After self-releasing three records, starring in a sexed-up coffee-table book by gay-media magnate Bruno Gmnder, and appearing in fashion shoots for Vibe and W, Ari Gold should be itching to conquer Top 40 radio Justin Timberlake-style. But the painfully attractive R&B crooner is content preserving his DIY reputation and serving his gay fan base. Gold sat down with Out to talk about the ups and downs of being a sex object, his beef with gay record executives, and his forthcoming Transport Systems, which he calls the "gayest record ever."
Youve said presenting your sexuality in an unabashed fashionas you do on the album jacketmakes gay men uncomfortable. What do you mean by that?
We still have a lot of issues. We still have gay men trying to learn how to desire each other and respect each other. A lot of times, if we objectify a man, then we dont know how to also respect him. I dont know why that is. I dont know if thats because we spent so much time in our childhoods desiring things that we cant have or thinking that we cant have them. At the same time, from the straight perspective, we get a bad rap. If straight people see us as oversexed thats just a homophobic thing. That just comes from straight people being scared of gay sexuality, which is another way of saying homophobia. Theres sex everywheresex sells all products, all music. Everybodys selling sex, but as soon as gay people start selling sex, [you hear] Theyre just oversexed and Why are they putting that in our face? Its very interesting. You get it from both sides, this sort of anti-sex. And you know gay men still have a lot of shame about their sexualityand having sex with each other.
When you put yourself out there and present yourself in a sexual light, do you think it hinders your career as a musician? Do you think that is all gay men are going to see, that they wont care about the lyrics or the music?
I think at this point in my career its important for me to focus on the music even though were talking about sexuality. Im at a point where I really want to stress the music, especially because I just made something Im so proud of, so I definitely want to figure out how to get the music out there in a bigger way than the image. I dont like to say something has hindered me because I think that Ive had a really interesting career. I think in a lot of ways Ive broken ground. When I think about it, there really hasnt been anyone, a pop artist-singer who has been out since the beginning of his career, whos been singing songs that have to do with explicit gay content, whos gotten as far as I have, whos gotten a coffee-table book out in 25 countries around the world, whos bumped Madonna out of the top spot [of the video countdown] on Logo. There hasnt really been anyone whos done that, and I made that choice to put the image out there like that. It was in part a marketing decision because gay men are obsessed with the male image, and I know I can play that. That was a surprise for me, because I grew up feeling like I was a skinny, Jewish boy who was too ethnic on camera, which was what I was told all my life. So to be sexyto be a desired objectwas a triumph for me personally.
So you think your image helps?
I think it helps. I did everything in such an alternative way. If I would have done things in a very safe way, if I would have listened to many of the music industry professionals and huge producers who told me to be in the closet, then maybe I would have been on MTV all the time, and maybe I would have had some huge mainstream careerbut it would not have been the career I wanted. I make music for a reason. I have a story I need to tell. Its not just for the sake of putting music out there or to become famous as possible. So it may have hindered me from gaining mainstream success, but it hasnt hindered me from having the career that Ive chosen to havethe one that I wantwhich is to be an out artist, who does sing about gay content and thats something that hasnt been done. There have been sacrifices made in order to be the first to do that because nobody at the major record labels was like Youre an out artist that sings about being gay? Lets give you a record deal! We cant wait to promote you! I thought they would. I really did. I thought Gay rights. Its post-AIDS. Were in a place where people will want to do this and will want to make a difference in pop music. I thought they would.
You expected acceptance?
Yeah, especially from gay record executives.
So even the gay record executives
Unfortunately they were the worstgay record executives, gay producers, huge big-name people that were very out themselves. These were not closeted gay peoplethese were out gay peopleyet they didnt think I should be out or that what I had to say was going to sell.
The album cover is a little different for you.Transport Systems, the album, is really about moving forward and progress. On the album cover Im wearing a flight suit with an Army helmet. It was to connote this idea of transportation, but its also about the fightthe fight we have to go through to be who we are, the fight for our basic civil rights. I didnt know how the photos were going to come out and when the photographer sent me that photoI just love it because I have this look like someone just said The war is over. Theres hope in it, I think.
Transport is about moving forward and progression. I also think its political. Who I am is a political issue. I cant run away from that. A lot of musicians say they dont want to deal with politics, but to me great music has always come along with a message and something to say about the world we live in. And obviously were in a war. My album doesnt have anything to do with the war in Iraq, but it does have to do with the war to be who we are. Transport Me [the song] is about a utopia where were not fighting for the things were currently fighting for. And I think if you dont try to envision it, if you dont try to have the hope that it can exist, how can it ever really happen? You have to imagine these things in order for them to happen. I like the fact that it even touched on the actual physical war that were having and imagining that its going to endthat we actually can be free.
That wasnt your initial intention?
It wasnt my initial intention, but you have to recognize that if youre doing any sort of military thing, you have to think about the fact that were actually in a war and there are people actually wearing this stuff fighting this war. I was happy that [the cover] functioned on multiple levels, because I was talking about gay identity, but theres all this other stuff in the world going on, and to me its all the same thing. Not to be clich about it, but it is about love and freedom, and thats what were fighting for.
Do you think Transport Systems is your gayest album yet?
Its definitely my gayest album yet. And without sounding too boastful, I think its the gayest album ever. The content of the album deals with so many issues that speak to so many gay men. On one hand we really are all different from each other, which is why its so important that there be more artists giving their voices on what it means to them to be gay. However, in some respects I feel like Im a very stereotypical homo. I am the homo who's a Madonna fan, who grew up loving The Wizard of Oz, and so that does speak to a lot of usclichs, stereotypes, or not. And I dont necessarily think that anyone who doesnt like Madonna or didnt like The Wizard of Oz cant relate to the things that I could tell you about either. I feel like Im talking about so many things that we go through as gay men. The first song is about that feeling of not being the person that youre supposed to be and wanting to transport yourself to a different place or time where who you are is OK. Everyone can relate to that. Its pretty much across the board, unless you were one of those very rare gay men who had gay parents or parents who were progressive. Unless you were in those two situations you grew up feeling like something about you was not OK. The world is still telling us that, the government is still telling us that, thats what that songs about. If I cant change these things, I want to learn how to move through it to the other side. Its a daily project to be proud of who you are. Id like to say that Im there, but Im not there yet. We need to make some progress.
Transport Systems (Gold 18) hits stores October 2.