Jennah Bell: Singer-songwriter is unassuming, unadorned and undeniable

Jennah Bell: Singer-songwriter is unassuming, unadorned and undeniable

Singer-songwriters hold a special place in the hearts and minds of music fans.

Oakland, Calif., native Jennah Bell channels the same spirit of honest expression and introspection that predecessors such as Joni Mitchell and Lauryn Hill made a prerequisite for any artist bold enough to arm themselves only with an acoustic guitar. The 24-year-old attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston and was among the artists featured in BET’s “Best of 2012” Music Matters Showcase; and her Early Bird EP was among the more acclaimed indie releases of 2011.

“I just love music,” she shares. “Not any particular kind of music or facet of it. I just play music. I don’t know what that looks like to anybody else. I know what that feels like to me. It’s very specific to my experiences. I want to be a part of so much and that’s what ends up coming out.”

While pop superstars are usually untouchable, larger-than-life personas forgoing intimacy for onstage pyrotechnics and rappers trade on bravado and tougher-than-thou posturing all the while “keeping it real” via ridiculous stage names; the singer-songwriter is oftentimes the most emotionally naked artist in popular music. They project sincerity and earnestness. Even when they aren’t completely either, the listener wants to believe that every lyric was born of some real experience.

For Bell, sharing that part of herself creatively comes much easier than projecting that vulnerability on a stage. She still defines a “great show” in a variety of ways and finds rewards in the smallest of performance victories.

“Doing your best [onstage] can mean trying your hardest to stay in tune even though you’re nervous!” she admits with a grin. “Doing your best can [be] you conveying what the song means, even though it’s loud and hundreds of people are talking.”

“It’s easy to be inclined to be an introvert, [but] then you put yourself out there onstage,” Bell says. “It’s totally not my instinct–but I want people to be able to feel like they’re extremely significant in my life.”

That desire sits at the center of her art. And its tangible in the way she engages the people onstage, with her backing band providing a cushion as she sings and strums her guitar. Modest and unassuming, Jennah Bell is still a passionate artist, fully committed to her art and in command of her vision.

“While music is very much audial, there’s also this whole script–all of these lyrics happening that, until the 20th or 30th time listening, you may not even notice,” she explains. “To be playing for an audience who are taking a chance — on the first listen — to listen to lyrics, it’s amazing to me. You can see it in people’s faces when they’re like ‘What is she talking about?’ But it’s in an awesome way. That’s so personal. To ask someone to be so personal without knowing me is an amazing thing.”

–stereo williams

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