“I can make miracles happen,” Bel Cobain says with a smile when I ask her what she’s learned about herself this year. The 20-year-old London based artist is sitting comfortably on the ground of her apartment, wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants. With every question I ask over our video call, she takes a moment to think to herself, then answers in an admirably genuine way.
“I truly think things are coming, within my space at least, that are proving how abundant the world can be. I feel like in the physical world, it’s not hard to make anything happen. It’s more the spiritual self that is hard to conquer. But I feel abundant.”
Bel Cobain’s music has lately been the soundtrack for my peaceful, self-reflective moments in solitude. When I want to give myself the space to quiet my thoughts and just feel, Bel’s music always seems to put me in the headspace to do so. I’ve exercised that comforting ritual a lot recently, and it’s helped me ground myself during chaotic moments in the world and in my own life.
The artist merges RnB, jazz and rap to create her unique, enchanting sound. Her most recent release is a song called At the Bay. The track was done in collaboration with fellow UK artist Lex Amor and The Silhouettes Project, a community project that provides a platform for new underground hip-hop, jazz and soul artists in the UK. The collective will be releasing an album November 27.
“My last release is with Lex Amor, who I proper love. Lex is amazing, and also, girl power. It was a piece of our community EP, which really just made my heart warm for knowing that everyone had collectively put together words and emotions and created something for a good cause. That’s what you kind of need in 2020.”
The first song I ever heard of Bel’s was Introverted Stoner, a soulful track for sad-girl stoners. The song opens with an echoed guitar loop and subtle vinyl crackles in the background. Then, Bel’s soft voice comes in and sets the tone of the song with her first line, “Seemed to lose my way now I can’t get it back.” The song so eloquently captures the unique kind of sadness that comes from culminated loneliness.
What inspired you to write Introverted Stoner?
“I was going through a phase in my life, and I was literally just intoxicated by my feelings. When I feel something, it’s just everything. So I think it was just about me feeling like, not the world was over, but my world was over. And just proper melancholy; sadness. I was being honest.”
When you’re feeling inspired to write, does that usually come from feeling sad?
“I think it’s easier to write when you’re sad. When something’s going good in your life, it’s easy to stay experiencing it. When you’re sad, you’re trying to write about it rather than just sit in it and experience it. I think I do write a lot when I’m feeling down, or passionate about my sadness, rather than passionate about my happiness. But I want to start writing more when I’m happy now. Like, given the time and the space to just [be] with your pen, and penmanship all the time, rather than separating it.”
In this age of rapid communication, complex thoughts are often compressed to be more digestible for an audience, and expressing how you truly feel can seem nearly unachievable. But this is something Bel Cobain does effortlessly. As a child, she would write poetry, and over time it turned into her writing songs. She draws inspiration from music she listened to growing up, listing Spooky Black as one of her favourites, and noting her appreciation for the wordplay in London’s underground music scene. For her, songs need to be written on paper, because this method of writing allows for a more seamless flow from thoughts into words.
“Sometimes it is impossible to explain how you feel. But when you can, it’s like the most powerful thing that you really have. Through poetry, and even just long monologues and long passages of writing, you can see how people are able to dissect a feeling or a moment in time and like, present that to you, and get [your] own mind to imagine that just through the use of words.”
Do you prefer to smoke when you’re making music? Do you find it helps your creative process?
“Always. I mean, don’t think it’s necessary. Before I smoked, I was a little kid when I was making music, and I think it’s like an innate river moving all of us. But especially now, when you’re sitting down in front of the paper it’s like, ‘Okay, what am I going to write about? Who’s going to like this? And what’s the punchline?’ There’s so many techniques and things going on in your head; it’s so easy to be wrapped up in that. But when I’m smoking a spliff, I’m just in the river of the song, rather than thinking of all these other things around me. It’s just like, here I am.”
It feels like your songs are always so emotionally open. Do you ever feel anxious about the vulnerability?
“At the beginning, I was making music just for a small bunch of people, and I don’t think I was thinking about it,” she says, adding that she hadn’t thought about it until recently. “I think it does affect how I write and what I write about. I was actually thinking the other day, like, how cryptic some of my stuff has gotten, because maybe unconsciously I don’t want people to know the hardcore truth. I think, over time, you kind of do get a bit more conscious about how open you are. But I can’t lie. So I guess it’s a version of the truth.”
Bel made those videos mostly at a time when she wasn’t officially dropping music, she says, and she felt she had a unique kind of freedom of expression.
I think at that time, I just felt like I had a field of free space to be whatever. And I felt like I could come up with the perfect way to describe what I meant. It just always felt so perfect. It never took anything out of me; it felt natural. I could only compare it to just having a green field to roam around in. I want to be in a space where I can be free to do that. But you know how things go, like after time, you get a bit jaded. You lose the true spirit of you, which I’m trying to gain back.”
Where do you think the loss of freedom for you comes from?
“I think it comes from the fact that I can see how my music isn’t the only thing people care about; it’s not actually just about the music. If it was, then it would be different, but the way people listen to music nowadays is just so different. We’re very sensual, and we’re watching and hearing in little bits and pieces. I think if it was all about the music, I would feel more free, but it’s based on all these other factors.”
You’ve said in the past that you don’t want to be a mainstream star; you want to just focus on making music you’re passionate about. With regard to that sentiment, how do you view success?
“I don’t really have a goal with what I want to do, but I want to make sure that I’m always making music I love and that makes sense for me. I would be okay to stop music if it wasn’t music for me anymore. If it was all about performance and just like being a commodity, then I would be okay to give it up because that’s not why I came here. So, I think success is only what you perceive it to be.”
Practising self-care is an important part of Bel’s life. I remember once admiring a caption on her Instagram that said, “Why are you waiting for an excuse to treat yourself?” In our fast-paced world, there’s an ongoing, seemingly impenetrable narrative that productivity is the only valuable thing you can do with your time. At times, caring for oneself feels like a radical act.
How do you view self-care, and how do you practice it?
“I’m a proper homebody. I love looking after myself. I’ve been through stages in my life where I’ve really not looked after myself, and either relied on other people to look after me, or just trusted outer forces to look after my spirit and my existence. Through just a lot of learning curves and stuff in my life I came to a point where I was like, self-care is the one thing you can always come back to. When something in the outer world goes wrong, you can always come back to yourself. I’m always checking in, not going out, creating boundaries and just making sure that I’m okay. Because I have this whole philosophy that I am projecting the world; we are all projecting our own worlds. I feel like if I look after myself, I’m kind of looking after everyone else as well.”
Alone-time can often result in moments of self enlightenment. For Bel, these moments transform into songs.
From the projects you’ve released so far, what would you say is the one that you are the most proud of?
“I would say Emocean I’m most proud of. Because I think it was a song that I didn’t think too much about. It stands out to me as one of the places where I was very much free, and a lot of people feel it. Even when I was writing it, I didn’t feel like I was writing about myself. The more and more I listen to it, it’s like, wow, home truth after home truth. I think maybe part of me was like, I need to express this so that I can see it on the other side.”
When you bond with an artist’s music, there’s distance between you, the music, and the artist themselves. But after speaking with Bel, I could see how her music is truly an extension of her. When I asked her how she’d describe her music, her answer was simple. “A channel for me to be honest.”
Though it’s difficult at times to be deeply in touch with your sadness, it allows you to reconnect with yourself, and ultimately rejuvenates your spirit. Bel Cobain’s raw and real talent is palpable, and it’s empowering to see an artist be so honest in their storytelling. Bel has an independent EP coming out at the beginning of 2021. In the meantime, check her out on Spotify and follow her on Instagram.