Sponsored by The Songwriter’s Guild, the band Bella Ruse, made up of Kay Gillette and Joseph Barker, taught a workshop and played a show at Knox this past Friday, April 6. TKS sat down with the band to discuss how they ended up where they are.
The Knox Student: Why did you want to study opera and why change from that?
Kay Gillette (KG): I studied opera because I love music, and I wanted to study music.
Joseph Barker (JB): For vocal performance, that’s just kind of what you do.
KG: Well, you could do jazz. But when I was about ready to graduate, I realized that, in order to continue to do opera, I really had to invest myself in it. Fortunately, I met Joseph about that same time and he was doing folk music. So we started collaborating.
TKS: In the description of your performance, you’re described as a “DIY” [Do It Yourself] artist. Is that how you would describe yourself?
JB: Not as a genre.
KG: That’s our business plan.
JB: The talk that we did today was about sort of being an independent musician. [Editor’s note: Bella Ruse presented a workshop on how to survive as an independent musician; for full coverage, see “Surviving, thriving in the music world.”]
KG: We do everything ourselves.
JB: Everything a record label might do, we would do all of it ourselves. That’s what that’s referring to.
KG: Our genre, we would say, is cute rock.
TKS: What are the challenges of doing everything yourself?
JB: The challenge is that we have very little time to do music. Most of our time is taken up during all of the promotion and booking and all of the administrative and business stuff. We’re basically running a small business. We basically have very little time to do the thing that we’re most passionate about and got us into this in the first place. Finding the time to do that and making that a priority and continue to be passionate about actually making music and writing songs is a challenge, I would say.
KG: We are still passionate about it, but it is a challenge to find the time and to not let all the other stuff get in the way.
TKS: How would you describe your music composition process?
JB: I write most of the songs and then bring them to [Gillette] in various stages of completion. And then she’ll kind of veto it or approve.
KG: Or elaborate on it.
JB: We’ve never sat down together and just started from scratch to write a song. Both of us find that very difficult. At least for me, writing a song is such a personal thing that… I don’t want let anybody hear it unless I’m sure that it’s gonna be good. Even Kay, who I share everything with…I can’t share the beginning of a song with.
TKS: Fun question. What is the first album you ever bought?
JB: I think mine was the “Mission Impossible Soundtrack.” It had Bjork on it and Massive Attack on it… That was one of my first exposures to pop music and then I had a Cranberries CD.
KG: I bought two at the same time. It was Aqua — you know, of Barbie Girl fame — and Savage Garden.
TKS: How did you get your start in music?
KG: We both started piano when we were really young – when we were five.
JB: My parents took me to church when I was four. The pastor was a really great piano player and I said to my mom, “I want to play piano like that.” And so that Christmas, my parents got me, as a gift, piano lessons.
I started when I was five and then I started playing guitar and started writing songs in middle school. My parents had a recording program on their computer in the kitchen, so I started recording stuff and experimenting with layering. … That’s what I’m still doing.
KG: My mom said that I started singing pretty much as soon as I started talking. So it’s just been since the beginning, for both of us.
TKS: What was it like to perform at Knox?
KG: It was awesome. Everyone was so energetic. And it’s so great to play for a crowd that’s excited and happy to be there.
JB: Yeah, I was really surprised at how energetic everybody was — it was really fantastic. And rhythmic, too.
KG: Yeah, right! Everyone was, like, snapping!
JB: Clapping and snapping. They were really excited to be part of the music, which was wonderful.
KG: Yeah, it was the best type of crowd. For sure. Thank you, Knox College!
To download music or for more information on Bella Ruse, check out their website at music.bellaruse.com. The group can also be found on Facebook.