For her new album, The Maze, Hamilton, Ontario singer/guitarist Ariana Gillis teamed up with Nashville legend Buddy Miller who lent his sonic palette, honed over many years of working with the likes of Robert Plant and Emmylou Harris, to create a stunning return for Gillis after a lengthy break from the scene.
She had made an immediate impact at age 19 with her 2009 debut album, To Make It Make Sense, which earned her a Canadian Folk Music Award as Young Performer of the Year. Gillis’s 2012 follow-up, Forget Me Not, opened even more doors after it caught the ear of noted music critic Dave Marsh, who featured tracks on his SiriusXM show.
Further praise came her way from Bernie Taupin, which eventually led to an introduction to Miller, whose experienced hand helped guide Gillis through the sometimes challenging process of creating The Maze. However, then results speak for themselves, as Gillis’s honest, heart-wrenching performances on the album illuminate how much she has matured as an artist over the past decade.
Ariana Gillis officially launches The Maze at Hugh’s Room in Toronto on Saturday, June 29, and you can find out more at arianagillis.com.
What makes The Maze stand apart from your past work?
I feel like I have finally identified my “sound,” one that I have been exploring over the last seven years. I struggled a lot after the release of Forget Me Not because many people were giving me well-meaning advice about what I needed to sound like to be successful. It was refreshing to work with Buddy and the other incredible musicians who were a part of this record. There was so much ease, creativity, friendship, and positivity. It was everything I’ve been searching for in music for the last decade with zero pressure or thought of “selling.” It was just...creation. And it felt so good.
What songs on The Maze are you most proud of and why?
I am proud of the entire record. However, the title track is very special to me. I feel that it is one of my strongest songs, both lyrically and melodically. I love how the story is interlaced with the melody, and the recorded track itself flows so well. The musicians did such an amazing job of capturing the song’s essence—especially the pedal steel.
How would you describe your artistic evolution so far?
I think my biggest evolution has come from experimenting with what my voice can do. I feel like my voice needs to tell a story just as well as lyrics can, and I have worked for years trying to perfect that skill. I also feel a lot more comfortable and relaxed in my own skin, and I think that it shows in my live performances and the way I write songs now.
What's been the biggest change in your life over the past year?
Acceptance. Acceptance in myself and my abilities and whatever happens, happens. For years I struggled with the idea of what success looks like. And I found myself becoming disappointed and sad a lot. It was only after I suffered a concussion that I realized that being me is enough, and it doesn’t matter what so-and-so does. I just write from the heart, and I try my best to stay true to myself.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written?
There are many, but the first song that always comes to mind is Heaven by Brett Dennen.