By j. poet
San Francisco singer Ariel B. is facing the pandemic that has shut down the Bay Area with a heart full of song.
Her video for “Keep On (Quarantine Style),” a song she recorded in San Rafael with Grammy winning producer Narada Michael Walden, opens with her walking down the deserted streets of the Mission district. The song’s rhythm suggests the beating of a distressed heart, one that’s soothed by Walden’s tranquil keyboard fills and B.’s stirring vocals. She gently sings, “Sometimes it’s hard to sleep at night, worried about some fears inside…” before sliding smoothly into the uplifting chorus: “I just keep, keep, keep on.”
“Keep On” is one of the songs B. and Walden have been recording together over the past year. Although she’s well known on the local club scene for her dynamic performances, her work with Walden was poised to catapult her onto the national stage. Then everything shut down. “We have a lot of things we’ve been working on, in various stages of completion,” B. says, “but we have to abide by social distancing guidelines, so it’s harder to get things done.”
B. grew up in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood and studied classical music and opera at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, but was more moved by popular music artists like Whitney Houston.
“I remember seeing Narada Michael Walden’s production credits on her records. I always dreamed about working with him,” she says.
Through her connections to music producer Kenny Allen, B. suddenly found herself driving to Walden’s Tarpan Studio in San Rafael last year.
“I still get chills remembering it. Whenever I thought of the magic behind my favorite songs, it was always a Narada production,” she says. “After I got home from our first meeting, I opened my email one day. He’d sent me the synthesizer track for ‘Keep On.’ It took me 10 minutes to write the words and create my own vocal melody over the changes.” The next day, she was back in Walden’s studio finishing a rough draft of the song.
B. kept working her day job, but spent every spare moment at Tarpan studios. The plan was to record and release a song a month onto the usual digital platforms, leading up to the release of an EP. Although things have slowed down, B. is keeping busy, working on a Christmas album with producer Jeff Weber and honing her songwriting skills.
“I work from a place of pure emotion, based on heartbreak; something I have a lot of experience with,” she says. “I also write happier stuff. I write all the time, but sometimes I take a break, if I feel like I’m in my head too much. A lot of songs are just floating in space. You just need to get into a place where you can hear them, but I have to feel them deeply. If you want to evoke emotion in someone else, you have to feel it yourself.”