bookcase swings aside at 10 p.m. to admit guests into the hidden inner sanctum, a large, unpainted and pipe-strewn subterranean room with a stage at one end, a sound board in the center, and a movie screen at the other end. On stage, surrounded by computers, keyboards and drum kit in the corner was a diminutive woman in a longish black coat and slicked back hair who looked a lot like Eleven from Stranger Things.

It wasn’t Millie Bobbie Brown. It was better; it was ARI, and she was about to start Cathartic Release, a single record release concert and preview of “Grace,” a film she executive and co-produced. The evening was a fund and friend raiser for jack.org, a Canadian-based national network of young leaders transforming the way we think about mental health and supporting it is part of ARI’s national pain into power campaign for mental health awareness.

The crowd that night was thick with ARI’s friends, friends of friends, ARI fans, and Hollywood hipster DLB regulars.  I talked with a few small-part actors on TV shows, a foley artist for a major movie, a webmaster for a media company and a songwriter, Diana Kristina Salvatore, with a top charting song in Asia. The age range was pretty broad too, especially for a venue that doesn’t get going on a Tuesday night until 10 p.m. and winds down until 2 a.m. the next morning. No matter, the crowd was here to see ARI.

Before we go any further, there are a few things you should know about ARI, aka Daniela Watters. She is a transplanted Canadian with a foot still in Toronto who has been through many painful experiences involving mental health. She has put that pain into a music she calls “alt-pop with a message”, the message being turn pain into power.  Musically she is brilliant; her skill with computers, keyboards, arranging and producing is platinum level.  But it is her voice that gets you. She describes her singing as “a female Twenty One Pilots”; she goes from the depths of distortion (without Auto-Tune) to the heights of melody, always with deep, deep emotion and sometimes with well-orchestrated high-pitched primal screams. Her lyrics are meticulous, often hip-hop influenced, and can be emotionally devastating or transcendently inspiring.  Growing up she became so enmeshed in pain and confusion that she went to college and studied psychology “to find out why I was so messed up.” Her music is part of the process of therapy and her lyrics are stunning, if sometimes raw.

She started the evening with a preview of her powerful short film “Grace,” which lays out in sharp human terms the toll mental illness has on a parent, a child, a family, a individual. ARI and her team are submitting “Grace” to film festivals and hope to release it next year. From what I saw, it should have no trouble gaining prizes and distribution… it is riveting and makes you think.

As the audience turned back around to face the stage, ARI let loose with her hit “Pretty Little Villains” and then took us through a brace of unreleased songs ending with her recent single “Cattle Call.” Her band, Stacey Lamont Sydnor on drums and Lincoln Cleary on keyboards, tracked her like a unified living being, precisely tuned to her voice and the emotions of her lyrics. The set ended with  a call for donations to jack.org and a request  that people stay for songs by her friend Adeline. ARI was surrounded by friends and fans as she got off the stage, nourishing her with the love and appreciation that we all need for healing.

Amazing what you can find in a speakeasy. And wonderful.

Patrick O’Heffernan.  Host, Music FridayLive!, Co-Host MúsicaFusionLA

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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