A menacing sonic mist swirls devilishly out of the speakers…slowly and eerily a solitary siren note appears towing the tink-tink-tink of a piano chord progression…synth phases in and out of the landscape…the cocktail of sounds continue, pausing for breath, then move along again. Bada-bu-bah…bada-bu-bah goes the bass as it thumps into the background before moving into the foreground and back out again. Bada-bu-bah…bada-bu-bah..It’s a rhythmic sound – the sound of a mechanical wild animal wandering through a darkened forest by a lake in search of prey and adventure. It’s haunting, spiralling, hypnotic – it’s the sound of Belle Folie.
Belle lives in Melbourne, Australia – one of our former homes as it happens – and she’s been making music since before she was a teenager. Having listened to her tracks and read her thoughts on music I’d say she’s a definite musicologist. This lady really knows her stuff when it comes to putting music together.
Sadly, Belle also knows what it’s like to experience sexism and sexual assault/harassment simply because she’s a female working in a male populated environment. As you’ll read below, these ugly incidents have made her stronger and more determined to succeed on her own. As Belle puts it:
“I trust my gut. I mainly work on my own and on my own terms. I don’t have a studio or a label to answer to and I like it that way. I am no one’s b****.”
I really like that. Good attitude.
Belle took a little time out to chat to us ahead of the release of new single ‘Sink or Swim‘ which is released globally on October 7th.
Ladies and Gentlemen…Belle Folie…
What kind of influences do you have as an artist? (Music and anything else)
When I think influence, I think of everything that inspires me. Dreams are a big thing because for me they are so visceral. I never feel like I sleep well (when I can sleep)- I find myself often dreaming of places that I have never been before that may or may not exist. I remember I used to have recurring dreams about Black Beach in Iceland and I didn’t even have an interest in Iceland at the time to know it existed but it does and I used to dream of it quite often. I love music that makes me feel something, often with dark themes or music that is somehow obscure or transcendent such as Lisa Gerrard, Bjork, Susanne Sunfør, Fever Ray, Depeche Mode- even Clannad. Also having had Classical training in music some other influences include Bach, Mozart and Philip Glass.
I also write about experiences both real and imaginary. I’ve had such a bizarre life that it often leaks into my songs. Mostly though it’s people and situations that inspire me. I feel like my work is partially just my subconscious working things out or finding alternative endings to situations that may not have ended so well.
I really like how each component of your music takes over from the next – in some way the overlapping is like a relay. Before you realise it you’re focussing on the main beat and the rhythm. So all in all, how would you describe your sound and your creative/thought processes?
I don’t feel like I have a very linear or logical explanation to my creative process and my thought process is usually very obscure for people to understand. I find myself unable to filter the weirdness that comes out of my mouth sometimes! The way I would start with an idea is I have a scenario or situation in my head, almost like a scene from a film and it’s usually accompanied by music. So I listen to what I am hearing and matching that to this visual and working on that. I also have a Process Diary that I use for visual ideas when I am writing. ‘Sink Or Swim’ started off as a Piano exercise that I had wrote and then I elaborated from there. I didn’t think it would turn into a song but it did, so I was quite surprised with this outcome.
The track we heard is purely instrumental, but do you provide (or plan to provide) your own vocals as well?
Yes, I absolutely will. I’m starting from the ground up and that includes putting more tracks up on Soundcloud and Youtube as well as getting Bandcamp started once the track hits its release date (7th October). As a vocalist, vocals are a very important part of my work.
What tools and instruments do you use to create your sound? (This can be anything at all it doesn’t have to be a traditional instrument – obviously we can hear piano+synth)
I have a very strong affinity with the human voice and so I do a lot of layering with voices. I don’t use choir at this stage but I have been known to record myself 25 times and layer the vocals to make a choir. I’ve also been known to manipulate my voice to sound like a male, but no one can usually pick it, they just think I got a man into the studio to record that part. Then when I tell them they usually look at me funny. Aside from piano, synth and voice I do use a lot of software to create my sound because I do everything myself from the writing, performing and the recording and production. So that creates a cohesive body of work in itself. Depending on what I am influenced to do at the time or what I am playing with, that will also have it’s own mark on the entirety of the work. I play a lot of instruments [I’m a multi instrumentalist] but I don’t always feature all of them if I don’t feel it’s relevant to the track.
When did you first start to write music and how long have you been creating music?
When I was a kid I discovered that I could write music- I could actually read and write music before I started school. So it was always ingrained in me that it was something that I could do, I just had a proclivity or an inclination towards it. My first instrument was the Violin and that was given to me when I turned 6.
I have journals of the songs I used to write as a kid and I was pretty socially aware- I don’t even see many adults writing about mind control or genocide. I don’t even know how I knew about that stuff- I was under 12 years old! It was around this time I started working with local producers and figuring that there had to be a way to sculpt sound the same way you could with clay. Turns out I was right and it shaped my whole musical journey into the present. That would be over 15 years of sound production and learning multiple instruments.
What kind of musicians/artists do you (or would you) like to collaborate with?
I’ve always wanted to do collaboration between myself and Dance companies or Circus artists; I think that would be cool. Films can be fun to work on too and I’ve worked on some Avant-Garde and horror films previously. I’d love to work with Philip Glass or Hans Zimmer on film scores. There’s a duo in Norway called Royksopp and I’d love to work with them on something too. BT, who is my favourite artist, would be another one I’d love to collaborate with. OH and David Lynch!! There’s too many.
At the moment I am collaborating with a dark burlesque show here called The Burlesque Underground, and they are so flexible and accommodating with ideas as well as in line with my values as an artist. They are definitely pushing boundaries and those are the people I want to work with.
What kind of music projects/sounds/ideas would you like to work on in the future?
I have plans to do more experimental or noise-based work and perhaps do something with visual or installation artists. I have plans to make and EP or an album but it would depend on what happens with the single releases over the next few months. And I’ll also be setting up a performance crew- very excited about that one!
Internationally women are some of the biggest selling artists in pop/R&B/country etc, but what is it like being a female musician/artist today in Australia?
Art isn’t a big thing here so if you’re making it, you’re already in the minority. I find that unless you are making hipster music (such as playing in indie bands or you’re a DJ) there is very little flexibility around what you can do publicly and where you can perform. There’s still a very big following when it comes to hipster trends, so that if you don’t look like you’re bored and from the 1970’s it’s very hard to get anyone to take you seriously. Then being a female on top of that adds to the division.
On your blog you mentioned sexism in the music industry – are you able to talk about or elaborate on your experiences?
Absolutely. I’ve had quite a number of experiences where sexism has played a big role in challenging me as an artist and a human being.
I have been subject to verbal assault, I’ve been asked “who’s d*** did you score to get that studio job?” I’ve not been paid, had my work stolen and re-recorded under someone else’s name, not been credited on films and when I got upset I got accused of being “hysterical” because apparently “no one looks at the credits anyway”. I have found myself being fired from studios when I have spoken up for my right [as well as standing up for mistreated women who have been clients] to not be sexually harassed verbally or physically. To me, it’s really just about appropriate boundaries and behaviour but unfortunately this is not the case.
The most extreme case was a colleague grabbed me inappropriately in front of my other colleagues and thought it was funny. I walked out leaving all my gear there and called the police. I didn’t leave my house for days. I had the blinds down and the door locked- I was so traumatised my brother flew down from Sydney to help me do my groceries and distract me a bit from the case.
To this day they pretend they never saw it. All my contacts turned away from me because they no longer wish to engage with the person who fought for their own justice. I felt “this could have been their daughter, and I’m someone’s daughter and I matter.”
When I spoke to my female peers in the industry, it turns out this isn’t uncommon. We shouldn’t be made to feel like we are less than, [number one] and number two, we shouldn’t be turned into hostages who can’t speak up about these situations because of the threat that we could lose our place in the industry. This is dehumanising. What it really what it boils down to is we are human beings before we are engineers and musicians. Being a woman shouldn’t matter because we are the same at a core human level.
How have these experiences shaped your outlook and ways of working?
They’ve shaped my decision to be an independent artist. I only do work with people I like and people I trust. I always ask for some kind of agreement upfront. If they are hesitant about it I don’t work with them. I trust gut. I mainly work on my own and on my own terms, I don’t have a studio or a label to answer to and I like it that way. I am no one’s b****.
I can support my female friends the music industry and also other creative industries with their experiences. It makes my world so meaningful to be there for them and to see them feel their power and their courage when they realise that their work is incredible and that they do have a place.
What have you got coming up next?
I’m nominated for an AIMA (Australian Independent Music Award) in two different categories- Pop and Electronic- so it’ll be interesting to see what will come of that. Other than that I anticipate two new releases after ‘Sink Or Swim’, which is out 7th October. I’m not sure if I will enter a performance phase or a writing stage after those releases. I’m just going to see what happens.
Besides her new release, we’ve also been treated to two more of Belle’s tracks ‘Dolly’ and ‘The Word‘. We can’t share them here, but we can describe them for you!:
Dolly has a little plink plink piano that sounds like the opening notes of Diamonds are Forever…AND THEN! You get a little bit of something like Danny Elfman followed by Kate Bush/Indian raga vocals mixed with big menacing beats and playful nursery rhyme melodies. So imagine someone or something plinking away at little tune similar to Diamonds are Forever while standing in the middle of a twister with all of the above sounds thundering around them. A cacophony.
The Word has a very cool Acid house style intro before it slips rather slinkily into something like Kate Bush singing to a Depeche Mode tune…albeit in front of a field full of ravers at night at the end of the festival.
Both tracks are excellent and exciting. Now, the big one on 7th October:
Sink or Swim by Belle Folie
Click on the image below and you’ll be transported to Belle’s Soundcloud page where you can here ‘Sink or Swim‘. Keep a look out in the next coming months for further tracks. You can also keep up with what Belle is working on via her Tumblr page.
Images of Belle Folie by Sarah Illman and Judy Hudson.