DittyTV and Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Violet Bell bring you a brand-new music video today for “Meet Me In The Garden,” an ethereal hymn to love’s resilience from the duo’s upcoming Jason Richmond-produced LP, Shapeshifter.
We caught up with Lizzy and Omar to learn about the making of the video, how they first met, what their musical upbringings were like, the concept of process vs. product, and who some artists they’re currently enjoying are.
5 Questions with Violet Bell by Sam Shansky
1) How did you first meet, when did Violet Bell materialize, and what are some of the most difficult lessons about music you’ve learned along the way?
A mutual friend introduced us, and two weeks later we were playing our first show together. The show was a live album recording that Lizzy had planned to do solo, but Omar jumped on the set and added a whole new dimension to the music on violin, viola, cello, mando, and guitar. We knew from the start that our collaboration had a spark we couldn’t say no to. We hit the road and were playing 50-100 shows a year.
Along the way, we’ve encountered all kinds of lessons – theft, travel issues (cars! back pain! etc.), and unforeseen disasters. Just as much, we’ve met generous strangers and had incredible experiences connecting hearts through music. Through it all, we’ve hung on to the spark of joy that drives our work. We love getting to feel that creative flow, and most of all, getting to be immersed in the collective effervescence of sharing music in a community.
We’ve learned not to hoard ideas, but rather to embrace the process, release control, and be vulnerable, rather than striving for perfection. Music heals us, and we are always honored when it serves or heals the audience in some way. It’s a crazy mystery, and we’re just glad to be part of it.
2) What were your musical upbringings like, and were your parents musicians? What primary sounds from your youth can you still recall that have left a lasting impact?
Omar: I grew up in Puerto Rico, listening to Caribbean and Central American folk music. Early on, my dad would bring music to gatherings. When we rolled up to a party, he’d get out his guitar and have me shake the maracas as we entered in a line, singing songs like “Solima.” Back then I didn’t understand; now I see that that joy and celebration left a deeper imprint on me than I realized.
Lizzy: As far back as I can remember, I have loved to sing. I used to seek moments alone where I could practice belting it out and imitating my favorite singers. As a kid, I moved between households – one family loved singer-songwriters, folk, and classic rock, while the other loved funk, jazz, and dance music. My dad played the guitar and, seeing how much I loved music, he put a guitar in my hands. It wasn’t until I came to North Carolina that I saw music in a community – people singing together at potlucks, old time jams and campfires – and that lit me up. It still does.
3) Is there a new album in the works? What can you tell us about what’s happening there?
Our new album Shapeshifter comes out in October 2022! It tells the story of the selkie, a mythical seal-woman. Taken from her native waters and forced to live on land, the selkie’s captivity and eventual return home is medicine for anyone who longs to come home to themselves. The selkie story is an ancient metaphor for modern life – our sense of belonging, how we relate to the overculture, and how much we feel like we can really be who we are as opposed to hiding what we fear might make us unsafe or unlovable. It speaks to struggles with embodiment and dysphoria, especially among people in marginalized communities.
This album is an antidote to the cultural story that, in order to be safe and lovable, we must orphan the parts of ourselves that don’t belong. This album says, go and gather the splintered fragments of your soul. Welcome them home. You can be whole.
We recorded mostly live with our band, and guests Joseph and Libby of Mipso, Joe Troop of Che Apalache, and Tatiana Hargreaves. GRAMMY-nominated Jason Richmond (Avett Brothers) produced. The experience of making music together, and letting the music and the players lead the way, was so ALIVE and glorious, especially on the heels of isolation! That joy really comes through in the record, even as we’re sometimes grappling with difficult topics. To me, this music feels like life – beautiful, messy, real, and everything all at once.
I love that this album braids us together with storytellers past and future. We hope that this story and these songs help people come home to their hearts and connect to their own innate, wild, worthy, and sacred selves, regardless of their color, gender, or any other culturally assigned barometer of worth.
4) We’re excited to premiere your new music video today! When you first shared that you’d be releasing “Meet Me in the Garden,” you asked, “You ever wonder what your kid self would think of you now? I think ours would be proud, a little confused, and realizing that this creative life is way more process than product.” Could you please elaborate on that thought and talk to us about process vs. product?
Yes! The more we do this work, the more we think of process first. You can taste the ingredients in music. If the process is right, it feels alive. We recorded Shapeshifter mostly live and without a click track, which means it’s harder to go back and “fix” any perceived mistakes. It’s exhilarating, like walking a tightrope, to find the balance between flowing with the music and executing a performance during a live take. It also means we have to accept ourselves as we are, and be willing to share that, rather than an ironed-out, “perfect” version, with the world. It’s real!
I think our kid selves would be surprised and delighted with how our goals have changed (and not changed) and what matters to us now versus what mattered to us when we were 13. This line of work strips you of your ego, and what’s left after that? Love for the music and for the people. It’s a gift to get to make music and share it. It’s extra special when you get to make music with people you love, and with Shapeshifter – and any time we get to play live for an audience – we can feel that love coming through.
5) How did you and video director Sydney Buchan get connected, and what can you tell us about making the video? What was that experience like for you?
Sydney was the new kid in my (Catholic!) high school sophomore year. I sat in front of her the first day of history class, felt something cold and wet behind my ear, and I turned around to see her waggling her eyebrow at me and brandishing a 2” water gun. I loved her immediately. We would drive around with our friends dreaming and wasting time like high schoolers do, and even made a few (very low-fi) films together.
Since then, we’ve stayed in touch as we each pursued our creative vocations. She’s an NYC-based filmmaker, and it was such a treat to have her come visit us in North Carolina for a week! The idea for the video started from a true story of a time when Omar and I got in a fight driving on the Kancamagus pass in New Hampshire’s white mountains. We stopped the car, jumped in a river, and felt the heat of the argument disappear. We filmed the video at our home, on our mile-long gravel driveway, and at the Haw River – which was COLD in February. Sydney’s eye for composition comes through in every frame, and we love how the video leaves room for the audience to feel and interpret the story for themselves.
Bonus: Who are some artists or songs you’re currently enjoying, and why?
Bonny Light Horseman feels ancient and cosmic, with big wild vocals and stunning harmonies. Emily Scott Robinson and Alisa Amador are dear to us, and Carsie Blanton makes us dance, laugh, and cry. In his search to understand his Latin American heritage, Omar’s been listening to music by artists of the Son Jarocho tradition, as well as artists like Simón Diaz, Julieta Venegas, and Natalia Lafourcade. We love D’Angelo for his incredible, groovy, and intricate arrangements, the genius of Madison Cunningham, Molly Tuttle, and Valerie June, and we can go deep with HAIM. We love Julie Fowliss, Laura Marling, Brandi Carlie, and always, always Joni Mitchell. Trevor Hall is musical comfort food – makes us feel grounded and grateful – and we could go on and on!! We love to listen just as much as we love to make music!