Front woman Caitlin Bell (CB) of Bell the Band, an up and coming Americana Folk group based in New York, chats with us about her career as a musician, the significance of Americana Folk in music today, and songs on the new EP. As a long time performer, Caitlin has explored the realms of music extensively. She’s studied as an opera singer, apprenticed to a kora (a West African 21-stringed harp) master in Seattle, performed with the indie-pop band Handsome Ghost, and now focuses on her passion project Bell the Band. She is a woman devoted to music indulging us in her Americana roots.
Caitlin, you have so much experience as a musician and performer. You have dedicated much of your life studying multiple realms of music, performing, and simply immersing yourself in the culture. What does music mean to you and how does it shape you as a musician?
CB — Music has always been at the core of my being. I don’t remember a time in my life that didn’t revolve around music. For whatever reason, I have always been drawn to anything involving creating, listening to, or experiencing music. I think because it is so intimate and personal for me, I respond to music that is honest, that isn͛t trying to be something that it͛s not, and that speaks to the pain, beauty and wonder of life.
You grew up in Georgia by the Appalachian Trail. Though I have never been, I imagine mountains of trails and trees stretching into the beyond. What an inspiring place to grow. Did nature ever stimulate the music make or admire?
CB — Yes, nature plays a huge role in both the music that I write and the music I enjoy. I grew up on old American country music and the folk stories, traditions and songs from the Blue Ridge region. That particular music and storytelling style were always in the air. A large element of that tradition is centred around the geography of the region— lots of pines, mountains, creeks— and the events that occurred within that world.
What has been a pivotal point in your career as a musician?
CB — I graduated from Oberlin with a degree in vocal performance and upon graduation, I was faced with the decision to continue studying opera and art song or to choose a different path. I was and still am extremely fond of the classical world, and value the lessons in technique and history, but I was also yearning to get back to my roots. I took the leap, decided to take a break from classical study and started diving into troves of Americana, folk, blues and country music. That’s really when I started writing my own songs, and I imagine my life would be quite different today had I chosen to stay in the classical realm.
What is the story behind Bell the Band?
CB — I played as a solo musician for years, which is great in many ways because you can really play whatever you want, whenever you want. Over time, though, I started to become interested in taking the classic solo-style folk tradition of story-telling and songwriting and experimenting with how that would translate into a band. I took my time and found musicians who shared the same passions for never playing a song the same way twice and for live music. We were all also friends or friends of friends from the NYC music scene. The band is Jared Saltiel on drums, Gab Bowler on bass, and Harper James on guitar and they are all wonderful people and talented musicians in their own right, which no doubt is a major component to the sound and aesthetic of the band.
What or who inspires the Americana Folk sound?
CB — I love Mississippi John Hurt. His voice, to me, is one of the sweetest and most delicate sounds that I know. He was a phenomenal guitar player, and embodies so much of what I love about the folk and blues traditions. I also love Sibylle Baier. She, at least from an outsider’s perspective, doesn’t seem to write for anyone else but herself, and the result is simple, honest, and graceful songwriting. I could go on for days about people who inspire the way that I write and play, but those are two important ones for me.
The Americana Folk genre is such a beautiful thing. It’s deeply rooted in storytelling and harmony, and you show a wonderful interpretation of it in your new EP. Can you speak more about what the genre means to you and why you believe it’s important in today’s ever-changing culture?
CB — Americana folk music is important because it is rooted in history, story-telling, and the passing along of songs and stories from one person to another. It’s why all folk music is important. It has the capacity to transcend time in a way that we are able to learn from the songs and experiences of our ancestors. Folk music gives us a window into a world that created the music we have all around us today. With so much new music flying around at a rapid speed these days, it͛s important that we don’t forget how that music came to be.
The song “My Little Town” is my favorite on the EP. This sympathetic piece about returning home really holds true to the mix of emotions that stir at a time like this. The vulnerability and warmth you show make it a truly relatable track. Can you tell me more about what inspired this track?
CB — I wrote “My Little Town” on a trip back home to Georgia as I was driving to meet a group of old friends. I hadn’t seen those tiny streets in the longest time, and for a moment it felt like no time had passed. It was when I started paying attention to the small details— different cars in the driveways, different kids playing in the front yards— that I started to feel how estranged from this place I actually was. It’s a bittersweet feeling. It’s one of chasing dreams, and the sacrifices you make to achieve them.
“Isn’t That Life” is another beautiful, consoling track on the EP. You sing of fear and lonesomeness, but reflect in the chorus “Oh honey, don’t it seem right? Oh honey, isn’t that life.” You remind us that life doesn’t always turn out the way you imagine and sometimes you’re going to be left in the dark. What advice do you have for someone that’s going through a personal struggle and experiences this type of distress?
CB — I’m not sure I’m totally qualified to give advice for times of trouble, but I do know that for me, it is important to have some sort of healthy outlet that allows me to work through difficult times. I’m often times overwhelmed with how terrible and frightening the world can be, and at the same time admire all of its beauty and light. Music is usually the way I am best able to work through the power of these emotions when they seem to be too much. It͛s obviously different for everyone, but I think it͛s important to know what your outlet is.
Imagine you could create an exclusive space for people to listen to your new EP. What would this space look and feel like?
CB — I think it would be at night in a cabin in the woods with the lights low and everyone you love gathered around the fireplace in the living room. Oh, and nice speakers. Really nice speakers.
Caitlin, I just want to commend you for pursuing Bell the Band and creating such a genuine set of songs. Your stories are a pleasure to listen to and I’m looking forward to experiencing it all live. Any upcoming shows or tours we can look forward to?
CB — Thank you so much for this experience to talk about the things I love the most! For now we are trying to push the singles to as many ears as will listen, and playing a lot of shows around the NYC area. We hope to spread our wings and possibly tour over this next year as we release the full EP, write and grow, but it is best to keep in touch and up to date with us on our social media pages @belltheband.