Hungry Lucy: Christa Belle and War-N
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album review and artist reflections
Interview, HTML and Review © Russell W. Elliot 2002
photos © Hungry Lucy 2002, used with permission
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Last updated: 09 September 2002
Hungry Lucy are Christa Belle (lyrics, vocals, music) and War-N Harrison (music, programming and production). The US-based heavenly vocals duo have been recording since the late 1990s and released their debut album entitled Apparitions in 2000. Musical Discoveries editors learned of the band through Harald Lowy (Chandeen [feature]) who did a remix of a Hungry Lucy track for their forthcoming album Glo. Our review of Apparitions and in-depth interview with Hungry Lucy's artists is presented below. We were given a sneak preview of Glo and provide comments on tracks provided as well.
Apparitions (Fishbank Soundworks (USA) FSCD001, 2000) is Hungry Lucy's debut album. Fourteen tracks are included although the selection includes two mixes for each of three titles ("Bound In Blood," "Stretch" and "Grave"). Listeners will immediately be drawn to Christa Belle's soft and crystalline vocals. Guest artists include David Harrison (guitar on "Search"), Shara K. Martin (flute on "Bound in Blood (Waltz Lullaby)") and Shawn Brice (additional programming on "Grave" and "Stretch (Battery Mix)").
The album opens up with the lushly arranged and moving tune "Alfred." One is immediately drawn to the sweet texture of Christa's vocals and could even be surprised by the harmonies that War-N provides in the choruses. We especially enjoyed the flute part during the instrumental bridge which we found reminscent of Chandeen. "Blue Dress" is an edgy ballad-like tune. Written by M. L. Gore, Christa's tender vocals lead the way while War-N's again provide a whispy backing. Thick bass and crisp percussion perfectly underscore the melancholy vocal melody.
The upbeat dance-oriented "Bound In Blood (Insomnia Mix)" has the rhythmic edge and raunchy instrumentals characteristic of a gothic style piece. It capitalises on the vast vocal excursions of Hungry Lucy's lead singer. Thicker--orchestral at times--arrangements return in "Grave" with crisp percussion to support a subdued vocal line in the verses while Christa clearly breaks through in the choruses in this extended gothic style tune. "Blame" is arranged and performed similarly but the band have included more ambitious vocal effects that produce some alternative textures.
A dynamic instrumental arrangement with bubbly keyboards supports the gentle rocker "Stretch," and are contrasted by Christa's the layered vocals in the orchestral and dark Julee Cruise style melody in the ballad "Journey," certainly one of the album's standouts. We especially enjoyed the way the piano part and the rhythm section of the track support the vocal lines. Christa's most evocative and dynamic solo vocal performance leads the way in "Cover Me," a more traditionally arranged ballad--except in the instrumental bridges--that lets her work come right to the surface of the band's sound.
We were immediately drawn to the lovely and most accessible album standout "Bed Of Flames," another melodious rocker featuring the range of Christa's lead and War-N's subdued backing vocals. The tune mixes brightness with the occasional dark spot and concludes with percussion alone. The "Bound In Blood (Waltz Lullaby)" version as the name indicates is substantially gentler and more vocally oriented with rhythmic parts just about deleted. Extended and well produced vocal and flute arrangements carry this rendition. Percussion dominates the arrangement in the extended dance-oriented "Stretch (Battery Mix)" and "Grave (Digger Mix)" which both have a variety of vocal effects that continue to explore Christa's range.
The album concludes with "Ode" and "Goodbye." Christa's spoken word vocal in "Ode" clearly provides a deeper and stronger glimpse into her heart while the a capella lullaby "Goodbye" serves to illustrate the depth of the lead singer's vocal talent. Clearly Hungry Lucyís Apparitions deserves further exploration. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. It is a must listen!
Glo. Our preview of Glo consists of two tracks entitled "Open Window" and "Storm." The former is a moody Julee Cruise-style number. Christa's vocals are especially soft and airy; sensually sung, the instrumental arrangements and vocal harmonies perfectly support the lead vocal line. "Storm" has a slow bluesy vocal texture with thicker bass and electronica-influenced swirling keyboard arrangement. The sustained vocal expressions are especially noticable and well produced; the jazzy edge to the instrumental bridge and crisp percussion elements are equally attractive. Christa Belle's instrumental style vocals carry the melody in both of the tracks.
Musical Discoveries: Please tell us a little bit about your backgrounds prior to Hungry Lucy.
Christa Belle: My history is steeped in art, photography and poetry for the most part. I was born in Lexington Kentucky and lived there until I met War-N in Cincinnati Ohio. I then moved to Cincinnati when I was about 23 and we have gone here and there together and wound up back in Cincinnati once again! We plan on staying here for quite a while.
When I was in the ninth grade, I fell in love with photography and joined the photography club in Jr. High school. Despite the neglect from the supposed club I was in, I learned it on my own and have been teaching myself ever since. Then, when I was in tenth grade, I started painting. My teacher was a foul woman who should never have been allowed to teach. Again, despite the hurdles I encountered in trying to learn how to paint, I just painted from my own mindís eye. I find itís more soothing to do whatís inside rather than be molded by an outside force. And since I was a little thing of about seven, I have dabbled in poetry. Itís a nice release that applies no pressure to my brain. Rather, it releases it!
With all this, I had to overcome the MidWestern/Southern ways of life when it comes to some things--religion and other rather unbecoming qualities--and make myself a more open-minded person. I decided not to conform to the bad stereotypes that I grew up around. I have always been the black sheep of the family and a typical middle child--never fitting in and always being different. I was most unhappy when I was friends with the "in crowd" in high school. I was forced to change schools in eleventh grade and lost all my friends I had made at school the year before. I went through a time of denying myself of who I really was. It was easier to be what they wanted, so I did. I quickly realized what I was doing and snapped out of it. Iíve been happy about who I am since then. Oh, and I can be quite a chatty-cathy once I get goiní!
War-N: I grew up in the south of England and moved to the US with my family at the age of thirteen. The teen years can be rough at the best of times, but being transplanted into a foreign land at the same time was a little rough. Being a "foreigner" in a small town wasnít much fun once the novelty wore off and so I turned inside and began writing music.
I spent the late 80ís in a synthpop duo (Studio II) performing around the midwest, early 90s writing, recording and performing in a tribal industrial duo (OSAS), and mid- to late-90s writing and recording a solo electro project (Fishtank No. 9) but never really got what I was truly looking for out of any of them. Then along came Christa! Our first work together was a cover of Depeche Modeís "Blue Dress" for a tribute CD. That CD was released a few years later with the track listed as Fishtank No. 9 feat. Christa Belle. By that time Hungry Lucy was in full swing.
Work on the cover tune went so well that we began writing together and released the four-song "Apparitions Appetizer" in mid-1999, followed by the debut CD Apparitions in mid-2000. We havenít looked back since and I can honestly say that Iíve never been more fulfilled musically. I am finally writing and producing music that I want to listen to as well as perform--a treat!
Who are some of your favourite artists/bands?
Christa Belle: My favourite artists are Bjork, Olivia Newton-John (since I was little!), Jimmy Scott (he has such a wonderfully strange voice), Madonna and The Cure. I find myself listening to Emiliana Torrini quite a lot, Switchblade Symphony, Battery, bloodWIRE, Axoe, Halou, Neurepublik, Bel Canto, and the list goes on. But, I can tell you that there is at least one of those bands in my car at all times. Iíll try any music once. I like to experience new music whenever possible--I donít care about genre. If it sounds good to me, thatís what counts.
War-N: Early favorites include Wendy Carlos, Gary Numan, Howard Jones and anything Vince Clarke touched. Lately I listen to Air, early Hooverphonic, bloodWIRE, Emiliana Torrini. My tastes have really mellowed now that Iím getting old. CDs that seem to be stuck in the player lately are both volumes of the Ultra Chilled compilations and Halouís Wiser. I listen to a lot of talk radio (NPR) actually--man, I really am getting old!
Please tell us about your relationship with Harald Lowy and Chandeen.
War-N: Sťba from Alfa Matrix--our European label--put us in touch and got the ball rolling on a remix that Harald did of one of the new Hungry Lucy tunes. I hadnít heard too much of Chandeen (feature) until then, but I really like what Iíve heard of them and canít wait to get my paws on their new CD, Bikes and Pyramids. Haraldís remix was incredible. He put a beautiful spin on the track and it will definitely be featured on our next release. I hope to return the favour and remix a Chandeen track at some point.
Have you done guest work for other bands?
Christa Belle: Yep. I have done a handful of collaborations with other bands vocally. I have worked with Eric Breton of Darkroom for a song called "Unhuman," Cliff Winton of Outside the Line for a song called "Spring Funeral," Shawn Brice of bloodWIRE (and Battery, Dia, Thorn Apple) many, MANY times gladly!! I have also done backing vocals for a remix War-N did for the band ASP for their song "The Little Big Man." Weíve both done a lot with Shawnís baby "Thorn Apple" since it was formed in 2000. Itís so wonderful to work with your friends as a team and just see what you can come up with.
I love working with Shawn the most (outside of Hungry Lucy). I think it will always be that way because he is the only other person I feel completely comfortable and confident in musically. Plus, heís one of my dearest friends. I have loved every song Iíve ever worked on with other people. Itís great fun and challenging!
War-N: While involved working with OSAS and F9, I was part of the COP Intíl family for a few years. That led to my contribution to a couple of Deathline Intíl songs as well as playing drums on their Midwest and European tours in 1996. I have also done remix work for Heavy Water Factory, Battery, Dia, No Comment, Lunascape (feature), ASP and several other bands. A few years ago, Shawn Brice (Battery, Dia, bloodWIRE) started the Thorn Apple project that involved musicians from many different bands and weíve been heavily involved in the yearly Thorn Apple release for the past 2 years. Iím not sure when weíll get time to contribute this year, but I hope so.
Christa, how did you develop your vocal style? Can you elaborate on your your musical 'training/education'?
Christa Belle: I learned from singing along with other people and then developing my own style after a while--a long while it seemed! Thatís the hardest thing Iíve ever done in my life. Iíve always had a knack for imitating others and can sing like other people with no problem. But when it came time for me to sound like me, I had to really let go and let my own voice come through. Itís a lot more fun to teach yourself because then you can really play with your voice and see what your limits are without being told to sing a scale (zingaa, zingaa, zingaa). Iím still learning what I can and canít do and just trying new things all the time. Along with being the hardest thing Iíve learned, it is also the most rewarding.
Where do you find the inspiration for the lyrics and themes of your music?
Christa Belle: For the most part, I write from life. With Apparitions I wrote a lot about ghostly experiences that I have had and about the loss of loved ones who still haunt me. I had always wanted to write about things Iíd seen and felt and never knew it would turn out the way it did. I also wrote a bit about my feelings on religion with the songs "Cover Me" and "Bed of Flames," my abandonment I felt when my sister moved away with "Bound in Blood." One song that didnít make it on the album called "Watcher" actually was about the 'things' that I have seen and who have followed me around since I was little. They werenít always friendly. I still see them, but they havenít been aggressive for quite a while.
With Glo, I have taken a different path than with Apparitions. I am writing more about my life right now and people who are still living. No matter what I write about, I make sure itís from my own life and how I feel at that time. I am also writing a bit about the depression I felt when I lived away from my family in California with a song called "Telltale Shot." It mingles fact and fiction. Itís hard to describe, but I felt one way and made it more dramatic than it actually was. Elaboration helped the storyline in this particular case, but it wasnít too far off from the truth. I wrote a lot about just my everyday thoughts and moods. Itís been a totally different vibe than writing for Apparitions.
What artists do you feel have influenced the group's sound?
War-N: Thatís a tricky one, because we have both been exposed to such a variety of music over the years that they all leave their mark in some way. Some of the early tracks like "Bound in Blood" were definitely influenced by Switchblade Symphony. Most of Apparitions had a lot of Massive Attack, Gus Gus influences--mostly on the rhythmic end. I would say that the song structures and progressions go back to Vince Clarkeís pop song wizardry and even back to JS Bach.
Most everything we did on Apparitions has very logical harmonic and melodic progressions with everything resolving itself neatly. I think the newer material has been influenced by Halou, Emiliana Torrini, and the Ultrachilled camp as far as instrumentation and vibe goes. Christa is definitely exploring more bluesy melodies which in turn is forcing me to get a little more daring with the harmonic progressions--which is fine with me. The predictability of traditional progressions was getting a little boring anyway. I get bored easily--so change is good!
Please tell us about the direction of the new album Glo and what sorts of changes we can expect.
Christa Bell: Letís see--you can expect a wide variety of emotions, rhythms, grooves and instruments. It does seem to have a jazzy/bluesy influence thus far and itís brought out a lot of vocal changes in me. I go from whispery and throaty to operatic in one song alone! I have had much fun singing in new ways. I really opened up since recording Apparitions and I feel it sounds smoother and less 'first-timer.' I am the last person to compliment myself, but I think itís sounding really good so far. The music War-N has done is absolutely brilliant. Itís so rich and warm. I just love it!
Please explain the various sequences you go through when writing your music and tell us a bit about the studios that you use in different stages.
Christa Belle: We write backwards on nearly every song. I shall explain. I write the vocals and melodies. The thing is, they come to me together in one package. I record them to a click track and nothing more. I then show that to War-N, and if he feels inspired by it, he then writes the chords and we go from there. We do all of this in our second bedroom in our apartment, always have and always will. We then get that into song form and once itís to a semi-finished state, I re-record final vocals and then we finish the song adding effects and such as we go. Itís really quite simple and basic, just the stress and frustration of off days gets to us sometimes!
When people do remixes of our songs, we just send them a remix kit with dry vocals, midi files, audio of any other sounds weíve used and an mp3 of the actual song. The remixer works from that and then they send us their final version when itís complete.
War-N: As Christa mentioned we write and record everything at home. I think itís important to be relaxed when working creatively. The whole process, from Christaís melodies to the final mastering and even artwork, is done by just the two of us. This is in part to save on expenses and part because Iím such a control freak. I have wrestled with pros and cons to this approach. I donít want to get too philosophical, but in the end, there is so little in life that you have total control over that if you find something, you should hang on to it. That may seem a little heavy handed, but the bottom line is that we create music to satisfy our own desires--to compromise that in any way would be a mistake I think.
Do you have careers or work outside music?
Christa Belle: I am fortunate, as of right now, to not have a day job. I do have a couple of hobbies, which are my photography and arty things. I also read a lot--fiction and reference books on subjects I study on my own (Witchcraft/Wiccan things, Herbalism, and anything having to do with nature). Iím also a Tea Freak! I have more tea in my personal collection than anyone else I know. My mother, sisters and my dearest friend I-Li all share in the rituals of Tea. Itís very soothing.
War-N: I run a small web hosting business and do web development to supplement the income. It pays the bills and satisfies my logical, structured thinking side. There is actually quite a bit of creativity that can go into solving programming problems though--so itís a nice balance.
What about your live performances?
Christa Belle: Itís funny that I enjoy performing live so much, but feel I donít offer much for the audience to look at. I feel like a lump. I donít move around all that much when I sing so I feel like they may get bored when watching me. I hope not, but I always worry about that. I swear I try to move, but canít! I donít want to take my focus away from actually singing for them. My main thing is that I want to sound good. I donít really care what I look like, but I know it can be important to some people.
War-N: Although I do enjoy performing live I donít have much interaction with the audience. I just stand up there within my headphones and play. My main concern during a show is that all the parts are running along smoothly. The recent addition of live video projection and the additional layer of 'things that can go wrong' has kept me on my toes lately. Iím a pretty introverted person, so Iím quite happy in that role!
There are a few video clips from a couple of our recent shows. They will be available to view on our site www.hungrylucy.com in the near future.
How has the internet influenced your musical career and the promotion of your music?
War-N: Frankly, I donít think we would have reached anywhere near the audience we have if it werenít for the web. From the first songs we put up on mp3.com in 1998 to the feedback and constant communication we get via our website, Iíd say it has been the single most important part of our promotions. We can arrange remixes, book shows, get instant fan feedback and sell CDs right from our site without having to go through the traditional channels of distribution. Itís true that distribution through a major label might help 'move more units,' but it all goes back to that control issue for us. We control how we are presented to the public and we get direct communication with our fans. To us, that is far more valuable than signing with AOLTimeWarnerMicrosoftSonyBrothers.
Hmmm--donít quote me on that in case they come knocking on the door!
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