Olga Bell is a classically trained Russian-Alaskan-Brooklynite multi-hyphenate who has worked with Drift favourites Dirty Projectors and Tom Vek. Krai is her exploration of the lesser- known corners of Bell’s homeland and written entirely in her native Russian. Since it's release last month (June 2014) we have played it a great deal, so we were physced at the chance to talk to her about the album and other things she's been listening to.
Drift: How did you form Krai in your head? Did it feel like a story you wanted to tell? Olga: I love starting projects with a word, a sort of working title, and "krai" (pronounced as "cry") is a really great Russian word with many evocative meanings: edge, rim, wilderness, hinterland, frontier-land and homeland. I Googled the word one day and came across this map. It seemed like a solid framework for a composition: one movement for each of these nine "Krais".
As it's all Russian text did you worry about articulating specifics? or was it liberating knowing that non Russians speakers would largely pick up more on the music? What I most want to communicate with this record is a certain traditionally Slavic singing style which to me just wouldn't work in a non-Slavic language. This kind of singing isn't uniquely Russian, but I do think it's uniquely Slavic. Music always comes first for me. Melody and chords and beats are usually in place before I get to lyrics, so lot of this piece I wrote with mumbled Russian-isms in place of actual Russian, and it's thanks to my incredible mother the secret poet that the finished product has beautiful, real lyrics that make sense and fit with the traditional texts we used.
Russian is a beautiful looking language, if that doesn't sound weird... I love your sleeve art. How did that come about? Thank you! Jessica Hische is a genius letterer and she whipped up all my old Slavonic and blackletter references into the beautiful custom art that's foil-stamped on the front and back covers. I wanted nothing but the name, and I wanted both the Russian and the English spellings of the word. Jessica's amazing for rendering the two spellings so graphically interchangeable and mutually iconic.
Tom Vek - Luck Tom has really, really good ears. He's my friend and he'll never admit this (he's self-depricating at every turn, per your custom) but I find it amazing that without any pitch-correction Tom is consistently, perfectly in tune, while remaining true to an incredibly conversational inflection. He talks about a paranoid character on this release, but I get a really free and unburdened feeling from it.
Beck - Morning Phase This is my sixth attempt at writing something in this space because I'm listening to "Wave" in headphones it is occupying all the usable space in my brain. This track is humongous, regal, cinematic, elemental, painterly… blah blah [all the adjectives]. It's also just beautiful, with no agenda but to proceed and slowly reveal itself. I-so-la-tion.
J Dilla - Donuts This record was my introduction to the genius of Dilla. Everyone should know about his work and this seems like a good point of entry. I don't have much more to say except sometimes when people ask how I'm doing or what I'm up to I'll respond with a hearty "Workinonit!"
Warpaint - Disco/Very This song!!! It makes me feel cool, it makes me wish I was in that video with those girls slow-mo dancing in the LA sunshine. It's polished and groovy, but it also sounds like people just fucking around over a beat. I love that we never leave the pitchy mesmeric zone, I love the timing of "I… need… to take… a… BREAK!"
Radiohead - Hail to the Thief Maybe I have an irrational reverence for everything these people do, but I love this record just as much as the others and I'm prepared to defend it against any claims that it's their "throwaway album". (Is that why it's the only Radiohead LP you have in stock?) It's not the breakthrough of OK Computer, it's not the metamorphosis of Kid A/Amnesiac, and sure, it was the final release on a major they had grown to publicly loathe. All this considered, H.T.T.T. remains for me a collection of good songs with very good components. I don't want to live in a world without "Myxomatosis", especially that bassline. Same goes for the hypnotic rumble-crunch of "The Gloaming", the ecstatically beautiful chord that happens in "Sail To The Moon" on the word "stars", and the combative, totally unfamiliar low register Thom uses for "Wolf at the Door".
Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness This record occupies some impossible space between post-everything no-fucks-given and informed appreciation for a specifically American radio sound from the middle of the last century. In the shadow of Angel Olsen's incredibly well-crafted songs and resolute delivery any bias you thought you had (as I did) against 'country' music or even 'guitar-driven' should completely vaporize. It's not easy to get through the whole record in one go, the music is concentrated, but even in small doses it's a welcome relief from the noise of everyone else trying to be cool. There's no trendy production, no aloof self-awareness, just great songs. Put aside everything you thought you knew you wanted and let this music in.
Drake - Nothing Was the Same I resisted this album for a long time. I'm not obsessed with Drake, I don't think he is the greatest rapper or the greatest heartthrob or the greatest ironic/confessional guy or even the greatest Canadian. But this record is good and I've given up being contrarian about it. "Started from the Bottom" is such a good beat and his sprechstimmeis really on point… "Worst Behavior" is maybe more fun to do in the mirror.
Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas Listening to this record takes me right back to driving in the desert with Chairlift. I distinctly remember Caroline introducing me to this album on a very hot day, and I'm so grateful she did. Elizabeth Fraser's voice and writing is incredible, I hear her influence everywhere now. We should also talk about the "mouth music" gibberish lyrics?? May we all someday have the nerve to turn everything over to melody and harmony and allow people to assign their own meaning to a string of syllables. That's just just one of the many ways in which this band was visionary.