C-Ville Weekly Issue #23.18 :: 05/03/2011 – 05/09/2011

The many places of Mariana Bell
A singer-songwriter’s complicated relationship with home
On Push, the once-local songwriter Mariana Bell gives vocal pop a shot of adrenaline, upping the ante on a radio-ready formula with refreshing formal complexity and intense execution. On the title track—perfect single fodder, by the way—drums that rush the song through its first chorus lurch to half-time on the second. The arrangement gives the impression that the song is almost stuck, fighting against its own momentum.

On the move: Mariana Bell returns to town to release a new full-length, Push, at the Southern Café and Music Hall on Sunday, May 8. Blake Hunter and Genna Matthew open the show. (photo by Martin Baird)

But consider Bell herself, and that feeling—the music’s steady drive—starts to resemble a patient perfectionism. Stubbornness becomes Bell, who was born in Australia, where her father still lives, and raised in Charlottesville. After studying performance at NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, she stuck around New York before moving back to Charlottesville in 2006. “I don’t think it’s a product of Charlottesville or Virginia itself, but it’s where I grew up. It was a little tough to come back,” she says. “In anyone’s hometown, you revert back to who you were when you left. That’s how people know you.

“All of those years of growing that one hopes to do, no one necessarily wants to see that. They want to have their old buddy back.” Her time in town, after spending half a decade away, inspired one of the darker cuts on Push, “Virginia Clay,” in which she sings, “You never fit me well enough / no matter how I changed / You never fit me well enough / so I’m going away.”

And so she did. She says that when she moved to Los Angeles, about a year ago, self-doubt evaporated in the dry heat. Los Angeles—a creative town as much as it is an industry one—inspired another of the best tracks on Push, an answer of sorts to “Virginia Clay,” called “California Clay.” This one’s more about sticking around: “It’s not that I can’t leave / I just don’t want to,” she sings.

After her move west, Bell got to work on writing a concept EP. She won’t reveal what the concept was (she “dare not share the concept lest I choose to make it in the future”). But the good weather, the company of creative and motivated people and an all-around positive studio experience brought her to scrap those sessions and rework the songs into a full-length record, which is Push.

Today, she lives in West Hollywood, in a little house with a little yard—plenty of room for her “gigantic dog” to run around—with an avocado tree in the backyard. “This is a cliché to talk about, but the bloody weather is unbeatable,” she says. “I’m one of those people who’s very much affected by how it is outside. There’s none of this moping around for three months because it’s so cold out.”

“For now, California’s certainly where it’s at,” she says. “In the end, I think I’ll probably come back [to Virginia]. You need to see things from a distance sometimes to see how they’ve affected you.”

But perhaps it doesn’t matter: As she sings on “California Clay,” “You will find me loyal to a fault / as I come and go.”

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