Violet Bell – Dream the Wheel
By: Jamie Steinberg
Q) How would you describe your sound?
A) It’s alive. It’s emotional. It’s influenced by classical, African and folk traditions. Omar says, “Maybe…Americana gypsy-folk-soul with a touch of psychedelia.”
Q) Who are some of your musical influences?
A) Omar comes from an orchestral background so classical composers like Beethoven and Debussy loom large in his consciousness. And I love them, too. We both love Nina Simone, JJ Cale, Neil Young, Fela Kuti, Gillian Welch, Lou Reed, Bela Fleck, D’Angelo and Prince! Our musical tastes are diverse and we’re always listening for new music. Recently, Emily Elbert’s “True Power” lit us up.
Q) What is your song writing process? Do you need music before you can create lyrics?
A) No! One of the things we love about writing songs is that it doesn’t follow so many of the rules that govern the rest of our lives. It’s always different. It starts with making space – making space to notice and listen to what’s already going on in your head. If we stop to listen to our mental stream, both Omar and I usually have a melody playing in our heads at any given time. From there, I tumble the idea around in my head and let the shape of the melody emerge as words. Those words may or may not make sense.
Next, I look for the emotional connection -what do I feel, what am I trying to say? I try different words with the melody – there is no substitute for singing it out loud. You gotta feel it and hear it to know if it works. We get our instruments in our hands, give the idea some musical context and develop parts. Honestly, I’m just as likely to come up with a song when I’m weeding the garden or walking in the woods as when I’m playing the guitar.
Q) How much of a hand do you have in the production of your music?
A) We have all the hands in it! [laughs] Omar and I wrote and performed every part on our album Dream the Wheel. We started with a live core for each song – gotta get that live performance to make it feel real. It’s the special sauce. From there, we added orchestral arrangements that Omar had written – he plays the violin, viola, guitar, cello and keys. I got to write and add vocal harmonies, which is one of my favorite things to do. My dream job would be to be one of Glady’s Knight’s Pips.
Q) What can fans expect from a live Violet Bell performance?
A) We love to play. We’re very passionate so much so that when I watch video of us performing live I can’t help but crack up at the faces we make! When we play, we are elsewhere. We are transported to a state of feeling completely alive, completely lit up, completely engaged. We love to see that reflected in our audiences. There is a palpable feeling of joy and excitement in the room. As a duo, there’s not much room for mucking up the songs. We feel sonically naked on stage (in a good way). Opening up and sharing our music, being willing to throw it all out there – it’s a safe way to feel danger. It’s like skydiving, with no risk of SPLAT.
Lately, we’ve been inviting guests on stage and have really loved the way the sound grows and changes with another voice in the mix, whether percussion, kora, bass, or a string section. We’ve had some of Omar’s Kidznotes students join us on stage and love to collaborate with friends and community members. We like to keep it fresh, alive, and real.
Q) What songs off your Dream the Wheel EP are you looking forward to performing live?
A) All of them! It’s funny; we have three hours of original live repertoire, but only a 4-song EP of current recordings. We chose the tunes we felt best prepared to record and which showed the diversity of our sound. We’ve already got plans in the works to record our next two studio pieces. Each time we record, we come away with a huge amount of learning and inspiration for the next work.
I will say I love playing “Dear One” because folks often sing along. Especially at the end, it makes me tear up to hear everyone sing. People in our culture are so afraid to sing, it’s whack! We aim to change that!
Q) What do you hope listeners take away from listening to your new EP as a whole?
A) We hope our listeners get the message of Dream the Wheel. We dream the wheel, the wheel dreams us. Whether or not you see it, you are part of a community. You are part of so many cycles and circles and you have the power to create the change you’d like to see in the world.
Our modern world is noisy and full of pain and yet we can’t afford to block ourselves off from it. We have to be engaged if we want to see it heal. We hope Dream the Wheel feeds our listeners on a deep level. Music has the power to connect us with our emotions and unspoken dreams. We hope our music helps listeners feel their feelings and face their dreams a little more.
Q) Where are some of your favorite places to perform and what makes those locations so significant to you?
A) Playing in our home turf – Saxapahaw, the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, Hillsborough – is so rewarding. It’s like a reunion of friends getting together to feel good and make music! It’s so sweet to see the audience grow every time we play. Also, we get braver and realer as time goes on. We are more willing to share our true experience with our friends and co-creators in the audience and that makes our collective experience deeper and more powerful. We come away feeling like we’ve fed from a deep source. Forgive me for being a cheeseball. [smile]
Q) Who would you most like to collaborate with on a song in the future?
A) We want to play with real people of all colors from all walks of life. We want to play with youth and youth orchestras. We love Fela Kuti and Jojo Abot and are hugely inspired by the wide world of African music. Everywhere we go, we look to connect with musical and creative communities. We return to places again and again on tour and treasure our friends who are creating in each of those places. It’s as if we’re always in the midst of a big dance, circling back to our different partners.
Q) What album/band are you currently listening to and why do you dig them?
A) We have been listening to Prince’s catalog for the last few months. We love him because he’s so strange. He’s bringing in the masculine and feminine energies, working with people of all colors and generally spreading a message of love. We also LOVE D’Angelo. It’s just good music for anything. We dig the Punch Brothers, Hanneke Cassel, Julian Lage, Toumani Diabate, Jojo Abot! Shook Twins ain’t too shabby, either…
Q) You are a part of social media. Why is that such an important way for you to connect with your fans?
A) Never before have we been able to directly connect with our friends and listeners and never before have they been able to reach us so directly! For the first time, we’re really in charge of the message. There’s nobody else pulling strings or putting words in our mouth. That has juicy implications for music’s power to impact social change.
Also, we really rely on our fans and friends to give us great leads for gigs, new music to check out, possible collaborations and the like. Great information can come from anywhere and we are grateful to our fans who take the time to drop us a line and clue us into opportunities. If you have something to tell us, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, find us on Facebook at Violet Bell and Instagram and Twitter @violetbellmusic.
Q) What would you like to say to everyone who is a fan and supporter of you and your work?
A) THANK YOU!! You are the reason we do this! You are beautiful! Everywhere we go, people are different and the same. People want the same things. We are privileged to be in a line of work where we get to see the beauty in people come out. We get regular reminders of the big love that people are capable of. We believe that a group of people getting together to make music, feel good and be alive can coalesce in powerful ways for positive change.
We just want to keep making music, keep seeing you dance and keep spreading this love vibration. Thank you for everything you do to make that possible.