"I can see things that you walk right through," sings Aruna in "Break You Open," the opening track on her newest CD, Running Red Lights. Psyches, souls, lives and lovers: in the span of nine songs, she embraces them all with striking clairvoyance.
Whereas her previous work was socio-political, Aruna now focuses on the intricate affairs of the human heart. "I grew up listening to pop music and it's in my head: the sounds and chord changes," she says, "and I wanted to show the lighter side of myself." She propels these songs with both the power of a live band and the gritty sonic realism of loops and samples "It's the merging point where nature meets technology; organic instruments, broken down and natural, against a backdrop of machines." Front and center is Aruna's radiant voice: expressive, insightful, breathing along its edges and borders like a sound inside the mind.
"Break You Open," the first song she wrote upon arriving in Los Angeles, speaks to those who live only through what they can acquire. "What I'm saying is that you love something -- a house, a car, a body -- that can't love you back. This is my attempt to tell people I understand, that I sympathize and want to help." This empathy extends to the hymn-like "Into the Light," and contrasts with the pointed Not Your Mommy," and "The Other Side," wherein the darker side of a lover is revealed. "Walk on Water," featured in the forthcoming Sundance-premiered film, Eulogy, starring Ray Romano, Kelly Preston, Hank Azaria and Debra Winger, uses water as a symbol for wisdom. Notes Aruna, "it's like the Wizard of Oz: throw water on the wicked witch and she dissolves."
The title song, "Red Lights," is an extended metaphor. "It has to do with ignoring warning signs and overcoming obstacles. I had to do a lot of that just to get to this point." Born in Flemington, New Jersey, Aruna's serpentine route to the present included jazz piano and film scoring studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston, a stop in Miami, where she joined Roadrunner recording artists, Cynic; a return to Boston to earn a degree from Berklee, and ultimately a move to the West Coast. Concurrent with her performing career have been the recordings: first, a three-song sampler tracked in Boston with noted producer Alain Mallet and now her recently-completed full-length debut, Running Red Lights, recorded in Los Angeles.
Now, achieving a new plateau of artistry, it is the understated grace of her songs that is the most memorable touchstone. "I'm not a prolific writer," reveals Aruna. "It takes me a week to write a song musically; the lyrics, maybe three weeks. Ill write pages and pages just to get one line. The hardest thing in the world as a writer is to say something that everyone has felt, but no one has ever said." Personal, intimate, encompassing: with Running Red Lights, Aruna delivers a stunning soundtrack that mirrors the complexity of modern humanity in a voice that echoes the tone of the truth.
Guided by a compass of seemingly magnetic emotion, songwriter/artist Aruna travels a deeply personal path of art and music marked by impeccable songcraft, a burnished voice and an accomplished musicality.
It's been a circuitous route to this center. Born in Flemington, New Jersey -- a concrete geography distinguished mostly by imposing outlet malls -- Aruna channeled her emerging sensitivity into music. She began writing songs at age 9; by thirteen, she was traveling to New York City to attend music education events. Her initial aspiration was to be a session musician. Under the training of her mentor, David Rosenthal, also an accomplished studio ace, she practiced the music of Chopin, Debussy and Thelonious Monk for up to ten hours a day.
As a high school freshman her sense of alienation revealed itself through immersion into dark, heavy music: Obituary, Sepultura, Napalm Death, "Monster stuff," she laughs. The day after her high school graduation she departed for Boston to enroll in the Berklee College of Music. When she was moved by hearing a record from the band Cynic, an international touring act based in Florida, she sent them a letter expressing interest in joining them in the studio. Surprisingly, three weeks later they replied: within months Aruna had moved to Miami to collaborate on the group's next record.
When Cynic imploded in a shower of record company detritus, Aruna interned with Miami-based hit songwriter Desmond Child; improbably, she also gigged at Howl at the Moon, a watering hole that featured a format of dueling pianists performing scabrous ditties for a rowdy, alcohol-fueled audience of up to 400 patrons nightly.
Eventually, Aruna made her way back to Boston and Berklee. Then, in 2000, Capitol Records put out the call for local acts to support the Girl's Room Tour and she was selected to open the Boston shows. Press, reviews and major label contacts followed. She recorded an impressive three-song CD with Alain Mallet, noted for his work with Jonatha Brooke. But Boston offered scant opportunity for her emerging solo artistry and introspective songs. After weighing the options of other music capitals, Aruna opted for the sunniest: Los Angeles.
One week after arrival she performed at an open mic at the venerable acoustic venue, Highland Grounds. Within weeks she performed a showcase at the club. "After a month in L.A. I was drawing more people than I ever did in Boston," she notes.
Her current career trajectory dictates both an east and west coast presence. Aruna was recently a featured performer at the 2002 Global Entertainment and Media Summit in New York City. She was also invited to perform at the world-famous Bitter End in Greenwich Village for BMI's celebrated Songwriter's Circle. As a result of her Manhattan odyssey she piqued further interest from industry insiders including record and publishing execs and Grammy-award winning producers. Her profile was further enhanced as she was selected by Taxi, the independent A&R vehicle, as their spotlight songwriter for the month of March 2002.
Meanwhile, back in California, the warmer climes of the left coast offer a welcome platform for songwriting. "It's been easier to write uptempo songs here," Aruna explains. Still, there's no mistaking the impassioned emotional content of her songs. "Most of my lyrics are socio-political, reflecting human conditions," she explains. "So many people are suffering so profoundly and they've trying so desperately to mask that. In our society, everyone wants to sell you things to mask yourself. My thing is to confront it, accept it, transcend it -- and learn something."
I've been playing bars, clubs, and coffeehouses all around Boston, NY, and LA Recently, though, I've been looking to play less coffeehouses and more clubs and bars since adding drummer and guitar player to my ensemble. Up until now I've been playing as a duo with a bass player. Having the drums and guitar behind us completely changes the sound...It has an intensity and a drive now that it didn't quite have before and I love it. Playing live also presents a great opportunity to suss out reactions to new material and to try different approaches to a song before forever encoding it on a record.
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