Vancouver based actor, singer, songwriter, dancer and artist Bella St Clair was drawn to music from an early age, with a Casio keyboard gifted to her by her mom at the age of 8 leading her to try to teach herself songs by ear. She later upgraded to a Roland electric piano and after learning the chords to every song on The Killer’s Sam’s Town album, she started writing her own music. She describes her early songs as cringy but has since developed her songwriting skills. Over the past few years, she has come into her own musically and has found her writing style, the process of which has her imagining a conversation. 2020 saw the release of her debut single “Not For Want of Trying” and she most recently released her new single “Don’t Take My Man”, which she describes as a modern day “Jolene”. In addition to pursuing a career as a singer, St Clair graduated from the BFA Acting Program in theater from UBC in 2017 and also sings as a part of the Gracenote Vancouver choir. A love for collaborating with other artists on their music led her to star in music videos for the artists Ekke and Mennov, with plans to release music videos of her own in the coming months. Early this Summer, she plans to release a video for her upcoming single “High” and hopefully play some shows this year, as well. With plenty of exciting things on the horizon, Bella St Clair is definitely an artist to watch! You can connect with Bella St Clair via the following links. Photo credit: Photographed by Philip Coleman, styled by Tyler Rae and HMU by Jordyn Amanda.
What can you tell me about growing up in Vancouver and how your love for acting, singing and modeling began? Did you grow up in a creative household?
So I actually grew up in Nelson, BC – which is a far cry from Vancouver! It’s a little town in the mountains in the interior of BC, and the culture is divided between hippie and redneck. It’s a really interesting place. I attribute 50% of my passion for the arts to that town and its inhabitants (the other 50% I attribute to my parents). This town attracts incredible talents in music, theatre, filmmaking, dance. So my love for music blossomed under Allison Girvan’s direction singing in Corazon Vocal Ensemble and in musical theatre shows she musical directed. My passion for acting was fostered by my mum, Jane, who has an actor in a past lifetime and encouraged me to get into theatre myself. My dad is in the radio broadcasting business and he was a great influence on my communication and presentation styles – something that definitely comes through in my music. Together the two of them were my coaches and my cheerleaders. I moved to Vancouver to attend the acting program at UBC 7 years ago, and while I was in that program I met Sal and Pete – known together as Sound of Kalima – and we started making music together. Modeling was something I fell into as a way to build up some visual content on my social media, but I ended up really loving it.
You have said that your mom bought you a Casio Keyboard at the age of 8 and that you tried to teach yourself songs by ear! What was that like for you, trying to learn by ear? What was it like for you to later transition from a few lessons to starting to write your own music at 12 years of age?
My mum bought me the keyboard and I spent the first few months just messing around with the preset drum loops and prerecorded piano songs like Ode to Joy and learning how to recreate them. When we moved into a new house my mum went out and got me a vintage Roland electric piano and that was it. I spent hours every night writing melodies and recording them then trying to play different melodies over them. A friend of my mom’s bought me all the basic major and minor chords and gave me the printed out chords to a few of the songs from the Killers’ Sam’s Town and I played them to death. That formed the foundation of my musical style. To this day I still can’t read music and don’t know the names of any other chords apart from the basic major and minors.
You have labeled your early songwriting as cringey. You have said that in the past few years, you have come into your own musically and found your writing style. What can you tell me about your writing style?
My first songs were absolutely cringey. I wrote things based on my real life experiences and, at the age of 12-15, it was all about crushes on older boys or boys who did me wrong by not answering my texts. But songwriting is all about trial and error and practicing until you can write something you’re proud of. Once I started writing songs in university, I took a slightly different approach. Rather than writing as myself, I wrote through the lens of other people I knew, or from alternate versions of myself – characters I creates. Somehow the lyrics I wrote felt much more truthful and authentic and poetic that way. And I still write songs like that now. I like imagery and metaphors and symbolism, but I don’t want them to feel gratuitous or contrived. These characters help me get the words I feel out without getting caught up in my own mind.
Who are some musicians and actors that have influenced you over the years? What can you tell me about the development of your sound as a musician?
One of the musicians whose music I spent hours and hours learning by ear when I was a kid was Adele. The way she brings emotion into her songs and conveys raw emotion through her lyrics and melodies was such an inspiration to me. When I saw her in concert I actually started to weep the second she came on stage. There is something incredibly raw about the way she conveys a message or idea in her songs. A little later, I got really into Patrick Watson – specifically the songs To Build a Home and The Great Escape. He has this quiet, pained, beautiful falsetto that floats over the instrumentation in his songs and I hope to one day command listeners like he can. Finally, I love Hozier. I love the dark, soulful sounds he brings to his poetic lyrics. He takes a lot of inspiration from Irish poets and musicians like Bono and Nina Simone. I like to think if I were a man I would sound like Hozier. Or that in another timeline, I literally am Hozier. It is an absolute dream of mine to one day sing with him.
As far as acting goes, my mum is my biggest inspiration. She is fearless on the stage and embodies characters whole-heartedly. I learned from her to not worry about looking pretty – to just be. Be the character. Be happy and laugh. Be sad and cry. Don’t let self-consciousness hold you back from a great performance. Next I admire actors like Jason Batemen for his incredible dramatic and comedic abilities. And the I really love actors like Judy Greer, Mae Witman, and Kathryn Hahn. They’re these lesser-known names but when you see their faces in something you’re like, “Man, that actor’s in everything!” And that’s the kind of career I’d love to have. Work consistently, be in some amazing projects, but enjoy relative normalcy in life.
With regards to acting, you graduated from the BFA Acting program in theater in 2017. Would you say your interest lies mostly with doing theater or are you hoping to act in films someday, as well?
I was a theatre kid, through and through, growing up. And that’s why I chose a theatre-focused program like the one at UBC. But, honestly, after graduating I gravitated more towards film. I love the flexibility of shooting film projects, and the ability to spin up an idea quickly, shoot it, edit it, and show it to the world. Theatre will always be in my blood and its something I’d love to come back to if I have the luxury of spending weeks rehearsing and showing the production to the world over a many-week run.
You have been featured in music videos for the Ekke’s song “Dream Music” and Mennov’s song “Pretty Girl”. What were those experiences like for you and do you hope to collaborate with other artists in that capacity going forward? Do you have plans to release any music videos for your songs?
I love being involved with other artists in their music, whether its singing backing vocals or acting/dancing in music videos. Ekke is an artist and friend I’ve known through Sound of Kalima since my university days and I’ve worked with him in a bunch of ways. I’ve seen him grow so much as an artist and getting to be a part of that in any way is incredible. Mennov is an artist I met on set of his music video for Pretty Girl but we hit it off and ended up recording a demo for a song together before he left Vancouver to go back to Mexico. I hope the world will get to hear it one day soon! It’s so cool.
As for my own music video – I just shot one with some hometown friends, Pool Service Productions. Stay tuned for the release in the early summer!
You are a singer in the Gracenote Vancouver choir. How did you come to be a part of the choir and how long have you been singing with them? What kinds of opportunities has the choir had to perform?
The Gracenote girls are some more hometown friends. Malaika (musical director), Laura (manager), and Gillian (artistic director) were all members of Corazon Vocal Ensemble in Nelson, and acted in many of the same musical theatre shows I did. The year I started my acting program at UBC they decided to start Gracenote, and reached out to any women in Vancouver at the time who had formerly been in Corazon as kids. I’m so grateful that they included me in that. Singing with a group of talented women like that is an amazing thing to do to keep my singing chops up, to expose me to different styles and genres of music, and just to give me an incredible community of artistic women. I love Gracenote. And you can absolutely hear those choral harmonies coming through on all of my songs.
You also do stunt training with a world championship fighting coach. What sparked your interest in stunt work and what are you hoping to do with your training?
Stunt acting is something I learned initially in my acting program. We did some stage combat for a play in my third year and I loved it. It’s similar to dance in that you’ve got to learn choreography and then make it convincing and compelling to the audience by putting a huge amount of energy and control into it. So I knew it was something I wanted to keep working on after I graduated. I was so excited to find Mike Blom, a personal trainer at Kalev fitness, and start working with him. We work on hand to hand combat, boxing, bo staff, and other weapons stuff. Stunt acting for me is another avenue into the film world, so hopefully one day you’ll see me stunt acting or doubling for someone.
I read that you also host a podcast! What can you tell me about the podcast and what you enjoy about hosting it? What are some of your favorite podcasts to listen to?
I host the Predictable Revenue Podcast! It’s a podcast about business to business sales tactics, so not arts related at all. But I love speaking to guests and learning about their experience and what lead them to where they are today, and then picking up tips and tricks from them that will help me do my day job better.
Listening-wise, I like My Favourite Murder, Rabbit Hole, and My Dad Wrote a Porno. There’s a lot of variety there. The ladies on My Favourite Murder bring a lovely, humorous take to some really dark subjects. Rabbit Hole is totally binge-worthy and, as the name suggests, sends you into some conspiracy rabbit holes. And My Dad Wrote a Porno is just hysterical.
You have posted a lot of photos from your travels. Have you always had a love for travel and what are some of your favorite places you have visited? Are there any specific places to which you are hoping to travel in the future?
My family always travelled a lot. I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and moved to London, England when I was 5. When we were in SA we went to Mauritius a lot and it was gorgeous. From England we went to Scotland and Spain a lot, and San Sebastian remains one of my absolute favourite places in the world. When I was 8 we moved to Nelson, BC, and I got to see a lot of Canada from then on. I love Montreal and Quebec City. My mum’s brother married a Japanese woman when I was about 9 and we got to go to Japan for the wedding and it was an incredible trip. More recently I travelled all around Ireland and I loved it.
I can’t wait to take my boyfriend to the UK and Scotland to see all my family and where I used to go as a kid. That’s a trip that was stalled by the pandemic that I can’t wait to go on as soon as possible. After that, I’d love to hit Southeast Asia, South America, and more of Europe. I’d love to play a show in Berlin.
What do you like to do for fun outside of acting, modeling and singing?
My dog is my last great passion. I adopted a Mexican stray puppy in August of 2020 and she has changed my life. We named her Tomato. She’s so sweet and affectionate and neurotic and crazy. Just like me. I love having a little creature to come home to that will always be excited to see me, no matter what. We don’t deserve dogs.
You recently released your latest single “Don’t Take My Man”, a song you describe as “Jolene” for the new generation. What can you tell me about the song and what inspired you to write it?
“Don’t Take My Man” definitely is Jolene for the new generation.
With the return of her boyfriend’s first love to their quiet town, the cracked foundation of our main character’s relationship is revealed. Until now, her thoughts of his past love – the beautiful, nebulous, almost impossibly perfect ex-girlfriend – were markers of nothing more than the trivial jealousy that danced along the edge of her subconscious. But the woman’s return brings things crashing into stark and immediate perspective.
The pain he experienced at the loss of this spellbinding woman seems to be the tenuous thread that has bound this man to her for all these years, an idea that our main character fights even within herself as she sings the words, “I swear he loves me back.” As tensions mount, she abandons the narrative she has been detailing for the listener to sing directly to our modern day Jolene, her desperation culminating in a final plea: “Please don’t take my man / I’ve been loving him just as hard as I can / You’re a dream come true / I’m trying my hardest to remind him of you.”
I wrote this song with Pete and Sal of Sound of Kalima. I initially wrote from the perspective of an ex-boyfriend of mine who was losing me and he knew it (humble, I know), and the “Jolene” character emerged from there and wrote the rest.
What are your goals going forward with your music and acting? What are you most looking forward to, post-pandemic?
I’m really looking forward to playing some shows and shooting some big music videos with big casts, post-pandemic. There’s a song and music video idea I’ve been sitting on for many months that really needs to see the light of day.
But first, I’m going to release the music video I mentioned to a new song called “High”. You can see some snaps from the shoot on my instagram. It’s going to be really really cool.
What’s next for you?
I’m still waiting for that email from Hozier asking me to feature on his next single. Or album. Either would work for me.