Alycia Bella had to hurt before she could heal. From about 2009 to 2015, she says, she was unintentionally attracted to “narcissists,” a pattern that caused her to second guess herself constantly. Now, speaking to VICE over Zoom, Bella is able to laugh as she tells stories from her love life over the past 12 years. They are memories she’s already shared with the world, be it on social media or in song—not just scenarios she’s letting brew within her.
Muse, the album she released earlier this year via Hurt People Records, sees the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter turning over her experiences with the wisdom of someone who has loved and lost. Much of the record sounds like a lush dreamscape, complete with lulling harps and soft whispers—but those whispers carry the strength of a woman at her wit’s end. The relationships Bella sings about are filled with moments of disillusionment, moments that even make her wonder if what she felt was a fantasy. But even over the course of Muse, she evolves tremendously. “Dark Art” sees her singing about settling for “faking love”; a few songs later, on “Daylight Savings,” she won’t settle for anything less than revenge.
“God, Drugs, and You,” Bella’s latest video from Muse, offers the viewer a front-row seat to a moment when she begs to be closer to her partner. The screen flashes with soft caresses, long stares, and interlocking fingers—complimenting her delicate voice as it dances over the dreamy production. “The goal was to capture intimacy,” she tells me, explaining that her parents’ 38-year marriage served as a blueprint for the clip. “I was struggling with finding somebody who could just be with me. As simple as that sounds, I discovered that [being intimate] is not simple at all for some people.”
Muse is filled with these sorts of startling insights, from acknowledging her own occasional toxicity on the slinking “Dark Art” to the brooding anxiety of “Mississippi Gun Rights,” where she sings, “A year and a half’s a hell of a long time to be unsure / Why you never sure?”
If her candor is any indication, though, there’s one thing that’s clear: A decade into her career, the singer has never been more sure of herself.
If there are three sides to every love story—yours, theirs, and the truth—then Muse enters Bella’s version of events on the record. Her music is one of reclamation, proving that women don’t only have to be inspiration for the songs we love. They can create the songs we love by writing their own truths.
The Bay Area native talked to VICE about breaking patterns, writing on the other side of heartbreak, and how to validate your own perspective.
VICE: How far back would you say you went as far as pulling references from past relationships? “Summer 2009” is really the only definite timestamp we get.
Alycia Bella: It feels like yesterday. A lot of them are somewhere from 2009 up to 2015. It was an 11-year stretch, but when something is happening that is impacting you and inspiring, [you know] it’s something you’re going to end up writing about.
For those storylines, I was living them. I was being traumatized by them. I was being blessed by them. There were so many layers happening at once that I knew it would take time to write about them. I had the most clarity about them in 2019 and 2020, where I could look at them in retrospect to really understand and talk about them from a more self-aware point of view.
How would you say you got to that point?
I let go of them. Forgave them. Forgave myself. I got into another relationship and I was able to see the pattern very clearly. That’s when I was able to appreciate [those relationships] more from a place where I could celebrate that pain. If I was writing those songs in 2009 to 2015, my music probably would’ve sounded more like City Girls. I would’ve been angry; I would’ve been more on some, Fuck niggas, get money. [The music] would’ve been more fun and light-hearted.
Have these men heard the music? Do they know these songs are about them?
There’s been no conversations. Not to mention, [the inspiration for “Summer 2009”] is not the type to really acknowledge things like that. Maybe when we’re in our fifties we’ll laugh about it. All of these guys have a name for themselves, and we’re in the same industry. It goes without saying that we would be inspired about each other and write about each other. But I don’t think that Summer 2009 has a problem with me talking about it. I think he’s proud that I finally honored my truth and told my story.
When did you realize that the unhealed parts of your partners were attracting the unhealed parts of yourself? On “Dark Art” you say, “I don’t wanna call my bluff / Guess I’ll just ride it out / Over faking love?” What was on the other side of calling your bluff?
Something I found out about myself through writing was that sentiment of you attracting what you are. It’s nobody’s fault. Things aren’t happening to you, they’re happening for you. Everybody you meet is simply a mirror of yourself. I had to realize, just as emotionally unavailable as they are, I am. I’m attracting things that I know can’t work and then playing victim.
I’m doing this to myself because there’s something I need to recognize in myself. I’m running away from something. I’m attracting people who find it hard to be honest with themselves, but I’m not being honest with myself. It took a lot of therapy in the past year to make me understand that. You just have all of these conversations and you’re just like, “It’s me, it’s not them.”
You identify as an empath. How does that help or hinder you as a songwriter?
Some of my topics and storylines are pretty dark; they’re not happy songs. [But] they feel happier and lighter because I genuinely understand and empathize with the person that is hurting me. I put them first in my stories. I’m a martyr to my own stories.
If I’m not in a good space, I can’t write. I don’t tend to write when I’m sad, or I’m not feeling it, because it turns into crippling anxiety. So there’s a disconnect when I do start to write about it, because I’m not in that space anymore. That is what I’m trying to work through. I’m a self-diagnosed empath, so if that’s what I’m claiming, I’m trying to make that work for me.
I love the line on “Cue the Sun” where you say, “It feels like being lost in the right direction.” Can you describe that feeling?
It goes back to things not happening to you; they’re happening for you. For the past 10 years, a lot of the producers and other people that were around would say, “You’re lost.” I’m like, We live on a rock in the middle of space—who’s not lost? We should be lost. Being lost makes you curious. If I knew where I was going, then why would this adventure even be fun?
I was watching The Truman Show the night before I went in the studio, and Jim Carrey has that whole childlike nature, and that’s why we love him. That’s what I was saying when it came to being lost in the right direction: I don’t know where I’m going, but I trust myself enough to figure it out.
Did reliving these relationships for the project negatively affect your progress in getting over them?
All of my [recording] sessions are like therapy. Whether there is a writer or a producer in there with me, they kind of act as a therapist when we’re telling each other our stories. We find relatability. After I finish, I genuinely feel lighter.
Getting those storylines out is important, because there are things that have happened that will haunt you. A lot of these things happened in private; nobody was there to play mediator and say who did what wrong. So when people relate to it, that makes me feel like I’m not crazy. Well, I am crazy, but it makes me feel like I’m not alone. [Laughs]
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.
ORIGINAL REPORTING ON EVERYTHING THAT MATTERS IN YOUR INBOX.
By signing up to the VICE newsletter you agree to receive electronic communications from VICE that may sometimes include advertisements or sponsored content.