"It is a DIY genre-bending musical memoir about the last decade of my life" We chat with Mercy Bell
Hey Mercy, how’s your day going?
Hey there! It’s good. I watched some TV and then wrote a bit of a song.
So... bit of context, where are you right now?
I am in Nashville, Tennessee!
Tell us a bit about you, what do you do for fun?
I work out a lot. I meditate. I hang out with my cat and my girlfriend. I like to research things. Quarantine has reactivated the scholar in me.
You released your self-titled record last year, what can you tell me about it in two sentences?
It is a DIY genre-bending musical memoir about the last decade of my life. None of us know what genre of music it is, but the compliments I get the most are “your songs get stuck in my head” and “your songs make me cry”.
Which was the first song that you wrote that made the record? And what’s the background to it?
The first song we recorded was 'Home'. I had written a lot of these songs over the years but I finished that song after my mom died and it was a reflection of my struggles with grief and mental health over the years.
‘Chocolate Milk & Whiskey’ is a great song title, and it’s also a cracking song, what can you tell me about it?
It’s based on a note that my friend Stefanie sent me once, about how when I visit her she’d have chocolate milk and whiskey waiting for me. And it blossomed into a song about how when life is hard it’s still possible to find joy.
Is it right that you credited your co-writer, even though technically she didn’t “write” it?
Gotta give credit where credit is due! So if someone comes up with a killer lyric, they definitely helped write it! I wouldn’t have that song if she hadn’t written the perfect note to me.
One of the lead tracks from the album was ‘Skip To The Part’, which is another song I really like, what’s the story to that?
I had gone through a really painful relationship where the girl I was in love with wasn’t ever gonna commit to me. It was very messy. One day after another heartbreaking episode, instead of fighting with her I decided to write a Taylor Swift style pop song about it. And 'Skip to the Part' happened. I’m glad I channeled my pain into a song that day!
There was a huge gap between your debut album and Mercy Bell, what were you up to in between?
I was just surviving day to day. The years between both albums had massive life changes. I moved multiple times, came out of the closet, breakups and heartbreak, went through my mom’s death. And also just trying to pay bills on top of it. Making an album is also incredibly expensive so it took me years to fund it. But it was worth it.
Rolling Stone magazine says that the record “centered her experiences as a queer woman of American and Filipino descent”, can you expand on that?
Yep, my dad is white and my mom was Filipino! I grew up in a Filipino neighborhood in San Diego until I was 12, then we moved to Massachusetts. My sexuality is fluid, so I say “queer” because I’m definitely not straight, but I won’t put myself in a box.
I usually ask, what have you got planned for the rest of 2020, but I’m not sure any of us know… so, what’s the thing you’re looking forward to doing most when things settle down?
This is a pretty stressful time and activating my anxiety and depression, so I’m not gonna lie, managing my mental and physical health is taking up a lot of my energy. But when I can, I’ve been writing songs and performing live-streams, which is really nice. It’s so rewarding to be able to focus just on writing and performing music in a stripped-down way, and connecting directly to the audience. That intimacy really feels like a gift.
Diversity generally, and gender specifically, have been talking points in country music for a good while now, what’s your experience of being treated differently as a woman in your industry?
I’m lucky that I haven’t experienced discrimination to my face so I don’t really have an answer to this. I will have to say it is frustrating to work as hard as I’ve worked for years and not get some of the meetings and deals that I’ve seen my peers get. I always blame myself first, that I could work harder, or I’m a bad songwriter. But there was a point where I was so exhausted from working two jobs, rehearsing, writing, recording, touring and not having a single day off for a month, that I wondered if I was doing something wrong or MAYBE I was being left out. Who knows. I may never know. But luckily I have lots of supporters who make this journey worth it. It’s nice to be able to take a break though.
Have you noticed a difference at all in the last couple of years?
There’s a change in the industry and my album got a wonderful reception from people with big hearts and open minds, so I am gonna hesitantly yet hopefully say yes.
If you could recommend one artist to hear this week, who would it be?
I’m listening to that Carly Rae Jepsen and Bleachers song 'Comeback' on repeat. But I’d recommend my friend Jack Berry’s band Gran Cavallo. Jack is so talented.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
What’s your idea of a perfect day? I like to ask that to people. My idea of a perfect day is waking up without an alarm, grabbing a coffee, cuddling my girlfriend. Having a good workout. Doing something creative. Getting to see my family and people I love. Sitting in the sunlight. Being in a pool or the beach or a rooftop in NYC. Having a delicious meal. And sleeping in a room with a perfect temperature.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
With milk and sugar!