Bel Stuart’s piano playing goes well with her singing voice. Photo by Sarah Stevens.
By SARAH STEVENS
Nashville transplant Bel Stuart brings a polished and distinctly eclectic acoustic sound to the coffee shops in San Marcos.
Most recently she headed a singer/songwriter circle at Tantra, including Olive Street band members Pete Apostola, Lindsey James, and Jason Wilkinson, along with solo artist Amy Howard.
“I think I pretty much got started in the womb,” Stuart said. “I’m the daughter of two musicians and I come from an incredibly musical family in Nashville. Our family reunions are basically one big jam session, with people square dancing and singing a lot of old standard country songs, rock songs, and gospel. If you don’t play at least two instruments, they kick you out of the family.”
Stuart continued, “I studied with my uncle for voice and piano for a couple years. It was pretty evident from early on that I was wanting to do my own thing, and I had a pretty good working knowledge of music theory. I started writing my own songs when I was 10. I wrote my first full-length, fully constructed song around age 11. I went all-out first thing. It was a politically driven song about the state of homeless people in the United States.”
Stuart’s shows are typically intimate, low-key affairs, conducted in casual settings that suit the deceptively simple acoustic poetry that comprise many of her songs. While more than proficient on the guitar, Stuart’s strident vocals gain a particular depth when backed by the piano.
“I grew up listening to what my family listened to — a lot of honky-tonk country, ’50s and ’60s rock, and rockabilly,” Stuart said. “A lot of my family is very involved in the church and I did a lot of church choir and that kind of thing. There was a lot of diversity in our music. All of these different musical influences really gave me a wide palette to pull from as an artist.”
Songs in Stuart’s repertoire represent an array of topics, from the easy humor of her Zombie Love Song, to Moon Pies, a song about her grandmother and growing up in Tennessee.
“I think out of my own music,” Stuart said. “My favorite songs really vary a lot depending on the tone of the show. This past gig at Tantra, having some percussion and some guitar thrown in behind the piano, ‘Kind Of People’ really just became my new favorite song. I finally got to hear it pretty much how I hear it in my head. All this time I’ve been playing it solo acoustic on the guitar, and I think it has finally lived up to its potential. It has a really good message. We spend so much time worrying about these extraneous people in our lives, that aren’t always so nice. Sometimes the people that we give the least consideration to are the people closest to us who we should be worrying about.”
Stuart continued, “I’m loving the hell out of the Michael Jackson cover of Billy Jean right now. That’s my ace in the hole. Nobody expects this white girl on the piano to be busting out with some 1983-era Thriller.”
Having been an active performer for a few years now, Stuart has evolved and matured as a musician, coming closer to her own distinctive style with each performance.
“As I’ve gotten older my goals as a musician have changed a lot,” she said. “When I recorded my first full-length album in 2004, I had a lot of lofty aspirations, but no idea how to go about them. It wasn’t a bad debut by any means. I got some good album reviews and played some great shows with a lot of talented musicians. I got to open on tour for Bo Diddley, which has been one of the highlights, if not the highlight, of my music career so far.”
With an easy-going and beautifully structured style, Stuart is planning on releasing more albums in the future, and being an active part of the local scene.
“I had no idea I was going to end up in a hotbed of songwriting history in Texas,” Stuart said. “I think I was led here for a reason. I want to focus on the song itself now and hone my craft as a songwriter. I love to perform my music don’t get me wrong, but I think I’m here to serve the song. It’s not so much about trying to be a rock star these days or wanting to tour all over the world or sell a million records. That’s a great accomplishment, but more than anything, I want to write relatable music that anyone can sit down and appreciate.”
Bel Stuart will open for The Olive Street Band on Aug. 27 at the Coffee Pot. For more upcoming shows or to listen to some of her songs, check out www.myspace.com/belstuart.Email | Print