Arrowheart Aims for Disney Pop Hype in the Desert
The ladies of Arrowheart look ready to shoot a video, or a magazine cover, or to film the pilot for a reality show. Their makeup is perfect, their hair looks perfectly ironed and curled, and their outfits include sparkly cowgirl boots and feathered earrings. The group's Western wear fits its pop-country sound, with not a single rhinestone out of place. The trio is the Valley's version of Taylor Swift — happy, bubbly, impeccably outfitted. These girls have the superstar look down.
Did we mention we're at Coffee Plantation? No cameras, no adoring crowds begging for autographs (though the girls have turned their share of heads).
The thing is, it doesn't matter where they are. When in public, singers Alexis Driscoll, 20, Julia Frys, 18, and Erin Beaty, 16, are performing. Trips to the mall or Panda Express? Those are meet-and-greets. Logging in to Facebook or Twitter? That's marketing. The promotion never stops, and the girls are apt to break out in song at a moment's notice, eager to prove to anyone within earshot that they have a grasp on country harmony.
They aren't just show ponies. These girls can sing. All three have paid their dues in the form of years of talent shows and theatrical productions, qualifications required by veteran producer Gardner Cole (who's played with groups like ABC and a-ha) when he assembled the group. Cole's résumé includes crafting hits for Amy Grant and a co-writing credit on Madonna's "Open Your Heart." Arrowheart has recorded a version of it, gently scrubbing away all the sexual longing of Madonna's version.
See, the Arrowheart girls don't really do the "sexy" thing. It's all part of Cole's design to present the act as a polished, utterly squeaky-clean musical group. Singing lines such as "Sweethearts aren't cheaters / Sweethearts don't lie" in "Sweetheart," a polite, harmony-filled stroll of a song, the girls make it clear that their music is for the G-rated set. It's not quite bouncy or compressed enough to pit the girls against Disney stars Miley Cyrus or Selena Gomez, but it's close.
The innocent vibe isn't much different from that of early Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, or Jessica Simpson (all artists who shed their chaste images as their careers progressed). The music of those artists represents an era of pre-fabricated pop that Cole considered when putting the band together. Cole originally conceived the group as a "Backstreet Girls" type of act, with all the members sharing singing duties equally. But with the rise of blue-collar pop like Taylor Swift, Cole recognized that "country pop" might be a more lucrative genre.
"I've seen so many times where it's worked for the boys and not so much for the girls," Cole says of the boy band/girl group genres. "It did a little bit with The Pussycat Dolls, but those were more fabricated — you don't know anyone else but the lead singer."
Cole launched Desert Sky Records and signed Arrowheart as his first band. With his Svengali-like guidance and the financial backing of his investors, the band has performed everywhere from US Airways and Chase Field (performing the national anthem, of course) to opening for Disney Channel star Mitchel Musso. Cole still works with other artists but has focused much of his creative energy on Arrowheart, producing the band's debut record, with singles scheduled to debut in the fall and a Nashville radio tour to follow.
But producing a hit isn't easy. Since forming in May 2010, the band has seen four members enter and exit as the group has pushed forward.
"Any time you try to do something with three or four teenage girls at a time, there's going to be issues and drama," Cole says. "It's also about finding the three key girls who will really have the patience and professionalism to put this out."
Cole wrote all the music on the group's upcoming 10-song debut album. The group plans to record in Nashville with members of Keith Urban's band. The songs are engineered to be universal, and Cole won over the first potential critics when the girls recognized their own experiences in the lyrics.
"We're really lucky, because the songs he wrote for us I can relate to so much," Frys says. "A lot of the songs describe my life."
Being a member of Arrowheart has quickly turned into a full-time job. Beaty, the youngest member of the group, recently enrolled in an online high school in order to dedicate as much time as possible to the group. When not performing or recording, the group rehearses up to four hours a day.
But for all the ladies' talent, record contracts don't magically appear, and the Arrowheart machine is one fueled by Cole, doting parents, and a publicist. Still, the group's members insist they have more of a hand in the day-to-day operations than you may expect.
"We definitely are on the business side," says Beaty. "We don't just sit back and say, 'Okay, give me a pen.' As much fun as it is, there's also another side to it that's, like, very business-y."
And it is a business. The trio have starred in meticulously edited webisodes featured on YouTube, where the girls bounce around to pop music, host Q&As, visit Starbucks, and go shopping. The clips fall somewhere between Making the Band and episodes of The Monkees television show, calculated to present the image of three fun-loving girls who, at least in the eyes of the filmmakers, already are stars.
The band's intense schedule doesn't show any signs of slowing. There are talks about moving the operation to Nashville, to be even closer to the tastemakers there. The girls' families are supportive ("This is Alexis' dream," says Debbie Driscoll, her mother) and seem to have faith in Cole's abilities to mold the girls into a countrified Destiny's Child.
Whether or not audiences will be sold on Cole's creation, it's clear that the members of the band already are.
"I hope our fans feel inspired to follow their dreams, because what we're doing now is following our dreams," Beaty says.
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