One Step Back, One Leap Forward: A Conversation with Bella Renee

Bella Renee © 2021
Bella Renee © 2021
Emerging indie pop queen Bella Renee dives into 2021 with her new single, “Call Me Back.”

by guest writer Matthew Gose

Stream: “Call Me Back” – Bella Renee




Authenticity is an odd concept in 2021. What once used to mean “legitimate and true,” has become an algorithm-driven, calculative process to achieve maximum user engagement while strategically appearing entirely uncalculated, unstrategic, and unprocessed.

Oddly enough, a little less than a decade ago the last place you’d expect to find truth and legitimacy would be electronic pop music. But as the craft of songwriting and music production have broken free of the machinery that dominated the industry in the past, artists are able to express a more sincere depiction of themselves with fewer gatekeepers.

The social media-driven musical landscape also allows artists to deliver their craft and their message to the precise listeners who want, maybe even need, to hear it most. What once was a monologue from music moguls to the audience has become a multidimensional conversation in which artists, performers, producers, and the audience can develop a genuine sense of authenticity — in its most authentic form.

One artist diving head first into that conversation is Bella Renee. At the end of 2020, Renee made her official debut with a feature on the track “New Normal” by Tydi — whom we interviewed in September of last year. Bella spent the large majority of 2020 pouring into her craft — writing and producing songs, building her brand, readying herself for her global debut.

New Normal - tyDi
New Normal – tyDi

As exciting as the season was, it was also challenging, even overwhelming. So often what the music industry delivers to us is the end result of years of incredibly hard work. Bella has all the bright, exuberant spirit you would expect from a pop star, but with a depth, a wisdom, and a grit not often associated with the genre. Her career wasn’t handed to her. She busted her ass working two jobs — pouring sweat and tears into transforming her dreams into reality. And like an angel-voiced, earworm producing alchemist, she turned her dreams into synth-ladened, glamorous gold.

But the work, along with the pandemic and isolation took a toll on Bella — physically, mentally, and emotionally. The end of 2020 was a major learning curve for Renee, who has come out stronger and bolder than ever before.

Now, Bella is starting her own chapter in 2021 with her debut solo single “Call Me Back,” which dropped on January 17th.

Call Me Back - Bella Renee
Call Me Back – Bella Renee

A breathy synth exhales as marimba-like chimes etch out a syncopated rhythm. Bella’s voice glides in with an alarming purity and a subdued yet paralyzing power.

The story begins en media res — She’s three thousand miles away. The narrative of a tense, back and forth romance unfolds— balancing a tension between the hopeful rekindling of a love on the rocks, and the desire to pursue dreams and passions.

The beat kicks in as Bella’s voice ramps into the chorus. Even as she belts, “So tell me if you’re ever coming back,” her voice maintains a gentleness so often vacant from female pop vocalists. Her presence sits so perfectly in the articulate but energetic mix, carefully crafted by Bella’s long-time producer and writing partner Halen Bouhadana.

It’d be remiss not to draw the obvious parallels to the likes of Taylor Swift and Alessia Cara, but Bella carves out her own unique style.

More than just another in a line of thousands of manufactured instagram pop stars — Bella Renee’s music and style contains a ferocity and a strength that propels it forward while also driving it deeper. More than just building a brand, Renee’s art advocates for self love, personal care, manifesting dreams, and better mental health awareness.

Atwood Magazine had the opportunity to connect with Bella via Zoom a mere days before her first ever solo single debuted worldwide.

Bella Renee © 2021
Bella Renee © 2021

A CONVERSATION WITH BELLA RENEE

Call Me Back - Bella Renee

Atwood Magazine: We're at the start of a fresh year. Are you a ‘resolutions’ person? Do you have any resolutions or goals for 2021?

I’m not a resolution person, but I always have goals in my head prior to the year that’s coming. But I’m not like, okay, for the new year, I’m going to run more and like… do this and that.

Like I always just have, “Okay, next year I want to do this.” Like, I want to accomplish this by the end of it. Yeah.

So in that sense, this year my resolutions are to enjoy every single little moment that I have with this music journey. It can be frustrating and it can be very time consuming and just.. you can get burnt out really easily on this journey.

So for me, I just appreciate every little thing. Like when I’m in the studio and I’m doing my vocals, I’m appreciating that moment for what it is. I’m literally singing and doing what I love to do. So that’s my biggest goal for the year is like, no matter what it is, no matter how big it is or how small, I want to treat every moment the same and just… sigh… take a deep breath and appreciate it.

So with that, do you have any specific tools that kind of help stay in that gratitude mindset? Like, are you a journaler or is it just sort of like in the moment you just sort of remind yourself to be grateful? Or are there a couple of things you sort of draw on?

Oh yeah! There’s a couple of things. Back in December, I actually was going through a really bad mental health phase. I got put on medication. So for me.. It’s… it’s not good, but it’s also great because I got open to so many new resources and tools to be able to help myself and really, really be grateful and just good up here. *gestures to head*

My manager always says, “If you’re good here [points to head], and good here [points to heart], then you’re going to be successful.”

So I really love that. And so for me, I love to journal. Working out is really awesome. That’s very meditative, you know? And you feel more confident when you do that. So overall those endorphins and everything are running through your brain and you feel better throughout the day. So that just helps me think about being grateful in the moment as well. I also just picked up like five books at Barnes and noble. I think I spend way too much money for self help.

You can never not spend too much money at Barnes and Noble! Do you mind sharing if there's anything interesting you're reading that's kind of speaking to you?

Yeah! So, The Alchemist is my favorite book of all time. It’s about this guy who is going through a journey and things happen in that journey where it is not good. There’s wars in the desert. He has to work at a shop for money just to be able to get help from the guy that owns the shop.

So it’s very rocky, but he is so appreciative of everything that he has gone through. So that’s my favorite book and my manager lives by it. He has like 13 copies. Another one, The Power of the Subconscious Mind  I’m going to start reading pretty soon here. So I’m very excited.

Are you typically a reader?

*Laughs No! No, no. But I really want to be. I think that if you want to start this “self-love, spirituality” kind of journey, then you’re going to have to get into reading.

Yeah! It's kind of, it's kind of unavoidable, regardless of which Avenue you take, you're going to have to read something. So, for you, resolutions are kind of more broad — more about setting goals. Is there anything you're particularly hopeful for, or looking forward to for 2021?

Absolutely! First of all, I have a list of something to do that will move the needle one step further.

So that’s really important — to have those goals every day. Some of those goals are literally on my schedule, so that way we can figure out how to accomplish those goals. Either way you can attain what you want to do if you try. Right now I am working with huge names in the EDM industry right now, which I’m very excited about.

I always want to go bigger and bigger and bigger. So I think my goal for the year is just to have all those features that are coming out. I can’t say who, and I’m so sad, but it’s, it’s very exciting. And so I want to keep just working with people like Gryffin, Illennium,, like those big, big names That’s my goal.

So we have a schedule of things that I’m doing to get me there. So it’s very exciting. I don’t see them as dreams or anything. It’s a plan right now for me. I also want to perform at festivals too. [My manager] and I were talking and he manages like a few other artists.So, it’d be really cool to get on stage with them. We’ve been doing collaborations, so to like sing with them at  Decadence or, you know, a festival when they come back.

So are you typically a person who looks ahead, or do you stay more in the moment? Or are you reflective or does it just kind of depend?

I typically think so far into the future, and that’s sort of the problem.

I mean, that’s why I said being in the moment and keeping myself grounded is really important. I’m constantly like, “Okay, next month we have this coming out, and I have to do this. And that means that right now I have to start my photo shoots for it and the cover art and all that.”

So l I’m very, very, very in the future. Even to the point where I think that I… I love to manifest too. I literally envisioned myself doing my goals and feeling how it feels to accomplish those goals. So I think that everything is healthy no matter where you are in the past, present and future, but yeah, definitely a future kind of person here.

I've seen some of your social media and I've heard just little snippets of interviews where you talk a lot about the importance of pursuing your dreams and you've even kind of hit on like, distinguishing between dreams and goals. Why is that message so important to you?

The reason I’m so passionate about it is because I didn’t know that was really important when I first started out with my music. I never had a plan.

I didn’t have, I mean, I had goals like, “I want to be a musician one day!” or, “Oh, I want to have concerts one day!” But it was never like, “On like this day I need to do this, and then tomorrow I’m going to do this and every single day, but until then, I’m going to do something to make it happen.”

And if it doesn’t happen, Something great is going to come out of it and either way, even if that thing doesn’t happen. So it’s just so important because I love giving advice and I love being a mentor to people. I was that little girl who would play little music festivals around our town and or cafes. But didn’t know what it actually takes to do this.

So that is like the best advice I can possibly give. I say it in like every interview, it’s funny you brought it up because I was hoping to bring it up at one point.

So then what does it take to bridge that gap between dreaming and manifesting or living the dream?

Okay. I’ll tell you a little story and I’ll try to make it quick. So 2019, um, I…

Oh, way back in 2019, a hundred years ago!?!

*Laughs Oh God, Yeah!?! SoI think so 2019, or it could have been 2018, but I was, I was that girl that was like, “I want to do this”.

Like I was trying so hard through my social media. Way harder than I am now on my social media. I was just posting all the time and like trying to do whatever. But I didn’t have any music out. I mean, I had ones that I produced myself, but they weren’t great quality. But I knew that I was better than what I was doing, and I didn’t know how to do it.

And so my producer reached out to me on Instagram — so crazy. And I even put off the phone call with him —  the first initial phone call. Then finally we got to talking and I was like, “I know this is going to be expensive because it’s going to be like hundreds of dollars per song, but I need to figure out a way to just make this happen.” Like just this.

Because if I do this, maybe it’ll open up more doors in the future. So I got two jobs. I was working from 5:00 AM to about 12 to one. And then having a two hour break and going right back to work, to be a server and working until midnight.

So I was getting four hours of sleep at night, every night, but I was paying my bills. I was playing all my songs and I was creating an album basically. So after that happened, it was like a year of just grinding it out. Like it sucked honestly. It was so hard. I hated my jobs. I hated that I was working so hard. I thought, “I have this big goal and nothing is happening right now.” But I was like, “I’m just gonna stick through it and try to see what happens from it.”

We ended up finishing the songs. I met Jason [my manager] and a year later after that. Jason wanted to be my main manager, and then my producer became full-time for me. I don’t have to pay those hundreds of dollars anymore, now he’s on my team. So then a team started building and people started teaching me. It was just that little bit of hustle that sucked, brought so much good — literally my life right now.

Bella Renee © 2021
Bella Renee © 2021

That's awesome. I feel like that's a side and I think that's maybe part of what we were touching on earlier, about why artists have such ill-defined dreams is because we don't hear that side of it as much of like. That hustle so often gets left our of the narrative. We see the end result of someone’s work, but we rarely see that process. Is that something that is important for you?

Definitely. I’m very transparent. No matter what I talk about — sometimes I just can’t release any names or dates of certain things. But other than that, I’m an open book and I want to be that way forever, no matter where I go with my career. No one ever talks about it. Like you don’t hear Taylor Swift being like, “Oh yeah, one time I worked Wendy’s.” Like, say it! Talk about it!

So that’s what I want to do.

So let's talk a little bit about your music journey a little bit. Where were you when you first decided that this was what you were going to do and what prompted that decision?

Yeah, so, I grew up with a rock star dad. He wasn’t famous or anything, but in my head, he was. He was in a band. He would sing all the time and have gigs in bars. I remember going when I was little and like being in a bar and like… my dad is like singing! Obviously I was there with my family and it was fine, but it was just, I grew up around that. So that was when I was like, “Oh my God! I want to do that. That looks so fun!”

To me, he was a rock star because any show that he played, everybody loved him. Everybody. 

So then I got a piano, it was broken. I like taped it back together. That was like my first touch of music that I had, rather than like singing with my dad. And then in high school, like I noticed, I didn’t want to do anything. All these people around me, they all want to be like, nurses and doctors, engineers, I’m like, “That’s awesome… that’s great.” But I just…didn’t have that in me. I was like, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Then I went to Berkeley College of Music. But I only went for like a year…a year to two years. And even then I didn’t know that I wanted to be an artist. I just knew I wanted to do music. I wanted to be a producer. And then that time, 2018, 2019, where I kind of like snapped out of it.

It was like, “I am an artist”t I saw. I say, “You know, I love performing. I am going to do this because I want to be the brand. So that was what I liked into this solo artists thing that I want to do. I had danced in Boston and stuff, but it was never as serious as I am now.

So is Boston where you grew up?

No, I actually grew up in  Arizona. Very Southern Arizona, Sierra Vista. But I moved almost 4,000 miles away to go to college for music, which was a huge step for me. Everyone else was going to ULA or  ASU or , you know, other places. And I was just like Boston.

People underestimate Boston. It's a, it's a pretty big music town.

It definitely is. And it was good for me to take that step.

Definitely. So what instrument did your dad play?

He was actually the lead singer.

Were they like a rock band or like a country band?

They were a rock band. Like AC/DC. Like I fully believe that if my dad entered an AC/DC soundalike contest, he would for sure win!

That's rad! So we'll jump ahead a little bit. Last year you had your first release with Tydi and that was your first official release, yeah?

Yes..? Yeah, I guess it was. I mean I had had some stuff before that was kind of my own stuff, but that was my first big, like label release.

You had the unique experience of having your first feature not only being released during a pandemic, but also being about the pandemic. What did it feel like to make such a huge step in the midst of all that chaos?

Yeah — that was sort of crazy. It’s funny because I had actually gone to the studio to work on a different track, and that’s where I met Tyson. Then while we were working during the session, he kind of stopped everything and said, “Ok, everyone gather ‘round. I’ve got an idea.” Like, “ Let’s write something.”

And I always feel like if someone wants to write with you, if they feel inspired in the moment, or whatever, you kind of just go with it. So I was like, “Sure.” And he was like, “Ok, everyone sit on the floor..” And I was like… uhhh…?

Oh! Yes — I’d love to hear your take on that writing session. Tyson mentioned it back in September but I’d love to hear it from your perspective!

Yes! So I thought it was interesting. I had never done that before — sat on the floor to start writing. I mean, I guess I write on the floor when I’m at home writing my own songs. But never like this — never in a studio with a bunch of people. And he [Tydi] just said — ok, I want everyone to write down what comes to mind when we think of this year [2020]. Like, the pandemic, lockdown. So yeah — that’s what we did, and it was really fun.

That’s excellent! Let’s jump into the new single, “Call Me Back.” because that’s what we’re here to talk about! This is now Your official solo single. Where did the idea for this song originate and what was its journey from there to here and now?

So, “Call Me Back,” is actually a much older song. It’s got a very long story. I actually started writing it way back when I had moved to Boston. It’s sort of an “end of an era” song for a previous relationship.

When  that relationship ended I think I was like 18. I don’t remember. But it was just like the end of an era.  I thought I was going to marry that person, you know. So when it ended, there was this feeling like “Is this really over? Is it done? Are you going to call me back? Do I want you to call me back?”

That relationship was so challenging. Sometimes [what I do as an artist] is just too much for a lot of people that I have been in relationships with. It’s like, “Oh, you want to be a musician? You have big dreams.” [This career path] is not stable at all. And a lot of people want someone who’s stable.

So [with this song] I’m kind of putting that out there now — I’m not stable and if you want to be with me, you have to know what I’m doing with my life a thousand percent and be okay with it. Not even okay with it, just like, deal with it!. Like, I don’t know. I’m excited that I thought of this song and got to write it out. It’s kind of like venting, it’s like literally closing a chapter.

I think the truth is with most young people and young relationships, there's a lot of self-discovery that has to happen anyway. And I’m sure distance doesn't help. Do you think everyone has to kind of go through that trail and error process with relationships? And have you managed to find any kind of balance now with it all?

I agree with you 100%. I think that people who don’t experience that are the lucky few and I think most other people are just trying to figure stuff out. You need to be sure that you are growing and evolving as a person. You need to allow yourself to do that.

My boyfriend and I were just talking about how we are literally evolving —  as individuals, but it’s kind of together in a way. And it’s, it’s really awesome. It’s great to finally have all these songs, but I feel bad because everyone’s gonna think they’re about him! I wrestled with that as well.

Bella Renee © 2021
Bella Renee © 2021

Let's talk about producing this song. I know this is the same producer who's worked with you. Before. How did he help shape the sound and style, and what was the collaboration like on this project?

Oh, my gosh, this is a crazy story. So, it’s been a long road with that song. First of all, my producer’s name is Halen Bouhadana. He’s amazing. He’s literally my best friend outside of music and everything. We’re business partners, but we’re also very close. So songwriting with him is awesome. We’re both on the same page.

For “Call Me Back,” it was actually a completely different song, now that I think about it. It was a completely different instrumental that he had. And he was like, “Hey, you want to write this?” And I was like, “okay, sure. Why not?” So then I wrote it in the studio, and we’re very quick with when we write things.

And so I actually wrote the whole song in an hour to two hours.  But had a different drop and everything. Way different vibe. And then we went to a couple of different studios to record the vocals and pretty much felt like it was done. Then [my manager] Jason was like, “We gotta wait. Just trust me.” So we figured, if we’re gonna wait and really build a brand a little bit first, let’s completely redo it. So we completely redid it, made it more, what we call “more Bella.” We added that synth, and the bass and stuff. Now it’s more like indie pop rather than just being pop.

We were actually recording the vocals in Burbank when we met Tyson [Tydi]. And then we went to another studio and I rewrote the bridge. The first bridge was like, “if you come back, like I’ll be here.” And it was just just not what I wanted it to be. So I changed the bridge afterwards. Then we chose it for my first release.

Awesome. Well, we can wrap up here but before we finish I’d be curious to hear your thoughts. With the music landscape being so uncertain — even releasing a single when it's unclear when live shows will be a thing — where is the journey going from here?

That’s a really good question. I love the journey, first of all. It sucks sometimes, but it’s awesome all the time! Things I’m looking forward to.. Um.. Merch! I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that, but I’m saying it! Right now it’s going to be kind of  a basic design just to like get something out, but I really want to think about it carefully. I’m really into thrifting.

Even the shirt right now, I’m wearing I got from thrifting. It’s like a giant gym t-shirt from like, whatever, the 1980s, I just like cut it so it’d be a crop top. t I really want to incorporate my actual clothing style into my merch. I know a lot of people love thrifting. So I’m very excited about  kind of perfecting that and kind of getting that to where I want it to be. I’m really excited for these features. I wish I could freaking tell you what they are. But I’m excited about that and just kind of working and improving my craft — getting closer with my team. This team is so awesome. Every single person that Jason manages is just a really awesome person.

We’re all like a family. It really is like a family. We all have each other’s phone numbers. We all talk. We’re all working with each other. So it’s, it’s awesome. I’m excited that I’m slowly seeing who I am as an artist. It’s slowly like falling into place. But the biggest thing that I’m wanting to do is just be a huge advocate for mental health. I want to be authentic. I know that there’s people that have felt the way that I have felt regardless of having big dreams or not.

So I kind of just want to be that person that people can look up to and relate to. I know Noah Cyrus is great about that, but I just kind of want to dive a little deeper and I wanna… I wanna see where I go with that idea this year. Also, I’m releasing music every single month this year! Well, almost every single month. I shouldn’t say every single month, almost every single month. It’s getting crazy. Last year, it was very, “Keep your head down and work.” So we did that. But now there’s the work and then  also  having a brand and like also like … be this… You know?

It’s like… Ooh… I’m trying to toggle it all. And it’s not always easy… sometimes it sucks, but it’s always awesome.

— —

Matt Gose loves stories, great songs, driving windows-down along the coastal highways of North County San Diego, and his incredible wife, Alexandra. In 2011, he graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University with a BA in Literature and currently works in San Diego County as a freelance writer and substitute teacher. When he’s not writing, he’s playing his guitar named sunny, reading, spending time outdoors, or otherwise on the lookout for adventure. His favorite author in Ken Kesey. His favorite song is “You Still Believe in Me,” by The Beach Boys. His favorite movie is Almost Famous (duh). And his favorite food is tacos de lengua. Catch him on Twitter @thegosewriter, Instagram @gosewriter, and on the web at www.gosewriter.com

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:: stream/purchase “Call Me Back” here ::
Stream: “Call Me Back” – Bella Renee



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Call Me Back - Bella Renee

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