In 2012 Jennah Bell, a young singer-songwriter with a guitar and a fierce folksy sound, stole the hearts of the leaders of okayplayer.com.
At the time, the popular music website accompanied Bell to Mother New York in Manhattan to film an acoustic performance she gave at the popular advertising agency.
“If I recall correctly, the footage was being taken for a profile OKP was doing on me after the BET awards for their channel,” she said.
Now at age 26, her music has evolved even further. Her latest EP titled Anatomy is proof of that growth. With a range of melancholy and sweet tunes, the five-track project is the equivalent of a warm slice of apple pie.
We caught up with Bell to find out what inspires her music, not allowing herself to be boxed into any genre, and what people could expect from Anatomy.
Tell us briefly—how does your music, the act of writing songs, and listening to your work make you feel?
One of my favorite aspects of creation as a concept, is the process. Every artist has a unique approach. Naturally, to reap the fruits of your labor is an amazing feeling but, to trace the pathology of it is a different kind of magic. It is the kind of magic born from hard work. So to listen to something I have worked hard on gives me a feeling of accomplishment that not only satiates my spirit but, my ‘hands’.
Tell us about your latest EP, Anatomy. How long did it take to complete and how would you describe the sound and direction?
Anatomy took about 4 years to make. It was a while before I had the confidence and sonic vocabulary necessary to get it to reflect how I heard the songs in my head and communicate it to other people. I am a songwriter. To me, that is what I do best. To write a song is one thing. To create a world for those songs and your audience to exist in is another. This project definitely took a village.
The overall sound honors the sensitivity of the story’s being told. Each song knew what it wanted even if I didn’t. Rather than have a theme, I treated each one carefully. My incredible co-producer, Mike Haziza, did a fantastic job at knowing which songs were asking for breadth or density in a given moment.
On your website, you say of Anatomy, “The process of molding these songs into a body of work, marks a pivotal point in my life. Musically and literally, it completes one chapter in my story while, beginning another.” Can you talk about what that means and what you wanted to accomplish with this EP?
Many of these songs are the reflections of someone I was. I am still that person in many ways but, I am at a different vantage point or on the other side of many of the questions I was asking. They are markers of who and where I have been and, who I want to be. Honestly, I set out to make something that I would love years from now. Something that was well crafted and beautiful but, also very honest about who I can be moments of sadness or love.
Your sound has been described as folk. Would you agree? How do you describe your music?
I think there are ‘folky’ aspects of it, yes. I don’t consider my music to be genre specific but, I’m sure there are many people who would disagree. ‘Genre-lizing’ is never really for the artist anyway, right? I just make what I make.
Who are your musical influences?
There are so many! This answer could go on for pages but, I’ll contain myself from geeking out. How about this: I think the combination of Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Alan Menken, Charles Strouse, and The Beatles got me into music when I was younger.
It’s interesting because black women tend to get boxed in, in different ways, whether it be beauty related, style wise, and of course musically. What do you say about the fact that there are still so many people who create such margins and try to keep black women within such confines?
It is born from fear. I think this fear exists in and around all cultures and human experiences whose narratives have not been standardized. You cannot control what you cannot define or confine, and Black women are infinite.
The freedom of the people who think in cages lays in their own hands. I don’t subscribe to it. You can find me in the stars (smile).
Since I’m so obsessed with your song “Candied Daylight” I wonder what you mean when you say:
All jellyfish and legs, all peanut butter prayer-ed
Still wondering which days go where.
unaware of how the day betrays the night…
What I get from the song is you’re reminiscing on childhood innocence and the big dreams we carry when we’re young. Is that right?
I think that’s exactly right. I do my best not to impose too much analysis on a given song. I want it to be about whatever it about for the listener. I am likely to find new meaning in someone else’s interpretation that way.