Imagine walking through a forest until you hear the faint sounds of excitement and mischief. You inch closer and closer until you stumble upon a scene of circus performers, artists, and outcasts parading through a sea of glitter amongst the trees. Imagine this space you were transported to came out of no where- from taking a turn off of the most normal and unsuspecting path that you had seen a hundred times but never ventured through.
That is the sensation of walking into a Bella's Bartok concert for the first time. Spirits of curiosity, self-expression, and strange-ness walk among each performance, and the crowd follows suit.
I have seen Bella's Bartok more times than I can count on my hands, and they continue to surprise me. They mean a lot to people not only in The Valley, where they gained some of their original traction, but far and wide. On New Years Eve we are ecstatic to host their annual Strange One's Ball for the first time. Before they turn our hall into an enchanted forest, we wanted to take some time to chat with Asher about what to expect and dive a little bit into where they are coming from with their art.
Hi there Asher! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us about Bella's Bartok! As you know, I am a long time fan and we are so thrilled to have you guys here at GCA to ring in the new year.
Same here! I am super excited to get the show rolling.
When it comes to Bella's Bartok, I have described you to my friends as anything from circus punk to spooky theatrical folk-rock, how do you guys describe yourself?
That is pretty spot on. I usually describe us as circus punk or folk bounce.
Not only do you create original music, but you have also created and nurtured a scene of misfits and a community of "Strange Ones", can you speak a little to that?
The Strange Ones community is like a garden that has sprung up around us over the past four years. It is something I couldn't have predicted when we first set out on our Unending Tour 2015-20??. It's like a bunch of folkies, jam scene kids, punks and general weirdos came together, sharing in our abnormal humor and vibe. I think the Strange Ones are just as much a part of our Bella's Bartok as we are. They help spread the Good Word and train new fans in proper Bellas show etiquette.
The support is beautiful and humbling.
I was once at a show of yours and there was a woman in the audience who was being mistreated by other audience members, you guys wasted no time stopping the show and showing up for her. Can you talk to me a bit about your values as a band and the importance of supporting the humans around you?
Long ago, I learned that everyone in the audience --regardless of race, gender or ethnicity -- has the right to feel safe and express themselves in a musical public space. We have a pulpit: we can use our privilege as entertainers, cis-men and white/white passing individuals to ensure that the rights and joy of others' are encouraged and supported at our show. This has to happen, as musicans, we cannot be silent. I believe the community and the Strange Ones know that.
You're one of the bands from the valley that has really stepped outside of our bubble and you continue to grow to new heights and spread your sound far and wide, can you talk to us a bit about how the past couple of years have been like for you?
It has been in so many ways a dream come true. There has been struggle financially and in accepting that since we have reached a certain noteriety that our band isn't just a band anymore, but a commodity and a job. Unlike many other jobs, however, it is a lifestyle and one that skirts around the edges of outright capitalism. It is interesting to see how new audiences in the deep south and mid-west react. People are often weirded out but by song five at a show, we have them hook, line and sinker --to borrow some old fisherman's parlance. Canada has been a highlight of our adventures abroad, for sure as well as Detroit and Asheville.
Coming from the valley, are there any bands on the scene out here right now that you folks are fans of or that you have been keeping in your rotation?
Oh for sure! Wishbone Zoe, Carinae, And the Kids, any project Ilana Morris is in, Mama's Marmalade, Mammal Dap, Tundra Stomper, the Suitcase Junket (ALWAYS) Old Flame and the fine skills of DJ Quills.
Your band is made up of a bunch of unique individuals, but I know it began with you and Amory. How did you all come together?
This is the fourth lineup and my favorite. We have dialed in a lot of the mojo needed to perpetuate a long term working relationship. Four years and counting!! But ten years ago, I was in search of a band. I had been working as a hired gun bass player for funk and punk bands for a while. That grew tiresome and Philly-based musician Evan Levine turned me on to yiddish-inspired tunes, while maestro Heather Fisch got me into the world of radical theater. Amory and our hometown homies put together a developing idea of a band that resulted in strange and beautiful behemoth we all know now. Our major influences come from our own familial heritage: Yiddish, Romani, Latin, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian, Romanian and Americana. Throw in some Zappa, System of a Down and Danny Elfman and you have us.
Your music is a lot of fun, but you also discuss important themes of camaraderie, resistance, and the rejection of ideals that promote oppression. Are there certain themes that are important to your writing and do you consider your music a form of activism?
Justice, total and ongoing is a central theme lyrically. As we reach a wider audience, I have been trying to be more vocal about our views. It is important to sing with your choir, but the word needs to reach the ears of the layman as well.
Is there a song of yours that you feel is an accurate anthem of what you are about?
Oh! Sure. I think there are a few. For the band collectively, I think "Say No," "Bones" and "So Calm, Relaxed" sum us up pretty well. I personally find "Go Wilde" and "Graveyard Funk #2" to be the most autobiographical. For our audience? I think it's "The Strange Ones," duh.
One thing I love about your live shows and your on stage personas is your eclectic performance choices and your willingness to embrace glitter. I think that seeing such a powerful force of people redefine and play with gender and expression can move a lot of people, would you mind talking a bit about that?
I THOUGHT YOU'D NEVER ASK. While not a queer band by definition, we are band with queer individuals in it. Gender identity and space to be yourself are incredibly important to us. Many of us have experienced unfortunate interactions with others because of our expression and our goal is to constantly be inclusive, vocal and proud.
OUR GLITTER IS ALL NATURAL. We care about our bodies and the fishies. No micro-plastics from us, no sir.
What is your writing process like?
One of us brings an idea or outline of a tune and the rest of us get to work. It is like...constructing a building. First, a blueprint, then foundation, then walls, etc. Everyone is involved and everyone has a say. There are often disagreements but we are a like a stand-up troupe, First Rule of Bartok is "SAY YES" and go from there.
What is the song 'Mother' about? It's always been one of my favorites, and I am curious about where you guys were coming from when writing that piece.
It is an open apology to those who have provided nurturing and support to me over the years. Not so much a blanket apology, but an acknowledgement of where I was at, what I did and where we are now. Of course, I wrote that song in 2012 so, life has occurred in the interim. I still think, lyrically, that it applies to the life I want to lead and endeavor to do so.
Thank you for taking the time, we look forward to ringing in the new year with you!
The Fantastic Fairy Forest awaits! Adventure! Excitement! Enchantment! See you there!
Don't miss Bella's Bartok and And The Kids at The 3rd Annual Strange Ones Ball at Gateway City Arts on December 31, 2018! Presented by Signature Sounds. Doors open at 6PM and the show hits at 8PM.
Tickets are $22.50 in advance and $27.50 day of show.
You can purchase tickets here.
Learn more about And The Kids here.
Learn more about Bella's Bartok here.
Visit our website here.