By Jess Goulart
Photo courtesy of Bell Cenower.
Brooklynite Bell Cenower’s brilliant bass lines are the backbone of local indie-punk trio Amadels, but that’s not what caught our attention. Head to the moniker Nice Knees on Soundcloud and press play on the track “To Both of Us It’s Known”, and a slow, deliberate melt of sounds unfolds. A heavy southern drum beats underneath a haze of subtle synth, vocals and guitar, with single clean notes brightening the composition like streetlights at dawn.
Turns out Nice Knees is Cenower’s little known solo project; a humble exercise in self-exploration that also happens to be damn fun to listen to. With an ear for mixing and an intrinsic honesty, her songs are at times sweet and intimate, at times overarching and complex, but always deftly structured to peak your interest.
BTR caught up with Cenower to chat about branching out on your own when we can expect a Nice Knees EP.
How did you get started as a musician?
Well I’ve been playing bass for about seven years, I play in a band called Amadels, and that’s where I got my start as far as writing and recording music goes. All the people that I hung out with were recording their own music too, and I wasn’t, so I started working on my own stuff and that’s how I got here.
What made you decide to branch out on your own?
I have a lot of feelings and I was getting some of that out with the band, but there’s something deeply personal about making music on your own. I will lock myself in my room and have all this time to reflect on myself and everything that’s happening. I think making it all yourself really just takes music to the next level.
What are some of your major influences?
That’s a tough question, but I really like a lot of bands on the Captured Tracks label. And Sacred Bones, 4AD, and Faux Discx. But I feel like honestly a lot of my influences I may not even be aware of. You know, you’ll hear something, like part of a song or a chord progression, and even if it’s by an artist you don’t necessarily like it sticks with you and you keep it inside. And there becomes a lot of unconscious influence going on.
So you have a couple singles, is there an upcoming EP in the works?
As of right now, no, I’m not working on any sort of collective songs because the band is important to me. I just do my own music sporadically, but at some point I’ll want to start compiling one for a full-length.
Any particular vibe you’re going for with your music?
Sad. Well, I shouldn’t say sad. Bleak and also hopeful–like a weird mix of the two. Trying to understand myself and having a hard time with it is probably the biggest theme of my music.
What’s the writing process like for your music?
Usually I like to start with drum tracks, I don’t know why but it seems to be the easiest thing for me. I get a lot of pleasure out of organizing drum samples and usually, depending on what emerges from that, I’ll look at guitar, then maybe more guitar. Then generally I’ll have a bunch of melodies and I’ll think ‘OK, how can I put these together into one structure,’ and play with that. Then vocals come last. Vocals and lyrics tend to happen at the same time.
Do you try and match the lyrics to the sound of the music?
I don’t do that consciously but I think it happens organically. Also, because I am often talking about similar subjects in a lot of my songs, the concepts in my head are usually related.
Some people think the Brooklyn music scene is a little incestuous, what are your thoughts?
I definitely see trends in it and there’s definitely a couple favorites among people who go to shows, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I do think the scene has stagnated a little bit, but at the same time there are sometimes people coming up from the most random places and doing really cool unique stuff, and the idea of Brooklyn attracts them.
Can you share a favorite moment while you were making your own music?
[laughs] Well this is pretty cool! I never expect people to pay attention to my music because I don’t make it for a purpose or think about getting signed or booking shows. So when people express interest, that feels really great. I’m so glad that it can resonate with some people.