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An Airy Spirit : Music by the Ventura-based band Ariel has an ethereal quality.


Ariel is the name applied to Jerusalem in the Bible; in Shakespeare's "The Tempest," Ariel is an airy spirit who is the servant of Prospero. It is even a moon of the planet Uranus. It's not to be confused with an aerial--the tall, skinny metal thing over the wheel well on your old man's Chrysler that makes oldies radio possible. Ariel is also another hot rock 'n' roll band from Ventura.

"I started the band in 1987," said singer/songwriter/guitarist Erik LeMaire in a recent interview from a garage near the beach. LeMaire is something of a rock 'n' roll anomaly. He not only reads and writes but can even spell. He isn't one of those rockers who get stuck for an answer when you say "hello."

"I got the name Ariel from Shakespeare and Sylvia Plath," said LeMaire. "Ariel was a spirit in Shakespeare" and the name of a poem by Plath. "It was just something I was reading at the time. I was in a lot of different bands, but I just wanted to do something on my own. There were always other people playing with Ariel--I went through a lot of members to find the right musicians. Rik Ramsdell, who plays guitar, has been in the band about three years. Billy Slater, the drummer, is the newest member--he's been in the band almost half a year."

Ariel is a five-piece rock 'n' roll band featuring two guitars. The sound is akin to Phil Spector producing one of those Manchester guitar pop bands. Laura Gray on keyboards and A. J. Burke on bass add to the dreamy moodiness of the band. Ariel music is as ethereal as smoke in a dark bar. Often--probably too often--Ariel has been labeled a Cure clone.

"We did have a Cure feeling to our music," said LeMaire, "but that was two or three years ago. It was just a phase I was going through at the time. It was just something I was listening to, and adapted to. It's all a metamorphosis--you try to create something of your own that's part of you. Some people still think we're some sort of gloom band. We're not. We once were. We just enjoy music."

LeMaire, who neither drives nor has a day job to drive to, is a man on a mission--a musical mission. He has written more than 100 Ariel songs, although the band plays only about 15 of them. The band does but a single cover, "Cinnamon Girl" by Neil Young. Nothing like working for yourself, if it works.

"Everything is great, there's nothing bad about this--I love what I do," said LeMaire. "I'd rather do this than have a day job. I eat it, sleep it, no day job, no night job--just music."

LeMaire has something of a novel approach to making Ariel into some sort of happening, hit-making, rock 'n' roll band. As of yet, there are no Ariel T-shirts, no tapes, no albums, no CDs, no videos. No hope?

Hope springs eternal in the heart of LeMaire, who claims to have met a well-known producer who has taken the band under his wing.

"Whenever he gets an opening in his studio, we go down and record some tracks," said LeMaire. "We've got about a dozen done so far. He's going to record a demo tape and shop it for us. There's no security in the music business, but this just enables us to get a little further up the ladder rather than starting at the bottom."

The band usually plays a few times per month, sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on its recording schedule. Today, the band will play an unlikely venue, celebrating our sea-to-shining-sea birthday during the Fourth of July Street Fair in the parking lot of Holy Cross School near the mission in downtown Ventura.

Something for Nothing and the Vultures of Soul will also play during the show that begins at 11:30 a.m. If this lineup seems out of the ordinary for the city of Ventura--a town known for inviting bands that are as exciting as a statue of Orel Hershiser eating oatmeal--that's probably because they weren't hired by the city, but by a parochial school. Who would have thought that the church's taste would progress this far? The Vatican probably isn't ready to sponsor the third US Festival, but it's a start--maybe it'd be willing to do the bookings for the next Ventura street festival. That would probably be OK with LeMaire.

"We would like people to leave our shows thinking," he said. "There is something different out there besides what is on the radio. Ariel is just a taste of something different."

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