Mercy Bell Songwriting Interview


Mercy Bell

Happy 2014!  Sorry I dropped off the map there for a bit. Work was really busy the last couple of months with a new exciting projects, lots of gigs, a music consulting project with Disney and just some needed family time.

There’s some great interviews coming up this year, that I’m excited to share with you.  Mercy Bell is a great one to start the year with.  My first introduction to Mercy was a Gummy Bear playing her, since she was sick, in a promo video for friends show at the Living Room about 3-4 years ago.  How many times have we all met someone in that same exact way?!

I found Mercy to be someone who loves music and songwriting.  She searches out people to talk about songwriting. She proudly shares her love of musicals.  She’s a kind and compassionate person who sincerely likes people and looks for the good in all people. We all need more Mercy Bells in our lives.

Current city- Nashville
Most Current Release- “All Good Cowboys” – too long ago, 2011

Brief introduction
Born in Boston, lived in San Francisco briefly as a kid, moved to San Diego and lived there for a decade, then moved to New Bedford, MA and lived there for 11 years until I moved to Brooklyn, NYC after college. Spent time in Arkansas, and now live in Nashville with my beautiful girlfriend. I’ve been singing in choirs, theater, or as a musician since I was 8 years old. I studied history at UMass Dartmouth. I’m part Filipino! I’ve had a lot of weird jobs to support my music career. Worked in corporate and non-profit offices, written textbooks, walked dogs, have been in a dunk tank, sold hot dogs, watched chickens, cleaned houses, fed cows, counted foot traffic, handed out snacks at concerts.

What is your songwriting/composing process?
Usually starts with either a hook or a sentence and then blossoms from there. It’s pretty organic.

What are you most proud of?
Probably my song “Black Dress”, it’s the most personal for sure.

You have a great love for musicals. Have you ever considered writing one?
Only every year since I was 8. The first song I ever wrote was for a Civil War musical when I was 10. I made my brother sing it. I also wrote a short film musical with my siblings and cousins one summer, it’s on YouTube somewhere. It was based on a found note on the ground that literally had the line “Armpits, stop the madness!”.

You spent time in several great musical cities (San Diego, Boston, New York and Nashville). How would you compare them as musical environments?
I can really only speak about New York and Nashville, as my time in San Diego and Boston I wasn’t focused on music yet. New York really taught me how to be an artist and how to hustle, you sing at dive bars with nobody there and you learn not to care, just sing anyway, learn how to do it for the love of it. In Nashville, in the indie/Americana scene at least, it’s easy to make a big splash fast. They’re so music hungry here and it’s easy to access the movers and shakers since the industry is here. You never know who will be in the audience. That was true in NYC to an extent, but Nashville is so much smaller.

Do lyrics come quickly or do you revise them over a period of time?
Both! I usually have to play it out a few times. I can’t remember lyrics to save my life. I change them often because I forget them! If it sticks and flows, I use it.

What is your favorite songwriting lyric?
Just off the top of my head

Patty Griffin’s “Top of the World”:

“But I’d pretend to be sleeping
When you’d come in in the morning
To whisper goodbye
Go work in the rain
I don’t know why”

Also Johnny Cash in Folsom Prison Blues,

“I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.”

Pretty much anything Jenny Lewis or Sufjan Stevens writes (particularly “Casimir Pulaski Day”).

Music Reality shows have become very popular. maybe too popular. You’re a strong believer in musicians supporting each other rather than competing. Talk about your views on that.
I don’t see anything wrong with those shows. I know people who’ve gone on The Voice, AI, and America’s Got Talent, and they put everything they’ve got into it and deserve the exposure. I don’t do it because a) I don’t like signing contracts unless I really have to and b) I am not competitive. I’d be a really bad athlete. I can’t even sit through a board game without wanting to quit.

What advice would you give to young songwriters/composers?
Just do it. Show don’t tell.

If you could go back and be part of any album session what would it be?
Probably sing back up on one of Sufjan Steven’s albums. I’d say Patty Griffin but she doesn’t need any help.

If you could sit down and talk about songwriting with anyone, who would it be and why?
Does Leonard Bernstein count?  I’d probably just want to hang out while he was writing West Side Story or On The Waterfront or Candide. I wouldn’t say a word, just watch. Can you imagine? Max Martin or Carole King. Those two can write pop hits and I love pop. I’d say Patty Griffin or Sufjan Stevens but I’d rather just sing karaoke with them and hear them talk about life.

Mercy Bell on the Web

Twitter @mercybell

All interviews and Bonus Materials, including Mercy Bell, will be archived alphabetically HERE for easy access in the future.

Bonus materials for Mercy Bell include; 2 videos of Mercy and 3 music videos of songs she’s been enjoying lately.

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Thanks for spending some time here,
Our Scattered Words



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