Maroon. It conjures a colour, and an abandoned state.
For Ariana Fig, it’s also the song that “started it all.” Born from a second-year English assignment, it’s now the title track of her new EP, coming out Feb. 3.
She’ll be performing the song along with others from her latest collection as part of An evening with Ariana Fig, Saturday, Feb. 4, at the TAP Centre for Creativity, in London. Ont.
“Having this show is a big moment for me,” Fig said, reflecting on the past 18 months spent refining, recording and releasing the four singles for the EP. The Spotify artist did so, entering the final year of her double degree in popular music studies and English, between playing gigs and working at Western’s book store. And, also, with the mentorship of award-winning singer-songwriter Sarah MacDougall as her producer.
From English essay to EP
Fig has been writing songs since she was 13. So, when professor and Alice Munro Chair in Creativity Ivan Coyote assigned an English project in their students’ ‘medium of choice’, it was only natural for Fig to submit a song.
While marking Maroon, Coyote shared it with MacDougall, a friend and artistic collaborator.
“I was immediately drawn to Ariana’s incredible voice and quirky performance,” MacDougall said. “I felt I would be a good fit to produce the song.”
Once the course was over, Coyote suggested Fig reach out to MacDougall, who agreed to meet with Fig to see if they were “on the same page” musically.
“That led to finishing the song, and in the end, an entire EP,” MacDougall said. “I love working with Ariana, not only because she’s a fantastic and unique talent but also because she’s chill and works really hard at her craft and at the business side of things. I really believe in her and think she’s going to go far.”
Fig often wonders, “What would have happened if I hadn’t taken that class?”
Her single, Guilty Pleasure, has amassed 13,000 streams on Spotify. As proud as she is of the achievement, she’s motivated more by a “love of music than metrics.”
From classical, to pop
Fig’s foray into music began when she was just three-years old. Inspired by Yoko, a character on the children’s show, Timothy Goes to School, she begged her parents to let her take violin lessons.
“I can’t say I loved music right away,” Fig said. “But when I was 8 or 9, there was a big switch. My parents didn’t have to tell me to go practice anymore. I was doing it on my own.”
By high school, she was playing with the Hamilton Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra.
“That experience changed me as a person,” Fig said. “Those four years were some of the best in my life.”
She credits the orchestra’s then director Colin Clarke for inspiring her to develop as a musician.
“He picked on me in the best way,” she said. “He just made me love music for what it is.”
Even though I’m no longer playing classical music, it really shaped me, teaching me what I like, and what I don’t like. It also taught me how to be a better player, and how to collaborate with other musicians.”-Ariana Fig
In grade 11, Fig realized she wanted to pursue music at the post-secondary level.
“But my high school didn’t offer the proper credits for me to apply,” the Ancaster, Ont. native said. “I had to audition and go to a completely different high school for a semester to get the credits I needed.”
Once transferred to Sir Allan McNab in Hamilton, Fig discovered her love of musical theatre, playing the Bird Woman and singing “Feed the Birds,” in a production of Mary Poppins.
“I only had one speaking line, but I got to sing a whole song,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I love being on stage.’”
Attracted to Western by the popular music studies program, Fig has found support, not just through Coyote, but through a fanbase formed playing on Concrete Beach and as part of Orientation-Week. She’s still surprised to look out into the audience and see fellow students singing along.
“I could not have imagined how much my music would resonate with Western’s community,” Fig said. “It’s been really beneficial. I’ve built a whole network here.”
Those contacts include classmate, collaborator and guitarist Ben Heffernan, who lent his production and musical talents to Maroon. He’ll also be joining her on stage, along with other Don Wright Faculty of Music friends Saturday night.
Emma Campbell, an independent singer-songwriter in popular music studies, will play keyboard and sing backup vocals. Aiden Wiebe, also enrolled in popular music studies, will play bass guitar, and Manuel Thomas, who is in his second year of music education, will play drums.
It will mark another milestone for Fig, who’s not a member of a band.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “We’ve had rehearsals, and it’s so wild to be with other people playing my songs. It’s not just me and my guitar in my room anymore, it’s the five of us, playing entire songs.”