Bella: Don’t Believe Your Ears

Monday, 22 October 2007

In some cases, a band’s sound is not just the sum of its influences. Sometimes there are more outside stimuli at work when a band comes together and begins writing music and, if one needs an example to illustrate that fact, one need look no further than Bella—a band whose sound will lead listeners to different conclusions than the band initially expected.

For the uninitiated, the title of Bella’s Mint Records debut, No One Will Know [released on September 18, 2007], is surprisingly accurate; no one will know exactly why they like it, but the band rams together a flawless combination of great elements from the 80s pop pantheon—Susanna Hoffs’ vocals that sound like a hopeful but blushing pixie, Devo keyboards and the odd synthetic beat, Flock of Seagulls-esque Brit/synth-pop and 80s American indie-issued guitars—that sounds instantly recognizable even though you know you’ve never heard anything quite like it before and the reason, according to drummer Tiffany Garrett, is because what you’re hearing bears no debt to the 80s at all. “It’s funny because we’ve been asked if the stuff from the 80s was an influence a lot, which is totally fine—I guess people associate synth sounds with the 80s—but for us, it’s not where it comes from at all,” explains Garrett bluntly from her home in Vancouver. “We’re actually kind of stuck in the 90s with the bands that we all love and we’re not really influenced by the 1980s bands in any particular way. Imperial Teen is definitely a big influence of mine—they started in the mid-90s—and as far as the others go, Cameron’s really into Weezer and Radiohead… Joy Electric Starfire 59 are really big bands for him too. Actually Joy Electric would be where a lot of the synth comes in I think. They’re a newer band, but we think he’s a genius.

“The only similarity that I can really recognize between us and the music from the 80s is that we do have a love for analog synths,” continues the drummer. “That’s basically what it comes down to; we’re just nerds in that aspect and when we’re able to get our hands on a new synth it gets added to the collection; we’ve got a big room full of them.

“I guess it sort of feels like people want to peg us a lot but I think after you talk to us, your perception of what we do changes because it’s very easy to make assumptions and guess our influences but it’s usually inaccurate.”

Formed just four years ago in Vancouver, Bella began working at an accelerated pace virtually upon meeting. The trio, comprised of singer/keyboardist/guitarist Charla McCutcheon, singer/guitarist Cameron Fraser and drummer/singer Garrett began writing almost immediately and in no time at all recorded and released Pretty Mess on their own and began playing in any venue that would have them. In short order, Mint Records took notice of the band when they opened for The Organ at a hometown show and the band struck up a friendship with their future label; words and pleasantries were traded back and forth regularly and, when Bella felt it was ready to record another album, they asked Mint if they’d be interested in releasing it. “They kept on asking us for updates after a couple of people from Mint caught us opening for The Organ,” says Garrett as she unfolds Bella’s Cinderella story. “I guess you could call it a courtship for about a year—a really long time of just back and forth and them keeping an eye on us and we just kept doing our thing—and finally we told him we wanted to put out another record and asked them if they were interested and they said yes.

“Mint has been really supportive and down-to-earth, which is great to work with,” continues the drummer. “It’s a totally different experience from releasing something independently. People seem to be more accepting of it that way, but having a label backing you, it seems very different; people seem more critical. It feels like they’re judging more intensely; a lot of it has been good, but it’s a very different experience for us.

“The thing is too that the next record might end up being totally different from No One Will Know. On this record Charla is leading a lot of the vocals, but the next record could be based more around Cameron. That Charla took the lead just happened to be the way that the songwriting went this time. Particularly with this one, we wanted to put a common thread because with the first album that we did, it was really diverse with a lot of different song structures and styles and we didn’t totally know what we were doing—we just put these songs together collectively and threw it out there. We had no intentions of anything really, we just wanted to get these songs that we had recorded and put them out to see what would happen. This time though, I think we focused more on creating a common thread and maybe making it’s more acceptable in our minds because we thought it was possible to have too much diversity and we didn’t want to run the risk of confusing people as to what we were or what our sound was. The next record though, we’ve already talked about featuring Cameron more and making more of an effort to split it in half. That has always been a prominent feature of our band; all three of us write and all three of us have the potential to lead a song.”

When Echo spoke with Garrett, plans had already been set for the band to head out on the road—first to New York for a couple of shows to introduce Bella to the American market before heading home to Vancouver to begin a West-to-East Canadian tour. For many audiences, it will be their first exposure to Bella as a live act as the band has stuck mostly to larger markets like Toronto but, this time, it will be a much more thorough going over of the country before the coming winter when the band understandably plans to steer clear of the Trans-Canada highway. “We would like to work the East coast of the U.S. and definitely go to the U.K. as soon as possible as well, but as of right now, beyond Montreal, we aren’t booked,” explains Garrett of Bella’s immediate hopes and plans. “We’d like to take it easy as far as Canada is concerned in the winter because trying to tour in the winter here is a bit of a nightmare. We’ve had some near-death experiences previously so we’d like to avoid that.

“We got as far as Saskatchewan and turned back after that last time,” explains the drummer of Bella’s hesitation to tour Canada in the winter again. “We actually were travelling in a truck because we didn’t have a van so we had this big, king-cab truck. And it was a California truck so everything that could possibly have fallen apart did and we had to remove the dashboard to tape together some wires and get this special spray to lubricate it so it would spark and keep power going to the tail lights, otherwise we had no tail lights. This was in a blizzard too—we couldn’t see two feet in front of us. Needless to say, we’d like to avoid doing that again if possible. We’d like to focus more on the States and the U.K. through the winter if we can.”

For more on Bella, including winterless tour dates and more music, click here:

No One Will Know is out now on Mint Records.

Download – "Give it a Night" from No One Will Know – [mp3]

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