Austin based Charlie Belle are comprised of the wonderfully talented teenage siblings Jendayi Bonds (songwriter, vocalist, & guitar) and her brother Gyasi Bonds (drummer & vocalist), with their two EPs to date highlighting their infectious blend of joyous pop and sun-filled indie, aka “alternapop”. A year ago we featured them in a New Tunes post, while they were also the winners of an Alternative Friday 2015 Awards gong. They’ll soon be playing at the prestigious SXSW festival, and warm up for it here in facing a Q&A, but what do writing to the tooth fairy, geography teachers, and Frisbees have to do with rock ‘n’ roll…
~ You’ve created two high quality EPs at quite a young age, so do you come from a musical family?
(Gyasi) I wouldn’t necessarily say we come from a musical family, with the exception of our grandparents being classically trained singers. Our grandfather started The Duke Ellington Show Choir at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in DC, and he is a voice teacher at several universities in that city. Our grandmother has been a hired soloist her entire life. They used to perform operas and music theater before while our dad was growing up. Our parents aren’t musicians or in the music industry though. I was four and my sister was seven when my mom asked what instruments my sister and I would want to play. I chose the drums my sister chose guitar, and we’ve been playing ever since (11 years).
(Jendayi) I suppose the quality of our EPs is a combination of my songwriting and having amazing producers and recording studios at our disposal. Kids who are into music here have access to a lot of great opportunities to record at really low costs.
~ Writing wonderful pop songs seems to come effortlessly to you. Where do you take your inspiration from, and are you involved in the highly polished production?
(Jendayi) Most of my inspiration comes from a personal feeling or experience. If I’m feeling a certain way or I’m going through a certain thing, the way I process it is through songwriting. The first step for me is getting it all out, and the second is making this feeling vague enough to be relatable. I learned how to write, in general, when I was around 4 with writing notes to the tooth fairy (back and forth because my mom, who taught writing at the time, would reply), and progressed to essays and stories in school. My mom always thought that writing was very important and didn’t think that schools taught it well. I think that once I got into music, translating my writing over to songwriting was natural. In terms of production, I’m pretty hands on. Most post-writing additions are simply cutting out a measure here or there when it gets too lengthy and adding backup vocals and additional guitar tracks. I do however very much appreciate having another voice around, to catch me when there’s something I don’t hear or a thought I don’t have. In this way, my songs wouldn’t reach the full level of record-potential. I like having a second opinion in production.
~ What’s the best thing about being in a band with your brother / sister… and what’s the worst?
(Gyasi) Being in a band with my sister is kinda cool. I like to think that she and I have built a great relationship because of the band. The best part is that Jendayi is an amazing songwriter but she’s also a great arranger. She writes with all the instruments in mind so when she brings me a song to add my drum part, it’s already arranged and mapped out. The worst part has to be shifting from brother-sister roles to bandmate roles. That was really difficult for me when I was younger and I have to admit that I made her job harder. We fought A LOT! As I’ve gotten older, I realize that as soon as we get into band mode, it is easier to see her as my bandmate.
~ You’re playing the SXSW festival in March. In the UK that’s seen as one of the leading new music festivals in the world, so you must be hugely excited? How did that come about?
(Jendayi) Every year is definitely very exciting just because you can feel the whole town’s excitement, and the bustle of playing more than one show in a different place multiple times in one week is just so thrilling. We’ve been playing SXSW basically since we started the band in 2008, because here in Austin there are unofficial shows that are sponsored by local organizations or venues. One of our very first shows was a SXSW day party at Hotel San Jose in 2008. Our entire set was 9 minutes, including the Led Zepplin cover “Tangerine”! Last year was our first time playing “branded” unofficial shows which are also not official, but outside businesses sponsor an event, like Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, which we played last year. This is our first year playing official SXSW, so we’re all pretty curious as to what new and exciting things we’ll be a part of this time and how this may or may not change our experience.
~ If you could play live at any venue or festival in the UK, where would it be and why?
(Jendayi) If I could play anywhere live in the UK, I think it would be at the Glastonbury festival. If I’m being honest here, I don’t really have much of a good enough reason other than the fact that my favorite band the Arctic Monkeys headlined a couple of years back and I would be so honored to be able to play a festival that the Arctic Monkeys made such an impact on only a few years ago.
~ Are there any other new bands or musicians local to you in Austin area that you recommend we check out?
(Jendayi) If you’re into finding your groove, I think a great Austin-native band to check out would be Frederico 7, which is Brazilian Funk. The lead singer used to be my high school World Geography teacher and the band actually has its own day in Austin! I also love Wild Child (indie folk) and Riders Against The Storm (hip hop). DJing is huge here, and DJ I Wanna Be Her is one of my favorites. It’s just so hard to choose in Austin because there are so many amazing bands in all different genres and just about everyone we know is in a band.
~ If you could curate your own festival stage, what six musicians would you invite to perform?
(Gyasi) I would curate a festival with Alabama Sakes, TV on the Radio, and The Kooks (and 80’s band A-ha).
(Jendayi) My three bands on the roster would probably be the Arctic Monkeys, Tame Impala and Tokyo Police Club (and Young the Giant). This was a really hard question.
~ If you could collaborate with a famous musician or band, who would it be and why?
(Gyasi) I would want to collaborate with Quest Love because he is such an amazing drummer and band leader. I think that I could learn a lot from him.
(Jendayi) Alex Turner because he is an amazing songwriter (ok, and really cute too). I am so inspired by the way he uses metaphor and simile in his writing. I wrote Metaphorically Speaking in an attempt to write like him.
~ Who makes you laugh?
(Gyasi) Donald Glover, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman and Dave Chapelle. They all make me laugh because they all have crazy personalities and how they deliver their joke or line is always funny.
(Jendayi) Dave Chapelle for sure but I love funny shows like Extras (with Ricky Gervais), Getting On, and Parks & Rec.
~ If you could have a superpower for a day, what would it be?
(Gyasi) My power would be to control space and time, to go forward backwards in time. Or freezing it. Or super speed.
~ Aside from music, do either of you have any other creative skills? (or obscure talents!)
(Gyasi) I play ultimate frisbee on the team and will play almost anything for fun (skateboarding, basketball). I used to play lacrosse on a team but as I got older it was too intense. I was also a rower (sculling).
(Jendayi) I used to play lacrosse and I rowed (sculling) on a team. I’m getting back into sculling this spring though.
~ What are your plans for 2016, will there be another EP, or are you working towards an album?
(Jendayi) We are in the process of writing and recording an LP. We’re also looking to play more outside our region (hopefully Europe), and mid-level festivals. I’ll also be starting college in another state in August so that’ll be a huge thing and I’m really excited for that.