David Bello and His Many Monikers
David Bello, the new Dylan or Morgantown version of Daniel Johnston? That is the question that plagues us. But fear not, the man, the myth, the legend takes some time out of his studies to discuss all things David Bello, like how he came up with the name Stinky Slinkies.
Graffiti: Was it your idea to add Ryan Hizer from Librarians and Big Ass Manatee fame to the lineup to expand your live sound?
Bello: Well, he initially came in to take Kyle Vass’ place when Kyle had to back out of one of the shows we had already been confirmed to play. He had played with us near the beginning, when we first started the band, but was too busy to play shows back then. I’m really glad he’s in it now, not just so we can play shows when Kyle isn’t in town or has to work, but also because he really does add a lot to the sound. We’ve been able to add in a lot more percussion and he gets really into playing and moving around on stage.
Graffiti: It seems like the live set has been pretty tight lately. Could this be attributed to the forward-thinking nature of the newer songs, a maturity of sorts?
Bello: Thanks! Yeah, as far as being tighter, I think it’s been a matter of us being so familiar with the older songs, having played them for a number of years now. Plus, like you said, with the new songs, we’re sort of drifting from the traditional drum, bass, guitar line-up and arrangement. We’ve been incorporating samples, solos that don’t really act like solos, and moving parts around where they don’t belong. Especially in our newest song, “Two Summers,” I feel like the dynamics are shifted around considerably from something like “Terminate,” or “Pull Yr Pigtails,” where there’s a soft intro and it gets louder and louder until it ends.
Graffiti: You’ve been recording music since you were a youngster, and you’ve compiled probably a thousand songs or so. Do you ever get writer’s block?
Bello: I don’t like to think of it as a block, but yeah, there are times where I don’t write anything at all. I’ll go through periods of writing a song every day for a couple weeks or going a month without playing an instrument whatsoever. I think it’s just a matter of what’s on my mind. Right now I’m in a graduate program that eats up the majority of my time, so I end up not playing music alone that often. I’m either busy working or too tired to do anything truly productive. I think depression has a lot to do with it, too. When I spent a lot of time alone, overthinking things, bothering myself about tiny, meaningless shit, or overwhelmed by large-scale philosophical dilemmas like “What are people, really?” or “Who says reality is blah blah blah,” that’s when I write songs; not when I’m happy about hanging out with friends or taking a cheerful walk. It’s usually when I feel alone and just drink a bunch of beer alone and watch episodes of Mr. Show over and over and over again that I’m really in the mood to write songs.
Graffiti: When you play at 123 you seem to get a pretty big crowd reaction from your poppy tunes, such as “Pull Yr. Pigtails” and “Terminator.” Do you ever feel like moving away from that style, and if so, do you worry about people not singing along as much?
Bello: I don’t purposefully move away or toward that style of song. I really enjoy catchy songs, but I also enjoy abrasive noise. I think however a song turns out depends on the initial intent, or what its thematic content turns into. I really love that people sing along, and I would miss it if I didn’t have that experience anymore. But on the other hand, it’s simply an added bonus to having people actually pay attention to lyrics. Lyrics are pretty important to me, and singing along is definitely a signal of someone having paid attention to what is being said; not necessarily that they give a shit what I’m talking about, but that they like the song enough to have listened to it more than once. I love that. I do like making crazy, inaccessible music, but it’s not as much fun to play live. There’s a different kind of connection to the audience there.
Graffiti: When you first started out with the live band, it seemed like you alternated band names ever time you played. My personal favorite was David Bello and the Stinky Slinkies. What made you settle on God-Given Right?
Bello: We originally changed the name every single time we played. David Bello and Sebastian, The Busy World of David Bello, etc. The Stinky Slinkies name came from a spam MySpace message the band account received, which just said “CHECK OUT MY P**** WEBCAM AT MYSPACE.COM/ASTINKYSLINKY.” I really liked that one too, but I felt like that was a little too risque. Strangers will ask me what it means, and I’m not going to lie to them. I’m going to say ‘it means smelly p*****s.’ I don’t remember exactly why we settled on that one. I think it was the only one that didn’t seem like a gimmick. The others were puns or just complete absurdities. This one has a ring to it that isn’t toilet humor or a political joke or a movie reference.
Graffiti: Your lyrics tend to range from typical love song fare to sadist, Tourette’s tinged hate mongering. And some tend to have no decipherable words at all, as with your recent vocal manipulation work. Where do you plan on taking it from here?
Bello: Well, I hope it’s all decipherable for the most part. I’ve got all my lyrics up at http://davidfbello.tumblr.com, and I welcome people to ask me any questions they have about any of the parts. Usually the lyrics are all mixed up reality, things I’ve seen about other people, and things I made up, metaphors, whatever. No song is about any one particular thing. The way I think of it is if the lyrics are referring to something, they are representations of that thing. Those representations fit together, but the objects of their representation might be entirely dissimilar. For example, I have a song that I’m working on with a verse about this actress who killed herself in the 1970s. I read up on her on Wikipedia, and wrote this verse from the point of view of one of her ex-husbands. I didn’t want that to be the entire song, though, so I wrote another verse about how uncomfortable I feel about wearing sunglasses at times. That may sound trivial, and it is, but it’s more about the similarities between that sort of social discomfort and the oddness of fashion politics. The point is, there are songs I might write about someone I really like, but then in the middle, there’s a part thrown in that’s about some evil dude I knew in high school. The varying realities that the lyrics are based on are completely separate, but the lyrics themselves, the representations of those realities, fit together.
Graffiti: You recently started going to graduate school in New York state. How has life outside of Morgantown, away from all your friends, affected your output?
Bello: Pretty badly. I came out with an album while I’ve been living there, but a lot of it had been written previously, and a lot of the versions I recorded for it are not up to par with some of the demos of those same songs I had made before. I got so used to playing with the same people in Morgantown that I have a hard time making music without them. I’ve been neglecting my music, and it’s mostly because I’ve been over thinking everything. I get really overwhelmed with all of these academic ideas about the relationship of software technology and human evolution, start getting geeked out and philosophical, and before I know it, I’ve gone weeks without recording a song! When I have an outlet to write papers about XBox hacking or autonomous economic Firefox scripts, I end up focusing on them with the same motivated effort as I would have put toward writing and recording an album or two.
Graffiti: Are you working on a new album?
Bello: I’ve got a lot on the backburner right now. I’m procrastinating a good bit, but I really hope to focus on putting something together soon. I have a lot of tracks recorded and pretty much finished, but I haven’t gotten around to mixing them down or compiling the tracks into a cohesive album. Most of the stuff I’ve done lately has incorporated a lot of samples. I’ve been getting into manipulating found sounds, like grabbing the audio from a YouTube video, slowing it down, pitch-shifting it, etc. and using it as a rhythm track for something else. My next album will probably have a very “overproduced” sound, because my most recent, “KFC & Someone Else’s Head Cold,” was notably under produced. The new one will have lots of effects, recording tricks, and hopefully sound like a Lil’ Wayne album.
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