Neo-Soul artist Bel-Ami introduces his debut album, MUSE(ic), a nine-track collection of exquisitely structured songs rife with delicious R&B and soul textures.
Written by Bel-Ami and co-produced by Errick Lewis, the album features the talents of Miles Robertson (keys), Bobby Wesley (guitars), Obed Calvaire (drums), and Matthew Hartnett (horns).
Born and raised in a family of singers and musicians, Bel-Ami shaped his vocal gift in school and his church’s choir, followed by becoming a member of the Houston Symphony Chorus. A near-fatal car accident found him reassessing his commitment to music.
He made big waves with the release of his debut EP, Know U, followed by two headlining tours, as well as sharing the stage with Angie Stone, Dwele, Mint Condition, Tank, Chante Moor, and Bilal. In addition, Bel-Ami fronted the recent EP from New York’s Herbivores.
Muzique Magazine caught up with Bel-Ami to find out more about his raw, genuine sound, how he got started in music, and his songwriting process.
What three things can’t you live without?
1. Love. I need it. We all need it. For self, for someone, for something. It is necessary for life. It is necessary for creation. For art.
2. Warm cup of tea with honey! Preferably ginger. The combo has saved my voice on numerous occasions.
3. Moments of solitude. I have a genuine love for all people. I enjoy learning, sharing energy and exchanging ideas. But the time I spend with myself allows me the recharge I need to give more of myself to others.
How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?
Music has always been there with me and in me. And the more I tried to focus on other things, the more it became more evident in my calling. But it wasn’t until a car accident almost took my life that I made the conscious shift to explore music as more than a hobby. I got a guitar later that year, and it opened me up to a world of creativity that I hadn’t yet experienced.
Which artists are you listening to right now?
At any given time, you’ll find me diving into the classics. But at the moment, I’m listening to Bobby Wesley, Adam Ness, and I recently discovered Red Hands and I’ve kept them on repeat.
Which singers/musicians influenced you the most?
This is a conversation that could easily go on forever. But I’ll try to keep it brief. I think I’ve ultimately been influenced more by eras of music than individual artists. Stevie, Marvin, and Donnie are my personal Mt. Rushmore of artists. They taught me how to be vulnerable in my writing. The 90s R&B groups were so influential that I never even envisioned myself being a solo artist. They taught me harmony. The Neo-Soul era gave me a compass. It showed me where home is, and it’s where my creativity fits most in this musical landscape. But the artists I most consistently draw from are D’Angelo, Bilal, and Dwele.
Your debut album, MUSE(ic), releases today. What can you share about the album?
This is the best art I’ve ever created. I thought the most authentic way to record this album was to build the stairs as we climbed, so the bones of this project were recorded in a single live take, as we used each moment as a muse for the next. We created freely and, fully, prioritizing expression over arbitrary industry rules, while also paying homage to the greats who have planted these seeds of inspiration in me. If you like any of the artists I mentioned above, you will find them in my music. And if you appreciate soul music in its truest form, you’ll appreciate this album.
Do you have a guilty music and/or entertainment pleasure?
If I do, I can’t really put a finger on it because I honestly don’t feel guilty about it. I listen to my own music every day. May seem a bit narcissistic, but I really like what I create. And I’m always listening for ways to improve.
Why make music?
Why not? Music is so powerful. It connects us. It’s healing. I make music because I know there’s someone out there who won’t find the best parts of themselves without me sharing myself. MUSE(ic) is my offering.
What can you share about your songwriting process?
I’m always writing. Whenever I find a MUSE, I write in my notes app, or hum, or sing into my voice memos. Sometimes, I start from those notes and memos. And other times, I’ll hear music and refer back to something I’ve already written and build off of that. But then there are those times when I’ll hear music and immediately the song pours out of me in minutes. That happened multiple times throughout the creation of this album.
How are you handling the coronavirus situation?
I’ve been trying to manage as best as I can. By keeping my distance, using my time as productively as possible, and keeping a positive outlook. It’s been difficult though amidst the civil unrest and social transformation that we are experiencing throughout the world, and specifically here in the US. I truly believe everything happens for a reason. And this time to pause and reset has forced us to confront a lot of our issues as a society. That said, I try my best to remain open and allow all of these experiences to influence my art.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank, any shout outs?
This is a setup! But I’d like to first thank my wife, who through her sacrifices allowed me the space to make this music happen. Shout out to my manager Erika for believing in me, being patient with my process, and consistently pushing me out of my comfort zone. A huge shout out to Errick Lewis. He forced me to stretch myself and try new things on this record that I hadn’t before. And last but not least, my brothers in song, Bobby Wesley, Obed Calvaire, Miles Robertson, Matthew Hartnett, Will Hotaling, Idris Frederick, and Jamel Alford. This album is not possible without their contributions, and it’s as much a reflection of them as it is of me.