- Words Nicola Davies
- Photography Pierre Solomon
- Styling & MUA Alex Belle
Meet Alex Belle, the Atlanta-based singer/songwriter, composer and stylist who is designing an uplifting and liberating sound.
Previously part of duo St. Beauty, Alex Belle stepped out as a solo artist earlier this year with her debut EP, Apple Bananas. Titled after her grandfather’s nickname for her, the sound is much more angsty and melancholic than her upcoming EP, Sun Cassette. Both five-track projects, the latest EP is vibrant and soothing all at once, reminiscent of 60s and 70s music with a hint of contemporary Solange.
Having grown up inspired by the likes of Santigold and living in a musical and artistic household, Belle was always encouraged to practice and perform. Today, she is part of a burgeoning and eclectic Atlanta scene and is surrounded by local talents and friends to continue this solo journey. Finding strength in her faith in God, Belle is already creating another project with her band, using this downtime to make sense of the chaos.
What music and fashion inspirations did you have growing up in Atlanta?
I would always be on Myspace just searching for new music to listen to. There are a lot of amazing Atlanta artists that I really love. Outkast, for instance, are an amazing duo…Andre 3000, his style is just so unique and dope.
There are artists today that I love as well, who I just feel so honoured to be witnessing as they grow. Baby Rose, Earthgang, they’re amazing, Mereba…this is an artist community that I’ve been a part of…J.I.D, Yung Baby Tate, Faye Webster. Atlanta tends to be boxed in, but there are so many out of the box creatives from Atlanta. Not only music artists, but painters like Gerald Lovell and Jurell Cayetano. Then you have photographers like Donté Maurice, and I work closely with Pierre Solomon, who shot the photos for this feature, he’s phenomenal.
Your style is so striking and confident, you clearly know who you are and how you want to look. I’m sure this started from a young age, how did you develop your style?
I love quirky styles, I love quirky artists, I love colours. One designer that I’m really inspired by is Pierre Cardin. He’s a French designer from the 60s. I just love how peculiar and striking his clothes look, how futuristic and timeless. I love Mary Quant vintage designs and designers from today like Pyer Moss, PHLEMUNS, and Mowalola. Their designs accentuate brown skin tones, and I generally love how they promote people of colour in their art.
A video I directed for one of my songs called ‘Noah Amour’ is actually inspired by Vampire Weekend’s video for ‘A-Punk’. Their movements are sped up and super cool, I wanted to do that in my own way.
Honestly, I’m really visually inspired by God, because He created everything. He’s the ultimate creator.
You styled the shoot for this feature, which looks beautiful. Tell us a bit about where the inspiration came from.
It was inspired by this upcoming EP in terms of the colours. It’s called ‘Sun Cassette’, so we wanted to have colours that were vibrant and fun and feel good — blue skies, oranges that just remind me of sunsets and the sun. We shot it at my mum’s house, me and Pierre vibe so well together. In terms of styling, I designed the blue outfit. I just wanted the clothes to look like me, and be expressive of who I am as an artist.
Was music always present in your home growing up?
My dad played the guitar, he played bass, he produced. My mum sang, my sister sang, and my brother did visual art. Really my dad’s passion for music rubbed off on me. He taught me how to write music, he taught me how to structure a song. Since he did that, it became a passion of mine, and writing became therapeutic for me. I would write every day. I started when I was 9 years old, I would sing in front of my classes in 6th grade. I remember singing ‘Fallin’’ by Alicia Keys, that was my go-to song.
You used to be part of the female duo St. Beauty, which is part of your journey here. Why did that end?
It was really scary stepping out and being honest about where I am in my personal journey. I just came to a point in my life like I was at a crossroads, I felt kind of stagnant in my growth. For so long I’ve been a people pleaser, and to finally do something that is super left, people would think that it’s crazy. God really gave me the strength to do it, because it’s not something that I would’ve done on my own. I felt so much peace and empowerment, I still do. I completely surrendered my will, and I haven’t been disappointed at all. My faith is really strengthened right now and I feel excited about the possibilities of what’s next.
In St. Beauty, you called your music ‘confetti’. Has that approach been carried over to your solo career, or are you embodying a different mindset?
I’m starting fresh. Of course, I still identify with confetti and the concept behind that, but I call my music ‘kaleidoscope’ because I don’t want to be boxed in. I don’t want to be too structured when it comes to certain sounds. It’s not just one thing, I love analogue music, I love producing songs, I love different sounds. Everyone’s in control of their own kaleidoscope when they’re holding it so I’m in control of mine.
‘Apple Bananas’was your first solo EP. What hopes and fears did you have when releasing it?
Ask my mom! It was hard putting out something on my own like that. I haven’t done that ever. Not having any expectations while doing it but still feeling fearful. When you still act even in the midst of fear, that’s an opportunity to grow. I’m just grateful that I put it out. If I hadn’t put it out, I wouldn’t have got certain opportunities.
Tell me about the name Apple Bananas?
My grandfather used to call me that as a nickname when I was little. I just decided to call my first little EP that, because it’s just very representative of who I am and how I feel. All those songs are my personal experiences. Especially ‘Bumpy Ride’, I wrote that song in 10 minutes because I was going through it. All those songs are composed by a friend of mine, Randy Michael, he’s an amazing composer out of Atlanta, he’s like a music dictionary. I had a lot of amazing musicians who played on that record, it was all recorded live. It was awesome being able to do that, I’m still doing that now. I built my new band so quickly, it feels like they’re my big brothers.
Your sound is very unique – retro, soulful and bright. What’s your creative process like from writing and producing?
With this EP, I did most of it on my own. The process is liberating. I feel weird about calling myself a producer, I’m just an artist and I love making music that feels and sounds good to me, and music that would encourage and inspire someone to feel good. When I create music and write songs, the process is very free. I wanted this whole EP to uplift and to make people think and make them want to move and dance, to go outside, to look at the sunset.
The ‘Sun Cassette’ EP is a lot lighter and upbeat than ‘Apple Bananas’. What was your mindset when writing this project?
Two songs I wrote in 2019, “The Sun” and “Fears”. Those songs I just wanted to express that we’re not alone in the midst of our fears, we’re always going to get through them. Sometimes it’s hard to see past certain situations, but we go through them for a reason and we always come out the other side.
“The Sun” is about thinking before speaking. There’s a lot of evil in this world and we have to look at things for what they are. Life goes on in the midst of all of this, even in this pandemic, there’s so much uncertainty but life will go on.
These songs I wrote during quarantine. “Clarity”, I was like, ‘what’s happening?’ I’m asking questions at the top of the song, ‘have you ever wondered what to do?’
The intro [“Quantum Theory 3”] I wanted to create an instrumental that felt like a sunrise, how would a sunrise sound?
“What You Waitin For”, I wanted to express where I am in my journey. In quarantine, I’ve had a lot of time to myself, and to spend with God. My spiritual journey has been really strengthened, I’ve been guided. In the first verse I’m singing from God’s perspective, and in the second verse, I’m singing from my perspective. In the hook, I’m talking about how I’m willing to lose it all to be with God.
You have a podcast about mental health called ‘Spill It’, which is such a huge issue, especially within music. How did it feel sharing your thoughts and feelings in this way?
I started it without knowing what I’m doing. I had my friends Heather Bellinger and Nigisty Lulu, they really put the battery in my back to get this going, because for a long time it was just an idea I had. I really wanted to create a space for people to openly express themselves on topics surrounding mental health and mental wellbeing. For a long time, I suppressed all of my emotions and felt like there wasn’t anyone who could possibly understand what I went through, which is such a lie.
‘Spill It’ isn’t just a podcast. I eventually want to have a conference where I have different panel discussions, forums and vendors. I just want to create a space for people to feel rejuvenated and uplifted, and encouraged to go out in the world and face whatever they’re facing. During the quarantine I did an Instagram Live chat, I had special guests, influencers and celebrities. But the main reason I wanted to have those people is because I want people to know that we’re all the same, we should all be able to see eye to eye. That’s what I want to do with the conferences, just bring people together. Our slogan is, “Your imperfections are perfect to us.”
What is success to you?
Success if fulfilling the purpose that God has for me, not making my own plans.
Alex Belle’s new EP ‘Sun Cassette’ will be released on 21st August.