*Update: Sadly, and very much at the last minute, Bella White’s show 8/26 at MilkBoy has been cancelled due to health concerns at the venue.
“All of Joni Mitchell’s earliest albums are my favorite of her stuff. She got more honest as she progressed, but a lot of emotional vulnerability is in those early albums,” says Americana musician Bella White as we’re discussing debut albums. Her own debut, Just Like Leaving, was released last year independently, but this May was rereleased by Rounder Records, home of Mipso, Sarah Jarosz, and Sierra Ferrell. Bella tells me that her favorite thing about the album’s release is getting to hear other people connect to her own emotional vulnerability: “Since putting out this record, just watching people like it has been a huge highlight, just recognizing this is really meaningful to some people, because I get that way about the music I like… The reactions I’ve been most excited about are the people having direct relations to the album and sharing their personal stories with me.”
The songs on Just Like Leaving tell the stories of Bella White’s 18th and 19th years, a time which was not that long ago… Although prematurely wise, White is only 20 (Holler proclaimed that she, “possesses an uncanny ability to capture the delicate nuances of heartache that’s often only mastered by veterans of the trade.”) The singer/songwriter grew up in Calgary, where she learned about classic Americana from her dad, who performed as a bluegrass musician throughout her childhood, which certainly left its mark on the LP (Rolling Stone characterized her songwriting as, “sublime Appalachian heartbreak.”) At 18 White left her hometown for “the big city” – Boston, in her case – which is documented in the album’s title track. Shortly after, White relocated to Nashville, where she currently resides, alongside many of out other favorite acts (Leah Blevins, Michaela Anne, Parker Millsap, Elise Davis, Tristen, Vanessa Carlton, Nikki Lane, etc.)
Although most of us are hearing these musical tales of Bella White’s late teens for the first time, for her it feels like they’re from a lifetime ago, and she’s already anxious for audiences to hear her new music: “With Just Like Leaving, I wrote all those songs years ago now, so my new songs are really different, so I’m curious how it will be received.” She tells me that lockdown actually provided the perfect setting for writing new music: “I feel like I’ve had so much time to write over the past year without pressure. Without having to write in-between tours, you can take your time and be a little more thoughtful.” She also tells me that the narratives of her upcoming songs have shifted a little bit: “It’s not that I don’t write love songs anymore, but with these songs it’s coming from my position in the relationship or my position in the world.”
The singer/songwriter tells me that the music she’s been listening to recently has also shifted, and that it will likely show in her new music: “I’ve been really inspired by the ‘70s folk vibe recently. I’ve really done a deep dive with Joni Mitchell, and then John Martyn, Bob Dylan, and – I mean, she’s current, but – Courtney Marie Andrews. I’ve been straying away from the bluegrass a little bit.” She also tells me that her label has also been a particularly noteworthy inspiration, even before she was on their roster: “I’ve always been really inspired by Rounder. They’ve had so many artists who are the archetype for the kind of music I want to make. They’re a really innovative group of people and it feels like a family.”
Bella White is currently on a relatively extensive US tour that will have her headlining our very own MilkBoy on August 26th. She tells me she’s really excited to be on the road and especially excited to be in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, in addition to a few other stops on the tour: “I’m really excited for Green River Fest, because there’s a bunch of artists on that lineup I really admire; and New York City, because I love it there; New Orleans; Philly, because I’ve never been there. I’m just excited to travel again.” And, in terms of what can be expected of the show, she tells me that it will definitely be a fun evening and a little something different from what you might hear on the album: “It’s gonna be a trio, me and my fiddle player, who will also be playing electric tenor guitar, and my bass player. It’ll be really chill. During the pandemic we’ve been trying to rework some of the songs from the album.”