It’s fitting that Ari Chi finally found her way to GMF’s lineup. Months before I took a job as Creative Loafing Tampa’s music editor, the 23-year-old songwriter was booked to play a volunteer wrap and thank-you party at Lot 1901 on the (hopefully) burgeoning southeastern quadrant of Ybor City. At least half of the attendees hadn’t yet experienced her soulful, dynamic delivery, and the whole of the party was enraptured by the young singer’s easy grasp of melody and catchy four-chord songwriting. Ari Chi’s brand of ukulele pop is ripe for the times, and — despite her objections — she seems to completely get how to leverage it to her advantage.
“It's funny because I feel like I have so much to learn about cyber marketing but I do try my best,” she told CL in a message. “I just know that most people would rather watch and listen than just listen.” Watch they did. Ari Chi’s cover of Desiigner’s “Timmy Turner” racked up over 40,000 views on Facebook alone; the fire emojis adorning the bottom of the clip are beyond appropriate. The Gibbs High alum, who was born in Atlanta, owes a bit of her success to YouTube, as well; the online video platform played professor for Ari Chi, who taught herself to play after mom gave her a ukulele for Christmas.
“I begged her for one and she came through,” Ari Chi said, “it was YouTube university after that.” She’ll bring some extra help to her usually stripped-back set for GMF, and there’s a lot that fans can learn from Ari Chi’s sunny disposition, which reflects the sure-footed and resolute attitude that seems to permeate so many of her peers. When asked about the difficulties Tampa Bay’s local scene — and music in general — presents for women, Ari Chi is frank without being a downer.
“I honestly feel like the majority of Tampa is really good at empowering and embracing all genders and their art,” she said, adding that there have been some levels of disappointment related to her gender. “I just hope that women who choose to keep their bodies fully clothed can be seen in a sexy and bold light. This generation is so free and accepting when it comes to nudity, and I feel like it's set the bar high for women who want to keep that side of them for the bedroom.”
How old are you?
You’re born in Atlanta, but currently from St. Pete. You still live in Pinellas, right?
I still rep Saint Pete but I moved to Tampa a year and a half ago, and I lived in Orlando for a while.
Could you tell us where you went to high school, college?
I went to Gibbs High and I graduated from Pinellas County Center for the Arts with a Vocal Performance major.
What about those performing arts programs you were in from 6th to 12th grade? Can you expand on those a little?
I went to Orange Grove [for] 6th & 7th grade, John Hopkins for 8th Grade and then I went to Gibbs (PCCA) for high school. All of those schools had performing arts magnet programs in which I was enrolled. High school was intense but the PCCA program taught me a lot of techniques that I use every day.
Who gave you that uke in 2010? Your parents, for Christmas?
Yes, I begged my mom for one and she came through!
Your bio says you taught yourself. What were you listening to as you learned?
YouTube University, lol. Learning your favorite songs is the best way to start.
Who’s on that list of people you’re gonna buy a car for?
Now that right there is TOP SECRET info.
Did you buy that RV camper?
We're still in the negotiating/decision making process. But if I don't get the one I'm looking at now, we're gonna buy one in the next 12 months.
You’re in a kinda serious relationship right now. How is it affecting your songwriting?
My upcoming album ColorFOOL is a great representation of how my songwriting has been affected. When you listen, you'll feel like you're in a relationship even if you're not in one. I'm a great storyteller, and I love mixing real life with fantasy. It's all about love and colors and being that he's an amazing artist, I've definitely been inspired.
Who taught you how to sing? Couldn’t have been all Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
I feel like I was born with the talent, but consistently being surrounded by music at home and school really taught me everything. All of the people I've had to blend my voice with over the years have helped me find my own.
You’re really good at the internet (thinking specifically about some of the videos you’ve posted that have kind of gone viral). Where does that instinct come from? What do you think you could teach artists from other generations as far as reaching new audiences online goes?
It's funny, because I feel like I have so much to learn about cyber marketing but I do try my best, so thank you for noticing! I just know that most people would rather watch and listen than just watch.
So this story I am writing revolves around the fact that GMF has put together what might be its strongest lineup of females yet. You’re certainly a part of that. Can you talk about being embraced by the festival since last year?
I have felt nothing but love from the GMF team since the beginning! They asked me to play at the post party [in 2016] and people really were drawn to the intimacy of the space and performance. Since then, I've been working with GMF for private parties and other cool fundraising events and I'm just really honored to be apart of the festival.
Can you talk about the set you’re going to play at GMF? Solo? Band?
I usually just play my uke and sing, but my great friend Chris Canon from Orlando will most likely be accompanying me on the keys. I'm going to play an all-original set with hints of familiar tunes. It'll be a great time!
You’re out a lot, whether you’re playing a show in a club, on the street or just checking out the scene. How is it for women trying to come up in the Tampa Bay scene? Are there things you really appreciate? How about things you’d like to see change.
I honestly feel like the majority of Tampa is really good at empowering and embracing all genders and their art. Something that use to discourage me is when men that could possibly benefit my music career would act like they want to work with me and then take advantage of my personal info and try to come on to me. Every time I would politely deny, I'd never hear back about the music that they once were interested in making.
You’re obviously young, but you have to live life in America as a woman. What’s that experience been like for you? I’m curious because I feel like, for all the shade tossed at your generation, your peers are some of the most positive thinkers out there.
I feel like it used to be hard for women to do what they want with their hair, makeup and wardrobe. Now expression is way more accepted. People will always have something to say, whether it's good or bad. As long as you know who you wanna be, you'll be happy.
What are some of your hopes for women, and women artists, as you move forward in your career and life?
I just hope that women who choose to keep their bodies fully clothed can be seen in a sexy and bold light. This generation is so free and accepting when it comes to nudity, and I feel like it's set the bar high for women who want to keep that side of them for the bedroom.
You say you got good at ukulele at 11th grade. You’ve also said that you can write the meaty part of a song in less than an hour. What’s your output like these days?
I definitely change my mind lol... I don't feel like I got good until 2013, after I graduated and made my first EP and listened to it over and over. As far as songwriting, a song can take me two hours or two weeks. It depends on if I'm inspired or forcing myself to be. They both work out, but one is faster than the other.
Name some Ari Chi influences that might surprise people.
Hiatus Kaiyote. Local Natives. Sampha. The Strokes. Bonobo. Bon Iver... the list goes on and on.
Last one, I think. How do you pull yourself out of a funk or bad day whether from a songwriting or personal standpoint?
I just remember that it could be worse and nothing lasts forever. I also remember that if I want it, I can get it.