In advance of her show at Zebulon last month, I conducted the following interview over email with Olga Bell, the singer, songwriter, keyboardist, etc behind the very great Brooklyn band BELL. I saw them at one of the first shows I went to when I moved here in September, opening up for Fennesz in Brooklyn. Obviously, there are some pretty great bands that come out of New York and “make it” — here’s looking at the Strokes, TV on the Radio, blah blah whatever. But I couldn’t help but think about just how rich the music scene here must be and wondering what it’s like. Mostly I picked Olga’s brain about this, but there’s also a little tidbit about their album, which will be out some time next year. I believe that above is the cover art, lifted from their website. This is one of my highly anticipated albums of 2011, New York artists and otherwise, because I’ve been so impressed with them both times I’ve seen them. No more details yet, but I promise to post them as they come. The band has one show this month, January 29, at Bruar Falls in Brooklyn. They play with Noveller, Grooms, and the Sundelles.
Are all of you from New York originally?
Gunnar [Olsen] grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, he’s the only native New Yorker. I am from Alaska, Jason [Nazary] is from Georgia, Michael [Saltsman] is from Maryland.
How did this band in particular come together? It seems like the product of very diverse musical backgrounds.
Jason and I were both studied at NEC in Boston, but we hardly spoke. We moved to NYC within a few months of each other and started playing music on the weekends in Jason’s attic in Ditmas Park. Gunnar came to an early BELL show in 2007 and filled in a few times when Jason was on tour with Little Women. I really wanted both guys in the group, but two drummers? Who does that? Is that really necessary? Yes. It’s wonderful. Mike is DJ Pumpkin Patch, who at one point was on the DGenetics label, which is run by Will Djinis, a friend of my sister’s from Duke. One day in 2007 Will was in town, Sarah and I went to say hi, Mike was the DJ, and now we’re all friends. Turns out Mike has formidable keyboard and singing skills, he joined the band last fall.
Are you specifically working on anything right now? What should we be expecting in 2011?
We just finished our first full-length. It’ll be out by the next equinox. We’re calling it “Diamonite”.
I just moved from the Midwest, where it seems like music scenes, especially in the mid-size cities, are really important. I’m trying to get a feel for the idea and practice of scene living in New York. What is the music and art community like here? Is it affected by the fact that New York already has such a preeminent cultural legacy? Is it harder to build community because of the nature of New York? Are people really as apathetic here as outsiders make it seem?
I’m not sure legacy has as much to do with it as the sheer volume of everything on offer in the city, all the time, and how little leisure time New Yorkers have. You could say that the whole place is in some way a music/arts community—we’ve all chosen to live here instead of in, say, Philadelphia or Austin. But to really call themselves a community people need time together, which for most New Yorkers only becomes available after their jobs or on weekends, so it’s about neighborhoods where people can afford live and do their thing. The “scene” strongholds like Lincoln Center, Chelsea and the Lower East Side are really important for bringing everyone together, but most people can’t afford to live in those neighborhoods.
What are some other New York bands or musicians that might be off the radar that we should know about? This is your chance to plug your friends!
5707 are my friends Ryan and Garth who make vast, almost unbearably beautiful ambient pieces. I love the work of composers Judd Greenstein and David T. Little, and the group “Plainville” led by Jeremy Udden. I try to catch Sam Amidon whenever he’s in town–but I think he’s from Vermont. I really loved a Harlem rapper from a few years ago named Charles Hamilton, but he’s lately disappeared. Bring back Charles Hamilton!
Lots of music critics have put together their best of the year album lists. I always think it’s more interesting to hear from the artist myself, so, what are your year-end faves for albums and/or songs?
Big Boi. Best record of 2010, as far as I’m concerned. I also really liked the Knife’s (opera!?) “Tomorrow, In a Year”. For individual tracks, “Midnight Directives” and “Mount Alpentine” from Owen Pallett’s “Heartland”, “White Sky” and both parts of “California English” from “Contra”, and about three quarters of the new Kanye record.
Check out “Dialtone” below, the first song available from the forthcoming Diamonite.
Download: Bell – Dialtone
Byrds of Paradise
Miracles of Modern Science
My Teenage Stride
Pillars and Tongues
The House Floor
The Poison Control Center