Artist of the Week: Caretta Bell

Each Wednesday, Rocks Off arbitrarily appoints one lucky local performer or group "Artist of the Week," bestowing upon them all the fame and grandeur such a lofty title implies. Know a band or artist that isn't awful? Email their particulars to introducingliston@gmail.com.

We are all about making predictions, assumptions or whatever. Did you know that we've guessed the sex of every baby of every pregnant woman we've ever met at a success rate of 50 percent? We're like Nate Silver, except better. Nate Gold, playas. So when we saw an email someone sent us with the name "Caretta Bell" in the subject box, we immediately knew that we were being emailed about either a) an inspirational Civil Rights activist; or b) a neo-soul artist. Turned out to be the latter. For all you Cop Warmth fans out there, neo-soul is basically an earthy, sweaty, less syncopated jazz-funk. It's entirely appropriate to use a word like "sultry" to describe it. When done incorrectly, neo-soul can be just plain unbearable - sadly, we still know most of the words to Remy Shand's "Take A Message From My Love." But when done right, it's just about the coolest. Lucky for us, Bell happened to be pretty damn crisp. We got word to her through her people, and she was polite enough to answer a few of our questions. Read on to get her thoughts on her song becoming a New Zealand smash, her incidental Erykah Badu-ism, and the no-good, sorry ex-boyfriend who inspired her to write a fantastic song.

Rocks Off: Okay, so tell us a bit about how Caretta Bell came to be. We mean, you know, not biologically - we assume that was the same as everyone else - but musically. Caretta Bell: Well, I've been singing ever since I was three, they tell me. My grandmother says I was bringing the house down in church singing solos. Now I don't remember that, but ever since I can remember - age 5 or so - I've been singing. Started out in church, then high school, college and so on; been singing/writing ever since. RO: One thing we were curious about: In that "Dance" track that you have, is that an "Atomic Dog" sample in the background? Because that would be great.

CB: Ha! No, actually that's a sample from a Frank Sinatra song.

RO: Wow, what a horrible guess. Your song "Dead Wrong" was a chart topper in New Zealand, right? How'd that happen? Seems a weird market to go after.

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CB: Yeah, it went No. 1 in New Zealand. You know, we didn't go after that market, obviously. I mean, like you said, it's New Zealand [laughs]. No disrespect, but Freddie, aka Swedish producer Red Astaire, and I did a song for a James Brown compilation that was released here in the U.S. and also Europe, Japan, etc. Basically, Freddie took a James Brown sample and built the track around that, and I wrote the lyrics and arranged the vocals to that track. Freddie is a producer/DJ that I'm currently working on my second album with. So, in the midst of working on my project this opportunity came up and we decided to go for it. While Freddie was touring around doing his DJ thing, he would spin the song in the different countries that he happened to be working in at the time. It actually gained a lot of momentum in most of the places he played it - even in New York, but especially in New Zealand. So that's how that came about.

RO: Yeah, that's exactly how we guessed it happened. You've kind of got a slight Erykah Badu thing going on. Is that on purpose? Was she an influence? Could you tell her we said hello? Because we went and saw her in concert, and we're pretty sure she was singing directly to us.

CB: [laughs] You know I'm a typical artist in the sense that I don't think I sound like anyone but me, so no, it's definitely not on purpose. However I am a fan of her music.

RO: Have you ever heard of Coline? She's another up and coming Houston R&Ber. If you had to quantify it on a scale of 1 to 10, how much better than her do you think you are?

CB: You are something else! [laughs] No, I've never heard of Coline, so that makes the rest of your question null and void. Next! [laughs]

RO: Record-wise, what've you got going on right now? Can we look forward to some new Caretta material anytime soon?

CB: I'm working on my second album as we speak. I'm about six or seven songs deep into it right now and I'm really excited about the new material.

Love's Eye View

hasn't even been out a year yet though, so it's gonna be a little while before we unveil the new stuff - but it's definitely being worked on.

RO: You know what song is great? "How Do I Love Thee." We really enjoy songs that sound authentic. Like, remember Deborah Cox's "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here"? She sang her ass off in that song, but more importantly, you could feel exactly what she was saying. That's what you've got on "How Do I Love Thee." What was going on when you put that song together?

CB: Thank you. You know it's pretty much like the song says. There was a guy I was dating who told me I was the only one and I thought everything was lovely. I was really feeling this dude. Then my homeboy comes along and is like, "Uh, you know he's still kicking with ole girl, right?!" I remember feeling really betrayed and just dumb because, you know, I trusted that what he said was true. Nobody likes to feel misused and made a fool of, so that's why there's so much emotion in that song particularly. I was pissed! [laughs] And the rest is history, including him. I'm not bitter though. [laughs] Fa real.

See Caretta live opening for Mos Def, Bilal, Ledisi and Stokely April 24 at the Arena Theatre. Tickets available at the www.arenahouston.com and www.ticketmaster.com. Keep up with all Caretta-related news at www.kozmikoasis.com.

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