Melissa Bel is an incredibly talented singer/songwriter originally from Toronto who know finds herself on the other side of the ocean, still making music. I asked Melissa about how and when music started for her, what she misses most about Toronto and much more.
MFL: I dance/teach dance where I live in Montana. I have to know who that phenomenal dancer is in your music video for “Stay Gone.”
Melissa Bel (MB): The dancer is Michaela Reichenbach from Toronto. Isn’t she amazing?!?!
MFL: Now we can talk about your music! You are clearly a performer. There is something so honest and passionate about your voice, and you sing with your whole heart. Where did this truly natural love for music come from?
MB: Music has resonated with me since I was a toddler, and my Mom says I started singing before I could talk, so I kind of think it has been there from the start. I was definitely a performer from an early age…I remember being in daycare and trying to make everyone listen to me sing. I was lucky that my parents really nurtured my passion for music as well. They actually encouraged me not to go to university so I could pursue singing and songwriting.
MFL: Three albums in six years; that’s quite remarkable! How have you been able to sustain that rate of writing, recording and releasing?
MB: Just pure stubbornness I think. And wanting it so badly. There was a 3 and a half year gap between releasing Don’t Forget to Breathe and In the Light because in that time I left the record label I was with and was super confused about the type of music I wanted to make. I was actually so disheartened about my career that I remember thinking I’d never make another album again. Then fate did its thing and I met Justin Gray, who produced In the Light, and over the course of about a year and 2 trips to LA, we wrote and recorded this new album. I was also very fortunate to have funding from a Canadian organization, FACTOR, which helped make the record possible.
MFL: It sounds like your life took an incredible turn after you met the love of your life and moved across the ocean! What are some of the biggest changes you’ve had to get use to as a person and as a musician with the move?
MB: It certainly was an incredible and unexpected turn! The biggest change personally has to be living so far away from my family and friends. I also went from living a very fast-paced, jam-packed-schedule lifestyle to knowing very few people and having no real obligations. It was this strange and wonderful feeling, and it took a few months to stop feeling like I was on vacation! I basically had a clean slate which was exciting, but scary because I went from having steady gigs and lots of contacts in Toronto to starting over as someone totally unknown. It felt a bit like I was 18 again and just starting out; going out to any open mic I could find, shamelessly emailing venues to try and get gigs, busking…but this time I had the advantage of already having been in the business for the last 8 years so I was able to make some traction fairly quickly.
MFL: What do you miss most about living in Toronto?
MB: I miss being a streetcar ride away from my best friend. And the city itself. Toronto has everything you could want basically within walking distance, so sometimes I miss the convenience of it and that big city feel. But I do love the more relaxed pace in Devon, just took some getting used to!
MFL: I love that video of you playing live at Momentum Studios. Who else was in that video playing and singing along with you and how did that video come about?
MB: I’d wanted to do an official music video for “Big Boys Don’t Cry” when it came out as a single in the fall, but I didn’t have the financial resources to pull it together. One afternoon during a paddle boarding/brainstorming session with my friend and bandmate Paddy Blight, we had the idea to do this live a cappella version of the song. Can’t believe how lucky I’ve been to meet these amazing musicians who literally came together in a few hours one day to learn, arrange and record this video! We recorded with Josiah Manning at Momentum Studios in Plymouth and had Jeff Walker on bass, Paddy, Elani Evangelou, Alex Hart, and Charlotte Robinson on backing vocals, and the video was filmed and edited by Jake Galvin.
MFL: Do you play live often and what are your favorite kinds of venues?
MB: I’ve been playing about 6-8 live shows a month (fewer right now since it’s January). My favourite kinds of venues are those where people are really there to listen to music and I get to play mostly my own songs. I play my fair share of pubs and restaurants which are all good experience and pay the bills, but having a captive audience is the dream. I’m opening for a fellow Canadian, Joey Landreth of the Bros. Landreth (who is UNREAL) at The Terrace in Exeter on February 5th, so really looking forward to that one!
MFL: What do you think some of the biggest differences are between your very first record and your newest record, In the Light?
MB: I think the songwriting has significantly improved and matured (or let’s hope it has considering I wrote most of my first album, Brave, when I was 16 and 17). The sound is also very different. Brave had more of a rock/blues/jazz tone throughout, whereas In the Light is pop/soul and a lot more contemporary. Brave was also recorded with a full band live off the floor, and although In the Light still has live guitar, bass and piano, a lot of the production was programmed.
MFL: What is your favorite song on your new record to sing live and why?
MB: When I’m lucky enough to play with a band, my favourite song to perform is probably ‘Real Tonight’ because it has such an awesome groove and melody, and the audience always seems to get into it even if they haven’t heard it before. But usually I’m playing solo, and my favourite is definitely ‘In the Light’ because I get to relive the feeling I had when I wrote it (excited, unbelievable, butterflies-in-your-stomach falling in love).
MFL: Finally, if I were to put your iPod on shuffle, what is the strangest thing I might hear?
MB: I have these tracks on there that I sing along to when I do my vocal warmups. And also lots of worktapes or voice notes of songs in the making.
Thanks to Melissa Bel for answering my questions and to Ellie Sorensen of Badge of Friendship for setting up the interview! Follow Melissa Bel on Facebook and via her website.