Band members have disagreements, and so do brothers and sisters. But over the past five years, sibling bandmates Jendayi and Gyasi Bonds have managed to keep their family and musical relationships intact.
Known collectively as Charlie Belle (named after their paternal great-grandmother), singer-songwriter-guitarist Jendayi and drummer Gyasi released two EPs in 2015. Get to Know arrived early in the year, followed in September by I Don’t Want to Be Alone, which features lean, breezy pop-rock (“Petting Zoo”) as well as shades of soul and rap (“You Don’t Know Me”).
Based in Austin, Texas, Jendayi (she turns 18 today) and Gyasi (who’s 15) won’t have to travel very far for any of the Charlie Belle gigs taking place during South by Southwest’s music week.
Medleyville.us: What are the best and worst aspects about being in a band with a sibling?
Jendayi Bonds: “There are high highs and low lows when you’re in a band with your sibling. On one hand, it is so great that we can have impromptu practices whenever we want because our bedrooms are right next to one another, and I also think that being siblings makes playing music with one another easier because we have such an effortless connection on and offstage.
“On the other hand, though, we do still fight just like a lot of siblings do, and sometimes it’s hard to set those feelings aside when it’s time to be serious about the band.”
Gyasi Bonds: “Being in a band with my sister is kinda cool. I like to think that she and I have built a great relationship because of the band. The best part is that Jendayi is an amazing songwriter, but she’s also a great arranger. She writes with all the instruments in mind, so when she brings me a song to add my drum part, it’s already arranged and mapped out.
“The worst part has to be shifting from brother-sister roles to bandmate roles. That was really difficult for me when I was younger, and I have to admit that I made her job harder. We fought a lot! As I’ve gotten older, I realize that as soon as we get into band mode, it is easier to see her as my bandmate.”
How has Charlie Belle navigated the Austin music scene, both in terms of fitting in sound-wise with other bands and getting regular gigs at venues in town when both of you are not 21 yet?
Jendayi: “The Austin music scene is great because there are so many venues willing to book all different kinds of bands, and there are so many people willing to listen. Because of this, I don’t think we ever felt a kind of pressure to sound like other bands sound, and we kinda just went with what we were feeling.
“We started playing in venues in Austin when I was 10 and Gyasi was 8, and we just thought that was normal. There are no laws in Austin that stop us from playing in clubs that are 21 and over — they just put huge “x” on both of our hands with a black sharpie. In NYC, when we played at Rockwood Music Hall, it wasn’t like that. We had to leave right after our set.”
Gyasi: “I’ve never had a problem with restrictions in Austin as well. Except for not being able to invite my friends to 21-plus shows, I feel that Austin is great and relaxed about letting bands under 18 to play around town.”
What was the inspiration behind the song “Petting Zoo”?
Jendayi: “I wrote ‘Petting Zoo’ when I was getting out of a funk I was in for a while and starting the beginning of a life more directed on my own terms. I had just left a school that wasn’t a great fit for me and decided I was going to homeschooled for a bit. In the time that I had to myself, I guess I kind of just got to know myself and realized that there are things about myself that I am in control of, and it felt empowering. I suddenly had time to be myself and express myself, surround myself with people I genuinely cared about, no longer having to succumb to being under any pressure to be something else and to be handled without care.
“The idea of a petting zoo seemed like a perfect metaphor to compare my feelings to because the entire idea of them is the freedom of others to just jump in and do what they wanted with whatever they choose, and that’s the life I felt like I was living. I was through being a petting zoo — and I don’t think I’ll ever go back.”
What’s your take on this year’s Grammy Awards ceremony?
Jendayi: “I didn’t watch the Grammys, but I was really rooting for the Alabama Shakes to win Album of the Year, though.”
Gyasi: “I didn’t really watch [too much of] the Grammys. I thought Kendrick Lamar’s performance was amazing. … I watched Gary Clark Jr.’s performance and thought that tribute was good.”
Finish this sentence: At this year’s SXSW, I will …
Jendayi: “… finally have the long-awaited ability to go see some 18-plus shows.”
Gyasi: “… be really excited to play some shows, see some great bands and have some fun with my friends like all the other years we played. I’m also excited to see what the official artist experience is like. I hear there is free food and stuff at the Artists Village. I’ll be trying to find that.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Charlie Belle at SXSW 2016 (schedule subject to change):
• 3 p.m. March 14: Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
• 9:20 p.m. March 15: Maggie Mae’s — 323 E. 6th St. (official SXSW showcase)
• 6 p.m. March 17: 100 Pizzitas — 900 E. 7th St.
• 1:20 p.m. March 20: Mad Tiger Fest at Threadgill’s — 301 W. Riverside Drive
• 5:30 p.m. March 20: The Whip In — 1950 S. I-35
Photo by Barclay Ice & Coal