Homecoming: Making a map of Mariana Bell
As an Australian-born, Charlottesville-raised, New York-trained artist who's moved to Los Angeles, Mariana Bell knows the effect that location can have on her work.
"There's some truth to the idea that one's state of mind is affected by the weather,” she says. “The fact that it's always really gorgeous and nice there affects my writing."
Her forthcoming album, Push, isn't as bouncy as that point might imply, but she has focused her energies into an assertive singer-songwriter album that's polished enough for commercial appeal without feeling too slick. Lyrically, Bell explores a variety of relationships, responding to each struggle with opportunity, as in “Restless” where the chance of being hurt is incentive to take risks, rather than a warning.
If some of the tone comes from the sunny location and her her personal well-being, her work co-producing it played a part, too. She had already wanted to do "something less intellectual for its own sake” than her previous work, and in recording and producing this one, she was thinking, "I don't care if it's just I-V-IV-V straight ahead, let's just do that because it feels good. I just wanted to make music that I liked."
Bell left Charlottesville for LA in January 2010 for personal and professional reasons, explaining, "I liked it, loved the sunshine, and the whole laid-back vibe out there is pretty great. I never wanted to be in any one place for too long if I don't have to." She acknowledges that role that her departure from Charlottesville plays, as in the heavily rhythmic "Virginia Clay."
"There's a lot of history there that I pulled on. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I'd still been in the thick of it."
Reflecting on her Australian birth, Bell adds, "Any kind of collective history – whether overt or otherwise – is going to affect who you are as an artist, even if it's just subconscious." Although her music might be more reminiscent of heavier-sounding Ani DiFranco, she's aware that Australian folk songs, old sea chanties, and Irish tradition play a role in her art, "whether I can explain that or not."
It turns out that ideas about geography and history may matter less than what's going on inside her own head. "Good Enough," for instance, turns a Rolling Stones riff into a calm folk-rock groove.
"As far as my writing goes, it's more deeply entrenched in where I am mentally and spiritually," she says. Maybe that's why her music resonates no matter where you hear it.
Mariana Bell performs at the Southern on Sunday, May 8. Blake Hunter and Genna Matthew open. $8, 7pm.