Music

Mercy Bell Delivers Powerful Autobiographical Ballad With "Black Dress" (premiere + interview)

Photo: Courtesy of Sweetheart PR

Penned during a difficult summer, Mercy Bell's "Black Dress" has proven one of her most enduring. First released a decade ago, it gets a new lease on life.

Nashville-based singer-songwriter Mercy Bell released her self-titled album in 2019. Featuring direct, confessional songs that feature doses of Americana melded seamlessly with rock and soul flourishes, the LP finds Bell exploring heartbreak and doubt with uncommon bravery. The latest single from the record is "Black Dress", a deeply autobiographical tune she wrote while living in New York.

"A friend of mine needed a song for their off-off-off Broadway play," she says, "so I wrote it. I was going through a lot of emotional stuff the summer I wrote that and coming out. I was just channeling what I was living. Every time I experience a new heartbreak, it takes on more and more layers." Like each of her tracks, "Black Dress" explores the distance between resignation and resolve while demonstrating Bell's prowess as a vocalist and writer. It's confessional songwriting at its finest and most fulfilling.

Bell recently spoke with PopMatters about the album and her experiences in the Nashville singer-songwriter scene.

Tell me a little bit about how the album came together. Were these songs that you had around for a while or did you write this all in one particular frame of time?

I've been playing these songs live for a while, a couple of years. I realized which songs people liked the most. The fan favorites.

It's been said that everyone's a songwriter in Nashville. Tell me about being in that microcosm.

Good songwriting is on everybody's mind. I was really focused on honing my songwriting craft and learning from my peers. It's nerve-wracking. I came from New York, where it's more indie rock/indie pop. When I moved here, I thought, "Wow, this is above and beyond." I got my foot in the door and started trying things out. It's very welcoming here as long as you're willing to work hard on things. That sifts out the people who are hoping to get discovered versus the people who view this as a discipline.

I've heard that it's very welcoming there and that seems like it's very conducive to learning.

I was at a meeting recently, and somebody asked me if I wanted them to set me up on a co-write. I said, yes. I said, "Please and make sure it's somebody I can learn from." I want to grow constantly. I've never wondered about who's younger and who's more popular.

I love the song "Chocolate Milk and Whiskey". Especially the part about "busted up my give a damn".

I've always suffered from depression and anxiety. I put that in my songs because, to me, my songs are like journaling almost. But with more structure. A friend of mine, who lives in Los Angeles, texted me one day and said, "When are you coming to visit? I have chocolate milk and whiskey waiting for you." I credit her as a co-writer for that line because it's so good. It reminds me of every time I wake up depressed, and some friend comes over and wants to buy me breakfast. After my mom died, that's what got me through. It's really about having friends who say, "You can come be the Eeyore in the corner."

"Bent" also has strong, relatable lyrics.

I was doing a project here in Nashville, and they needed a song in 24 hours. They gave me this line from Isabella Jones, "I saw Mount Everest when I was three." That was all. I decided to write about being closeted and being yourself. I stuffed it with autobiographical anecdotes. I remember being at my desk at my job and kind of writing it in my head. I went home, tried it on the guitar, and said, "That'll work." We decided to do it as a rock song, but at the last minute, I said, "I want a horn section on this."

I was working at a disco bar, and they were playing something that was kind of Motown-y, and I heard a horn section. I texted my friend, who has a horn section. I said, "Are you free on Monday to record this song?"

I think those timed challenges are great for sparking creativity.

I come from a creative writing background. I took a lot of creative writing classes. I didn't think I'd be a songwriter. There's so much in that world where you have daily prompts. It's like doing push-ups and squats for your artistry.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.

Music

Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.

Music

That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.

Books

Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.

Reviews

Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.

Music

Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.

Film

'Thor: Ragnorak' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.

Music

Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Music

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.

Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.