ELK BELL In Fantasia

Elk Bell released her debut album Superfragilistic in September 2011. It was the feature album on RTRFM and landed in the CMJ Top 200 charts in the US. Now Bell returns with her new album Republica d’fantAsia launched Friday, September 29 at the Fly By Night in Fremantle. KIERRA POLLOCK had a chat to her ahead of the launch.

Republica d’fantAsia will be out soon, could you tell us a bit more about the album and what the name means?

I can’t wait to release this little beastie as it’s been 5 years in the making. The album title seems to be sparking quite a lot of curiosity. I was tickling the ivories one eve and looked down at the little passport pouch that had been sleeping on the edge of the keyboard for a while. Inside it lay two passports side by side, as they had done for 5 years. One my Australian passport, the other an Italian passport. So the first word ‘Republica’ is a little bit of my heart in Italy, Fantasia represents the land I often find myself in and the emphasis on ‘Asia’ is a nod back to my Sri Lankan heritage, where my mother is from.

It’s been a while since Superfragilistic, was it hard to get back into recording?

A number of factors were at play here. I actually started recording the day after my last album launch in September 2011! The songs were written, as are the next 2 albums now, so I wanted to make a quick start. Majority of the tracking was done quite quickly in Leederville however the studio was shut down due to noise issues and then the hectic lives of myself and my engineer/co-producer took over for a while. I also fell madly and deeply in love around that time and we all know what that’s like – hence the Italian passport.

Many artists talk about the second album being difficult, did you have any difficulties with Republica d’fantAsia?

I think that the difficulties for many people are associated with not having the songs to start with. People often say that they had their whole life to write the first album and then only a very limited time for subsequent albums and if the first went well there’s that added pressure. I’m very, very grateful to not have that issue, at the moment I’m not letting myself touch my guitar, piano or newly acquired harp for fear of more writing. It’s a blessing though and I’d hate it to stop however at the moment all of my recording devices are full to the brim! I was writing little ditties from the time I was 5 and have never stopped, whether I’m in the car, shower, bed, even talking to someone, a new melody might come to mind, so I’ll disappear into a bush somewhere to record the idea. For me, the difficulties are mostly with time and funds to record and promote full length albums as a completely independent, self managed artist.

I Was Yours is a lovely track from the album, could you tell me a bit more about that?

That’s so lovely to hear because it’s my favourite. I feel a very special connection to that song, I love playing it live and it seems to connect with people. Even though it was written before I met my love and there’s an element of my fantasy land creeping in I feel like I wrote it as a letter to my future self and for other selves who have struggled. The Italian passport is no longer in the pouch next to mine.

You are doing a dual album launch with Hugh Jennings, is he someone you have worked with a lot?

Hugh is a legend, he’s an amazing human and an amazing musician. He has helped so many artists over the years in their bands and on their recordings (Bob Evans, End of Fashion, even some accordion on an Eskimo Joe record!). In 2014 we both found ourselves with one track complete and ended up putting together ‘Singles Night’ with our friend Matt Cal. We each had a single on the CD and launched it at 459 Bar. Then just by chance we happened to finish our albums at the same time so it seemed like the logical and lovely thing to do, support each other for our big occasions!

You are having an interpreter at the launch show to interpret your set, it’s a fantastic idea, how did this come about and what made you decide to include an interpreter?

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. It all came about when I ran into an amazing local singer/songwriter Nik Martino. She wasn’t doing much music at the time but was working in the hearing impaired community. We got chatting and I soon realised how many people are excluded from events because they are hearing impaired to some degree, they may be able to hear some level of sound but could definitely not make out the lyrics. She was going to join me at Nannup Music Festival to interpret my show in 2016 however it didn’t work out. Then I did a show a couple of months ago and Steve Hensby had an interpreter, I could see the people in the audience who were connecting through the interpreter and it just became this wonderful inclusive event which would otherwise exclude a sector of the community. I’d love to see more of it, it makes me incredibly sad that people miss out on music. It is a bit difficult for regular shows due to the added expense however I thought this the perfect opportunity, the venue is a big old hall built in 1896 with lots of wood which will hopefully carry a lot of vibration.

How does that work, do you send the interpreter a copy of the lyrics before hand to practice, or do they just interpret on the spot?

It does take a bit more organisation. The interpreter, Christie, required a set list, copy of the lyrics and music to listen to. I think it would be possible to do it on the spot however it would depend on the clarity of the vocalist and how much other musical distraction there is.

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