Over the past year the name Bluebell has come to have more and more significance on the British music scene. The project of Annabel Jones, daughter of Davy and former member of Lady and the Lost Boys, has certainly helped – but their raucous electronica with a splash of dreamy soundscape has captured far more hearts and ears. Straddling the dance and shoegaze genres, Bluebell are more than just another 2012 product: they’re groundbreaking.
To celebrate the recent release of the band’s debut single “Normal Heights”, DrunkenWerewolf’s Tiffany Daniels spoke to Annabel about growing up and being influenced by America, the London music scene and playing shows to industry people.
The launch party for your single “Normal Heights” was last night – did it go ok?
Yeah it was rammed. We had a really good time! It’s great when you have people [at a gig] who aren’t just your friends; they know your songs you don’t feel nervous. You don’t have any question marks over whether people are enjoying themselves. I’ve actually never experienced that because I’ve never done anything as ‘serious’ as what I’m doing now. I’ve never been quite so... focused? There’s an element of professionalism to this project that I’m not used to because I usually just write a song, dance around and do whatever I want!
Do you have much touring experience?
Not at all! That was our third live show. One was just us testing new material live, and we did a gig with King Charles too. We’ve done a lot of showcases and industry stuff, which is a totally different vibe because you’re in a room with people sitting on a coach. It’s business. We’ve done tons of those, but we haven’t done many shows. It’s just nice to play a normal show.
Because your music is quite studio based, and there are some things that are perhaps difficult to recreate on stage, would you say you’re more of a studio band?
Oh no not at all, we’ve really made it so if anything, on stage [our music is] fuller and bigger than it is on record. I feel really proud of Charlie [Westropp, Annabel’s band mate] for that, he’s actually really amazing. We’re definitely a live band.
Not many critics have mentioned Charlie by name, though they recognise Bluebell’s a band and it’s not just you. Why do you think that it is? Is it because of your family connections?
I think it’s the nature of being in a band; people focus on the front woman. That’s a normal thing; there are a million examples of that. Even I’m guilty of not knowing the names of anyone besides the singer in big bands. Also Charlie isn’t really interested in being a front person, so although we are a duo and this is a band, he’s happy to not be the person that people are focusing on. Obviously someone has to be that person – and that leaves me!
As far as the thing about my Dad [Annabel’s father is Monkees front man Davy Jones]: one thing that I really feel proud of and have always stood by since I decided this is what I want to do, is that I’ve never used that and I’ve never relied on that [to get anywhere]. My Dad used to get really frustrated – it was a sore point with him, and it hurt his feelings a lot that I refused his help, and refused to use all the leg work he had done. I think he found it insulting, and he probably saw it as me not understanding or having respect for what he’d done. It wasn’t about that, it was just that there’s no satisfaction in a victory that’s not your own. I’ve always known that since I was a kid, it’s not going to feel good unless I enter the room on my own.
When we first started the project nobody knew, and I was any other emerging artist. It felt good to have “Normal Heights” go out and have people reacting to it without knowing! I was like, yes, I’ve done this, I’ve entered the room and I’m just Annabel. People always find out when someone in your family is famous, but I really felt like it was super important for me to make it on my own terms and on my own merit basically. Of course people are going to talk about it because it’s interesting, it’s unusual – not everyone has such a legend of a Dad! But it’s cool!
Now I feel kind of bad about it because he’s gone and I don’t think he really knew how much I did think [he’s] awesome, I just want to be as awesome as that on my own! Obviously I’m never going to be the Monkees...
You took some time out in America when he died this year, and some time out when you formed the band. Has America really influenced Bluebell?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve grown up between places and I’ve got sisters out there; a huge family; and I go there every year. “Normal Heights” was written about a boy I was fooling around with in San Deigo, and Normal Heights is a place in San Diego. [America has] influenced me a lot. I thought about this project in America. I decided this is what I want to do; I want to make electronic pop music that you don’t know whether to dance or mosh to! People in L.A. didn’t really get it, so I had to come home and invite Charlie. He really got it.
But yeah America is a place I love, I love that country, and I would love to be able to work and tour there. People over there want you to succeed. Everyone’s on your side. This country has a different vibe. I don’t know if you’ve heard that from other bands or whatever, but you do have to muscle your way in to be accepted into the [UK] club. You want to do it, because you want to be ‘in’, but you’re also like, do I really have to do this and play this game?
There’s a cliché that Britain’s easier to “crack” for new artists. Is that not true?
No I don’t think so! For me personally... For some bands I’m sure that’s true, I think it depends on your genre and the kind of person you are, but I’m not super cool and cutting edge and trendy, and I think in London people love style and music to go together, and I don’t fit into that. That’s probably why I found it more difficult, because I’m from the countryside and America, and I’m not trendy and my hair is brown, my clothes are from my sister’s wardrobe. Really sadly I think it matters a lot in London.
My last band, Lady and the Lost Boys... I felt we were a really good band, and we were super young and needed direction. We played this show once and lots of label people were there, and people were like, "Yeah we love the music but we feel like the singer Annabel isn’t making any effort". I asked our manager at the time what that meant and he said they were talking about the way I dressed! I was like, this is ridiculous! I feel like there’s so much emphasis on it – in this country, you have to be super cool and Charlie and I aren’t.
Even when you watch those talent shows, like American Idol and X Factor, when you look at the contestants in the UK - by week two they’ve got their image styled and they’ve created a persona. When you watch the ones in America, they’re just themselves! I think it’s ok to do that in America and I think in England there’s more pressure to be cool.
Bluebell are signed to Killing Moon – is that an independent venture?
Yeah Killing Moon, we’ve got a single, we just wanted to get “Normal Heights” out. It’s not a money making venture, it’s just for fun, and to have a physical release and something to work towards.
Have you felt any pressure from labels to conform?
When we first started getting management and all those kind of things, it really bugged me out for a while. I started to think about how we were going to dress and whether we needed to look a certain way. I think that was due to a lack of confidence in direction. I wasn’t sure, I knew we were heading somewhere, I just didn’t know where it was. I didn’t know what the sound was going to be like. Now I feel like we have our sound and we’ve taken the last year to make it something, I feel like [having an image] is less and less important. The more I think about that stuff the more confused I get and start going wait a minute, who am I?! That’s literally how it makes me feel, you have to think about it and it makes me feel like I don’t know myself!
My advice to myself is just don’t think about that. That’s our style – not thinking about it! My only rules are - and I think I get this from my Dad - don’t wear trainers on stage and put on a nice shirt and brush your hair.