bel on music, style, and the dark comfort of death
"If everyone likes what I'm doing then I'm not doing it right."
Since the 1970s, musicians have paired a lead single with a video. It's such an accepted part of music that it honestly feels strange to even point it out. But this month Melbourne based singer songwriter BEL decided to break with tradition for her new track Own Home. Rather than produce a clip, the the 20-year-old decided to draw on her love of fashion and photography to create a series of images for the release. The series, called Collisions, was a collaboration with stylist Jerome Tamashi and photographer Sebastian Petrovski. BEL shared the final images with i-D so we called her up to talk about breaking with tradition and the benefits of doing whatever you want.
You've previously made videos, your recent one for Melancholia got a lot of attention, so why did you choose to do an editorial photoshoot instead for this track?
I think it's something different. Although I love making music videos, this allows me to make fashion a larger focus which for me is absolutely something that I want to make a huge part of my career. I want to work in fashion, as well as music. With a photoshoot I can still capture the same emotion as a video it's just that the image remains still. The idea of making it a story, especially for this song it was fitting.
Tell us about the shoot.
Collisions is a way to represent what the song means - the colliding of emotion, feeling and reactions. But it's also about showing the world what's important to me on a visual level. Jerome Tamashi and I styled it together, most of it being with my own pieces besides the amazing Prada Mens spring/summer 17 which was straight off the runway, and Sebastian Petrovski did us justice by shooting it.
How do you choose who to collaborate with?
My mindset is, I don't give a fuck if you have the fanciest music studio or a cramped garage, I'm looking at the person behind it. I'm a huge introvert, and I don't like the idea of having to compete with the industry's extraverts. For me it's about the grind, the hustle, the work, and people who understand this, who are humble, modest, let their work shine and are authentic, they are the people I am drawn to work with.
You're lucky to have the freedom to choose, not a lot of young artists have that luxury.
A lot of industry folk tell me I'm too honest, you wear your heart too much on your sleeve, your fashion isn't relatable. I don't care, art is subjective and if everyone likes what I'm doing then I'm not doing it right.
When you're writing a song, or upon completing one, are you already thinking visually?
Essentially when I write a song I'll write it in a couple of different ways. Before I started singing, I was writing poetry with my mum. She is an incredible poet and unbelievably creative, and my way with words stems from her. When I was young we would sit and put a timer on for a minute and we would write poetry. That's usually how I start now with my lyrical concepts, if not then it's with a melody. Song writing out of everything is my strength though. Once everything has been brought together and I'm happy and I feel the song is in a place that makes sense audibly that's when I start thinking visuals. It's secondary, and in this case that's how Collision's was created.
Tell us about writing Own Home.
It was one of the most organic processes of writing I have ever had. I wrote it in 20 minutes, recorded it in one day using the very first vocal we lay down, unedited and raw. It can be interpreted in a lot of ways, suicide has been a common one, but for me it was about talking about death in a way that wasn't dark but comforting. It's easy to see why some people may make those links to suicide but whilst writing it I wasn't thinking about that. I just wanted to create an audible mood around the tranquility of leaving this earth, and that it's not something to fear. It's about letting go and embracing things for what they are; loss, death, mental health. Mental health being something hugely important to me, and it's still taboo to talk about, so this song is supposed to make people feel safe and comfortable about the fact the things they may be thinking aren't just dark, that there is light and we can find it.
Your debut EP is almost here, are you beginning to think about your next release?
The next one will build on it in a different way: adding more layers, I'll be growing older and telling different stories. I'm always writing and my music reflects where I am in at that moment. Moving forward I will be in different moments having different feelings. It will always remain authentic to me at that time. This is why visual elements are so important, it's another part of who I am. Styling, art direction, it's what I love and it adds another layer to what I do.
Text Jamie-Maree Shipton
Photography Sebastian Petrovski
Art direction Jerome Tamashi and Bel Rich