Photograph by Kristy Walker
Dani Bell aspires to a Bowie-ish theatrical affectation on stage.
“David Bowie embraced being different and made it sexy,” says the frequently masked frontwoman of Dani Bell & the Tarantist, who arrived in San Diego in 2005 but didn’t don a superhero cape and start performing around town for several more years. After spending time with Boychick, she launched her new project under the tutelage of local multi-bandleader Alfred Howard, who signed her to his Redwoods Music band-label collective. Early gigs featured the duo performing to prerecorded tracks, though they later incorporated live players from other Redwoods bands such as Birdy Bardot. Their paisley funk-n-soul sound was honed on a debut 2015 full-length, for which they filmed a series of spacey fever-dream videos featuring her and Howard wearing fanciful masks, a Bowie-ish theatrical affectation she maintains onstage.
The sophomore album from Dani Bell & the Tarantist, Wide Eyed, drops January 18, preceded by a single and video for “Mystery” that got them named Band of the Day on Maximum Volume Music a few weeks ago. Asked to describe its sound, she says “The guitars kind of sound like ‘buh nuh nuh nuh whah whoo’ and the drums are kind of like ‘bam bam tss,’ and the keyboards kind of have like a ‘diddly dee’ sound, and together they sound quite nice, I think.” With cover artwork was designed by John Gourley, of the band Portugal. The Man, it’s a long way from her dues-paying days “cleaning bathrooms in a music studio. That wasn’t my only job there, but I’m sure you can imagine how shitty it must’ve been.”
Dani Bell & the Tarantist, "Mystery"
Wide Eyed continues her penchant for matching baroque pop with shimmering soulful vocals. As on her debut and this year’s Golden Gloom EP, many tracks play like two songs bridged with a left-field “middle eight,” ala the more adventurous works of Lennon and McCartney. “‘A Day in the Life’ by the Beatles used to pretty much be a narration on how my day went, until I quit smoking,” she says. “Now, I don’t get that cool psychedelic dream part.”
Bell was backed by a full band for an appearance earlier this year at Napa’s Bottle Rock Festival, including guitarist Austin Burns, keyboardist-guitarist Ian Owen, bassist Aaron Hook, and drummer Dylan Joans. None are nicknamed the Tarantist (the word refers to someone suffering from a form of hysteria brought on by a spider bite, known to cause people to dance uncontrollably).
Dani Bell & the Tarantist will play the Redwoods Revue New Year’s Eve Soiree on the Bay at Loews in Coronado, along with Birdy Bardot, the Midnight Pine, Jake Najor, and Cardinal Moon.
ANY GUILTY PLEASURES?
I have no guilt for any of my pleasures.
ARE YOU INTO VIDEO GAMES?
I don’t play video games. My sister once punched me in the mouth because of one, and so now I have crooked teeth and I don’t play video games.
MAC OR PC?
I’m too poor to answer this question.
BEST STORY BEHIND A BROKEN BONE?
“Is this all a god damn joke to you, Marty?!” I exclaimed, twisting Marty’s arm being him a little tighter. “Where’s the antidote?!” I demanded. Marty struggled in attempt to free himself from my hold. “I’ll..never squeal,” he uttered and proceeded to laugh manically. “Wrong answer, Marty...” I pressed tighter until I heard the snap.
COOLEST LOCAL HANGOUT?
I’ve never been, but I want to say the AC Lounge. I assume it’s pretty chilly in there.
FAVORITE TWILIGHT ZONE?
I can tell you my least favorite one. Where there’s a little fuzzy gremlin messing with the wing on the airplane. That is just not okay.
YOUR IDEAL LUNCH DATE?
David Hasselhoff. We would probably share a burger, and I’d tell him what I’ve been up to for the past 25 years, and then we’d laugh and hug and do father-daughter things.
BEST ADVICE YOU EVER GOT?
A homeless man in ocean beach once yelled at me not to look at him, and I don’t know why, but I’m sure it was for good reason.
CRAZIEST THING YOU EVER MADE MONEY FROM?
An M&M I found on the floor at a party. I put it in a nice box and sold it on Craigslist for a dollar to a guy named Jerry.
WHAT REMAINS ON YOUR BUCKET LIST?
I’d really like to see New Zealand.
ANY FEARS OR PHOBIAS?
Being alone with my thoughts for too long.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU?
I cut my own hair.
Bass is my instrument of choice.
I once scared off four hooded men from trying to break into a car I was sleeping in while “living” in San Francisco.