Guitar journalists often use the phrase ‘fretboard gymnastics’ to describe the playing of all manner of guitarists, but rarely has it been more fitting than for Ariel Bellvalaire.
The LA-based pop-rock singer-songwriter not only plays a mean Strat, but combines her love of guitar solos with aerial techniques and gymnastics to perform what she calls – yes! – “Shrednastics”.
Both her guitar and stunt chops are on display in the video for new single, Elastic, which drops today.
Elastic is an earworm of the highest order, with big chorus hooks and a wealth of six-string ear candy, from slick harmonic overdubs to some searing pentatonic leads.
But playing while, ya know, hanging upside-down and riding a motorbike isn’t exactly easy, even if Bellvalaire makes it look that way.
“Multitasking with any sort of physical activity while playing guitar is always a challenge,” she admits.
“For aerial, when you're upside down and spinning it's really hard to concentrate on the fretboard. Before attempting any aerial tricks with the guitar, I have to make sure I know the song parts well enough to play them with my eyes closed because… well… you can't see!
“For the motorcycle scenes, I was actually more nervous about that than hanging upside down as it was completely new to me. We would start off driving slowly, and then when I was ready I would stand up on the back pegs, and shift my guitar slightly to the side to face the camera. Before I knew it, I got used to standing up while moving and would even hold out both arms in the wind in between guitar chords!”
While it took a little help from a wireless system and a Slinger Strap around her waist to hang upside-down while playing for the video performance, Bellvalaire’s rig for recording the original track in Nashville was a little more straightforward.
A Fender Big Apple Strat with Seymour Duncan JB and DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups provided the track’s sizzling tonal approach, teamed with a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp and Boss DS-1X distortion pedal.
Yet it's not just Elastic's vivacious fretwork that will pique players' interests; the entire video is a celebration of the electric guitar. There are nods to a number of Bellvalaire’s heroes throughout the clip, spanning an Eddie Van Halen-style tapping sequence to a quick riff on Randy Rhoads' Crazy Train, as well as tips of the hat to Hendrix, SRV, John Lennon and David Gilmour.
And just about every guitarist can relate to the video’s opening sequence, which sees Bellvalaire lost in a solo, before she gets unplugged by a frustrated cohabitant. As she explains, it’s all based on true events (minus, perhaps, Gucci the guinea pig plugging in her guitar cable).
“I can't even tell you how many times people have tried talking to me while I'm in the middle of playing a riff and often they get blank stares or a head nod back,” she laughs.
“I've also had numerous occasions where neighbors, roommates, and literally people passing by have gotten annoyed by hearing guitar solos or music in general all day and have wanted me to stop playing and or to turn down. I always smile and do… slightly… and then keep playing!”
Bellvalaire currently has a full album’s worth of original material in the can, but for her, music is about more than just putting out new songs.
“My main goal is inspire everyone to follow their passion and show that there is no right or wrong way to do what you love,” she enthuses.
“If you want to combine your love of playing an instrument with sports, do it! You can do anything that speaks to you just as long as you keep going.”
If you’re keen to see more of Bellvalaire’s Shrednastic antics, you can follow her on Instagram.