Published Jan 01, 2006There's a lull in Ari Up's usually boisterous voice that slides between German, British, and Jamaican accents; they reflect the countries she grew up in, and the one she now calls home. The lull marks a hesitancy, an admittance that is uttered a little lower, as if the smaller it sounds, the less of a truth it will be: that there is still a struggle for women in the music industry. Ari should know. In 1976, at the age of 14, she founded the first all-female punk band, the Slits, who strived to "be girls without any pre-conditioned way about how girls are supposed to be."
Though Ari doesn't feel much has changed for female artists since, the Slits did not totally fail in their mission. While the market might have more room for choreographed pop tarts than it does for the likes of Ari Up, the Slits left a legacy that hasn't been forgotten by new generations. Even though it meant they didn't get signed until 1979, the Slits held out for artistic control, which was unheard of at the time.
There were unforeseen repercussions to these accomplishments, which fans and critics rarely give any thought to today, but that Ari has been plagued by ever since. Her former band's reputation as being "intimidating, frightening, shocking, and scary" stuck around in the industry, hindering Ari's chances of getting a record deal. Even in the '90s, A&R reps were so afraid to deal with her that they would get other people to talk to her instead of seeing her face to face.
"Yah, I'm difficult because I want my fucking free rights, my musical rights. I'm not 14 years old anymore and I'm not totally fucking out there crazy," she says.
The Slits aren't about to be forgotten any time soon. A new release is due out this summer and features original bassist Tessa Pollitt along with Ari. But she isn't stopping at just one release after all this time. She is debuting her first solo album, Dread More Dan Dead, a massive exploration of reggae, dub, dancehall, and drum & bass, with nods to the heavier beats of the Slits. Ari says that reggae is like first nature to her, and considering the Slits were always influenced by a much heavier bass sound than other bands of that time, the route Ari has chosen seems inevitable.
It's a continuation of the Slits, she says, yet is still a departure in all the right places. It even has Ari coming from a more personal level, but she says the songs are not so much autobiographical as they are "everybody's songs."
"Everything I see and smell and hear I don't even have to live it or experience something myself necessarily, because I'm so involved in the things of life. One way or another, I experience everything I sing about anyway, and it just melts into one pot."
Typical of Ari's style, the album wasn't recorded conventionally. Its tracks were collected over the past few years after visits to various studios in Jamaica, New York, England, and Germany. Though this might seem ideal to a woman whose true definition of settling down means waking up somewhere different every day, it's actually more of an irony it wasn't so much a personal choice as a lack of industry support.
"I've got tons of new music and tons of other stuff that I want to throw together and put on an album right now," Ari says. "I have millions of songs and I would have an album every week, but nobody gives me an advance and says, Here, make an album.'"