Sir Ari Gold is one handsome success story. Once a precious child star (watch him squeak “Yankee Doodle Dandy” here), Gold has grown into an international sex symbol poised to release an electric new album, Soundtrack to Freedom, with his new artistic collective Gold Nation. On top of that, he attended Yale and graduated from NYU with honors. He’s been praised by Billboard, MTV, VIBE, and more for his incredible singing and songwriting ability and for being the first pop singer to be out from the beginning of his career. Oh, yeah, and if you haven’t gathered already, he’s freakishly hot.
Unfortunately, my interview with Sir Gold was over the phone, so instead of staring at biceps, I spent the 30 minutes on a Brooklyn stoop listening to his sexy-yet-approachable husky voice as he opened up to me about his coming out story, the eroticism of Orthodox Judaism and, of course, his electric new album.
Gold begins by explaining that the album came together in a matter of weeks while on a trip to the Netherlands to collaborate with EDM-producer Subgroover. But I feel the need to go back to the beginning, to the start of it all… to ask the all-important question: How does one become an international gay sex symbol?
Ari started off as a child star, singing and dancing on television and knowing, since he was 7, that he liked different things than other boys. “I met a man on the street in the Bronx when I was 16, and that was the first time I had sex with a man," he explains. "I had been doing my weekly run to the magazine store, where I would glance at all the magazines, Bruce Weber spreads, and, you know, International Male catalogs. Once in a while I would actually get the guts to peek in the porn. And then it was around sixteen that I had sex with a man, and then I told one of my best friends who went to a different school, and then, you know, eventually I came out to my girlfriend.”
He followed that by coming out to his family with an 18-page coming out letter. Since Gold comes from strictly Orthodox Jewish origins, it was sure to be complicated. So how does one reconcile conservative Judaism with open, celebratory homosexuality? As a child, Ari admits that he found the Tefillin, a black leather strap bound around a man’s arm during prayer, to be highly erotic, and in subsequent years he reappropriated the strap in a sexual fashion. As Gold explains, the Jewish faith is far less sexphobic than many other major religions. In fact, it’s a mitzvah (good deed) to engage in marital sex on the Sabbath.
“Once I went to college, and I started studying prosex feminism, and queer theory — and you know, I’m a student of Madonna — those things made me want to liberate myself from the confines of an oppressive religious idea of sexuality.”
And liberate himself he did. Ari went on from college to produce several incredible albums and videos, receiving a great amount of praise both inside and outside the gay community. During his rise to fame within the pop music scene, Gold undeniably found himself slapped with another label as well: sex symbol.
“You know, it’s a label that I’ve taken on myself. I don’t feel as though it was put on to me, and I’m trapped," he says. "I took it upon myself to be a sex symbol and to show my body and stuff because I felt as though that was important. It was important to project gay men not… to say, we are gay and can celebrate our sexuality, but we are not only acceptable if we are buttoned up. We can actually embrace the sex part, too.”
In a way, Ari’s unabashed sexuality — his exposed body, his disarming smirk — are what make him distinctive among today’s out gay musicians.
“There was a 20-year gap between the time in which we had the mainstream superstars like George Michael, Elton John, and Boy George coming out of the closet, until the time recently where we had Ricky Martin, Adam Lambert, and most recently Sam Smith being really the first major pop star who was openly gay since the beginning of his career," Gold says. "I love Sam’s work, but there’s there’s a somewhat desexualized image there.”
While Ari’s music is, undoubtedly, extremely sexy, he also finds it important and essential to keep his work inclusive of other factions of the LGBT community. He includes transgender friends in almost all of his art, notably his longtime peer Laverne Cox, who he has been close with since before her transition.
“I was very close with her for many years," he says. "I’ve worked with her before the world knew how incredible she was. I was always trying to find ways to showcase, to make use of her. I’ve always wanted to make sure to include the trans community in my work.”
Yet, listening to the album, one line in particular caused my ears to perk up. On “Take Your Shirt Off,” Gold sings: “Every tranny…” and then, quietly, “Not PC.” Why did he decided to include those controversial lyrics?
“I respect the ways in which various communities want to say: 'This is how we want to lead the conversation. And this is how we want to be named and identified.' I have total respect for that. But I also don’t believe in the policing of language," Gold explains. "I also believe heavily in the importance of context. So there’s some subtext in the lyrics in the album with the words that I used. Because those words, they are also a part of our history. You can’t just erase them and pretend that they don’t exist.”
The album really is a soundtrack for gay freedom, I’m quickly learning. In the way that blues served as a backdrop for civil rights, and folk for the feminist movement, “Dance music is the soundtrack for the liberation of our sexuality. It’s mindful dance music. You know, dance music often has a reputation of being mindless or frivolous or disposable.”
At the end of the conversation, Gold explains, cryptically, how he’s recently gone through serious life and death situations. “I was in the hospital while my single for 'Sex Like a Porn Star' dropped — which was so crazy because, you know, here I was, on a clear liquid diet for about eight days, so I was incredibly frail, and my single just dropped where I’m projecting this very porn-stachey role.” Although he didn't reveal what ailment had him in the hospital, Gold did open up about how his frailty put him into a place of self doubt that he only escaped by finding beauty in the everyday, and thankfulness for his existence.
“Going through a life and death crisis did sort of shift my perspective and brought me back to an immense sense of gratitude. And just the gratitude to continue to be alive, and to be an artist, and making music that speaks to our experience today is a huge honor and gift. Yeah, that’s what I’ve come to.”
Ari's autobiographical musical POP OUT is at Dixon Place's Hot Festival July 23, and closing the show is Soundtrack to Freedom’s “Leave the World Changed,” a power-ballad that showcases Ari’s truly incredible voice and cements him in our fantasies forever.
Soundtrack to Freedom is available for pre-order on iTunes, and goes on sale August 7. Watch the video for "Sex Like a Porn Star" below: