Tarantism is “a psychological illness characterized by an extreme impulse to dance, prevalent in southern Italy from the 15th to the 17th Century, and widely believed at the time to have been caused by the bite of a tarantula.”
Dani Bell says she hasn’t been bitten by a tarantula yet — “Believe me, I’ve tried,” the singer/songwriter admits — but the name of her band, Dani Bell and the Tarantist, is still apropos. “Because I like to dance,” she explains, “it’s almost uncontrollable.”
The duo also includes San Diego percussionist/songsmith Alfred Howard, cofounder of Redwoods Music, a local record label and collective of musicians who contribute to numerous bands à la the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. For example, in addition to serving as percussionist and lyricist in Bell’s band, Howard lends his talents to six others: Birdy Bardot, Midnight Pine, Cardinal Moon, Sickelwing, Rebecca Jade and the Cold Fact, and the Heavy Guilt.
...off of Dani Bell & the Tarantist's Dark West record
Dani Bell and the Tarantist has attracted attention with their dreamy psychedelic/soul sound (as evidenced on their impressive 2015 debut, Dark West) and the commedia dell’arte-style masks Bell and Howard wear in videos — such as the recently released “Crave” — and during live performances, which you can catch Friday, August 12, at Winstons in O.B. and/or Sunday, August 21, at Loews Coronado Bay Resort (as part of a Redwoods Revue featuring several bands from the label).
Following a gig at the Ocean Beach Street Fair & Chili Cook-Off Festival, Bell sat down to reveal why she and Howard are hiding behind those masks, her appreciation for the Hoff, and how she’d help all of musickind if given the chance.
Tell me about your start and musical training.
My father was the worship leader at a church when I was growing up, so there was always instruments to play in our home. I’m self-taught for the most part, aside from my father or friends giving me a few pointers. I moved to San Diego in 2005 but didn’t start performing live here until 2013.
Where did you and Al cross paths?
I met Al at Cow Records [in Ocean Beach]. It’s funny because I had been going there for years but was way too shy to ever strike up conversation. This time I think we were both in a friendly mood. We talked about music and he showed me his band the Midnight Pine. I was blown away. I went home with their CD and later added him on social media, not expecting him to accept my friend request. He did, and I soon received a message saying he had heard a few songs I posted and asked if I would like to collaborate. We wrote “Guilty” the next day.
Did you play any instruments on the album?
For Dark West, I recorded demos for each song playing guitar, bass, and keyboard. Then I’d send those off to Al and he had the Redwoods musicians do their interpretation. I don’t play any instruments live as of now, but I’m planning on it.
Describe your songwriting process.
I’ll either have a melody in mind and then transcribe that on bass or I’ll just be messing about on an instrument and stumble upon something. Then I just keep building onto that.
Do you play in other bands besides this one?
I sing and write songs for one other band called Boychick.
How did wearing masks come about?
We were walking around Encinitas one day talking about performing as a duo and what we could do to make it something to see. I thought masks would be cool since tarantism is an Italian thing and they’re into the whole mask thing over there.
In your new video for “Crave,” you toss an amp off an overpass at night. Did you have to get approval for that?
I don’t know...they just told me what to do and I didn’t ask questions.
What music do you like to listen to for fun, inspiration?
There’s a very long list that keeps growing, but I can always look to Bowie, Beatles, and Floyd for funspiration.
If you could spend your weekend doing anything, what would it be?
Sippin’ margaritas poolside in Maui with David Hasselhoff.
What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you onstage/at a show?
One time Al’s hair dryer killed our power so we just stood there until it came back. I was horribly embarrassed but people laughed so that means it’s funny, right?
Are you working on new music? What are your plans for a follow-up to Dark West?
I’m always working on music and Al is always writing, so we have enough for at least two more records as of now.
Freaky Friday: You can switch bodies with any living rock star for a day — who would it be and why?
I’d be the dude from Nickelback and I’d wander into the woods never to be seen or heard again...