20 year old BEL, from Melbourne, is a producer, singer, songwriter and creative who has been making waves since releasing her first single and the title track off her debut EP ‘Melancholia’, out today. Having been compared to the likes of James Blake and Banks, BEL’s music shares similar dark themes matched by brooding electronic beats and haunting vocals and yet it has a unique qualities that are strictly BEL.
BEL spoke to Spotlight Report to share her thoughts on being compared to other artists, her songwriting process, her upcoming curated art event and more. Read our chat below
So just to get a better sense of your music, can you tell me how you get into music?
Well it wasn’t a very organic process. I didn’t grow up in a musical family nor did I play any instruments when I was younger. The only kind of creative thing that I did, was that I used to write a lot, like poetry and short stories and those kinds of things. Singing was always something I did in private, I never really sang in public or anything and then I eventually sang for the first time in public when I was 16 at school singing night. The only person that I was close to at my school was my music teacher and we were joking about what if there were scouts there or something and he ended up arranging this and then that is kind of how it started. They ended up flying me to America during Year 11 and then is when I kind of started delving into music. When I got back I picked up a whole bunch of instruments and I was training my voice for the first time. I started learning production and music theory, and I start reading a whole bunch of music theory books during lunch times at school. I guess that is how it all got started.
I’m guessing it doesn’t really happen like that for most people…
No, because my parents are both Academic Specialists and I went to an academic and literature school and the arts was really endorsed or supported. So I guess what I was doing was very strange. Basically, I wanted to be a doctor and then after this singing night, I was kind of like ‘No, shit’ – excuse my language. I mean as much as I would love to do that it’s just not my destiny.
Totally! You mentioned how you used to write poetry when you were younger. I read online that you would sit with your mum and put on a timer to write poetry. Do you think in some ways you have taken that on as a songwriting, in that do you deliberately sit down and assign time to do it or is it more that you write things down at random moments in time?
That is actually such a good question because at first I really had to consciously focus on it because I didn’t have a musical theory background, I had to literally sit down and be like ‘Ok, let’s write something. Let’s make sure it’s in time, let’s make sure it’s syncopated, let’s make sure it’s structured.’ Like I had to make that I actually structured it but than through essentially the same principal that I had put to my study, I put to my music – that it became so natural to the point where I will literally be in the shower and I will have to get out because I have a lyric in my head or I have a melody in my head or there is a synth sound that I just really want to quickly make because it’s in my mind. So it’s basically through that study I have become an incredibly natural writer and I think the main think with the syncopation and structure of songs was something that I got from writing with my mum because if it didn’t sound good after we read it out, she would say ‘this sounds like shit, can you refine the structure’ because she is an amazing poet herself and she has a published book of her own poetry. So it has become a lot more natural over the few years.
So where are the sort of places that you draw inspiration from because I don’t imagine you draw inspiration from your music from your once aspiration to become a doctor. (laughs)
No (laughs). I was basically always pretty creative, and when I was young I was always very visual and something I have always been into since I was five years old I was always into fashion. So all the things that I make and want to make come from a visual place, something that I have seen in an exhibition or in a magazine. I was Instagram a lot for visual inspiration. There are so many incredible artists, designers, and curators on Instagram. That is usually where I draw inspiration from a visual point but musically I always find that the hardest question because I listen to such a variety of music of all different genres and usually I don’t look for certain things. It’s kind of whatever makes me feel something and I will ask myself ‘Why am I feeling this? How can I make something that illicit the same emotional response?’
Yes, I think on that as well, I would say it is safe to say that your music is quite visually led and its clear that the visual elements are a very important part of your music. In what ways do you think art, music and fashion compliment each other?
For me, I was watching a document ‘Monday In May’ and it was about the Chinese-inspired Met Gala and basically they were talking about the definition of art and what comprises art. Essentially the criteria for art is so diverse and music, art, sculptures and fashion, they are all the same things but expressed in a different way and that is why I think it all works together because music is an audible form of art, fashion is a visual and physical form of art and there is dancing that is a movement form of art. Because I am so passionate about the other forms, I want to try incorporating them into my brand to the best of my ability. Because I have that background of having worked a lot in fashion over the years as well, I figured why not add more things to my brand, if I already have that passion and skill for it.
So, a few weeks ago you shared a post about the paralyzing effects that bullying has had on your life and how a boy mocked your music, style and so on. Do you think you ever subconsciously let that have an impact on your creative choices – and how do you overcome such negativity?
Well I have had a history of really bad bullying, especially because I went to such an academic school and what I was doing was so strange. But I would be lying if I said those things didn’t still effect me, off course they do. Bullying is absolutely paralyzing and anyone that has been bullied knows that but do I let it dictate my creative choices? Absolutely not! I’m not one for peer pressure and I’m not one to be told how to make my art, even in terms of my management, publicist team. They all let me run the show, and at the moment I’m curating my EP launch at The Toff and they basically said ‘You just do what you want and we’ll be there to support you’. If I let fear control the way I make music and the way I create my brand than I wouldn’t be a very good artist and at the end of the day and I’ve said this before if everyone likes what I do than I will be doing it wrong. Art in essence is entirely subjective. I think when I was younger and in my teens, I very much let the bullying that I got, which was very extreme, not necessarily dictate my art but dictate the way a viewed myself and that is the hardest part to get over 100 percent without a doubt.
As you’ve just said and said many times before “If everyone likes what I’m doing then I’m not doing it right” – with that, can we assume that you make music for yourself and not for others?
I think in the past, and as I was growing as a songwriter I was writing solely for myself but now it’s kind of a mix. I don’t let that concern or fully debilitate the songwriting process because then you don’t write very good songs if you are constantly wondering this will be a bit. But I think now it’s a nice mix. I’m conscious of maybe not writing a song that is 8 minutes long but I think I have a nice balance and I think it challenges you as a songwriter to push yourself. I would say that I am thinking about now because I want to be able to have a nice career with it.
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Judging by the both of the offerings online which is ‘Own Home’ and ‘Melancholia’ – your music tends to lean towards dark themes which is often why I have seen a few comparisons online to artists like James Blake or Banks – does it bother you to be compared to other artist when you are trying to pave your own path?
(laughs) Slightly but then again I understand that it’s entirely necessary because one thing I learnt in university when I studied music was that basically genre conventions are very limiting and they can put a strain on your artistry. However, for someone who is not music, reading that blog and may not know me and want to get to know me, having a comparison could be really helpful for them to check out similar artists. So I think for a lot of people have a comparison can be helpful to understand but from an artist point of view you don’t really like to be compared but I do understand the benefits of it and I kind of understand why it is necessary.
So lastly, you are curating an art, fashion, music event for the release of your EP. What can people attending anticipate from it?
So you’ve got to love management, I didn’t know they wanted to book an EP launch yet and then they were like ‘Yo, BEL we booked you a Saturday night headline at The Toff’ and I was like ‘What? Ok cool, I can work with this’ and for me I just didn’t want it to be just another EP launch or just another gig. I feel like fans put a lot of energy, effort and money into supporting an artist so I thought if I’m not putting in effort, that’s not cool because they deserve that. So I wanted to make it a night of putting local art, fashion, businesses and really make it a curated event of things I’m passionate about. One of my best friends in the entire world whose name is Tré is a fashion photographer and art director and he works at Tré & Elmaz, and they are moving around the world at the moment and they are totally killing it in the fashion and art world. He is helping me curate the event so we are going to get some really cool support, I don’t want to give too much away. I’m so excited; it’s going be very Berlin, London underground vibes. Then for example I am a vegan and I’m very passionate about sustainability I grow my own food so I’m getting a local kombucha business to support the night because I don’t drink alcohol and I would love everyone to get on some probiotics and I hope to get some art installations and get a few other cool things going on the night. I have enlisted a couple of cool designers to show, as well as, me playing the night with two other acts so it should be fun.
BEL’s debut EP ‘Melancholia’ is out today. You catch her live at The Toff in Town on Saturday February 18th, more info and tickets here