Ari Hest in concert

Singer and songwriter Ari Hest's shows are more about understatements than flash — melodies and vocals are the things that first come across.

"As far as comparisons go, people tend to describe my music as acoustic-driven pop — the likes of James Taylor," Hest says. "Some performers have light shows and people jumping around the stage for entertainment. That's not for me. I sit in front of the mic singing my heart out. That's what the show is about."

Based in New York City most of his life, Hest and a few of his friends are touring behind the songwriter's 2008 independently released album, "12 Mondays." While on the West Coast, the band will hit Ashland for a show Friday night at the Unitarian Center.

Hest — who performs with six- and 12-string Taylor guitars — will be joined by Thad DeBrock (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Rob Calder (electric bass, vocals) and Doug Yowell (percussion, drums, vocals).

"They have careers of their own in New York," Hest says. "We've become good friends after playing together for so long."

DeBrock, Calder and Yowell make appearances on Hest's "12 Mondays" and produced the album. The 2008 album also is a result of Hest's ambitious songwriting project called "52."

"In 2008, I wrote, recorded and released a new, original song every Monday on my Web site," Hest says. "I let the fans choose the songs and released the CD about six months ago."

Hest says that he found working for himself to be more refreshing than being signed to a big record label.

"It was a lot of work," Hest says. "But I enjoy writing and putting myself out there."

Hest signed with Columbia in March 2004. He recorded his first studio album, "Someone to Tell," followed by a five-song EP, "Guilty Hearts," in 2005. Then came "The Green Room Sessions" in 2006 and "The Break In" in 2007.

While many songwriters toil for months to create a demo polished enough to score a record deal, Hest opted out of his contract with Columbia.

"It was a mutual decision," Hest says. "I'd been pushing to get out of the deal for a while. I got my wish the middle of 2007."

Looking for a new way to present Hest's music independently, he and his manager came up with "52." The project garnered more than 1,000 members at Hest's Web site and produced a lot of quality songs. "You don't really need a big studio to create great music," Hest says. "I use my apartment to record. Not everything. Drums are out because of the neighbors."

Hest electronically sent his tracks to Calder and Yowell, who added percussion and bass lines.

"Sometimes they'd send back several takes on each song," Hest says. "I'd choose the one I liked and do the final mixing."

So far, "12 Mondays" has been successful on an independent level, according to Hest. "We're only about six months into having it out there," Hest says. "There's more touring to do, and we plan on playing in Ireland, Germany, probably Switzerland and Canada — anywhere that there could be some opportunities to expand."

Recording independently isn't anything new to Hest, though. While attending New York University as a communications major, Hest released an EP, "Incomplete," and two albums, "Come Home" and "Story After Story" on his own label, Project 4, selling about 20,000 CDs.

Hest and his first band, called Synapse, played clubs around New York City between 1997 and 1999.

Hest, DeBrock, Calder and Yowell tailor the dynamic of their shows to the venue they're playing at. "I think the show in Ashland will be a little more intimate, sort of pared down," Hest says. "It will be about the songs' stories and the interactions with the crowd."

A silent auction to benefit Ashland Community Hospital Hospice will be held at the Unitarian Center in conjunction with Hest's concert. Items from Hospice Unique Boutique of Ashland will be available for bidding.

Tickets to the show cost $18 in advance, $20 at the door and $10 for children ages 12 through 17. Children younger than 12 will be admitted free. Tickets are available at the Music Coop in Ashland, online at or by calling 535-3562.

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