Long Island singer-songwriter Karen Bella has been perfecting her craft seemingly forever. She began talking piano lessons at age nine, and by time she reached her mid-twenties, she was fluent in drums and guitar, as well. After living in Israel for two years, Karen returned to the States with a fresh perspective inspired by her collective experiences. She released her first album, Ordinary Girl, in 2013, and is now getting ready to release a follow up EP this fall.
Recently, AQ had the opportunity to check in with Karen and chat with her about her artistic journey.
Hey Karen. Thanks for taking the time to chat with AQ. Can you share with our readers a little bit about where you’re from?
Currently, I reside in Merrick, NY. It’s a cute little town. But, I was born in Queens, NY. Most of my life, I’ve lived on Long Island. I actually lived in Israel for 2 years. It was one of the most inspiring experiences that helped build my character and become a stronger person. The Tel-Aviv music scene was so supportive and fertile. I improved my Hebrew as well as understood how different that part of the world is in comparison to America. It taught me that I am strong enough to live in a different country with a different lifestyle, mentality, and language. Plus the food is amazing and the Mediterranean sea is exquisite.
Indeed! So, how long have you been an active musician and how did you get started?
Singing was something that I’ve always done. Ever since I was in diapers, I sang every day. It was just as important as eating and drinking. Professional training began when I was 9-years-old. My parents supported me by getting me involved in extracurricular activities; both in and out of school. Piano lessons began at 9, too. Drums in elementary school at 12 and guitar in college at 24 years of age. I have been musically active for 26 years. The last two years have been life changing for my career. The places I have performed and people I have met thus far are teaching me so much as to how to approach my career—not just as a creative artists, but as a self-managing musician.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you before?
It’s always tricky to explain to someone using words as to what you sound like (laughs). If I had to describe it to someone it would be something like… “folky meets indie alt-rock and pop with a tinge of RnB. I believe that would be more the Americana route. Some songs have a dreamy aspect to it mixed in. I’ve always listened to a variety of genres and tried to incorporate them into my songwriting and performance. I do my best to really showcase my voice more as an instrument, if anything. My ultimate goal is to be musically playful with genuine integrity. I love playing with people’s ears—that includes chord changes, key changes, unique subtle things via production—but that of course has a lot to do with the producers and musicians working with me, too. Lyrically it is important for me to stay poetic and smart with phrasing. Some songs are hooky and some of it—if broken down—are rootsy, as in traditional.
What was your latest release of music and can you talk about that a bit?
In 2013, I released my first album on all internet platforms. Though it’s simple in nature, I released it more for myself to get my feet wet. The album is called Ordinary Girl. Most recently, in spring 2019, my Americana singer-songwriter friend, Johnny Nale, had me featured on his single, “Hey! I’m a Lady.” This song also includes musicians such as drummer Steve Ferrone (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), Tony Franklin (bass) and guitarist Peter Stroud (Sheryl Crow). The message of this song is about respecting women and not talking down to them. I was happy to have been asked to sing on this song, because it’s a message we all need to hear regardless of gender. The next project to be released will be my upcoming EP which is currently in mixing stages. This is the project I am most excited about because I have had the honor of working with incredible people whose talents are superb. My songs are my babies and I have been really blessed to have met my producer, Josh Dion, who is the drummer, synth bass player, and vocalist from Paris Monster. He just got the songs and simply knew how to cater to them while bringing out their best features. The musicians that played and worked on the record were guitarist Teddy Kumpel (Joe Jackson), Ryan Scott, Chris Parker, Geoff Kraly (bassist of Paris Monster) and Grammy-nominated engineer, Jake Lummus—and they are all remarkable.So much hard work and time was put into this project.
What is your writing and recording process like?
It’s really amazing how artists write songs as well as record them. It’s really so very different for each person. In my experience, I have a few ways that I write. There have been times where I was falling asleep at night or in the middle of a dream. Then a melody would come to mind effortlessly. I would have to force myself to wake up just long enough to grab my recording device and lay the idea down by singing or whistling. Then I would approach it at a later time. Sometimes when I am awake the melody is sent to me—like I am a fax machine! Then I take the idea work with it, almost like co-write with whomever sent me the idea. I believe music comes from another realm, as strange as it may sound. Artists are just conduits to get it out there. When it comes down to lyrics, I really love playing with words, phrasing, breaking the rules with grammar, and emphasizing the syllables differently. I use these ideas subtly in my lyrics. Usually I write about what I am experiencing, inspired by the overwhelming emotions building up inside of me. Occasionally, I am inspired to write about things that I have never experienced, and that’s equally as rewarding. With recording, I usually lay down the guitar first, and build around it. But in recent recording sessions for my EP, my producer and I played together live at the same time. Then we worked around all that for the rest of the production.
Nice! So, who are some of your influences as a musician?
Growing up I listened to so many different styles due to society, parents, and school. At home, my father listened to Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Tom Jones, Willie Nelson, The Beatles, Billy Joel, Elton John, Queen, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, and so on. My mother introduced me to Barbra Streisand—which changed my life. I realized as a little girl that that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I also listened to Boys II Men, Madonna, Jewel, Alanis Morissette, Dave Matthews Band, Joni Mitchell, Nine Inch Nails, Celine Dion, Whitney Huston, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty, Nirvana, Ella Fitzgerald, Dream Theater, John Mayer, and more. The list is endless, but I think that’s why my music has that folk/pop/rock/R&B thing going on. You learn from it all.
Do you have a favorite memory as a musician?
My favorite memory thus far as a musician has been recording at Grand Street Studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for my EP. There are so many cool and mind-blowing memories that I have there. We had a handful of full-day sessions which lead to laughs during lunch. Some of the stories the musicians told about their travels on tour or with particular famous artists made us laugh our butts off. But I think the most incredible moment I had was the second full-day session. We recorded my song “Fly.” I remember I was in front of the mic listening to the intro of the song right before the first verse. It was as though all time stopped for a moment and this realization hit me so hard as to what was happening. Up until this moment, I had worked so hard to get everything that was happening in my career.
A few years prior, I had lost my voice for about a year, my father shortly after, and my day job. I was completely decimated. However, I didn’t let that stop me. So, I went to voice therapy, and promised myself and my father’s memory that I will do everything possible to achieve my goals. Flash forward a few years later… not only am I a full-time musician, but now I was in an amazing studio with Grammy nominated, successful and respected musicians who believed in me and wanted to work with me. That moment before I sang, I wanted to pinch myself because a goal was coming into fruition even though I was in disbelief. After we finished the vocals for “Fly,” I went into the control room and told Josh, my producer, how I had to pinch myself! I’ll always remember that moment.
What are your goals for the future as a musician?
The ultimate goal is to be a successful touring singer-songwriter worldwide. I’m working real hard to understand the business side of this industry and to surround myself with the right people to achieve that. Getting signed with a great manager and label is another major goal of mine. It’s important to work with those who really believe in you and like what you do.
What are your plans for the rest of 2019?
For the rest of 2019, I plan to continue playing shows throughout New York and the tri-state area. Recently, I performed in Philadelphia at a music festival there, and I have The Great South Bay Music Festival in July and STATTfest 2019 in September in Farmingdale, NY. My EP will be finished and released by late summer/early fall. Every day is another day to accomplish something and get opportunities you’ve never had before.
Well, good luck with all of that, Karen! It all sounds very exciting. In the meantime, where can readers find your music?
You can find my first album, Ordinary Girl, on my webpage as well as iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and more. My upcoming EP will also be available on all these platforms.
To get the latest updates on Karen Bella, please visit karenbella.com, and check her out on Instagram and Facebook (@karenbellamusic), and on Twitter (@karen_bella)