There’s nothing that people respond to better than authenticity when it comes to longevity in your career
Bel creates incredibly dynamic and awe-inspiring soundscapes, and has a strong determination to showcase artistry as something that can go well beyond songwriting. Her project is a full package of musical and visual exploration and experimentation, and her message is one of strength and authenticity. I sat down with Bel over zoom, and we discussed how inspiration can come from anywhere, as well as the ways in which the music industry can make and break an artist
I’ve been trying to make more of a schedule for myself so I actually get up and do things, which I was okay at a few months ago
It’s hard! I love structure and organisation but sometimes it just really goes out the window
And have to kind of allow yourself to be okay with that don’t you?
Yeah, it’s important to be a bit kinder to yourself
I’ve been really enjoying soaking in your music for the last few days, and anticipating your most recent release! I’d love to know where your journey in music started?
Yeah! Well, I never actually planned to end up in music. I come from a very academic family, my parents are doctors, and all of my siblings are lawyers, my grandparents were doctors- it wasn’t really an option for me to enter the arts because it wasn’t something I thought was possible. I, from a very early age, was extremely creative and I begged my family to go to acting school and I was always dancing, drawing, sowing- but in the back of my mind I never really allowed myself to humour the idea of what it would be like to live a creative life. I always planned to do medicine and that was the direction I was heading. When I was 16 I sang at a school singing night for the first time in my life, and my music teacher had invited some Hollywood scouts and they came to school the next day to tell me that they wanted to take me to America
Yeah and introduce me to the industry, and I remember thinking what the fuck is going on? So we did all of that, and after that trip, I made the decision to redirect my whole life plan
How amazing! Do you feel like your upbringing has shaped the way that your music sounds, or do you feel like you try to go against it?
I feel like my upbringing has shaped the way that I view my career. My family are extremely high achievers, and really hardworking- my dad is in his 70’s and still works 14-15 hour days, 5-6 days a week! I’ve been raised to understand that things come to those who work hard. That has really shaped the way I view my artistry because I’m constantly trying to learn new things and upskill- to do more and achieve more
In terms of sound, I think that part of me has always been self-directed, and I don’t think my family have pushed me towards a certain sound, that’s something I design for myself
I like what you were saying about having that drive to work hard, which is a perspective a lot of musicians maybe struggle to play alongside their creativity because music isn’t always viewed as something you need to really work at in order to succeed. How do you balance music as a cathartic expression, versus the need to put a drive into working hard?
I feel like you need to separate the two. For me, the creation of music and art and visuals is very cathartic, but I’m also able to do it under pressure- which I know is a privilege and not something a lot of people can do, I think I’ve just learnt how to do it when I need to. I’m not the kind of artist who only writes when I feel like it- if you locked me in a room and said ‘okay Bel, you’ve got 20 minutes to write a song about this theme’ I would be able to do it because I’ve trained myself to. I started writing poetry when I was about 5 years old with my mum, and she would set a timer and say something like ‘Bel, you’ve got one minute to write a 6 line structured poem about trees’ or something like that, and I would do it. I’ve been conditioned to know how to do things quickly, but at the same time I think I’m my most authentic as an artist when it comes naturally. I find it all cathartic, but the business side is a complete switch of hats, and I’m not artistic when I’m in that mode- left hemisphere all the way
Do you feel like that conditioning restricts you in any way creatively? Do you put yourself under a lot of pressure?
I don’t feel restricted creatively, I always say that I’ll try anything once, so I’m not shy of trying things, however the amount of pressure that I put on myself because of it can be so immense and often to my downfall. I think that’s the one thing I really need to work on – not being so hard on myself that it disables me. I don’t really know how to celebrate anything I do because I’m always thinking about the next thing or how I could have done it better
The goalposts are always moving, and it’s not like you write a song and it’s released the next day
Wouldn’t that be nice!
Wouldn’t it! So when a song comes out you have to switch back into this excited ‘oh yay this song I just made’, but deep down you can feel so removed from it because you have new things you want to share. It’s hard to remember and appreciate what you’ve achieved
With this new release, what made these four tracks feel like they fit together, what’s the link between them?
I like the idea of having a beginning, middle and end to a body of work. The one word that you’ll hear me say in the studio more than any other word is ‘cohesion’, and for me, these three songs as a story made a lot of sense to me as an artist right now. The spoken-word piece was not something that I was going to include initially but I wanted to give context to this work, and give an understanding and overview of where I’m headed and also just my ethos is an artist for those who haven’t heard about me before. The poem walks us through a couple of different things, one being my overall ethos and two being my plans for the future. ‘T1’ essentially stands for ‘trilogy one’, three songs- because I like the idea of doing things in threes cause I have an obsessive personality. I like how the sense of three feels, and I like the idea of a start, middle, and finish
Did your priorities change with the delivery of this spoken word compared to delivering a singing performance? Were you approaching it in a way that you wouldn’t normally approach singing?
Yeah, so the approach is very different because instead of coming from a singing point of view, spoken-word is more like acting. I have an acting background and I started acting and amateur theatre when I was about 6, so it’s about stepping into a character. That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe the words that I’m saying because I absolutely do, but in order to get that performance across and have that emotion feel really palpable, it is acting. That’s something really fun for me and something that I definitely want to explore more of in the future
I think it’s interesting the way that spoken word really demands attention, and music definitely has the capability of doing that, but it’s easier to just listen to music and not think about it. Spoken word doesn’t really allow you to listen passively, and for this piece to summarise your journey as an artist really sets the stage for what to expect from your music, and also what to expect from this particular project. So this spoken word format is something you want to do more of in the future?
I really hope so, and I’d love to incorporate both into one piece -have spoken word and song in one. I first started with writing poetry, and it would feel like a disservice to what I’m about if I was to exclude that from my narrative. I’m really interested to see where I could go with this kind of format, it’s something I love so much so why not do it alongside music and fashion?
For sure, and it’s pretty clear from the way that your artist project is presented that it’s so much more than just music, and you really have your hand in the visuals and the fashion and production. How do your inspirations filter into your music?
Music really is the pinnacle of my project and will always be the centre of what I’m doing, but I think a lot of people find it hard to understand that I’m trying to marry all of these things together. My influences come from very specific sources, for example a lot of archival photography and footage, and I follow a lot of very specific accounts on Instagram that give me strong visual references. I’m a very visual person, and when I look at a photo I get inspired by the cultural references, the colours, the photography treatment, and a single photo on Instagram can really inspire an entire song or a music video or some other aspect of what I’m trying to do
I feel like music is so diverse, and it’s so exciting to consider how much you can express within a single song, and it’s so much more than just the lyrics and the general feeling . Having a clear vision of the direction and your influences is really helpful in that writing process. Do you often find a visual that you like, and aim to create the soundtrack for that visual?
Absolutely! I can look at a visual –a movie scene, an Instagram post, anything- and it could inspire a whole soundscape for me. I understand that not everyone thinks that way, but that’s how I think about the world. I depend on visuals to guide my sound, and I depend on my sound to guide my visuals, which is why I can never imagine separating them
I personally find it hard to marry a lot of visuals to what I’m doing because I’m not very exposed to that way of thinking and because I’m indecisive, but we can be so inspired by so much more than just music, and being open to being inspired by movies and fashion can really reflect how multifaceted your influences really are. I definitely think your music reflects that kind of feeling, especially with this latest release.
‘Spectre’ is the track that’s always in my head, and I love the lyric,
You say I cost too much, I talk too much
I work too much, I listen rough
My love’s not enough, I have too much stuff for you
What emotions do you write with primarily, and with this song in particular?
I write with a lot of different emotions, but I’ll rarely write about pure unadulterated happiness let’s just put it that way! I have tried but I don’t think it’s my thing! Usually I write with quite an introspective point of view and about things like anger, sensuality, sexuality, complicated relationships of all kinds –not just romantic, and usually all done with a darker vibe. I wrote ‘Spectre’ about having an ominous presence circle you and hover over you and your safe space, whether that be your mind or your body or whatever it is. Those particular lyrics really reflect feeling like you’re too much, too crazy, too intense for someone, which is definitely something I have felt in my life before; I’m too intense for a lot of people, so I guess that’s where those lyrics came from
How does it feel to immortalise those feelings in a song, and then release them into the world?
It’s weird, it’s such a weird feeling! It makes me a little uncomfortable, but I generally feel relieved, and I feel really good when other people connect to the songs. It can bring up a lot of emotions which is partly to do with how the song connects. It’s not just dependent on how I feel about the song itself
Partly the song and then maybe the reception as well
When other people listen to your music and place their own emotions and feelings on to it, does it change the way you view the song?
Nah, not at all, I really like it when people interpret my music in their own way, whether it be a poem or a song or a visual, because it make me feel like the stuff I’m doing has universal relatability which is obviously important for someone that’s trying to make a career out of music. I know how I feel when I’m writing something, and I actually get really pleased when other people find new meaning in what I make; it makes me feel like it’s helping them to hear what they need. I don’t want to put my experiences or thoughts onto someone else, I want them to have their own experience with it
I totally agree with that, and I’d like to talk a bit about ‘Better Than Me’ which is the other single from this EP. The lyric
You lost your gemstone
And it hangs free around my neck
I think that is a great example of you honing in on imagery and creating a scene for the listener to have. Could you unpack that song a little bit?
‘Better Than Me’ I wrote essentially as a big ‘fuck you!’ to anyone who has made me feel like I’m less-than, and the lyrics are pretty self explanatory in that sense. I think it’s really important as a woman in the industry to understand your worth, and understand that just because you’re a female artist doesn’t mean you can be pushed around; it doesn’t mean you’re disposable
That’s such an important message for emerging artists in Australia, especially female and non-binary artists, to realise within themselves, because it’s so easy to see success as a goal that is the same for everyone
And it’s not at all!
How do you try to stay true to your message in an industry that might want you to be a certain thing?
I think a lot of artists have issues with staying true to themselves, and are susceptible to being corrupted, but the problem that I have personally is that I feel like I can be too much myself. I think that sometimes I am too unwilling to mould, which can effect commercial opportunities, but I don’t know how to be anything other than what I am! Sometimes I wish I knew different, but I don’t. My advice to other artists who feel like they’re being moulded in a certain way is to ask yourself, if you truly want to be moulded in that way. If this is purely business put-on-that-hat kind of thing for you then go for it, but if this is about being an artist, then stay true to your guns as hard as that is. There’s nothing that people respond to better than authenticity when it comes to longevity in your career. With a lot of these artists that we see blowing up around the world, I really wonder what their life will be like in ten years and how relevant they will be and I think it will relate to how authentic they are as artists. I think someone like Billie Eilish will transcend time, but someone like Justin Bieber – no one really looks to him as a beacon of authenticity or a beacon of wisdom and truth. There are benefits that outweigh the negatives when it comes to taking longer to start your career. It might take longer for you to get there, but it’s worth it
When you’re an emerging artist, there’s so much pressure to follow the formula that everyone is following to make it work, especially when it feels like success is determined by this board of industry professionals who are making all the calls on who gets to break through and who doesn’t
Don’t even get me started on those various conglomerates! I’m putting on lip balm to stop myself from speaking!
Wise! It’s hard, and it’s something I definitely experience. Everyone wants to think they are spreading an authentic message but when you’re up against what’s going to be successful and what’s going to progress your career, it’s hard to prioritize the thing that you’re going to be proud of at the end of the day
I face this dilemma a lot in myself as well, but at the end of the day you’re the one you have to go to sleep with every night. In 40 or 50 years, are you going to be proud of what you spent your efforts on doing?
I’d like to look back a little bit to your earlier releases. How do you think you and your sound have evolved since your 2016 release ‘Melancholia’?
It’s funny because I still love that music and that release so much, I have such a soft spot for it. I think my sound has matured a lot, and I’m inspired by so many different types of music that I wasn’t even aware of back then because I was just a teenager! This new ‘T1’ EP is made up of songs that I wrote over two years ago, and I’ve released now after I took a break to get away from the industry because it all felt so fucked. The stuff I’m writing at the moment is a world away from the release I have literally just put out. For me, my sound evolving has just been myself evolving; it’s changed with age, and it’s changed with time. ‘Melancholia’, that first release, I still love so much of what’s going on in the tracks, and I love a lot of the sonic references
How important do you think evolution is for an artist?
I think it’s case dependent, and I think there are a lot of artists whose fans don’t want them to evolve, so if they are catering to that then they won’t evolve. Evolution is important for artists who are real artists because they won’t want to stay in the same place; they want to keep growing and keep changing. It’s important to evolve because when you restrict yourself from growth, you’re restricting yourself from opportunity
Why do you think it’s hard for the industry to recognise that evolution of artists is inevitable and should be encouraged?
I think the industry is not necessarily against evolution, the industry is against change that equals lack or reduction in profit. If something is working for them, then they’re going to want to keep it that way. The industry is entirely money driven because people need to pay their rent and support themselves and their families, but I do think it’s to an extent that’s a bit ridiculous sometimes. A lot of decisions are based off money when they don’t need to be, and It would be nice to see a bit more forward thinking behaviour, predominantly in the richer parts of the industry where they can afford to let their artists spread their wings a little more
I think there’s probably quite a lot of fear rooted in creative arts, and people are so surprised and sceptical that music can even be profitable. A lot of the gatekeepers feel like they can’t afford to let anyone experiment or open their wings because they’re convinced the industry could close over night!
And it’s not going to, it’s never going to. A lot of these gatekeepers need to readjust their value systems, and understand the gain there is to be had when creative people have a bit more freedom
Without fear that they are going to be thrown out or unsupported. What are you communicating with the track ‘Good News’?
It’s funny because when I wrote ‘Good News’ I obviously didn’t anticipate that we were going to be entering a global pandemic where good news is more important than ever! As cliché as it sounds, I want to communicate a sense of hope, and a sense of passion, and igniting in ones passion. I wrote good news about obsession, and paranoia, and lust, and all of those really hard-hitting passionate emotions about wanting something so bad and it not being available to you. What I would want this song to inspire is a sense of hope and fortitude, and an internal fight and flame- which is an idea that my artist brand really revolves around
Yeah, and I think pandemic or not, that’s a really relevant message for people in all walks of life because of how unpredictable everything always is. Sometimes you don’t expect that you’ll be in lock down for 5 months!
Has isolation changed your writing at all? Has it been inspiring for you?
I don’t think isolation has changed my writing, but isolation has changed my life, and that has changed my writing! It’s nice having a bit more time to write, and I’ve been able to really focus on the structure of it all a little bit more, as opposed to a more free-flow approach. Isolation has made me more bat shit crazy than I was
It’s definitely had that effect on me. I’m hoping that we can all end up on the other side okay, and inspired to be with each other a bit more. What in your opinion makes something a Bel song?
I think from a production standpoint it would be the use of some sort of vocal sample as a rhythmic element. Every song I’ve ever made has that element in it!
A bit of a Bel trope we can listen for! What would be your dream performance environment?
I’m imagining a vast orange Arizona desert with the most beautifully designed architectural stage with marble stones and water and ponds, and thousands of people all well dressed; like a burning man vibe but not doofy! Really architecturally stunning, and some kind of glass dome vibe
I’ll send an email to Vogue about all that! Are you much of a collaborator and what would be your dream collaboration?
I like collaborating but I haven’t done a lot of it, and it’s something I’d love to get more into. I’ve really come to realise how much you can learn from other people, and there are so many people I’d love to collaborate with and learn from. People like, FKA twigs, Arca, James Blake, Sampha, Frank Ocean, Blood Orange
The kind of people who maybe push the boundaries a bit. You hear their music and think ‘I haven’t heard this before!’
So you have this EP you wrote two years ago that’s out now, but what direction are you heading into?
I want to release music that feels really current to me, and that’s what I’m working on at the moment. I want to push myself and push boundaries. I’m also really excited to get back into live performance- that’s where I truly feel my most ‘Bel’. But releasing things that feel current is definitely where I want to head
That’s the best feeling, because for most musicians, we’re releasing things that capture emotions we can have experienced and gotten over by the time it’s released. It can be hard to take yourself back to the initial feelings after such a long time
What would you like to stand for in this industry?
The first word that comes to mind is ‘truth’. I want to stand for the truth, and for forward thinking and visionary art and music. I want to be of service to others, and I think truth is a big part of that because I see so much dishonesty about everything in this industry
It feels like there’s this veil of happiness and success that a lot of people are wearing
And it’s such bullshit. A lot of people have this success and say ‘thank you to this person, to this playlist, to this opportunity’, but like, you had a marketing team that you’re paying to do this? Nothing just happens, and we all know it so why don’t we just talk about it?
I think that’s something that needs to be more widely talked about. It’s hard for an emerging artist to understand where to even begin
How can they hope to understand what to do when everything is hidden by this veil of ‘things just happen to you if your music is good’ – that isn’t true. Everything is paid for!
Something that I was really realising for myself is that I think I’m a good writer, but I actually can’t write a song that will make me successful and make me breakthrough as an artist, because there is so much more to breaking through that isn’t even about music at all. It’s hard to balance being authentic and genuine and play the success game at the same time
And there is no formula which is part of the problem things are always changing. Because of how confusing this industry is at the core, the best thing that we can all do is be honest, but no one is really willing to be honest about anything
What would be a bit of advice you want to give to emerging artists who might be feeling so overwhelmed and confused?
Seek the truth! Stand up for yourself, trust your gut because it’s always going to give you the right answers
Check out Bel’s music by clicking the links below