bell’s roar – a loud and persistent voice in the fight for social justice by Verena Spilker

bell’s roar is the music project of Sean Desiree. Originally from the Bronx in New York City, she now lives Upstate in Albany with her family, where she’s involved in various projects.

She has been making music for a long time, first playing in the band Broadcast Live. After that, she began to develop more of her own sound and started writing her own songs. In the beginning, she just used a guitar and her voice, but gradually she also became the drummer, bassist and ultimately the producer. Now she even makes her own music videos. Very DIY, really great.

For her self titled debut EP that came out in 2014, she teamed up with Cedar Apffel from Natureboy/Two Twins, who rearranged the songs she had previously recorded by herself. She also toured and recorded with Kiran Gandhi, who also drums for M.I.A., and her partner Alisa Sikelianos-Carter sometimes helps out with the lyrics and makes the cover artworks for bell’s roar.

Her first album is going to be released in November 2015 on Firebrand Records, the same label as Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and Ryan Harvey (Riot-Folk Collective). This label and bell’s roar seem like the perfect fit, since they both combine music with political and activist ideas.

Sean Desiree also runs South End Pallet Works where she builds furniture out of used pallets and is part of the organizing team for Upstate Ladyfest.

Verena Spilker: Why did you choose bell’s roar to be your name as a musician?

belle’s roar: I wanted the name to represent parts of my identity and reference the sound of my music; bell came from black feminist writer bell hooks. She is someone who stands against white supremacy, misogyny and celebrates love and black culture. Bells are also simple and beautiful instruments, but are given great importance in various ceremonies. The roar represents the lyrics and energy in the music. It’s my loud and persistent voice in the fight for social justice.</p<

Verena Spilker: You say that your songs, like the texts by bell hooks, deal with the intersections of race, capitalism, and gender in the US and how they perpetuate systems of oppression. For people that are not too familiar with the system in the US, how would you describe the situation?

br: The US was built on genocide, racism, greed and patriarchy. Starting from that toxic foundation completely influences how the decedents of indigenous, black and brown people, immigrants, and women are treated here today. America is in denial of how racist it is and that’s why it isn’t able to progress beyond a certain point. The Black Lives Matter Movement is a clear response to the incessant racism black people are faced with everyday. It is a fact that black people are killed at a higher rate by police and are incarcerated at a higher rate for the same “crimes” as white people. If it’s not racism, what else is it? It’s nonsensical when people defend this system. It’s because it works for them, not because racism doesn’t exist.

Verena Spilker: What came first your musical or your political ideas? Can you separate the two?

br: It’s hard to separate the two, but I think music came first, because we were indoctrinated at school and it took a long time to get over that. It takes a long time to reverse the brain washing and selective education that takes place in the schools in the US. We still celebrate Christopher Columbus for heaven’s sake. That’s horrendous. Imagine the lies and the glossing over of the truth that has to happen in order for us to make this person seem like a hero. This is just one example of a bigger problem. It’s a process to heal from that miseducation. Being radical and loving myself is a continual practice.

Verena Spilker: Music journalists seem to be having a hard time to place your music. How would you describe it?

br: I usually put myself in the same category as Indie Rock or Synth Pop because you do have to choose. It’s best to describe it by what’s present in the music, which is layers of guitar harmonies, a “soulful” voice, colorful synths and an unexpected bass line.

Verena Spilker: I’ve been writing about and doing a lot of research into ‚queer music‘ over the past ten years and people often ask me what ‚queer music‘ means. For me, that’s mostly the idea of breaking with stereotypes in a political as well as a musical way. From the historical perspective, queer people have always been initiating new trends in most artistic fields. I think that that is mainly because we don’t necessarily fit into or even want to fit into mainstream society and are breaking the mainstream rules in our daily lives. That that is what makes it easier for us to also break stereotypes in terms of genres as well and gives us more possibilities to think outside the box. Do you have any thoughts about that?

br: I agree. I don’t think queer music is a genre in and of itself, but a way of thinking about and approaching music. Just because a musician is LGBT doesn’t make their music queer music. Queer is not something that adheres to societal norms. It makes us free to define ourselves on our own terms.

Verena Spilker: You write all your music yourself, but then you’re also collaborating with a lot of people. What do you like most about working on your own and about those collaborations?

br: Having a solo project is the most important thing to me. I would never be able to complete my vision if I were consistently working with other people to write music. I need a space that’s my own where I don’t have to compromise, edit out or withhold my thoughts. My ideal is to write everything myself and at the very end have a producer that I love help me take it even further. That’s what happened for my debut EP. I wrote the music then Cedar Apffel helped me produce it to enhance the quality. It was really a gift.

Collaborating is something I enjoy as well because it’s something original to that group of people. It allows me to make music I wouldn’t think to do alone. On this upcoming album I collaborated with Joshua Gruft. He played synths and drums and I played guitar, bass and some synths as well.

Verena Spilker: In a different interview you said that it’s very important for you to create your own scene. You seem very active at that with all your endeavors, whether with your music, your wood work or organizing Ladyfest. Maybe you have a nice story to share that makes all these efforts worthwhile?

br: Yes. The day after the second Ladyfest Upstate I organized in Albany someone who attended wrote me on Facebook. She expressed how she hadn’t danced in public for as long as she could remember because of being made fun of in the past and being self conscious. She was able to dance for the first time in a safe space without feeling judged. That meant a lot to me because it confirmed the necessity of creating a safe space.

Verena Spilker: You released your first EP in 2014 and your new remix album will be coming out in November 2015. What will be different, what has changed since the first EP, what have you learned in the meantime?

br: This latest one is a collaboration with Joshua Gruft. He plays drums with me at some of my live shows and he just started coming up with ideas for remixes. I really loved the direction and began adding to it. In the process, we came up with two original songs. I definitely feel my skills as a musician, song writer and producer continue to grow. I’m excited for my first full length album coming out in 2016. I want to continue to feel inspired and push myself.

Verena Spilker: Is there a tour coming up to accompany the release of the album?

br: Yes, I’ll be touring through California and making a stop in Baltimore. You can find all the tour dates at I hope to tour in Europe next summer 2016.

Verena Spilker:You just released the video for Slow (remix). Can you tell us a little bit about the idea behind the song and video?

br: I wanted to film something simple that captured queer love in a normalized way. My partner, visual artist Alisa Sikelianos-Carter, actually came up with the idea. I borrowed a camera from a friend and I had to wake up periodically throughout the night to get the sunrise. It took just a few hours to edit the footage. It was the easiest film project I’ve ever done.

Verena Spilker: Also, out of personal interest, from what I’ve read, the only time you toured outside of the US you toured Germany? Any special reason?

br: It’s really just because a youth group from Chemnitz brought my first band, Broadcast Live, over to facilitate writing workshops for a theater project. I figured I should play some solo shows while I was there. I maintained a relationship with some organizers and came back. Now that I’m more settled in my music I would love to come back. I had an amazing time.

photo by bell’s roar

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And check out this video for Black Lives that premiered on Afropunk yesterday.