Last month, Columbia Records released “The Break-In,” Ari Hest’s most anticipated album yet. The record showcases a collection of new folk-pop tunes, and most of them were developed while Hest was playing in the cozy musical venues of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Hest, a Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter, has cited a group of more obvious musical heroes — U2, Paul Simon, The Beatles — and one that is less obvious: his mother, a cantor at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, N.Y.
“My mom is a big inspiration for me,” he said. “She is a very independent woman, and very happy to be doing what she is doing.”
As a child in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, Hest didn’t dream of becoming a rock star. If anything, he had his heart set on playing professional baseball. But in high school he realized that his sports skills wouldn’t take him to the big leagues, and that it was time to find another hobby to pass the time.
“I picked up the guitar — my mom always had one sitting around in her apartment — and I just fell for it,” Hest told The Shmooze.
Now, seven albums later — four of which came out on Columbia — and claiming a grass-roots following that calls itself the “A-Team,” Hest has become quite comfortable with the instrument. His new album, recorded in Los Angeles, is his favorite to date.
“This one is a slight departure from my other work. Before, my albums sounded a little more like mainstream pop. This is a little darker, a lot more personality,” he said.
Hest is now embarking on a nationwide tour to promote his new album, and May 31 he made a stop home in New York City. As for the lucky few in Great Neck who attend synagogue on the Sabbath, they just might get a special performance of their own.
“I love to sing with my mother, and I do it still,” he said. “She usually picks the song from her songbooks, but sometimes we do pop music. We once did (‘Love Lift Us) Up Where We Belong’ on the bimah.”
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.