Interview: At 12 and 14, Durham's La Bête Magique sing with unexpected maturity

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It’s tempting to grade La Bête Magique on a curve. After all, the members of this charming folk duo, Bella Mead and Tehila Rosenblatt-Farrell, are 12 and 14, respectively. Their parents are longtime friends, which made their own connection seemingly inevitable. Rosenblatt-Farrell had been playing guitar for about a year when they began collaborating two summers ago. On a vacation to Ocracoke Island, they began writing arrangements for Mead’s poetry and busking profitably at a local coffee shop. They both attend school, and they practice once a week—3 p.m., every Sunday—for about an hour and a half.

They’re also regulars at local rock clubs—they'll headline the Casbah for a second time on Sunday—with a full-length album to their credit, accomplishments that would be easy to praise even if their music was only OK. But Bittersweet, recorded by The Old Ceremony’s Jeff Crawford and released in February, is more than OK. Rosenblatt-Farrell’s guitar parts rely on familiar patterns, but they’re delivered with conviction. Mead’s voice, rich and mellow with a slight rasp, is delicate and surprisingly mature.

The INDY caught up with the two young musicians over the phone, as they squeezed in an extra practice to prepare for their upcoming concert.

INDY WEEK: You both did Girls Rock NC camps before starting La Bête Magique. What did you gain from that experience?

TEHILA ROSENBLATT-FARRELL: It made me a lot more confident with my abilities with music and also just general confidence.

BELLA MEAD: It was a good opportunity to play on a stage with lights and people and nice venues.

TRF: Yeah, just to see how it would be to be in an actual band. Once we started our own, we kind of took that confidence with us.

This is your second time playing the Casbah, which holds almost 300 people, and you've played similar rooms before. How comfortable are you in front of crowds?

TRF: I think we’re at the point where we’re pretty comfortable playing in front of any crowd. It’s fun at those kind of venues because those people are pretty into the music, and they’re focused. It’s easy when people want to listen.

BM: It’s great when you have a really active crowd. We've made people clap during one of our songs. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. It really depends.

I started singing really young. The first time I sang in front of people, I was eight, and I sang in front of like 900 people. I totally flipped out and cried afterwards, but the point is that I had the words with me. So sometimes, I’ll sing with my book, and if it’s a new song I might be reading the lyrics on a stand next to me. But I think I've gotten a lot better with making eye contact with the crowd while I’m singing. It just depends on the crowd.

TRF: That was definitely something we worked on with making sure we connected with the crowd. We were just looking at our feet and at our book and stuff. That was kind of a way to hide from the audience. But I feel like we’re more confident now, and we don’t really need that.

BM: When we look at each other we tend to start laughing during the middle of the song.

What do your parents think about all of this?

BM: They’re very supportive. There were times at the beginning when it was just them at the venue. They’ve helped put up posters and helped schedule stuff. They’re our band managers, I think, all of them.

TRF: They have helped with merch and CDs and all of that stuff. They’re usually behind the merch table, which is nice of them. At practices, we’ll run songs by them and stuff.

Obviously, you have school and other things to consider besides this band. What are your plans going forward?

TRF: I think we want to keep doing it as long as it’s fun for us. Whatever happens—whatever comes along just with gigs and stuff, and recording new songs—would be fun.

BM: I think it would be great to eventually expand our band. But I’ve known Tehila for so long that we have this connection. That keeps it fun. If we didn’t socially connect, then it wouldn’t be fun. That’s a really big part of being in a band.

TRF: At this point, it would be pretty strange to have another person in our band that we haven’t known for a really long time just because we already have a connection.

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