Q & A: Violet Bell Talks Durham, Diversity, and Honey In My Heart
By Brian Turk
Photo By Kendall Bailey
When singer-songwriter Lizzy Ross had returned to Durham after a stint in Nashville, she decided to stop actively pursuing music. Until the right moment came along to show her otherwise. And those moments came quickly upon her return to North Carolina’s vibrant music scene. So, with a new-found vigor, she made plans to record a live album of tunes she had written in Nashville.
A couple of weeks before she was set to record her live album, Lizzy met multi-instrumentalist Omar Ruiz-Lopez. From the first time they played together, the musical connection surprised them both. And since Omar is a classically-trained orchestral player and composer, that is also versed in bluegrass, he brought a whole new life to the tunes Lizzy wrote in Nashville.
On March 6, 2016, Lizzy Ross and Omar Ruiz-Lopez recorded a live album to a sold-out crowd at The Rooster's Wife in Aberdeen, NC. The album was released under Lizzy's name and was titled Violet Bell. The two hit the road, and their individual sounds became soul-mates. In the spring of 2017, they released their Dream the Wheel EP under the name Violet Bell (which is an homage to their experience creating Lizzy's live album).
Now, Violet Bell is set to release their first full-length album. And the creative and musical energy present on Honey In My Heart makes listeners thankful for the two crossing paths. Check out our chat with Lizzy Ross in advance of the Honey In My Heart album release show at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro on Friday, October 11.
BT: Things went well when you recorded your live album with Omar right after ya'll first met. Did that inspire the live approach to Honey In My Heart?
LIZZY: Well, Honey In My Heart is live…and not live. We went into the studio with our band and recorded the core tracks live. Omar and I were singing and playing right next to each other. That meant we couldn't go back and alter the core vocals. We all played the song one time through, and that is base. That process brings a lot of life to the music. We did add some overdubs, which makes it “not live”.
BT: Did you get the result you wanted?
LIZZY: We did. We didn't want to convey a particular image. We just wanted to let who we are shine through, exactly as we are right now. We approached this album with a sense of honesty, trust, and acceptance. We are who we are, and that evolves as we move forward.
BT: How has Durham, and the surrounding area, shaped your sound?
OMAR: There is a strong roots tradition here. Bluegrass, folk, old-time. Even West African. I'll speak for myself, listening to all these other bands live, and playing with some of them, has made us incorporate some of those sounds into what we do. When you listen to our album, it reflects a lot of those sounds that are here in the triangle.
BT: What about Durham and the surrounding areas is inspiring to musicians?
LIZZY: There is a lot of natural beauty, and that's really important to Omar and me, personally. And the universities foster thought. Durham, Hillsborough, Carrboro, and Chapel Hill is creative hot-bed. And folks from all over are being drawn here for that reason. We also have a really strong LBGTQ scene in Durham and a general sense of acceptance in the community. These communities are not mono-cultural. There is a lot of diversity. All of that is encouraging and inspiring for artists and creatives of all types.
BT: Tell me about the album release show.
LIZZY: We are going to play the new album in its entirety, with a full band. And we are going to do some duo stuff as well. Omar and I have played over 400 shows as a duo. And that is at the core of the bands sound.
Violet Belle Honey In My Heart Album Release
Friday, October 11
Band on Album:
Lizzy Ross - vocals, acoustic guitar, shruti box
Omar Ruiz-Lopez - vocals, violin, cello, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin
Joe Macphail - piano, organ, wurlitzer, mellotron, background vocals
Dylan Turner - electric bass, background vocals
Austin McCall - percussion, drums
Additional Musicians on Album:
Shana Tucker - backup vocals on "Elephant Heart", "Summer Skin" and "Let Me Forget"
Rissi Palmer - backup vocals on "Elephant Heart", "Summer Skin" and "Let Me Forget"
Carter Minor - harmonica on "Juliana" and "Smoke in the Night"
Daniel Chambo - alto sax on "Elephant Heart," flute on "Mountain Song"