Moscow-born, Alaskan-raised and Brooklyn-based Olga Bell is better known on stage simply as Bell (her surname and her band's name). Her voice is often compared to that of Björk's (she has even put out a cover of one of her songs), but she'll do plenty to pull you in on her own unique merits. Listen for yourself tonight when she takes the stage at Mercury Lounge. Oh, and listen to her mash-up of Thom Yorke's "The Eraser" and Radiohead's "Videotape" (here).
What was the first ever pop song you remember hearing? I'm not sure if this counts as a pop song, but when I was about three or four my mom and I would dance around the living room almost every morning to "The Bare Necessities" from the Jungle Book. If that doesn't fully count, I remember pretty vividly the first moment I turned on MTV, in sixth grade. "The Sweater Song" was on, immediately followed by "Bop Gun". So that's my story: Disney, Weezer, Ice Cube.
When did you start playing music? When I was five.
What current bands are you listening to? Animal Collective, Fennesz, Clark and Erykah Badu's new records, Beyonce and Rihanna singles, a lot of Morton Feldman to balance out the noise.
Who/what else inspires you? I try to be as omnivorous as possible, but when there's not time or money to go see and hear and taste everything, just people rushing around on the subway are pretty tantalizing. I love picking things out of the chaos---toddlers, rats, lovers, accents, strange noises, etc.
I hear on the side you teach piano lessons...do you have any interesting stories from your time doing that? Most recently, one of the youngest kids I teach (he's about five) was playing through a song called "My Dog Spike" (it sounds exactly like "Three Blind Mice"). He stopped cold in the middle of it, and looked at me, and said "Ms. Bell, I like Spike better. I think you should be Ms. Spike." If I ever have a punk band it's going to be called Three Blind Spikes.
What's next on your agenda/what can we look forward to in the coming year? In March I'm going on my very first tour with Asobi Sesksu, over to the west coast and down to Austin for SXSW. Right around then my friends who run twosyllable records will be releasing a 7" vinyl/digital single for us, a brand-new song called Magic Tape backed with a completely made-over version of Housefire, a song from the EP we self-released in 2008. Beyond that we have another tour with Bowerbirds in April, then in May I'll be finishing a piece with composer/laptop artist Jeremy Flower for a Carnegie Hall commission, then hopefully some more new pop music after that, some visual morsels, some summer, warmth, smoothies...
If you could perform with an all-star supergroup (past or present musicians), who would be in it? Aretha Franklin, Barack Obama, Matmos and Andre 3000, with arrangements by Olivier Messiaen and visuals by James Whitney.
Please share your strangest "only in New York" story. It was my first year in New York, and I was at a pub on the far West Side, around 2am on a busy night. This very drunk guy stumbled over, put his hand on my shoulder and loudly announced that he was Mike Myers' manager and asked if I'd like to come and sit with them. I told him to shove off, that that was the wost pickup line I'd ever heard. About an hour later I was walking out, past a little enclave of tables where this guy was sitting with his friends, and sure enough, right there next to him and also looking pretty drunk...there was Mike Myers.
Which New Yorker do you most admire? I respect pretty much everybody who's managed to make a name and career for themselves here---it's so expensive, it can be so draining, and there are so many talented and energetic people working round the clock, everyone really trying to make it. Almost everyone I know here is a transplant from somewhere else, I'm always wondering how much time has to go by before somebody can call themselves a "New Yorker". Maybe Madonna or Hillary Clinton? They're polarizing, unapologetic, always working---I admire that.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? Real change or fantasy change? If everyone walked around with status updates floating over their heads, that would really be something.
Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York? In the three and a half years I've been here, I haven't ever seriously thought about leaving. I can't imagine living anywhere else right now.
Best cheap eat in the city. Fish Tacos from Snack Dragon on 3rd street or soup dumplings from Joe's Shanghai.
Best venue to play/hear music. Monkeytown in Williamsburg. It's the only place I know where you can satiate all of your senses at the same time.