Marmoset presents miniature music concerts — a new series where we invite talented, touring and local artists into our space to capture a stripped down performance of their music.
Bells Atlas’ sound is a combo of mystic charm and soulful, experimental pop. They get you moving through creating a space that feels wandering, inquisitively open and exploratory.
As big fans of their music, when the touring stars aligned, we leaped at the opportunity to host Bells Atlas at Marmoset headquarters; hanging out in the space, they have a natural ease about them. In their stripped down performance they completely make the space their own, singer Sandra Lawson-Ndu’ vocals rule over everything else.
Check out Part One of their mini concert above, then dig into our conversation with the band below:
Marmoset: If you had to pitch Bells Atlas' sound in a sentence, what would it be?
Derek: The rhythm of orange creamsicle earthquakes and melody of melted lava astrological comet-chords.
M: If you could attend any musical event in history, what would it be?
Doug: Miles Davis at the Cellar Door in 1970.
M: Who are some filmmakers, artists and other musicians you look to for inspiration? Do you guys ever pay homage to anyone with your work?
Sandra: Speaking on this album (The Mystic), I was very much inspired by authors and other creatives that use sci-fi fantasy or even surrealism to observe our own realities.
For me, the best ones somehow have the potential to spark inspiration for how to interact with each other and create a sense of openness to what is possible, drifting further from an idea of acceptable norms. Ursula Le Guin, Phillip Pullman, and Sharon Shinn are authors that inspired me early on. More recently I’ve been inspired by amazing shows like Atlanta and Random Acts of Flyness, or authors like Octavia Butler and Akwaeke Emezi who present surreal and fantastical work in which black and brown folks are often central characters.
M: What would you say is "the heart" of your new album, The Mystic?
Sandra: The main heart of the album is really the fact that we get this opportunity to write together as a band and this music is a reflection of how we've grown in that process and also how much we love it.
Thematically this is very much inspired by a connection to someone in my life who sparked my love for storytelling and my interest in both the mystical and the fantastical. In my eyes they have alway embraced and embodied intangible realities. When they began to struggle with their mental health they still held that magic as a truth-seer and a storyteller. This narrative exists in some of the songs in the album but it’s really the questions that resulted that are the basis of many of the stories here : what expressions needed a diagnosis? what caused pain versus what was the result of a different way of interpreting life and offering new paths of seeing? what was clinical vs mystical? How do we make space for each other's beliefs and varied lenses of experience.
M: There's something refreshingly experimental and kind of psychedelic with your music + visual work — how does the band try out new ideas? What does a creative session look like when writing new music or making a music video?
Geneva: Trying out new ideas is perhaps one of the binding qualities between all of us. I think this creative collaboration is, in some part for all of us, an arena to do that.
Something with The Mystic in particular, for example, was approaching a new writing technique which involved creating more from a studio production approach. It was less about being behind our instruments and satisfying the performative aspect, and more about crafting songs and thinking about the listening perspective; compounding elements and sections of each song one at a time. It kept things fresh and offered a new perspective on creating together, which is something we've never really been adverse to.
When it comes to visual elements for the band, there are usually a series of ideas thrown around, or perhaps just one, and then we dig deep into that world. So the fuzzy masks in “Be Brave” started with a photo shoot we did years ago. We honestly wanted to try getting away from having to photograph our faces together 'cause we all felt like we photograph and facially express so differently that maybe nullifying our faces would help execute something simply and quickly.
Kinda funny thinking about it in retrospect. But the cool thing was, we were able to insert something psychedelic and fantastical instead and sort of recreate our identities. Or perhaps give some deeper meaning to our identities. Anywho, the director took that that fantastical idea and ran with it, which we supported fully along the way.
M: We loved having you here at Marmoset, your music is so immersive — whether listening to it with your headphones on or witnessing it performed in person. How do you guys get in the right mindset before a show or wind down afterward?
Geneva: This varies depending on who you talk to. I think there's inevitably some kind of socializing happening, but as the set time approaches, some of us zone out in the green room and do vocal warm-ups or stretch.
Some people get some fresh air or take a walk before or after the set before greeting people. There's almost always food involved somewhere in there between soundcheck and showtime. It definitely helps to get grounded and clear the mind in some way! Our music is fairly involved and requires some kind of "zen" state for each of us in some way, whether that means channeling focus or just letting yourself open up your intuition and feel your way through all the nooks and crannies the music takes you to .