I N T E R V I E W
Unrequited Love: A Q&A with Belladonna
With Ian Duggan
I’ve been listening to a couple of Belladonna’s songs quite a lot over the last few weeks; Hillcrest, released earlier this year, and Kiss Me, from last years ‘Salty Dog’ EP. Both I think are perfect slices of pop music, and both come with fantastic videos. I spoke with Bella Cook - the former Hamiltonian, now Wellington-based musician - about her songs, being a finalist in the 2020 APRA Silver Scroll Awards, unrequited love, and more!
HUP: Firstly, the video for ‘Hillcrest’ reminds me of ‘Getting Older’ by Princess Chelsea – another former Hamiltonian – in that it features lots of footage from when you were growing up. It’s also interspersed with shots of Hamilton suburb Hillcrest, from Hillcrest Rd, Cambridge Rd, O’Donoghue St, Edinburgh Rd, St Johns College, the University, Burger King, Hillcrest High… and much more… However, lyrically it appears to be primarily about unrequited love. What can you tell me about the song, and how it relates to Hillcrest?
Bella: That’s so cool, I didn’t know she was from Hamilton! The story behind 'Hillcrest' is pretty special, I think. When I was at Hillcrest High as a wee teen I had a very quintessential high school crush. The kind where you write their name in your workbooks. At the start of this year I reconnected with him after years and we had a brief romance. The suburb of Hillcrest is very special to me and also to my friends and family from there. I wrote the song as an ode to that relationship as well the place. Writing the song made me realise that I’ll always be connected to it in one way or another.
HUP: A number of fantastic musical artists have come out of Hillcrest High School, with Kimbra going on to the greatest fame. What’s in the water there do you think?
Bella: Not sure, but most people who’ve done music since have been in the jazz choir run by Sue Radford. She’s a classic and definitely encouraged music at the school!
HUP: When did you leave Hamilton for Wellington? Were you aware of bands in Hamilton before you went, and how do you find and fit into the scene down there?
Bella: I left Hamilton at 16 as my Dad got a job in Wellington. At that stage I’d always loved storytelling but any songs I’d written were kept in the confines of my bedroom. My older sister [Zoe Cook] was involved in the music scene back in the day in Hamilton though. Me and friends loved ‘The Good Fun’ and they played at my sisters 21st yearrss ago, which was very fun!! [continued below]
HUP: ‘Kiss Me’, off the ‘Salty Dog’ EP from 2020, also sounds to me to be about unrequited love. Is this a theme that runs through all your songs?!
Bella: Haha, I guess I hadn’t thought about that. But yeah, I haven’t been too lucky in love!
HUP: With your first release, ‘Hands’, you ended up as one of the twenty finalists for the 2020 APRA Silver Scroll Award. How did this nomination come about?
Bella: Earlier in the year I thought I may as well nominate one of my songs. I’d released two and decided that the writing for Hands was the most interesting, so I submitted that. I’d completely forgotten about it ‘til I got the email. I thought I had no chance. It was super encouraging to know that people value the writing I’m doing.
HUP: What is your writing and recording process? And who features on your recordings?
Bella: I write by myself, usually in my bedroom. For all the music I’ve released so far I’ve worked with Shannon Fowler. He is an immense talent who I’ve always admired, so it’s been super cool working with him. He is a wiz on so many instruments, so a lot of the stuff you hear on the tracks is him playing. But in Hillcrest, and a couple new numbers, we had Alex Freer tracking live drums. [continued below]
HUP: What are your aspirations for ‘Belladonna’? And by this, I mean, when can we get some more?!
Bella: So happy to hear you say that! I’ve got a new EP coming out in the next couple months, with a few more singles before that. Behind the scenes I’m working on writing an album, which has been so nice to have a bigger space to explore themes more in-depth.
Find Belladonna on Spotify, Bandcamp, and pretty much everywhere else!