Rising singer-songwriter Karen Bella, released her much-anticipated, self-titled EP on March 13, 2021. Karen Bella follows her debut album Ordinary Girl in 2013. Bella was able to perform the songs live at the Rockwood Music Hall in NYC on March 13, 2020, the night before the world stopped due to Covid-19. Following the performance, she suffered a few setbacks among them a broken wrist resulting in surgery and physical therapy, and then she came down with COVID-19. All of this resulted in delaying the release . . . until now.
“The world needs music more than ever now. That’s what I’ve learned from all the world’s struggles – including my own – of 2020,” said Bella.
The press release announcing the project defines the EP as a heartfelt record that she describes as “transcending genres and symbolic relationships, inviting listeners to take a journey through triumph and tribulations, wonderment and weariness and, most of all, love and hatred.” To achieve this, Bella enlisted multi-instrumentalist Josh Dion of Paris Monster to produce and help create an album that she says “captures her experiences and spirit,” and one that is already being called her strongest to date.
You’re releasing a self-titled EP. What can fans expect?
Fans and listeners can expect genre variety that still maintains a thematic sonic similarity to one another. There is something for everyone. Every song is a mix of folky alt-rock/pop with a tinge of R&B. But, some songs have more folk than rock, and some have more edge than sweet. This record is much more produced and well-rounded in comparison to my first record—which was not really produced but more acoustically lucid and raw.
Do you have a favorite song on the album? Maybe a favorite lyric?
It’s hard choosing a favorite song because I love them all equally, and each represents my emotional state of experiences. I’ll say that the song that I am most excited about is “Jack Honey” because it’s such a fun song to hear. It’s got that Nashville, bad-ass, alt-rock vibe that sets the evening to have fun at your favorite hang-out spot.
Regarding my favorite lyric? I will say it’s from “Needle In The Hay”: “I’ll never be Adonis / I just wanted to be a Goddess anyway.” It means I always wanted to be perfectly beautiful, but I know I’ll never live up to that Adonis image of perfection, at least in my mind.
Everyone’s idea of what perfection is varies from person to person. In school, I was tormented about my looks and, as a little girl, I always prayed to God to make me pretty with long hair so that my schoolmates would stop making fun of my appearance. Being traumatized from childhood by getting ridiculed can have a massive effect on your self-confidence as an adult. Currently, I’ve worked hard to improve my self-image, self-love, and self-acceptance.
Tell us what the songwriting process looked like?
Songwriting, for me, is a form of self-expression that comes from my inner soul’s voice. I feel more like a songwriting conduit. Think of a fax machine. A melodic message or lyric idea is sent to me in my head, and I immediately get it down to “print” or develop it. It almost feels like a co-writing experience in a way. That’s how I wrote my song “Indio.” The first line of the song just came into my head. I had no clue what or where Indio was located. I looked it up and knew this was a song that I needed to write. And it unraveled itself naturally. That’s how my songwriting process usually is—regardless if it’s from personal experience or imagination.
You worked with Josh Dion of Paris Monster to help produce and create the EP. What did he bring to the table?
Josh brought these songs to another level. He just got it. Working with him was also an incredible, educational, and inspiring experience. His professionalism, knowledge, feel, and understanding of music is exquisite. He put a lot of thought and effort to help recommend ideal musicians, studios, engineers, etc. for this project. The creative work was organic and smooth because he listens and cares about the beauty of the songs and relates to the artist’s creativity since he is a fantastic artist himself.
There was quite a production team involved with the new EP. What was it like creating music during quarantine?
Yes. I’m lucky that so many talented and wonderful people worked on this record so fittingly well. This EP wasn’t recorded during the pandemic, actually. We began recording in the summer of 2018 and finished the entire project in January 2020, with the date of release set for March 2020—months in advance.
Then the world shut down. Everything was canceled, and I couldn’t do anything with this project. So, I decided to delay the record release and figure out how to adapt to this new reality. In fact, it’s actually best that there was a delay because I had so many hardships in 2020, which forced me to focus away from music for a bit.
You had sort of a rough 2020, as did most people, suffering a broken wrist and then contracting COVID. How did that affect your songwriting and creativity?
You’re right. We all had a rough 2020. On top of losing music work and a deferred EP release (which brought about a deep depression), I was dealing with financial struggles, the outside world stresses in the news, the end of a relationship, breaking my wrist (as you mentioned), then the death of my beloved dog (she was my heart and rock), and, shortly after that, I caught COVID. To be honest, I didn’t write so much last year because I think my body was in such shock, experiencing one traumatic event after another, that I kind of shut down.
2020 was focused on surviving, adapting, healing, and resting so that I could emerge stronger and with the ability to prepare myself for the next step in my career. Essentially, I had to break down completely in order to put myself back together again and move forward on my goal-oriented path. Every day I say to myself: “Keep your eyes on the prize.”
What inspired you to pick up the guitar and play?
A few things inspired me to learn how to play guitar. I wanted to be able to sit with a group of friends and play fun songs in a circle and have a great time. But you can’t do that if you don’t know how to play. In college, I really admired one of my professors, who is an incredibly talented musician, so I began taking lessons with him. It’s so funny thinking about this now because I had no clue then that I would be writing songs on anything other than a piano. Playing guitar changed my world and opened up that door to me finding my current sound.
Speaking of guitars, I see you added a new Martin to your arsenal. Tell us about your Martin.
Oh yes! I have a new guitar baby in the family! I purchased a Martin Road Series GPC-11E, which has such a polished look and bright sound. She fits really well on me and is smooth to play. I named her “Lady Sadie.” All my guitars have names. She is currently in the shop because I wanted to switch out the pickup to a Fishman® Acoustic PowerTap™ Earth pickup to get the ideal sound when I created percussive sounds using my looper at live shows. I can’t wait to hear what she sounds like! I should be getting her back in a few weeks.
When choosing an instrument, what do you look for in terms of tone?
When looking for an instrument such as a guitar, bass, or ukulele, my focus turns to the quality of sound I like—which is a warm earthy tone. Everything from the shape to the wood to the types of strings used is important. Regarding keyboards, because I play a little piano, I like full-sized 88 key electric pianos that have the most natural sound; as close to a real piano as you can get (because you can’t drag a grand piano to a gig that easily, haha!).
In the press release announcing the new EP, you said, “The world needs music more than ever now.” Truth! What does music mean to you?
Glad you agree! Music is the answer, coping mechanism, medicine, and sonic evolutional understanding when nothing else makes sense.
With the cancellation of live shows because of COVID-19, what have you been doing to stay connected with your fans?
Musicians have had it hard during this pandemic! Initially, when everything locked down, I took that time to unwind and take a break from music for a week or so to just digest what was going on. Adaptation is key to anything in life. Change is something we will always have to rely on. For the first few months of the lockdown here in New York, I began streaming on social media as well as doing Zoom performances along with other female singer-songwriters in the local scene—which landed us on the cover of the 2nd section and an article in Long Island Newsday discussing our persistence to keep the music scene shining during dark times. The lockdown also allowed me some time to create demos, which I hope to fully begin recording sometime in the next year or so.
As the weather improved and COVID cases dropped, I did begin performing a lot (taking all safety measures) at outside, social-distanced events. Social media and online platforms are an ideal way to continue interaction with fans, musicians, and more.
Needle In The Hay