Bel is the project of Philadelphia singer-songwriter Isabel Furman.
Her debut EP Medicine showcases her intimate, lo-fi guitar pop, heavily influenced by the rock and folk of Lucy Dacus, Joni Mitchell, Haley Heynderickx, Snail Mail, and more. This is the story of how she wrote it.
I never thought my songs would leave my bedroom.
I take comfort in bedrooms; most of my songs deal with dynamics of intimacy, so I use these rooms as access points for that vulnerability.
I wrote my first song as a tween, huddled in my twin bed, pen in teeth, one early Saturday morning. That’s how I’ve written most songs since.
My bedrooms have changed shape and space over the years, from bigger beds to dorm rooms to my first apartment in Philadelphia. But they remain sacred places of creativity for me, where I feel like my real artist and human self is housed.
My first EP, Medicine, was released in January 2020. It too is an ode to bedrooms. I recorded it as a senior in college on the floor of a close friend’s dorm, sitting amongst his sneakers with my back against the mattress.
We chose this space primarily for logistical reasons: none of us could afford studio time with our limited student budgets and busy schedules.
Yet even though I was as comfortable as I possibly could be, in a familiar space with familiar people, making a record is still a process of self-explanation that feels completely alien.
It’s exposure, externalization, the surrender of privacy.
Medicine is a record about reconnecting with the softest parts of yourself. The stories surrounding the songs are interpersonal, painting scenes of toxic partners and emotional injustices.
But the songs on Medicine are reactionary. They’re about reeling back from those moments of hurt.
They live in the intimacy of recovery, that falling in love that we do with ourselves when we are at our most sensitive, our most tender, our most dejected. The way we cradle our own hearts when they’re broken.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve processed my emotions through songwriting. When I write, I become a part of me that I only have access to in that writing moment, like an alter ego.
Songs are meant to be shared, and records are meant to be made.Bel
I’m able to detach from my outside shell, the part of me that exists in the world, and enter a space where I can be finally alone with myself.
In that sense, the songs on Medicine are not just about reconnecting with myself, they are that. They are the literal embodiments of a moment, the most intimate one I can have.
But songs are meant to be shared, and records are meant to be made. I decided to create Medicine because carrying around all these songs in my head started to get tiring.
As I tried to explain to my collaborators what I wanted to sound like, though, I found myself actually asking the question of how I wanted to be known.
There’s a division between the self that wrote these songs and the self that is responsible for selling them.
I often wondered: If the songs are documentation of moments with myself, how do I make that recognizable or relatable to others? How do I ask people to hold space for that? How can I expect that anyone will see me?
For a long time, these questions felt impossible to answer. It delayed me from recording music, or even performing, out of fear that I would overshare and make things weird.
But the first time I felt like a life in music was at all possible was when I discovered folk singer-songwriter Haley Heynderickx.
She also started writing in her bedrooms, playing at open mics, composing pieces for the sake of processing and recognizing and unearthing herself.
When her debut album I Need to Start a Garden gained acclaim and attention, Haley felt overwhelmed.
In an interview with WXPN, she said, “I’m still trying to figure out what place I’m writing through, because I’d still like to be shared. […] But I’m feeling kind of shy right now. I’m in a new chapter because of all of you, which I’m grateful for.”
A fan of hers since her Tiny Desk Contest entry, I watched Haley’s career grow little by little. Years before I would attempt my own record, I saw her approach hers, coaxing that bedroom self out of its shell to lay itself bare.
Haley’s journey made me feel like I could hold my shyest songwriter self close and still pursue a career. She made it all seem possible.
I’ve come to realize that reconciling these parts of myself has to do with giving up that which is precious by allowing a moment to be just a moment.
As I started recording songs, I realized that it wasn’t the songs themselves I was afraid of losing – it was the experience of writing them, the rush of recognition, the closeness and reconciliation I feel with the most unseen parts of me.
I’m afraid that the self responsible for selling the songs isn’t good enough for the self that made them.
I’m afraid that I will expose myself as different, unrecognizable, un-belonging. The moment of writing reminds me that I am real; after it passes, I am left with just its imprint. Will that be enough?
In the song “Night Shift”, Lucy Dacus sings, “in five years I hope the songs feel like covers.”
The way to get through the alienation, embarrassment, and fear of recording my songs was to treat them like covers.
After months of recording, mixing, listening (and re-listening), that’s what they became: relics of a different voice, a different time, a different room.
This is how I shared them with my collaborators, and this is how I share them with the world.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m incredibly proud of this record. But to me, it represents transforming a private experience into a creation in itself.
When I listen to Medicine, I don’t hear my bedroom; I hear something new, born from the remnants of that moment and given a life of its own.
I will always be afraid of sharing too much. Like Haley Heynderickx, I’m trying to figure out what parts of me want to be shared.
Maybe I’ll never recognize myself in these songs again; maybe they’ll always be covers.
In releasing them, I feel self-conscious that I am selling my depths packaged as something much more superficial. But I can imagine that somewhere, my songs live in someone else’s bedroom, and I know that’s where they belong.
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