The band Bella Figura (highly praised by Q Magazine, NME and DIY magazine) performed at our own campus coffee shop, Ground, during a rainy Tuesday afternoon in late January.
A shaggy haired persona appeared with a guitar amid a few glances from students rushing out to class or posed behind their laptops, some slightly twitching at the tuning process. Slow strumming echoed throughout our favourite campus coffee shop. What followed was a low resonating voice rolling above the heads of students.
Bella bellowed “I never learn”, “swimming in shadows” and “I’m gonna burn”. Impressive solos, for sure. “How the hell did I end up here” preceded the sarcasm behind the raise of the thick dark eyebrows from Justin Gartry. He is one of the three musicians who make up Bella Figura, which translates as beautiful way of living in Italian.
The lyricism of Bella Figura is implicit. Their guitar solos are creative, reminiscent of Jimmy Page or David Gilmour. The rain outside facilitated this musician’s very sombre and sincere voice and turned the circular shape of the café’s windows into the perfect stage backdrop. Following the set, I spoke to one third of Bella Figura to uncover more…
Is it true that you guys met at music school in Bristol?
Yeah, well actually our drummer and I met before when we went to uni together at UCL doing astrophysics. We got a classical violinist, an astrophysicist and then me; I guess we’ll call me a guitarist.
Is there a certain emotion you aim to channel when you perform in front of young people specifically?
I’m not sure. In general, I try to avoid the everyday love song type. They are ‘I’m singing about myself’ kind of lyrics, inward, self reflecting lyrics, but that’s with the hope that people can connect somehow. I’ve been thinking, our last EP was called the Never Learn EP and that’s an inward kind of thing, its talking about my own shit but it doesn’t mean its not a universal emotion. Same with our first EP; the Somebody New EP – it’s a track about my own stuff, my own journey to try and be my own person. We do have love songs but its not the focus of the writing.
I’ve heard you record some of your tracks on analogue decks. Is that true? If so, would you consider selling your albums on vinyl? What do you think of the current return to vinyl appreciation?
I would love to do vinyl, even digital recordings translate well into vinyl. The only analogue recording we’ve done was a live session in a place called Tilehouse Studios, which is Luke Oldfield’s place. That was a live session straight to tape. But the audio sounds great as it is so we might one day put some of our stuff on vinyl.
It’s cool, I mean my era is still CDs. I appreciate the tactile nature of holding a CD, flicking through the booklet and having the art work. In my time an album would come out and you would go and look at the massive artwork in the vinyl. I don’t get that, but I appreciate having something for me to hold. I still buy CDs.
Would you say that says something about the type of music people are listening to these days?
I think people are just bored of digital stuff, because you get electronic music on vinyl now and it just sounds different. You know real DJs in clubs, even if it’s some massive dance place or whatever they will still want to spin vinyl man. It’s a whole different sound altogether, in the same way that VHS looks different to DVD, so some film-makers want to make a film and make it look like VHS or something… I’m trying to compare it across. Yeah it’s nice having a resurgence, for sure.
Would you say alternative rock is wearing out, coming up or ever present?
I suppose all three in different times. Everything comes back again, it would be good for us and I mean we’re… alt rock I suppose is an alright description. The thing we are trying to do is – if we can get to a point where you can get people listening to guitar music they wouldn’t normally that would be great. I think a way to do that is to have a song that touches them, that they could connect with, but the music behind it might not be what they are used to.
We have a tag line that’s sort of ‘we have heartfelt songs and the heavy guitar comes after that’, so I’ve got friends who aren’t really into guitar music but they love our songs and then they start getting into the guitar solos.
Is there a certain fabric that unites you as a band? Are you ever afraid of that fabric wearing out?
People say you have dry spells if you’re writing but I think it always comes back, you’re always inspired by someone else. Everyone is growing as a musician separately but the way that intertwines as time goes on is quite interesting; our drummer may be influenced by something else, I may be inspired by something different and the combination makes something new.
Do you think its necessary to be very close to your band members?
Yeah definitely for this sort of thing. I know there are groups where you may have the main frontman or frontwoman and there might be five or six sessions behind him or her that may chop and change. But we aren’t session musicians – we are united. It’s the same as a romantic relationship: you can have your ups and downs, you could be in love with somebody and then you might have a falling out but that doesn’t really slow you down, you know?
Do you create an album from a sudden hit of inspiration or more from setting a goal to create a good piece of music?
The music comes first for sure. I know that signed on a label (like a five album deal) you may have the material for the first couple of albums but after that everything is new, sort of commission based, you’re signed up for a new album so you gotta get new songs.
We’ve now finished our third EP. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle because a lot of labels nowadays would want a band to have a finished album before they sign it. Our next EP is out in a few months and hopefully we could get some exposure and then people in the industry might look back and say “ah I see how they’ve developed in the last couple of years… got a range of songs, hopefully they are consistently quite good…” and then they might want to get involved in business.