Connected by the Sea: An Interview with Anchor + Bell
Delicate and truthful, catchy yet still capturing the feeling of the beat of our hearts, that’s how I would describe the sounds that Emily Herndon and Noah Needleman create.
Emily and Noah are the bodies behind the harmonious voices and unique compositions of Alt-folk duo, Anchor + Bell. I had the pleasure of speaking with them yesterday morning after their sunrise photo shoot on top of Runyon Canyon. As they traveled back down the hill to their car, we discussed origins, Shark Week, and most importantly, their sound and future plans.
Your sounds mesh very well and I guess what I’m wondering is how long you’ve been playing together in order to hone in on that consistency and how you guys met.
EH: For about two years, we’ve been playing together… Noah and I had met at a showcase put on at The Charleston in Santa Monica.
NN: Yeah, so, we each had our separate projects, several projects. And I had wanted to do a duo – like a guy/girl duo – for a long time. Emily and I had been billed together (at the Charleston); I hadn’t heard her name or seen her face before but I show up at my gig and Emily is singing. I heard her and I knew it was “the voice.” So I walk up to her and I say “What are you doing for the rest of your life?” (laughs) She looked at her watch and said “I don’t have any plans.” She stuck around to listen to my set and after that we ended up getting together and writing “Falling” which is track two on our EP.
It’s great to meet people organically and feeling/knowing it’s a style match. That’s a great story.
EH: Yeah, it’s that “I want you” moment. (laughs)
NN: Exactly, you know.
So, why Anchor + Bell?
NN: Nice, great question. Early on one of our first songs is called “Anchor” and there have always been nautical themes in our songwriting and who we are. And also, for me, at the time, I was reading Moby Dick. Originally, you know, I actually wanted (our name) to be “Anchor and the Belle,” but Emily said “No. I’m not going to be just the girl in this.”
(laughing) That’s really great. What a great feminist statement, in my opinion.
EH: (laughs) Yeah, but we just both have our nautical things. I’m equal parts fascinated and terrified by the sea and sea life. It’s like a train wreck; I can’t look away. And I love it at the same time. So Anchor + Bell.
So does that mean you guys are fans of shark week? (laughs)
NN: Yeah (laughing) Love to hate to love it.
EH: (laughing in agreement) I’ll be watching it and I can’t control the noises coming out of my mouth because I’m terrified.
Alt-folk can sometimes be a hard genre to break through in. I know it from personal experience and also through watching a lot of bands fluctuate in their sound because of this struggle. How’s your experience with the genre been so far?
EH: It’s been going well for the most part. Individually and together. We knew the struggle going into it, but it’s what I love to do. It’s not a fast track by any means.
NN: The problem is, it’s who we are. We didn’t choose it. We didn’t think “Alt-folk is the way we’re gonna make it big.” It was just the way to describe what happened when we made music together.
I can feel that when I listen to your stuff. It’s an organic sound. Doesn’t sound forced. That’s really awesome that you guys are staying true to your sound.
NN: The listener (audience) is as important as the noisemaker (performer). If there’s not that relationship there or that conversation happening, as a musician you’re doing something wrong. Emily and I have both had our share of musical experiences, but, for me, Anchor + Bell is the first time that the way that I feel about the music is the way that other people say that they feel about it.
What’s the story behind your Instagram campaign #instasong? It’s something I feel like I actually haven’t seen before. At least not that I can recall.
EH: Yeah, that’s what we like to hear.
NN: It’s because we’re geniuses.
(We all had a nice bout of excitement over the campaign and Noah’s comment. A nice amount of laughter here from the three of us.)
NN: As musicians an songwriters, we’re always goofing around and having fun. A part of building your social media is to be creative in how you engage with your fans. Not just fans, but friends and family. Extending to everyone that’s in our circle and fan base and show them that we’re in this together; there is no fourth wall. We’re not this dark and mysterious thing that people strive to be or look at. We don’t want to be that way. We want to be wholly touchable.
EH: And to build a community and give people something special. And something unique that they won’t get from another musician.
How does the songwriting process differ with that and your regular songwriting process?
EH: We look at pictures of someone we don’t know and what they chose to capture and what they think is cool and write a song based on that. It’s really cool and challenging to put yourself in someone’s shoes and you know, it can only be 15 seconds. You look at their world through their eyes and try to figure out who they are and pick out the things we think are cool too. It’s a way to connect with people.
NN: Our songwriting, when we’re writing songs for ourselves. There’s a lot more creative filters that are installed. If we’re going to be singing a song, the song has to be a story that we resonate with. With the instasongs, it’s about the quick…how many things can we fit in 15 seconds and to get the best and most clever moments. So it’s much more like a puzzle. With our own songs, what we say to ourselves and others really matters to us. And we kind of come from the school that there are some things that only artists can do and it’s our job. And so we desire to write songs for the people who have something to say; who need to say something.
Different themes; different styles and composition. It’s good to have that outlet, too, for sure. I see that you mention you’re influenced by Punch Brothers, Lumineers, and the like. I can definitely hear some of that – and some Angus & Julia Stone (but that’s just my personal opinion). Can you tell me about some influences outside of the alt-folk genre?
NN: We’re huge Radiohead fans.
So am I.
NN: I don’t know if anyone’s gonna hear these, but Emily and I have a bunch of Radiohead covers. We love Radiohead. We’ve been sort of convinced by our team that no one loves Radiohead as much as we do. (laughs) We also like Led Zeppelin and I grew up listening to the Beatles and the Eagles and classic rock.
How about your vocal influences, Emily?
EH: For me, recently, Mindy Smith has been a big one. She’s more country. Sarah McLaughlin was huge when I was young and was a big influence for me. And Joni Mitchell.
Besides your instagram campaign, what are you guys doing, working on? What do you want your current and future fans to be aware of?
NN: We spend more time working on our Youtube channel than anything else. I think that’s how we got connected (for the interview). We put up a new cover every week. And our record is streaming up there, too. Every Thursday we have a new cover and Tuesdays we’ll be putting up our originals. I say that, but I haven’t talked to the team about it yet. But hopefully, that’s the plan.
Check out Anchor + Bell on Instagram to become a part of their #instasong campaign. If you want to have a song written for someone, tag them in the original #instasong post for the awesome chance to connect. Also check out Emily and Noah on Twitter, Youtube & Facebook for the latest updates.
They will also be releasing some new videos with country artist Brett Young in the coming weeks, so make sure to keep an eye and ear out for those upcoming gems.