‘People have tried to de-gay me and de-Jew me.’
— Ari Gold
At least one higher-up in the music business has called openly gay pop/R&B artist Ari Gold a snake. But it wasn’t an insult — it was a suggestion.
“There was a producer who wanted me to change my name to Snake,” Gold recalls, amused. “A very huge producer, FYI, and he told me, ‘all the big stars have one name — Seal, Madonna, you should be Snake!”
Alas, another reason behind this suggested name change was a little snaky in itself: to make Gold more palatable to a mainstream audience.
“[Lots of] people have tried to de-gay and de-Jew me,” Gold admits. “They told me to change my name a bunch of times because it was too Jewish. But I was determined to prove that Jews can be sexy pop stars and not just sleazy, behind-the-scenes agents!”
Although he indeed shares the same name as the underhanded, foul-mouthed Hollywood agent played by Jeremy Piven on HBO’s series “Entourage,” Gold has been uncompromisingly honest in his public identity and music since the release of his self-titled debut CD in 2001.
His third and latest album, “Transport Systems” (Centaur), takes things to an even higher level in both sound — the grooves are so smooth you could ski down them barefoot — and the topics addressed, which include crystal meth addiction in the gay community (“Feeding the Fire”), relationships with closeted married men (“Mr. Mistress”), LGBT love (“Good Relationship”), and gender identity (“Transport Me”).
Contributing to the contagious melodic confections are out sax superstar Dave Koz (on “Love Wasn’t Built in a Day”) and hetero hip-hop artist Mr. Man (on a “reworking” of The Human League’s “Human”). To discuss the album and its issues — as well as any other music industry advice he’s been given and considered for all of 2 seconds — I spoke with Bronx-born, Orthodox Jewish-raised Gold by phone.
Great album! And I like the short instrumental interludes between some of the songs. Is this your “FutureSex/LoveSounds?”
No. Its “Transport Systems!” I don’t think it’s anything like Justin Timberlake’s album. I like it, but it’s different and this is my third album and that’s only his second.
What is the biggest difference between this album and your previous efforts?
Well, this is the first time I’ve been able to conceive of an album from beginning to end so it’s a cohesive whole. I really feel I’ve grown tremendously as a singer, songwriter, producer, and I just really went there. Obviously I’ve never been shy before about singing about gay things and themes, but with this album I really went there lyrically and was specific about the things I was talking about.
My last album was about me finding where I fit in — my place as a gay man, an out gay artist, and it also spoke to where gay people fit in general. We’re seen in TV and film a lot more, but now that we are very visible, how do we move forward to the next place where we’re not just seen as people who can make straights look better? And how can we actually achieve our human rights and liberties? So that’s what the theme is for me — moving forward.
Just how close have you come close to crystal meth and the tragedy it wreaks on some members of the gay community?
Very close. I’ve definitely seen it firsthand and know a lot of people whose lives have been affected in a negative way. It caused a lot of havoc in their lives personally and professionally. [“Feeding the Fire”] is an account of seeing that happen — someone you love goes down the wrong path, which is that drug. But I think it’s really important to not stigmatize.
Ari Gold makes an appearance in RuPaul’s latest film, ‘Starrbooty.’
I did an interview with FOX News, which is sort of surprising because they’re known to be a pretty conservative news channel, and they were asking about crystal meth in the gay community and I had to really clarify that crystal affects a lot of other communities.
But as far as the gay community, I think it has a lot to do with that self-hatred we experience having grown up feeling like we’re sinners or lesser-thans because we’re gay. And I think, unfortunately, that message of not being equal or lesser-than is oftentimes confirmed by our own government in them not wanting to give us the same rights as straight people.
Have you been a “Mister Mistress” before?
Yes, I have. I’m not naming names, but it’s an empowerment song. So many of us spend so much time hiding and in the closet and finally we go through this whole journey and process to come out. Why do we want to put ourselves in a situation where we have to create a whole other elaborate set of secrets and hiding based on the fact this married man is not really getting his house in order? Especially when children are involved. Its really saying I deserve better than this.
Dave Koz puts in an appearance on your new CD. Are you a smooth jazz fan?
I am a secret smooth jazz fan. When Koz came out on the cover of The Advocate and I read about him and his love of smooth jazz I was just so tickled. I wanted to get him so I met him and hounded him for about a year and it almost didn’t happen. But I didn’t give up, I was a pushy Jew, and he said he was really glad I was a pushy Jew because it came out so great. And Koz is a Jew himself so he can say that!
I actually cried real man tears when he played on the record because it was just — it’s not everyday you get to have a vision for so long and see it realized and come to fruition and he just plays so beautifully it made me emotional!
Has anyone in the music industry asked you to sing about girls so you could be “sold” to a mainstream audience?
Absolutely, I have so many stories and instances of being told by record label execs, music industry professionals, what have you, to go in the closet and not say I was gay. One producer literally had me change the pronouns of a song. I wouldn’t do “she‚” so at the time — one of the few times I acquiesced — I changed it to “you.”
You recorded “Human” with Mr. Man — would you call him Miss Thing or Mr. Man-girl in the studio?
His real name is Khalil, so that’s what I call him! (laughs) He’s a very cool, enlightened hetero hip-hopper and I think it’s really cool. Kanye West has spoken against homophobia in rap music and I think more and more there are hip-hop artists coming forth and realizing all the homophobia associated with hip-hop is not cool. There are a lot of gay rappers coming up, too, and that’s going to change the game as well.
What is the biggest difference between you and the character of Ari Gold on “Entourage?”
I represent a combating of Jewish stereotypes and he represents the personification of Jewish stereotypes.
Would you like to see yourself dished on Perez Hilton’s website?
As long as he doesn’t paint weird shit over me. The thing I don’t understand about Perez is here is someone who is very insistent on outing people, and yet I don’t know how supportive he is of artists who are actually out.
If you think it’s so hypocritical for these people [to be] closeted and you’re gonna out them, then at least you should be putting your money where your mouth is and supporting artists who are actually out. And I see him supporting artists who won’t say whether they’re gay or not.
You’re in a new movie starring RuPaul that’s making its way around the gay film festival circuit, “Starrbooty.” What can you tell us about your appearance?
It was fun. My Starrbooty was up on the screen for the world to see in a pair of assless chaps, which I don’t make a habit out of doing — but anything for Ru. I play a Jewish pimp who talks like Jackie Mason.
Lastly, given the chance, would you rather play Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton’s inauguration?
Oh, wow. I haven’t made that choice yet. But Hillary Clinton’s assistant for the last 10 years was like my best friend in fifth grade and so if there’s a chance for me performing for either, it would probably be Hillary.