PHOTO CREDIT: Joe Lindsay Photography
THERE is something wonderfully tangible and relatable…
about songwriter Bella McKendree. Not only is she an artist who writes from the heart: she is going to perform in a Jeff Buckley tribute event – and will meet one of his collaborators, Gary Lucas! I ask about Buckley and how his music came into her life; the musicians and albums that influenced her young – and the sounds/genres she employs in her own music.
I get to learn about her new song, Grieve, and more about the E.P., Waiting. In a city like London; there are hundreds of agile and promising artists all vying for attention. There is an edge and luminosity (surrounding a mystique and soul) that has a vulnerability, compassion and intrigue. McKendree discusses her process and how songs formulate; the revelatory and fortuitous musical discovery following a painful break-up – and how it feels knowing Waiting is about to be unveiled to the world (18th August).
Hi, Bella. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi. I’m great.
Yeah, it’s been pretty awesome. I’ve got this uncontainable excitement since the record’s been out...so, I’ve been songwriting a lot!
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
I am a singer-songwriter from the countryside - now living in London. I write within a range of genres, including Indie-Dream and Alt-Folk - with my roots in Blues, Gospel and Classical music.
My songs are introspective and honest. I often comment and pose questions to society.
Grieve is your latest single. What can you tell me about the song and its inspiration?
When I wrote it, I thought: can I be this honest or is this a song just for myself? I decided to go for it and I’ve seen how people find a connection through my vulnerability.
It is taken from the E.P., Waiting. I have heard the tracks and am struck by the emotion and rawness of some – especially songs like Don’t You Wanna Be Loved. How much of your own relationships and experiences go into the E.P.?
To be honest: I’ve been very transparent.
My songwriting stems from my heart so, whatever I’m feeling, flows out of me.
Was it quite difficult to record, emotionally? It seems like you put your heart out on every track!
I’ve found a huge strength and confidence in not holding back: plus, it’s pretty cool that every time I sing a song I can relive that experience...like time travelling.
Waiting was produced by Brett Shaw (Florence & The Machine, Roisin Murphy, Daughter). What was it like working with him and what did he add to your music/sound, would you say?
Ah, it was so great!
I loved his studio with bird-origami on the ceilings. There was a calm atmosphere thanks to his easy-going nature. I had an open mind and no fixed sound in my head – so, we literally just went for it and saw what happened.
Brett added a fullness and ethereal quality.
I hear shades of London Grammar in your music. Are they a group you look up to?
I would always play their album to and from college in Brighton. I love the colours in Hannah’s voice. Their whole vibe is grounded but epic!
You are one of five siblings. Is music your way of finding your own identity and, in a way, feeling less alone?
Through music, I find a deeper, grounded place.
When I play, I feel like I’m somewhere else where time and reality disappears. It’s always been like that for me. It’s highly addictive and soothing.
There’s such an ecstatic level of freedom when I write that I feel fearless and that empowers me. It’s how I process, reflect and see the world.
Recently, you have moved to London and started to gig in the city – working with some top names. How important is London and how much of a difference has it made moving there – in terms of opportunities etc.?
A lot changed when I moved here...
The music scene and charisma of the city is so exciting - with lots of incredible artists to bounce ideas off.
It’s a springboard for living out my dream.
Sofar Sounds is a gig-series you have been involved in. What it like playing those intimate shows and where will you be playing more this year?
It feels like stepping back in time and exploring more of what music was before the emphasis on production. I love how it brings people together.
In a culture which always uses as much as possible: it’s really beautiful to see music stripped back - there’s a power in breaking off the layers. I’m playing Southampton on the 22nd and Sheffield on the 29th August.
Jeff Buckley is my music idol so I am interested in the fact you are playing in a tribute show on 9th September! What is your connection to Buckley’s music and, without getting nerdy, which songs of his touch your heart?
My sister introduced me to his music. I remember it was a dark December day and I had just ended a relationship. Then, Lover, You Should’ve Come Over came on. I literally was like: “DID THAT JUST HAPPEN!?”.
It was incredible because I could tell Buckley was not afraid to show his emotions and that’s where his strength lay. He shaped my early music and musical expression.
IN THIS PHOTO: Jeff Buckley/PHOTO CREDIT: Anton Corbijn
My favourites are Grace, Last Goodbye and Lover, You Should’ve Come Over.
Gary Lucas, who co-wrote a couple of tracks on Grace and played with Buckley in the early years, is there. Are you excited about meeting him?!
Absolutely: it’s surreal. Excited is an understatement!
Can you tell me the artists you grew up listening to and what sparked that passion for music?
My siblings were always swapping songs around.
The Fugees, Radiohead and Rod Stewart spring to mind. My dad was always playing Blues-guitar and my mum singing Classical and Opera songs. I remember very clearly, when I was eleven, watching Alicia Keys sing Fallin’ on Top of the Pops - and feeling so empowered by her performance. Being a woman too, it unlocked something within me and triggered a desire to perform.
I remember telling my whole family to get out the sitting room so I could play the piano. I knew then I wanted to be a singer. I think even though I didn’t have a name for it I could feel some kind of restraint on being a girl growing up. So watching women like Kate Bush, Shania Twain and Tori Amos on stage affected me even more so than male musicians.
What do you have planned for the rest of the year? Touring and recording or will you get a chance to unwind?
On the 7th September, I have my E.P. Launch at St. Luke’s Church, Kentish Town – and that's a couple of days before the Jeff Buckley Tribute.
We’re playing the following festivals: Sunrise Celebration (Bristol), Camper Calling (Birmingham); Gorjys Secrets festival (Wales). In December, I’m playing a Streets of London charity gig.
I’d like to record another E.P. before Christmas. At the moment, I’m enjoying the buzz and loving performing.
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
I saw this band, Concrete Caverns, play the other night.
The frontman was very charismatic.
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
1. Cat Stevens – Matthew and Son
It reminds me of my childhood and walking around school singing: “Don’t be shy/Just let your feelings roll on by”.
Each song is perfectly carved.
2. Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes
I love the intense level of engagement you get in her voice - and the movement in the takes.
3. Jeff Buckley – Grace
It helped navigate and let out the emotional rollercoaster of my teens.
What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?
Have a clear vision of what you want to do but, more importantly… why.
Have integrity, drive and resilience.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name any song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
The 1975 - Somebody Else
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