Thursday, September 1, 2016

Finding Strength through Eclecticism with Bell Stray

Cover art by Rema Ghuloum

If you like watching David Lynch films at 2am, you’ll love listening to Bell Stray.

On August 26, the Los Angeles-based songwriter and performer issued Scribble the Pink, a five-song cassette on the ultra-hip Wiener Records. Stray’s third release overall, Scribble the Pink serves as an excellent introduction to her beautifully odd sonic world. Check out this live video of one of the EP’s tracks, “Roses Shade:”

Before her ever-growing fanbase knew the girl in the video as Bell Stray, her friends and family knew her as Dina Ghuloum, an avid music lover who chose her public moniker more out of necessity than creative expression.  

“It’s kind of a funny story,” she says during a recent call. “I started making demos and putting them out online, but before I did that, I had just gotten out of a bad relationship and was kind of trying to avoid this guy I dated… I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t want to put this stuff out under my own name.’ When I was thinking about what name to use, I [remembered] had read a short story in college called The Man Who Knew Belle Starr. That title just popped in my head…I didn’t really like the ‘star’ part because I thought that was sort of played out. The word ‘stray’ just came to mind. I just started using that name and kind of went with it.”

Raised in Orange County, Stray first started toying with writing lyrics and poetry as a pre-teen.

“I had this cousin who moved in with us, and she had this Jim Morrison book with several of his poems. I was really inspired by it, so I just started wanting to write poetry.”

By 15, she was strumming a guitar.

“Before I could actually totally play, I started writing songs with it. I kind of just became obsessed with the whole process.”

Around this time, she also left home and hit the streets – where her true awakening took place.

“I had a crazy home life and I just wanted to get away. When I first left, I met all kinds of people – hippies and punks – and all they did was travel. It was a lifestyle, and I ended up living that life – ending up in hippie vans or squatting or staying in motel rooms or camping. It was pretty crazy, and there was so much music around, too. All these different subcultures were all pretty much informed by music, whether it was the gutter punks or the hippies. The gutter punks were listening to bands like Conflict and stuff like that, and the hippies were listening to the Grateful Dead. I’d hang out with skater kids who’d listen to Wu-Tang…I was around it all. Musically, that totally impacted me.”

Photo by Rema Ghuloum

The maelstrom of eclectic music in Stray’s universe had an inevitable influence on what eventually became her trademark sound.

“When I first started writing songs, I started experimenting with my voice. I was just kind of learning how to do it. It just kind of developed into what it is, I guess. I started singing in a Punk band when I was 19; that was just a lot of screaming, and I listened to a lot of that kind of music. I was listening to a lot of other kinds of music, too, like Bjork and Portishead and bands like Bikini Kill. I think all of that somehow influenced the way I sing…I didn’t really think too much about it; I wasn’t trying to sound any particular way. I just think all the things that have influenced me have probably manifested in my voice in that way, but it was never intentional.”

Not surprisingly, live audiences have been equally enthralled and puzzled by her performances.

“I think sometimes they don’t know how to react! Sometimes people say, ’Well…that was very different’ and things like that. (laughs) But I don’t never really know how people are actually reacting; I get the sense that maybe they thought it was unusual.” (laughs)

Considering the decidedly unconventional direction of Stray’s life and art, it should come as little surprise that Scribble the Pink is available on tape at a time when a number of independent artists are solely hawking their wares in the digital world.

“I was a kid in the ’90s; some of my first musical purchases were cassettes,” she explains. “They were always around the house. They always seemed like toys to me, especially when the tape would get tangled and you’d have to wind it back up and hope it would play. (laughs) I think I just associate it with being a kid. I think they’re fun.”

With an intriguing new release causing a stir and shows planned for the fall, Bell Stray is poised to close 2016 on a fruitful and high-profile note. But in her mind, her work has only just begun.

“I do have a lot of songs that I’ve written, and I want to see them come to fruition the way I’ve envisioned them. I’d like to get them out there and just keep creating. Hopefully, I can get closer to what it is I really want to create, because there’s something I always want to convey, but it’s like I’m still reaching for it. Whatever that thing is, [I want] to keep reaching for it.”

Photo by Rema Ghuloum

Order Scribble the Pink

Official Bell Stray Website

Bell Stray on Bandcamp

Bell Stray on Facebook


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