Stella Bell-Murray’s music has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years. While starting out as a folk pop singer-songwriter on the acoustic guitar in the early 2000s, she’s now the experimental artist behind the music project Nine of Nines, incorporating vintage synth pads, loop pedals, electronic beats, a Yamaha Silent guitar plugged through multi-effects pedals, and a strong DIY ethos to create genre-defying synth soundscapes.
But then, a lot has changed in the last decade since Bell-Murray was regularly performing live. “Now there’s social media. It was barely there back then,” Bell-Murray tells me as we chat over a cup of coffee in her living room/practice space. “There was MySpace. It’s a whole different game now.”
The Ottawa-based indie multi-instrumentalist was on hiatus from music for eight years, partly due to health complications arising from her condition. Bell-Murray has been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which involves a genetic defect that affects one’s collagen, joints, muscles, and tendons, among a number of othe things. While she was able to perform music relatively normally in the past, the worsening of her condition, which includes side issues such as carpel tunnel and tendonitis, affected her ability to play the guitar. She was no longer able to comfortably play bar chords, or sustain a guitar riff for an entire song. She also had chronic migraines for six years, which made it difficult to listen to music, let alone play it.
“It was something I love that I couldn’t do,” Bell-Murray explained, describing her difficulty in playing music during that period of her life. “It made me sad so I stopped listening to music and stopped making music. I couldn’t play my guitar and I couldn’t figure out a way around that.”
Luckily, Bell-Murray is able to immerse herself in music once again, thanks to the fact that she has undergone brain surgery and adopted a new creative approach to music. Nine of Nines heavily relies on the use of electronic tools as well as the looping of guitar riffs. “I had trouble playing the guitar. Then I moved to loop pedal,” Bell-Murray comments. “And then I was like, what can I add to this if I don’t work with other people? I don’t have a band. So I just tried to make a go of it with myself, multiple instruments and effects to get as full a sound as possible without needing anyone else.”
Bell-Murray’s musical talent still shines through in her musical compositions. In some ways, her physically hypermobile condition gives her a unique edge. “It can be a really good asset because your hands can spread out further sometimes. My hands are a lot more nimble than a lot of other people’s, so it’s easier for me to learnsomething like Travis-style finger picking, which is something I do a lot. I’ve always done a lot of finger picking, but I can’t sustain it. I can do it for one or two measures, then I loop it.”
Bell-Murray will be performing as Nine of Nines at the West End Well on Friday, September 11, as part of the West End Well’s indie music series that it holds regularly. “We tend to do it on Friday evenings here at the Well because we are a grocery store and a café,” Donna Henhoeffer explains to me over the phone as the spokesperson for the West End Well. “So building both in the same model is a unique atmosphere and a unique way for us to bring together the arts in the community in a new way.”
Henhoeffer sees the music series, which has been running since last September, as an important community-building initiative for the West End Well. “The entire mission and philosophy around the Well is to be an inclusive space where we are able to engage through food, music, the arts, and community, to get that connection and create that vibrant culture. In order to do that, we’ve put them all into one space. We’ve created what is a hub for that food, the arts, and learning. We believe that’s also the sustainability of the future and how we want to sustain the Well, and how communities themselves should be health and sustainable.”
Bell-Murray is looking forward to her set at the West End Well, as she’s eager to be performing again. “I feel young and old at the same time,” she says. “I think it comes from missing a large chunk of your life to lying in bed all the time and being sick and wondering what’s going to happen to you.”
Catch Stella Bell-Murray as Nine of Nines at the West End Well (969 Wellington Street West) on Friday, September 11, 2015 from 7PM to 9PM. For more information, see the Facebook event.