Junior Justin Bell does vocals and guitar in his performance with junior Alex Gallo at the DIY Galesburg event on Friday, Oct. 6 at The Gallery. (Photo courtesy of Justin Bell)
While junior Alex Gallo has been more traditionally trained in music theory, junior Justin Bell’s music relies more on poetics and emotional content than technicalities when songwriting. In combining the two strengths, Gallo and Bell join forces as “Forget!,” which is a subset of their larger band, Eaten by Mice which includes senior Nate Smelker, junior Luke Sherman and sophomore Travis Geoden.
Having started guitar lessons in 5th grade, Bell grew to dislike the music he was playing and eventually stopped in high school. It wasn’t until he got to Knox that he rediscovered his love for creating music. Using his cell phone and his love for poetry, Bell recorded a few songs that received positive feedback from friends. He used the feedback as encouragement to continue his musical pursuits.
“It’s kind of difficult sometimes because I’m not good at reading music. I don’t know music theory and stuff,” Bell said. “It’s a little intimidating with a lot of the other people that I’ve played with are very proficient in musical language. There’s a barrier that exists.”
Gallo, who plays piano in the duo, doesn’t feel that the technicalities are a vital aspect of music composition, and doesn’t consider himself as having an advantage over Bell.
“I don’t think that [being classically trained] is so important for Justin’s music, because it’s so poetically heavy,” Gallo said. “It’s not so much about whether it’s an incredibly innovative chord progression. It’s more about the message we’re trying to convey.”
Bell characterizes his music as ‘sadcore’ and often finds inspiration through hardships. He mentioned that, recently, he’s taken ideas from philosophers such as Nietzsche and applied them to his already emotionally charged lyrics. He uses writing as a means of finding meaning through the hardships in his life.
“Most of the time it’ll just be real life crappy events that happen to me,” Bell said. “And I just feel like the only way I can turn that experience into something meaningful and to make sense of it is to write a song about it. It suddenly turns that experience into art and not just a crappy situation.”
Oftentimes, according to Bell, he would approach the other musicians in Eaten by Mice with ideas for chord progressions and lyrics he’s written. Other members with a more extensive musical background would help Bell figure out what kind of sound he wants and modify his work accordingly. Bell noted that, during these times, he attempts to be a sponge and absorb any of the information that is thrown at him. The collaborative process, he feels, allows for a work of true genius to be made.
“I like when somebody comes to the table with something I completely never thought of, and it completely changes the song for the better,” he said.
Gallo feels he has a lot to learn from Bell, too. Despite being a music-education major and integrating music into a large part of his life, Gallo hopes to get more experience performing live throughout the year.
“I’m a pretty shy musician, so I appreciate [Bell’s] gall. And performing and putting yourself out there is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. And not being afraid to share some deeper, more like intense feelings in music,” Gallo said.
The two will perform on Friday, Oct. 20 at Sigma Chi’s Derby Days event. The event will take place in Jay Rehearsal Hall at 7:30 p.m., and will be raising funds to aid cancer research. In the future, the Bell and Gallo hope to bring in the rest of the band together and start performing as a group. They hope to create a completed set list that includes songs written by each of the band members.