Interview with Julia Bellontine of Kablamo
It is safe to say that Julia Bellontine is a New Paltz microcelebrity. As a now 5-year resident, she is everywhere and knows everyone, not only because she’s constantly performing, but because she’s constantly present.
Bellontine is currently working toward her MBA immediately after receiving her Bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in music. Since her junior year, she he has lived in a cherished house near campus that has seen a long history of resident turnovers branching from the same community of friends. This house welcomes a constant atmosphere of visitors, celebrations, and band practices in the garage with Bellontine wearing away yet another set of orange drumsticks.
The two of us met during our freshman year at the New Paltz Music Collective. We shared a brief period of bonding accompanied by mutual friends before drifting apart for the sandwiched years of college. The impression that was left on both of us after some insightful chats at the dining hall about self-awareness and other observations was a mutually pleasant one. Early in spring of our senior year, she texted me requesting I take photos of Kablamo, but also in an admirable effort to be friends again despite graduation rapidly approaching. This effort in friendship manifested smoothly, and one year later, Bellontine is the subject of my first interview with a musician.
She suggested we do the interview in the car, so she drove me up the mountain in New Paltz until we reached too thick of a fog and turned around. Her responses were revealed by the ease of consciousness of having only the road in direct view.
Kablamo is a very new band to anyone outside of New Paltz, can you introduce the project and its influences/origins?
Kablamo is just Santiago [Coto Segnini] and I who wrote all of the songs with a little spice from our very close collaborator, Aidan [Ludlam], who plays live with us. When Santi and I first met, we entered our first band, Bby Carrots, which had five people in it. As him and I got closer, we realized that we had a very special connection, very similar taste, and a lot more time together, so we ended up jamming once in a while. We were really excited about our experiments, and we first made Kablamo as a jam band with our other friends and we just wanted to be psychedelic rock, so it was good experience for me because I’m still pretty new to music. I only started playing during my sophomore year [of college]. It ended up being just Santi and I by summer of 2019, and then when Covid hit a year later and we had a lot of time, we started to really dream big and make actual songs. One of our first ideas was “Cruisin’,” but it wasn’t until winter of 2021 that we started to record our album officially.
We’re mostly influenced by psychedelic rock and alternative but also try to reap from a lot of different places, like, as crazy as classical or movie scores. We listened to the Dune soundtrack and we really like epic, orchestral things which does make it into our music very subtly. Tame Impala, Crumb, Led Zeppelin, just all different directions is where it comes from. We have a lot of phases, like two moths of Coldplay where we just need to emulate them, and then we’ll write a good song out of that and suddenly we’ll be in a Sunflower Bean phase and be like, let’s turn our Coldplay song into something more Sunflower Bean-y and it comes out as a collage after going in circles like that.
Can you reference some direct inspiration for one of your favorites on the album?
One of them, I think it’ll be called “Face to Face” when it comes out, has gone through a lot of different names. At first we called it “The Diiv Song” because it’s heavily influenced by [them].
A lot of our songs are completely collaborated. “Crusin’,” “Shallow,” “Face to Face,” and “Intro,” those were 50/50 effort. I drum, Santi plays guitar, and we tweak each other a little bit based off of our tastes. We walk through every note, rhythmic element, and lyric together. “Face to Face” Santi wrote the lyrics himself, and “Shallow” I wrote myself.
Is that the one you play often that has very recognizable Tame Impala and Paramore segments?
Yeah, one of my favorite things about [Shallow] is, like, we always say that it’s for people that had a huge emo phase but now like psychedelic music.
I know that you are a very psychologically aware and analytical person, what struck you so deeply that resulted in your next single, “Shallow”?
We really wanted to write a song about how Santi and I are not exactly the types of people that you’re seeing in the music industry right now. We hope that that changes, but just in that I am a queer female drummer and he grew up in Costa Rica, so we have very different backgrounds [from each other] and from [those who dominate the scene.] The core foundation of that song was fun but also a little edgy so it seemed like a good type of song to lightheartedly but also in a badass way talk about the things that we went through and to roast [shallow] types of people. It actually wasn’t until I watched the Britney documentary that I started getting mad. Britney is a beautiful, successful woman but has obviously been through the wringer and the worst thing is when people don’t see the deeper elements of [others] and will just skim over and profile you without looking further. I started getting frustrated with journalism and paparazzi, and that is when I wrote a lot of the lyrics. I also have some family members like that so it made the personal dig a little easier. I thought of all of the lyrics in one night in the shower.
I know that you keep a thorough journal record of everything that happens in your life. How does this practice influence your music-making?
Having emotional content to take from is what journaling has done for me, I’m very well studied on all that I’ve felt and I keep a lot of that on the top of my head. For example, with “Cruisin’,” when I was trying to think of lyrics I looked back at my entries from some of the best moments of my life because that song is about pure happiness. It’s not like you’re being overdramatic or excited about the future or anything, you simply feel goodness seeping out of you. Another point of the lyrics is that when you’re that happy it’s sometimes what you remember most strongly forever. So, it’s a good way to enter an older mindset with accuracy.
What is your relationship to re-living emotions by performing songs constantly?
Some of them bring me back to great things and others bring me back to darker places. For the most part with this upcoming album, the songs are happy and fun, so it hasn’t been hard to go back. I’ll see with some artists that I love, like Taylor Swift, she used to cry almost every time she sang “All Too Well” which is so amazing because I do think that when you’re performing your songs it’s a beautiful thing to, every single time, think back and really reflect on where your song is coming from. It’s easy to just perform without thinking. Sometimes they take you back but most of the time they develop a new meaning.
One big thing about “Autumn of Break-Ups” is that it’s the only time I have ever felt that I truly wrote a song as opposed to working from the ground-up on the others I mentioned. And Santi wrote the foundations for “House of Unnatural” and “Kind.” Something very special for me right now is watching people react to something that entirely came from my brain which is very touching and humbling especially as they get to know the lyrics.
In [this song] I’m referencing Autumn of 2020 when all of my friends went through break-ups at the same time. I personally didn’t, but they would all talk to me so much about their feelings that it just came out of me. I felt so much empathy for them and with my own experiences in the past, once again one of those times where I probably looked back in my journals and remembered all the times I’d been through different versions of heartbreak. It’s about feeling like you’ll never get over it and feeling so silly because, at the time, so many people were going through it that they almost felt invalidated by each other, like, “No, my breakup was worse!” but also, “They’re so miserable too and I want them to feel better.” You always feel like the worst thing in the entire world has happened to you and it was an intense time period.
When I was first singing it a year ago, I was citing my own feelings for someone, but now I’m happily in a relationship and one of my friends just went through a breakup so she’s out there in the crowd and she’ll tell me after the show that it really resonates with her so now that’s who I think about when I sing it. It takes on a different form every time, but always hits something emotional.
You mainly play shows in New Paltz for your close friends, but recently have also been filling in for Earth Dad live in NYC. What differences between those settings have been prominent for you?
Earth Dad has been playing at respected venues like Mercury Lounge and Baby’s Alright, ones that we want Kablamo to play at. I get to see into that reality before it happens and if we got to play there I would already know where to go and what to do. It’s also interesting playing to crowds that don’t know anything about me and are just now perceiving me because that’s not my experience in New Paltz. Ultimately, I feel like no matter where you are, a show is a show and even if I was playing a giant venue it might feel similar. But maybe I wouldn’t think it felt similar if I was playing my own music to these new people. I love the songs and only want the best for Earth Dad, I just don’t have the same emotional connection to the songs, so I’m not as concerned with the crowd’s resonance or hooking them since it’s not my story I’m telling. Ultimately I’m just behind the drum-set, but I get a lot more nervous with Kablamo because I’m singing too.
What has been your experience as a woman drummer?
In the beginning, I did fall for the stigmas in that I believed maybe I wasn’t going to be as good of a drummer as guys naturally can be. The only reason I wasn’t as good is because I hadn’t practiced yet, but I think that we always try to find excuses for why we’re not gonna make it and that was an easy way to do it because there was a lot of indirect messaging that I couldn’t be as good. Once I got through that, most of the struggles went away. As long as I’m not insecure, I can handle most things. I think it would just be really nice if I got to play music with more women, I started a small side project called Yes Ma’am, and it definitely hits different. I’m lucky enough to surround myself with men that don’t doubt me, though. I’ve had a few experiences where [extraneous] guys would really say, “You’re so good for a girl,” or ones that had never even played drums before thinking they could teach me how to play. That’s why, again, as long as I truly know I’m good, I can laugh at them. I value the experiences that I could get from different types of people and would like to collaborate more in general throughout my life.
Another distinguishing fact about you is your love for the color Orange. In what ways would you say you exhibit qualities of this color?
I gravitate toward bright, warm colors, and orange is the happy medium of them. I’ve [chosen] it as an identity because it’s a unique favorite color. The biggest thing is that it says a lot about how much I appreciate my identity and how much I’m trying to convey who I am. Telling people that I like orange is a good way to let people know enough about me in the shortest interactions. If you’re an acquaintance who knows only this, you know that I’m bright and loud. When I was younger, I just found it and ran with it and whenever I find something that I’m very comfortable with assigning to my identity, I want the whole world to know and that’s why I think I’ve made my favorite color such a thing, it helps me figure myself out.
I’m grateful to have gotten to interview you at such an exciting time for Kablamo. What are your current visions for the future?
We are looking forward to expanding our reach outside of New Paltz, although I do really love playing for only my close friends, I am fulfilled with just that. Once our first album is posted, we’ll be making more music. I’m hoping to have a cohesive vision going into the next one, as opposed to a collage of inspiration from a longer period of time. Mainly, I hope to play where Earth Dad is playing, but I like to stay focused on right now.