Interview

Get To Know BEL [Interview]

SJ Spreng

Following a string of singles and the one year anniversary of her debut EP Muscle Memory, BEL finally unveils her sophomore EP Jet lag. Compelling and earnest, this EP is one you definitely don’t want to miss out on. A day prior to the release, I got to sit-down – virtually – with BEL and discuss her music, growth, and Gilmore Girls.

Before we get into any questions about the EP, I believe it was your birthday sometime last weekend, so happy belated birthday. How were the festivities?

Good. Well, I actually had COVID like right when I got back from New York, so I just barely was able to celebrate my birthday by a day. So it was good, but still kind of chaotic.

Yeah, definitely makes it a memorable one in some strange way.

For sure.

Going into your music, talk me through the beginning. How did you first get into it, and who were your biggest influences?

Yeah. I guess I've just kind of always been singing. My mom always makes this joke that like, even before I could form sentences, I was making up songs with like, choruses and stuff. But I didn't really start writing, writing, until high school, and I played the violin most of my life.

My mom sings and plays guitar. So I would kind of learn a lot of songs from her, and her music taste definitely influenced me. She listened to a lot of like, early singer-songwriters, you know. The 60s and 70s have definitely influenced me in that way.. But yeah, I started to teach myself guitar [when] I was about 15. And then I went to UCLA. I had a band when I was there for a little bit. And I did the audio engineering program, so I kind of learned how to get into music production on my own and started [hanging] around with a lot of musicians and playing shows. And yeah, then I guess now here I am.

That’s awesome. And did you ever consider doing something else when you were younger, or did you always have your eyes set on music.

Hmm, that's a good question. When I was really little, I wanted to be a princess. But I think music has always been something that's part of my life. I knew I wanted to be doing music in some capacity in my life. I think it's funny because most of my family are lawyers and one of my brothers's a doctor, so my family is very practical. So I think definitely, you know, growing up, I had people be like, “you should go to law school” and things like that. But I never considered it. I never wanted that. I always knew I wanted music.

Your EP is coming out tomorrow.

Yeah tonight technically.

Yes that’s true! How are you feeling about that? Excited? Nervous?

I'm so excited. Yeah, I was kind of just looking back on the growth that I've had as an artist and writer since my last project that I put out a year ago. And I'm just excited. I'm really excited for everybody to hear it and kind of see that transformation that I've had over time. And I think that's kind of just what I want to keep doing is continue to grow and, and experiment with new writing styles, and production styles, things like that. But yeah, I hope everybody enjoys it as much as I enjoyed making it.

I’m sure they will. I’ve been listening to it on and off for a couple of days now, and I already love it!

Which one’s your favorite?

Right now my two favorites – other than the singles – are “Lights,” I was actually listening to it on my way here. I just love that western bravado. I’m here for it.

Aw, thank you.

And “all my songs are about driving (voice memo).” I just love the title and how you incorporate it into the song. I was actually going to ask you, did you ever figure out why your songs are about driving?

*Laughs* I don’t know. I was trying to think about that. Maybe it’s just because driving and listening to music [happens often] especially in LA, like being stuck in traffic all the time. And maybe it’s just that it’s that spot for me to kind of just check in with myself, and somehow it relates back to my music.

Yeah it makes sense. It’s one of those things that just feels natural. Do you happen to have a go-to record or tune to listen to in the car?

It kind of depends on my moods. I just went to Santa Barbara with my family last week, and I think I listened to the new 1975 song the entire drive over, like on repeat. I’ve also been obsessed with Charli XCX lately.

Oh, I love her last record

Yeah, so the new album and the new song she just put out last week.

That’s awesome.

And back to the EP, correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I understand, you mostly worked on it during this period where you were traveling and collaborating with different producers and writers. How was that experience?

Yeah, when I was starting out in music, my goal was to continue [finding] more people to collaborate with. And I felt like I really struggled with finding people early on, and this trip that I took in October was just this unicorn for a trip because I felt like every person that I met up I had known forever. We clicked immediately and I feel like that’s rare. I was able to knock out a bunch of songs while I was there for only two weeks, and now I have all these friends across the country.

It just brought excitement back into my life for music because I think it’s pretty easy to hit a wall with a lot of stuff. Being an independent artist, it’s [a lot of] grinding, grinding, grinding, and not always getting a lot in return, so it’s pretty easy to get into a rut. I really needed to get out of my space for a little bit and it was like the perfect timing.

Yeah, it’s almost energizing to find an artistic community.

For sure. It can be really solitary making music. And it’s nice to have people that you can really click with, [where] it just flows easily.

Speaking of songwriting, one of my favorite things about your music is the cathartic energy it carries. And although it’s great to hear as a listener, it might not be as easy to do as an artist. When a song comes out, or you’re performing it, do you still feel as connected in that sense? Or have you already processed those emotions and are simply telling a story?

Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think that it’s funny because there are songs where I feel like I’ve played them enough live – or I’ve listened to them enough – where I feel like it’s this little packaged memory. It’s not something that I’m really living.

But there are certain songs, like “all my songs are about driving” [which is] a pretty raw song. I had never played it live before until my show in New York, and I kind of started crying while playing it.

Which is understandable.

Yeah, and I was kind of shocked because I’ve healed since writing that song, but for some reason it unlocked this channel. It surprised me. So I don’t know. I think I’ve been able to kind of be more present, but sometimes it just unlocks emotions.

Totally. I don’t know if I’d be able to put that filter on and just get over those emotions.

Yeah. In regular life I'm a pretty goofy person. Definitely, not super serious. And I think that, I use humor as a defense mechanism for sure, so it's really funny to juxtapose. If I'm playing a show, I'm usually just cracking a joke in between songs. And then I'll go into a song that's like, extremely vulnerable.

Yeah, I think my way of being able to actually talk about these kinds of feelings is through a song because it feels like I'm protected by the song. Like, I don't feel like [ I ] would, if I were to just pour my heart out to somebody sitting down.

Speaking of the sixth track (“all my songs are about driving”) it happens to be the only stripped down track on the album. Was that something you decided to do early on?

It was intentional. The voice memo was super raw and it kind of sways back and forth in time. I thought about producing it, and maybe down the road I will make a produced version, but I just felt like for some reason, it would have taken away from the rawness of it. So, I just kept it like that.

It also works well with “Jet Lag”

Yeah, it kind of worked out that “Jet Lag” ended with a voice memo. So I was like “Alright, perfect.”

Speaking of catharsis, the sequence on the album kind of emulates an emotional crescendo. You start with “Big City,” which is rooted in this concept of feeling small and a bit like a fish out of water, and close off with “Lights,” which is filled with this killer western bravado and emotional growth. Why was it important for you to tie the story in this fashion?

Yeah, definitely. I think I wanted it to show the order of how I have grown over the course of making this, and finding confidence in myself again and myself as an artist. When I made “Lights” with Laiko, it was very energetic, like [there was this] electric feeling when we made it. I wanted it to end on that note because I left, beaming from the session and I always wanted to harness that feeling.

Especially if I'm looking back and get into a rut again – because I inevitably will – I think finding that excitement is huge. “Big City” came from a place of slowly navigating that, and finding that lightheartedness in these sad moments, and I wanted to show the progression of moving on and letting go. I think “Lights” really feels like this big, “I’ve let go. And yeah there are some missed connections but I’m fine.”

 

Yeah, there is definitely more of a light to it compared to a track like “Cake”

No pun intended!

Exactly!

If you had to describe the EP in three words, which words would you use?

Growth, excitement, and confidence.

Nice, I like that.

And finally, do you have any current obsessions you’d like to share?

I started rewatching Gilmore Girls. I don’t know why. It’s just a comfort thing for some reason. And definitely Charli XCX and the new 1975.

Do you have a favorite character?

I’m forgetting his names, but Luke’s nephew.

Jess

Yes! I was team Jess.

Ah ok. I’m team Jess, when he’s older, but team Logan all day.

Logan was nice.

Yes he was.

Well, thank you for getting on this call with me. I’ll definitely have to see a show in LA in the future.

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