Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mariana Bell bringing her brand of folk, pop to Uncommon Ground in Chicago


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

A move to the West Coast gave singer-songwriter Mariana Bell a better mindset as she went about making her latest album, "Push." 

The album better reflects the intimate experience of her live shows. That will be evident when Bell performs at 9 p.m. July 24 at Uncommon Ground, 3800 N. Clark St. Chicago.

There is a $5 cover charge, and more information is at www.uncommonground.com.

I had the chance to talk to Bell, www.marianabell.com, about the making of the new album.


Q - Have you played in Chicago before?

I have not actually. I've never even been to Chicago. I have got a lot of friends there and acquaintances that I've met over the last couple of years.

They are like, ''When are you going to play in Chicago?'' I'm super excited. I've heard so many wonderful things about the scenery, and all the stuff to do and the great restaurants.

Q - Of course, you have this new album out, "Push." I understand that you recently went back home to Charlottesville, Va., to perform the new songs. What was that like to go back home and play the new album for people there?

I think it went over pretty well. I think certain songs surprised people. It's definitely a departure from the last one.

Hopefully, it's a little grittier, a little more rocky kind of fun and organic. But overall, people were super supportive and wonderful there. It was really fun to go back and play in Charlottesville.

Q - I understand this is your first album since moving to the West Coast. Do you think that played a part in the album's sound?

I don't know, because I made the prior record (2008's "Book") between L.A. and New York as well. While I wasn't living out here, I did come out here to record parts of it.

We hired musicians from New York and Texas to work on this record here in California, so I think it matters less and less where you are in terms of the sound you want, because there are amazing people with great gear in a cabin in the woods in upstate New York, or in the middle of Arkansas, and you can produce something really incredible.


However, in terms of my mindset about it, being out in California probably was a really good thing for me.

Q - How so?

I think I was just needing a change of pace, a change of scenery. And it changed my motivation and my work ethic about things too.

I really threw myself into this project 100 percent. I feel very much at home here, despite not being here very long.

I think it really helped me that I was driven to do the best thing I could do.

Q - Eddie Jackson produced the album. He's worked with a lot of different people, Guster, James Taylor. How did you get connected with him?

I've known him for a long time. When I lived in New York, I was friends with a bunch of different musicians. They are all kind of in this group of people that are also friends with Eddie.

So I've known Eddie for years. And he is absolutely wonderful to work with.

Q - What do you think he brought to the table?

We co-produced it, which was something I had not done before. So he simultaneously sort of put in his input where necessary, because he has of course has all the technical and engineering knowledge.

But he also left me a lot of room to breathe. He allowed a lot of things to happen organically.

Q - You said you think this album is more gritty than the previous one. Is that what you were striving for, to have a more gritty sound?

I definitely wanted a more gritty sound. In terms of just the songwriting, that's kind of where it was going as well.

It sort of happened by accident. It was originally going to be an EP, and then we were having so much fun. We took a little break so I could write more songs, and make a full record.

What I had originally set out to do at the very least was to make something that was a little bit more representative of what I wanted to sound like live. So most of the drum and bass guitar performances are performances, rather than snipping together a lot of different things.

It was about performance, and it was about a live sound. The last record I loved, but there was stuff in there that I could never reproduce live.

It is just a little bit closer to what I do.

Q - You were talking about how the CD sounds more like you live. What is it like playing these songs live?

It's really cool. It's fun, because I can get into them quite a lot. I'm very much behind them. I'm committed to these songs.


Q - Do you consider yourself a folk musician?

Not in the traditional sense of the word folk. There is a really, really deeply rooted folk scene in America that I sort of skirt the lines and edges around.

Ellis Paul is an incredible folk musician that I'm friends with and that I've played with. He's a true folk artist, I think.

I think my genre is on the outer limits of folk, more pop-rock, singer-songwriter vibe rather than just folk.

Q - Are you trying to put more contemporary influences in your music? I know you've been compared to Joni Mitchell.

Which is flattering. I'm certainly influenced by Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez and all that. Growing up, that's definitely what I listened to.

I thought "Imagine" was written by Joan Baez because the first version I heard of it was hers. I didn't know it was John Lennon's song for a long time.

I've also been compared to Fiona Apple, and I loved Ani DiFranco growing up, so I certainly try to push toward those more current artists that I love.

Q - Now you were born in Australia. Have you toured over there?

I wouldn't call it touring. I've played a few shows down there.

I haven't gotten gutsy enough to just take a month or two off and do that. But I do play shows when I go over there.

They are very supportive down there. They don't necessarily like a cover band or whatever.

Q - Do you think the fact you were born in a place like Australia is reflected in your music at all?

I've been very lucky my whole life to travel quite a bit, not just in Australia, but in general. I went to Vietnam and Thailand when I was about 17 or 18.

So I've been very, very lucky to have traveled a lot. There is a song on my last record called, "Vietnam."

So whether that makes me necessarily ''worldly,'' I don't know. But it certainly does give me a perspective on things that some people might not have.

Q - You've been singing since you were 6 years old. Did you always think you would be a musician?

Actually, no. I think I fought it for a long time. I didn't want to commit to it, because it was just a little too scary.

I was a theater major in college. I don't have a lot of music theory background. I don't really read music very well, so I'm not a musician in that sense.

I had a lot of fear surrounding me in terms of being a musician, and it's only been in the last four years or so that I committed to doing it.

But being on stage is one of the happiest places I can be.