Brooklyn-via-Alaska-via-Moscow chanteuse Olga Bell leads BELL, a flickering electro-flutter crew living somewhere between Björk’s disjunctive spirals, Gang Gang Dance’s placeless grooves and Fever Ray’s slow-mo spelunking. After releasing a handful of EPs and sporadic internet singles, BELL has released its first full-length, Diamonite. The 10 songs, recorded in their Williamsburg practice space, bubble and fidget in moody swirls, and we were clearly drawn to the third track, “Chase No Face,” a track inspired by the severely disfigured cat whose brave tale of surviving a car accident and living as a bug-eyed, fanged, faceless hero took the Internet by storm. The song explores his triumph by celebrating each day as his birthday; musically, it’s represented by a skeletal, gleeful, maddeningly sputtering beat.
What is “Chase No Face” about?
A lot of my favorite songs, like Seinfeld, are vaguely about something but actually about nothing. “Chase No Face” is sort of about this disfigured cat, sort of about bravery vs. adversity. Really it’s just what came out when I started singing over the beat Gunnar sent me one day.
What inspired it lyrically?
I read a post about Chase on my friend Anna’s blog. She linked to Chase’s blog with the words “follow… if you dare.” It’s pretty amazing that that animal is still alive and, apparently, behaving like a normal cat. I suppose the vet nurse who adopted him has a pretty inspiring story but honestly, I just enjoy singing about roaring, and the words “no face.”
What inspired it musically?
So much of the music on our record has these huge maximalist arrangements, layers and layers of stuff, lots of tracks. “Chase” is one of the newest songs; it’s our palate-cleanser. I recorded all the vocals in about 40 minutes, just holding an SM58 and singing over the beat. It came together really easily, origami-like—just a few colors, no cutting, no kneading, no hardship. You can even hear my phone go off in the middle of the song, but I wanted to keep those first takes.
How did you make that skittery beat?
The beat came first, Gunnar [Olsen] made it. He writes:
I had about eight bars of a really simple beat. I started to take groups of 3, 4, and 6 and re organize the rhythms. After some fine-tuning it became a completely new 8 bar groove, with a little narrative all its own: 1,1a, 1, 2… at least as a drummer that’s how I hear it. I put a vibraphone track over it, just a very simple three-note melody that harmonizes every fourth time. I kept trying to add more instruments but nothing sounded right—the two parts just worked and were catching without any extra material. I sent it to Olga to see if she could hear some other ideas. To my surprise, she didn’t add any other instruments and just wrote a great little story with some wordless hooks to go along with the beat.
Do you have a cat yourself?
Yes! His name is King. He’s really into belly-rubs and mackerel—as should we all be.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in New York?
The Gummy awards show a few years ago with Violens and Deerhunter was definitely one of the biggest and best-sounding gigs we’ve had. We all had to re-attach our jaws after we played with Fennesz at Littlefield.
What’s your favorite place to eat in Brooklyn?
Too hard! Top three: The Good Fork, Bozu, Diner.
BELL plays Glasslands on August 11 with Memory Tapes and Sleep Over.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 12, 2011