Joseph Bell began performing around his hometown of Shrewsbury a year after picking up the guitar at age 13. By the time he was 18, Bell started producing music at home. Bell’s debut EP, “Dancing Days,” was released in November 2020, after his relocation to London. The EP was hailed for its “dream-like” melodies and introspective lyrics, and his song “Overload” was played on BBC Radio 1 by Scott Mills. Joseph spent the following two years honing his craft, releasing a new single titled “Lost Souls” in November 2021, which led to a live session and interview with BBC Introducing Shropshire, as well as gigs across the UK, including two performances at the legendary London venue Ronnie Scott’s.
2023 is the anticipated release window for Joseph’s next EP, which focuses on identity in the digital age. It is a departure from his singer-songwriter sound, introducing electronic sounds and demonstrating Bell’s development over the past two years, while retaining the storytelling skill and soul of Joseph’s earlier works.
Joseph Bell returns with ‘Head Straight,’ the first song off his upcoming ‘Hits’ EP, following a BBC Introducing Live Session, BBC Radio 1 play, and performances at venues such as Ronnie Scott’s. Mixing gentle acoustic guitars with hard-hitting electronic production, ‘Head Straight’ emphasizes the need of taking time to sit with one’s own thoughts when the external noise becomes overwhelming. The song is the first single off Bell’s forthcoming ‘Hits’ EP, which is about coming of age and discovering one’s identity in the digital age. Check out the song and the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
JOSEPH BELL: Hey! I’m from Shrewsbury, a town in the West Midlands, but I’ve been based in London for 7 years. I’ve written songs for as long as I can remember – although I hope my lyric books from age 11-13 never see the light of day! I started performing at local open mics when I was 14.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
JOSEPH BELL: I had a few guitar and singing lessons at school, but most of what I’ve learnt has been self-taught, especially with production. There’s a lot of good YouTube lessons out there!
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences?
JOSEPH BELL: I’ve always listened to loads of different music. I remember loving Corinne Bailey Rae when I was a younger – my Mum used to play a lot of her in the car. I used to be into more singer-songwriter kind of stuff, like Paolo Nutini and Damien Rice – but I loved a lot of Hip-Hop and R&B too. I remember sneaking out my Step Dad’s old Outkast and Eminem CDs to burn onto my laptop when I was about 13. I think the first CD I bought myself was Busted… So my influences are a bit all over the place! Now, I love artists like Lorde and Frank Ocean. I think they build whole worlds with their songs, musically and lyrically. That’s what I try to do too.
(Jospeh Bell is my real name!)
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
JOSEPH BELL: I try to make sure I capture a specific feeling or moment as much as I can in my songs. I always try to be honest in how I’m feeling, and my music tends to zoom in on the anxieties and thoughts that I think everyone has. Hopefully my music has uplifting moments too – I love songs which take you on emotional journeys, reflective songs with happy and sad moments. I’d describe my sound as alt-pop but my influences come from a lot of places. My new E.P. will reflect that – there’s an electro-pop leaning song, a pop song with R&B and hip-hop influences and a couple of more traditional singer-songwriter / indie style songs too.
5. For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and music maker, and the transition towards your own style?
As I’ve always played live with guitar and vocals, my early songs tended to be classic poppy kind of singer-songwriter songs, ones that sounded good on an acoustic guitar. I always knew I wanted my music to be different to that though, so I’ve worked really hard on my writing and production over the last few years and I think I’m getting close to how I want to sound now. I’ve always been drawn to interesting sounds and depth in music, something I’m exploring at the moment. I think the most important thing is to trust your own tastes and gut feelings – you’re the best at knowing what sounds good to you, so don’t listen to other people too much and you’ll be ok!
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative, and entertainment?
I think they all come into it! For me, stories are the most important part of music and I think all music, whether it means to or not, tells you something about the context and time it was made. I may not be explicitly writing about anything political, cultural or spiritual, but all of that stuff is there in our subconsciouses – so I definitely think it bleeds into the music too.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
That’s a tricky question! I love doing music – especially playing live. I feel like the connection you can have with other people when you’re performing is really special and always cheers me up. Music can be frustrating too though. It’s easy to get stuck when producing songs, and it takes me a long time to finish stuff off, although I’ve been getting better at that. Promoting music is difficult too – nowadays it feels like most of the fight is making good content for TikTok, Instagram and sometimes I forget to just enjoy the process of making music. The feeling of finishing a song is amazing though, and I love it when I see people connecting to something I’ve made. The highlights definitely compensate for the difficult parts. This year, I’m trying to remind myself that the value of music is in the music itself, not how many streams, TikTok views or whatever else it gets. Then I think I’ll get closer to feeling fulfilled.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
It’s a bit different every time. I usually collect ideas for a while – writing down random thoughts, making voice recordings of chord progressions I like and so on. Then one day it will come together into a full song. Sometimes I can sit down, play something on a keyboard or guitar and write a song in under an hour – other times it takes days or weeks to write something I like. I’m trying to put down an idea a day this year, then come back to the ones I like. In terms of collaboration, I write most of my songs myself but I’ve started writing with other people a bit over the last year or two. It’s a hugely different process, but it can be a lot more fun!
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
JOSEPH BELL: I’m just coming out of my early 20s and it’s been a bit up and down. I think it’s a stage in life where you’re trying to find purpose and figure out who you are and what you want in life. I struggled to write during lockdown too – I think I need life to be moving to really be inspired. So I guess the last few years have been a learning process, but now I feel like I’m getting into the swing of things.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
JOSEPH BELL: In the last two years I’ve played at some venues I’d always wanted to play at, like Ronnie Scott’s and the Troubadour, so that’s been pretty cool. Also, my song ‘Overload’ was played on BBC Radio 1 a couple of years ago. Generally though, nice messages always feel good – just knowing that my songs are out there reaching new people always feels like an achievement.
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