The Village studio is an anonymous building on the corner of a forgettable block of Santa Monica Boulevard. You could drive by it your whole life and never know—or even wonder—what goes on inside that bankish-looking building on the Westside of Los Angeles. If you happen to walk inside, though, the glare off of all the gold and platinum records mounted on the walls might blind you permanently. A quick glance at the studio’s history brings up iconic records like Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, T Bone Burnett’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, and, of course, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. This is one of the music industry’s brightest diamonds hiding in plain sight. To an extent, the same might be said about Arlissa Ruppert—best known simply as Arlissa—an English songstress with a powerhouse single (“Hearts Ain’t Gonna Lie” with Jonas Blue) who’s kept a low profile as of late, but is ready to step out and shine.
“I really want to perform more because I haven’t performed very much at all,” says the 25-year-old singer-songwriter curled up in a chair in one of the studio’s green rooms. She’s just finished her first-ever performance in the US in The Village’s studio D. “I’d love to be able to play my music to everyone properly.” She lingers on the word “properly” with such severity that it cuts through her bubbly personality and it makes sense. While this exclusive Def Jam acoustic showcase might be her inaugural stateside show, Arlissa is no stranger to the volatile nature of the music industry. In fact, you might be able to call her a veteran already. First signed by a major label at 19, Arlissa’s booming voice was pushed by the wayside via restricting suits trying to “package her as the next Shakira.” Even after gaining notoriety for her collaboration with Nas (“Hard to Love Somebody”), Arlissa didn’t feel herself in the music or her own career trajectory. And that lack of authenticity was something that she couldn’t take anymore.
To be honest, I think the only way I gained self-confidence was by being smacked around [by the music industry] all the time.
A quick Google search uncovers old articles and photos of Arlissa with straightened hair and dramatic makeup styled as a factory pop star in the making. This is nothing like the woman in a simple yellow sundress comfortable in her own skin, refusing to “be” anything but in the moment. It’s refreshing and rare, but it didn’t come without a price. “To be honest, I think the only way I gained self-confidence was by being smacked around [by the music industry] all the time,” Arlissa says. “I was just constantly being shot down. Like the first time around when I signed [with a label] I was constantly being told ‘no,’ constantly being told I can’t do this, I can’t sound like this, this is not who you are.” Pushing some hair out of the way, she smiles in the face her painful past. “That was the worst, [being told] ‘this is not who you are.’”
Arlissa’s inner strength didn’t come easily and she had doubts about her songwriting (“I was obsessed with writing what I thought people wanted to hear…and obviously that doesn’t work.”), but once it clicked, she never went back. “When I finally was able to be free of all of that and gain my control back, you don’t ever want anyone to tell you ‘no’ ever again. So, yeah, that’s the only way I kind of really gained my confidence was basically by getting tired of people saying ‘no’ to me all the time the thing is when you sign these, like these deals and everything, you really genuinely can lose that, you really can and you become almost a puppet.“ She continues, "And it’s like, to be able to talk to these people and have so much control and freedom in what you do is such an insane feeling because it just doesn’t happen often enough. So, if I can do that and then express how I did that and tell people, this is a real thing that can happen and hopefully get more power back cause it’s all ours at the end of the day.”
Before doors opened for her LA debut, there was a line of people down that unassuming block to watch Arlissa play a handful of songs. That level of admiration is a direct result of her undying commitment to releasing singles on the internet–each one on her own schedule. Starting, at her dad’s suggestion, when she uploaded her first song to Metacafe at just 14 years old, Arlissa has been sending out her creations into the world directly to her fans. “I love the internet! I think the internet is brilliant and it should just exist forever and ever and ever,” she enthuses. “It’s the best thing in the world because you can genuinely do whatever and post whatever. [I] write songs and post them, and they reach people. Like how else are you going to reach people in any other way?”
Even in the face of ghosts of contracts past and the ever-looming threat of internet trolls (“I literally don’t give a shit about them. I find trolls hilarious.”) Arlissa can’t be happier because she’s finally able to be herself and share her truth with the world on her own terms. She’s flush with excitement thinking about the warm studio full of fans and friends cheering her on: “It felt really like, just nice. Like I know that word sounds, sucky, but, it was just like a really nice and intimate…I knew everyone. Like I could see people! It was really fun.” While she’s almost starting from scratch again, Arlissa’s back on her journey to being in the same league as the artists whose accomplishments adorne every inch of Village’s hallowed halls and staircases. And while she has the talent to make a splash, it’s going to be her resiliency that makes her last.