A Few Minutes with… Belle-Skinner on her New Album, “Love Spell.”

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NEW YORK – Belle-Skinner is all set for Halloween this year. To celebrate the occasion, she’ll be releasing her latest record, Love Spell. Haunting and captivating in both production and arrangement, this author can’t wait to hear it in its entirety. Currently, there are two songs available for download on her Bandcamp page, and fans can pre-order the album through that same site.

It had been a minute since I sat down and had a chat with this artist; we used to run in similar circles when she previously lived Upstate. It was a pleasure to take a bit of time catching up with her and discussing not only her new music but the pandemic that still has a tight hold over our industry. You can read about this, and more, by continuing on to the interview below! Be sure to check out the link at the end of the article to hear the album for yourself!

Lucas Garrett: Hello! I appreciate you taking the time today; it was very last minute. Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us. Why don’t you tell us a bit about the album?

Belle-Skinner: Thanks for reaching out too, I appreciate that! So, this record was kind of an idea I was thinking about for the past year: two of my friends wrote two songs that I really, really loved, and I wanted to record and perform them. Coincidentally, they had very similar themes about love-magic. “Spellbound” was written by Pinc Louds; they’re this band in New York City. Fantastic group. They pretty much saved New York City in the summer during the pandemic because they performed live outside all the time – it was like a party. So that song came out on Bandcamp on Monday. The other song is by my friend, Eron Ackerman. He wrote “Black Magic Baby,” which isn’t out yet. That one’s a really clever tune. So, there were those two songs. And then there was a third song, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered…”

LG: I love that song.

BS: Yeah! There’s a family friend of mine – she’s ninety-six years old. I visited her two years ago and I played some songs for her in her living room. I played jazz songs for her and she said, “Do you know this song? It’s my favorite song,” and I didn’t know it well enough to play it for her. I felt bad about it, and I thought: I have to record it for her!

So I had those three songs – but I’m a singer-songwriter, you know, so I decided that I should write some songs of my own, too. So I wrote this one song, “Magic,” and then another, “Love Witch”. “Love Witch” was the last one that I wrote, but it’s one of the first songs I’m releasing because it’s very Halloween-y. And, that’s how that happened; it was kind of one thing after another. It seemed like a good idea to put it out around this time of year ‘cause of the magic theme.

The song, “Love Witch,” by the way – I had written the chords on ukulele for the song a while ago, but I put it to the side. It sounded like an evil person would be singing this piece. Then, I saw this movie, “The Love Witch.” Have you heard of it?

LG: No, what is it?

BS: It was made in 2016, but it’s made to look like it was made in the 1960s. It’s shot on film. It was written by one woman, Anna Biller. Written, directed, costumed. She did pretty much everything. This movie won a bunch of awards. It’s like a cult favorite. That’s part of the inspiration for “Love Witch.” It’s a very aesthetically impressive movie, in my opinion.

LG: What I’ve heard of the album so far; your voice is beautiful. It’s a perfect type of record for you, in my opinion. It really is. Not only is there a lot of jazz influence, but it has that kind of haunting, lilting sound that I first knew you by when I heard “Operator.” That was many years ago, right?

BS: Yeah, I think it was 2015 or 2016.

LG: With the pandemic, it feels like eighty years ago. How did you record the album? Did you do it at home?

BS: Yeah, this was the first almost completely remote record that I made. I’d already worked on the songs; most of them. I sent them to Eric Margan, who worked on my album, Violets, before. He’s really great at everything. I asked him to help me. Some of the songs were more complete than others, while some just had the guitar and vocal.

LG: Sometimes, that’s all you really need.

BS: Yeah, there are a couple of songs that are more laidback, with like 3 or 4 instruments. “Spellbound” is a little more orchestrated. For the demo of “Love Witch,” I just made a recording on my phone to send to Eric – that was it. I literally finished the words the day I sent it to him. I gave him a bunch of references and he was really good about it. I was like, “I kind of want this vibe, but I could also go this way,” and he said, “I know exactly what to do.” I let him go with it and he did exactly what I wanted without me knowing what I wanted.

LG: I think that’s the greatest way to collaborate with someone; when they have your intuition. It makes the whole process easier.

BS: I know, it was such a relief. When I heard it I was so excited. It was mostly finished when he gave me back the first draft. I’m excited about that song; we had fun with it, you know? Adding little fun elements to it, like foley sounds and stuff.

Love Spell, album cover

LG: When the pandemic hit, everyone was like, “what the heck do we do now?” I certainly found how tenuous things were. I didn’t really know until they went away overnight. How have you dealt with that entire mess of a situation that we’re in? I see you’re doing shows here and there, but it’s not like it used to be.

BS: It’s tough because I see myself as a performer. That’s such a big part of my identity. Not being able to perform as much as I used to – first of all, you get a little bit rusty. I have new songs and I want to share them, and you don’t really get to. Each show feels a little more important because they’re rarer. So, you feel a little less inclined to make risky choices or experiment. I’m trying to be better about that. I get into different phases, anyway – even before the pandemic hit. I’d be in a recording phase, or a writing phase, or a touring phase. I was on a touring phase in March 2020; four days into a touring phase and then I had to lockdown. I was like, “Ok, now I’m going to work on my musician skills.” I’m kind of learning about things that I hadn’t, things that I’d been neglecting as a musician.

I had been putting things out into the world and now it was time to absorb things, instead. I had an album to put out; I put out three records in the past year. Now, I’m just thinking things are opening up a bit more, and I’m playing out more, but it’s not fully back to normal. I’ve written enough stuff that I’m really raring to record a lot. As much as I can. This record is the fastest that I’ve ever made. I reached out to Eric in early August, and we started in mid-August.

LG: That’s really fast!

BS: Yeah, I was like, “I don’t even know if we’re going to get it done in time,” and we made it by the hair, basically. If we didn’t make it by Halloween maybe I’d put it out for Valentine’s Day, but it’s better if it’s on Halloween. We made it work as fast as we could. Jason Brown, who mastered it, was also really good at that.

LG: That guy’s awesome. I work with him all the time.

BS: He’s so great. Totally recommend. I’ve used him for a lot of projects of mine. He works fast, and he’s nice, and most importantly, he does a good job. He has a very good musical sensibility about it. He’s got that certain compassionate element to him, too. It’s really nice.

LG: This new EP is kind of thematic around Halloween. What do you plan to do with the material? I know you can’t really go on tour, but what do you think you’ll do with it?

BS: “Love Witch” is the most Halloween-y song of the bunch, but the rest of the record is not necessarily seasonal; you can play it any time of year. I’ve been playing the song “Magic” since January or February when I wrote it. I played “Spellbound” a few weeks ago at a show, and I recorded a video of it on Instagram ages ago. I hope to play “Black Magic Baby” at my next show – it’s the hardest guitar part that I’ve ever had to learn by ear, so I’ve been practicing extra hard on it! So, yeah, I just play them live whenever I like.

Belle Skinner background

LG: Not that there’s anything good about this pandemic, but I think with people I know and work with, it’s increased our musicality through the roof. We didn’t really have anything else to do, you know?

BS: Yes! Is that true for you?

LG: Yeah. For me, when the pandemic hit I said, “what do I do now? I know, I’ll learn an entirely different genre.” So, I learned to play some Motown and jazz. It kicked my ass in the beginning. When I hear you play – a lot of what you play – I’m like, “Wow.” I don’t really hear a lot of the inversions and the style that you play with, and I really enjoy that. That’s why when I heard “Bewitched” is going to be on there, I was like “Oh, man. I bet she does a terrific job with that.”

BS: I put my own little spin on it, let’s just say. I don’t think there’s a version of it like the way that I play.

LG: That’s a good thing!

BS: Yeah! That’s the whole point of the jazz standard. It’s taking something and making it your own. Everybody has their own take: they make up lyrics, they take out lyrics, they change the gender of the person singing it. I even put my own spin on my friends’ songs in this “Love Spell” record – some of the lyrics are different, and even some of the melodic parts and chords I changed. I think that’s what makes covering other people’s work interesting.

LG: As we end the interview, is there anything else we didn’t discuss that you want to talk about?

BS: You can pre-order the EP on Bandcamp and it’ll be out on Halloween. It’ll be available on all platforms for streaming. Put it on your Halloween playlist!

LG: I’ll definitely be listening to it. Well, thank you again, and I’m really glad to see that you’re still making and releasing and doing all that stuff. Have a great day!

BS: Thanks, I appreciate it! You, too!

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Relevant link:

https://belle-skinner.bandcamp.com/album/love-spell

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