By Bethany Lumsdaine and Jessie Grubb of Shut Up and Listen
Photos by Kiki Vassilakis
Sean Desiree overcame their early stage fright by performing songs by No Doubt and Dido during high school. At 33, they are currently performing and writing music as Bell’s Roar, producing their own album, and working to support queer and trans artists of color.
“Being a queer, gender nonconforming person of color, I cannot isolate forms of oppression,” Desiree says. These aspects of their identity play an important role in their creative process.
Desiree was raised in the Bronx, New York, but moved to Albany to join the band Broadcast Live. Although it’s no longer active, Desiree remained upstate, making solo music since 2015. The project name, Bell’s Roar, is a reference to feminist writer Bell Hooks whose work addresses intersectionality and solidarity.
“The roar represents the fight to not be silent and to use my creative voice to stop ongoing domination,” Desiree explains.
Although Bell’s Roar’s purpose is influenced by an intellectual, the music is inspired by all genres and emotions. The music is soul-inspired, electronic pop, with Desiree leading the charge on all levels. In addition to drums, Desiree also plays guitar and bass, which they learned while attending high school at School of the Future in Manhattan. Having this prior knowledge gave them the ability and comfort to start performing as a solo artist.
When beginning a song, sometimes inspiration comes to them from simple experimentation with an instrument, but other times it’s completely spontaneous. “Generally, an idea for a melody comes as I’m going about my day,” they say. “I record it onto my iTunes Voice Notes and later work it out at home.” Penning lyrics comes last.
“The roar represents the fight to not be silent and to use my creative voice to stop ongoing domination”
In order to become fully independent, Desiree realized that they needed to teach themselves how to record and produce. “I picked Logic as my software and watched YouTube videos and experimented with the functions,” they say. But the learning process is ongoing when it comes to production. When recording at home, Desiree plays a Fender guitar, Elektron synth, and drums through a Focusrite interface. They usually borrow bass guitars and mics from friends. “It’s a slow investment to get everything I need, and I’m still not there yet,” they say. “I’m fortunate to have friends to help me out.”
Live performances by Bell’s Roar are a bit more stripped down, with Desiree just using an electric guitar, a laptop, and an interface. They say that while the performances are sonically similar to the recordings, the visuals of a live show bring the music to life. They hope to develop a more involved live show with their upcoming album.
Desiree is currently finishing a completely self-produced debut solo album. One reason they maintain full creative control is because they were disappointed by losing their voice when working with others. They seek recognition as the sole creator of their work.
“I want to hear what my music sounds like without having anyone else’s hands in it,” they say. “It’s a way to see through to a vision and to know who I am as a songwriter.” Desiree also wanted to avoid being produced by a white man. They said they didn’t need someone else’s validation to know if their music is good or not.
With Tom Tom, Desiree has organized and performed in live drumming events. These include the Roto Hotel at the Ace Hotel in New York and First Beat at Pérez Art Museum Miami, which both involved numerous drummers playing beats simultaneously.
Desiree also works as a furniture maker; creating geometric pieces from upcycled wood. They work under the name South End Pallet Works. They are also organizing the concert series Art Funds Art Tour, which uses music to support queer and trans artists of color. The goal of this tour is to raise $500 at each show to donate to a local artist. You can find out more about the tour at artfundsarttour.com.
This article was featured in the Nepotism issue of Tom Tom. Purchase it online.