Elephant in the Room is a new climate anxious album from wherethefishbe. It’s an ear-worming, toe-tapping, thought-inspiring melange of mind music. Joshua Bell explains how tunes can take on existential threats
ArtsCulture: What is the Elephant in the Room?
Joshua Bell: The Elephant in the Room is the inherent contradiction we live under in day to day life. A form of cognitive dissonance we have with the world around us. The structures of society and how they function in terms of our relationship to it. In that sense a sort of adamant denialism of the things going wrong. Ultimately it’s the existential threat we face under the maintenance of capitalism!
ArtsCulture: Looking at the anxiety of climate change seems a different approach than warning about climate change. Why did you go down that route?
Joshua Bell: The idea was introduced to me recently and I could relate and empathise with it. I am a very anxious person as a whole. With the lack of attention, change and conflict with the current world order and its current direction it feels as if we are moving further away from a solution and accelerating towards disaster. I feel the anxiety is universal and rising as many people are aware of the climate breakdown approaching, but are either in denial or feel powerless to change it! Ultimately it is something on my mind a lot and therefore a platform to create art out of and personal approach sometimes humanises these colossal issues!
ArtsCulture: There’s are really catchy indie vibe to the album, how important is it to make the tunes accessible?
Joshua Bell: I am just coming out of a degree in Digital Music and Sound Art and actually submitted Elephant in The Room alongside my dissertation on Anarchist movements and their relationship to music. This question was asked to me in my tutor review as the biggest criticism of my work. Ultimately the music for me can come as a platform to tell a story and I am not too scared of being catchy or accessible, but hope I do add elements of unusual or less mainstream music. I would like to go bolder next time and maybe add some more dissonant tracks, but ultimately I think a balance is best. The combination of dissonance and accessible music can be a powerful tool when writing music and can help form a narrative along a longer piece of art such as the album i released. So yes it is important to make tunes accessible to promote the ideas and stories I’m telling but ultimately the expression and art comes first.
ArtsCulture: What gets you writing a tune – do you have go-to places for inspiration?
Joshua Bell: I am very much a bedroom musician now. I previously was in a lot of groups, but at uni with the advent of better digital workstations it’s easy to build a small DIY studio in your room. In doing this inspiration naturally became far more internal, probably another reason why the album is about climate anxiety rather than climate breakdown directly. There is a strong emotional connection to the art I make and I find it hard to separate myself from it in many ways especially as the process is now so much within myself. This was only exacerbated by the lockdown and I think that is reflected in the music!
ArtsCulture: How much did Covid-19 and lockdown feed into or inspire the album?
Joshua Bell: As said above with the further internalisation of music and art anyway covid-19 only pushed me further towards an introspective sound and lyrics.
ArtsCulture: There are a few collaborations on the album, what can you tell us about them, and were they harder to organise during lockdown?
Joshua Bell: The collaborators were great actually and worked really well for me ’cause finally people had free time to be featured! My sister Jess and my friends Lucian and Betty contributed loads in terms of vocal harmony and Joe, who does the guitar solo in manufacturing consent, I was living with at the time. It basically worked as a lot of back and forth sending demos, samples and then building up to polished items. The work they all put in was magnificent and I couldn’t be more grateful!
ArtsCulture: How does your anarchism inform your music?
Joshua Bell: Anarchy has been a major influence on how I see society and things I think are needed to improve it. The bulk of the world and human history is based on various hierarchies and this distribution of power has a lot to do with how everything is run and works together. I am cynical of all undemocratic hierarchies and often think roles as bosses and leaders are an unnecessary middle between the people and shaping society. This view is completed with the ideas of socialism by looking into the power and structure of capital and how that currently runs all of our lives. Music is a tool to express these ideas and I think anarchy is encouraging me outside of lyrics to try and explore new and weirder ways of making music. The biggest part of anarchy that has informed my music will be the DIY aesthetic which harkens back to the idea of power and in this case creative control. I am the recording engineer, writer, producer and executive of this work. I am my own boss in that sense and hopefully that means, whether people enjoy the music or not, I produce a final product that’s more true to me even if a bit rough and ready in places.
ArtsCulture: What’s the role of the artist in society?
Joshua Bell: I am a big advocate of art being a very open and collective thing. Inherently we are all artists in the ways we communicate, write and even produce new things. Music is a form of communication, all sound is inherently noise just some vibrations seem to please some of us more than others and that’s highly individualistic from person to person. What I find alarming is society’s attack on art, along with many things, which is it’s drive to monetise it. I do feel that removes the freedom and expressive nature. Art is for arts sake alone in that sense, it shouldn’t have to be a product, it can be read shallowly or in depth, it should be anarchic! So the artist role in society is well, to make art be that on whatever it may be.
ArtsCulture: You’ve released Elephant In The Room as wherethefishbe, how does it sit with your previous album F*ck Being Positive I’m Happy Being Sad?
Joshua Bell: I would say this (Elephant In The Room) album was far more warts and all approach. There are definitely moments that are out of key and a bit more loose, yet probably more musically complex. F*ck Being Positive I’m Happy Being Sad was a far more acoustic, simple and passive piece and probably a lot more polished because of that. The song themes are far less political and a lot more about relationships and really about a moment in my life where I have come to terms with certain aspects of myself and how I personally feel about being alive. Ultimately it was written around the time I started receiving support for anxiety and depression and decided to put my energy into revisiting old songs through that lens and writing new ones about me and my relationship to other people.
ArtsCulture: Part of Elephant In the Room was live set under the original title Post-Substantial Self Eliminatory Blues streamed from your bedroom through YouTube – is that the future for music?
Joshua Bell: In terms of making a living no. In terms of a platform yes I think YouTube had and still has a lot of potential for sharing ideas. I am not sure how and where we will integrate with technology more next, but imagine the future for music will be tied heavily into the new emergent technology and whatever quirks that brings to the way communicate to one and another!
ArtsCulture: How rewarding is it to get people toe-tapping to your tunes?
Joshua Bell: Brilliant! Absolutely my favourite moment is my mum and my mates moshing to my old band aquarium at a school concert in front of a concerned crowd of parents! Turn out is usually low when I gigged more regularly, but entering a hostile crowd and getting something back from them is amazing. When I played live more we had polarising responses. We were booked on a night full of acoustic acts and we were the only electric band on the night. I played the opening chord on the guitar and the entire crowd upped and left the venue. On the other hand we once rocked up and everyone was out in the smoking area of this venue as we started playing a few came in, then went outside, before bringing more back in. The venue was crammed by the end and that was an amazing experience. So yes I love it when people tap their feet, it definitely strokes my ego!