Del Bel is an atmospheric Toronto indie project made up of a large roster of local musicians. Their album, oneiric, is unique not only in its cinematic sound, but also its rather strange conception. Tyler Belluz created and recorded all the instrumentals with the help of the band, then delivered the finished project to Lisa Conway, and, with practically no instructions, asked her to write lyrics to accompany his moody music. The result? Songs that are a hybrid of stories and experiences, an organic blend of Belluz’s melodies and Conway’s words.
Del Bel are gearing up for a new round of live shows, and Conway, who in addition to Del Bel performs her own solo work and occasionally kicks out the saxophone at weddings, says the experience of performing with her voice as her only instrument is a strange one. We sat down with her at The Mascot in her Parkdale neighbourhood to chat about Del Bel’s record, her experiences as a transplanted West Coast musician, and her mum’s goats.
SDTC: First of all, how did you feel about the unique writing process on the album?
LC: It’s kind of a roundabout way of writing songs. It gave me a little bit more freedom and room to experiment—it was interesting working with so many restrictions from the beginning. It’s a huge responsibility to have someone hand their album over to you, but luckily he liked it. It definitely wasn’t a “sitting down and having something appear to me out of the universe” thing. After working this way, doing other things seems less daunting.
SDTC: At the end of the process, do the songs feel like yours, or Tyler’s?
LC: A lot of these songs have personal aspects to them, but they still feel like Tyler’s songs. I think he feels attached to the songs in different ways than I do.
SDTC: What do you listen to while you’re writing?
LC: Other than Bruce Springsteen? A lot of the Dirty Projectors/Bjork album. Definitely what I’m listening to affects what sort of music I’m making.
SDTC: What advice would you give to young musicians who are just starting out?
LC:The most important thing is to keep doing things—it’s hard work and it’s hard not to get discouraged, but being humble and doing a lot of things helps. It seems the more you do, the more comes of it.
SDTC: What do you do to help get inspired while you’re writing?
LC: Other than swear? I get a lot of inspiration from films and literature. I saw Drive on the weekend, and I’m just about to read Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami.
SDTC: If you could describe Del Bel as something other than a band, what would it be?
LC: Maybe some sort of monster made out of recycled materials—a metallic monster that scoops a lot of pieces up and turns into a big robot.
SDTC: You grew up in a small town in BC. What was it like to move to Toronto after growing up there?
LC: There was no public transit, my mum had goats, it was a whole other universe. The city seems more open, in art and in making music. A bit more experimental. A lot of songwriters talk about being very tied to the mountains, the landscape, being inspired by nature. I find the city equally inspiring because there are so many strange encounters with people that you can write stories about. But I didn’t have a TV growing up, so I think that was a big part of starting to write songs. I’ll never be able to finish a crossword, though, due to my lack of pop culture knowledge.
SDTC: How did you meet Tyler?
LC: I was recruited as an extra violin for a show at the Tranzac, and he was playing bass with the same band. I impulsively invited him to play with me.
SDTC: What’s your instrument of choice?
LC: I started with the violin, but it’s been an on and off relationship. I use it mostly for songwriting. It’s kind of weird because I can’t play chords.
You can hear Del Bel’s album, oneiric, on Band Camp.
~ Haley Cullingham