Artist of the Month: Christelle Bofale
Christelle Miller is a natural comedienne and a captivatingly original internet personality.
Christelle Bofale is the name of the music act comprised of Miller and her recently added bandmates Billy, Jake, and John. Christelle comes across as a storied and self-aware patchwork of her own experience. Everything about Christelle exists in a post-modern space just beyond classification or predictability, but with just enough familiarity to be grounded in something relatable. We met with the guitarist/vocalist/songwriter extraordinaire in an empty lot on West 5th street where someone had set up some lawn chairs around a cheap metal table. We talked about e-scooters, nigga folk, and teenage angst.
Christelle: I will ride a bike, I will roller skate but I will not – I don’t know, something in my brain doesn’t click with riding a scooter.
One evening I think it was Halloween-time and all of us were having a good time and I was convinced, drunk me was convinced, to ride a scooter. Twisted my ankle twice. (laughs)
Jason: (laughs) On one ride?
C: (laughs) Yeah on one ride! Like I twisted my ankle once, got back up, tried it again, twisted my ankle again. And it was raining…it was just bad terrain. I was on crutches for like two months. I think I needed physical therapy!
J: So you haven’t been on a scooter since then?
C: Yo, I have such a bitter taste in my mouth toward scooters! (laughs) I mean I understand the convenience of it…
J: Do you and your bandmates hang out a lot?
C: Two of us are north and two of us are south. We hang out at our shows and sometimes we do little things together but a lot of the time it does end up being me hanging out with Jake and John and Billy who live up north hanging out together. But yeah we do a lot of things together, they’re a cool group!
J: You were doing the solo sets before, what made you decide to go for a full band sound?
C: A lot of it was audience. “Oh we’d love to see [a full band].” I was thinking about it for a long time but I didn’t know how to really go about it because I didn’t know a lot of people in the Austin music scene. It ended being so serendipitous, how the group formed. It’s actually funny, I met my drummer on Tinder - all of these people I met through a dating app, but it was never romantic. And then Billy [Christelle’s drummer] was like ‘Yeah my friend John is moving down from Chicago. They play bass.’
I was like ‘Would they wanna… ya know, jam?’
C: and he said yes! Jake, same thing. My guitarist. We met on Hinge. I had a video of myself playing guitar and he was like “Yo, this is the most excited I’ve been about a song in a really long time…do you need band members?”
J: Oh wow!
C: Yeah! I was like ‘What do you play?’ (laughs)
So it’s just really weird people are always asking “How’d y’all meet?” and I’m just like [Christelle shrugs]
So thank you Tinder and thank you Hinge!
J: I feel like that’s the general vibe that I get from you as a musician – a lot of things just happen to be very organic for you.
C: Yes. Yes, yes. For sure, I agree. It’s almost to the point where I feel like things are happening to me and I’m like ‘Whoa!’ But it’s been great, I’m really thankful for everything that’s happened in what I feel like is a short amount of time.
J: I was reading this one article, I think you might have posted it. Something about San Antonio artists to watch at SXSW. They wrote that they didn’t really know that much about you, but that you were an official artist and that people should check you out.
To my own disappointment, I can’t find your music anywhere on the internet. What has I been like for you building a fan base in real life in an era where a lot of artists are just social media stars?
C: It’s been interesting. People are always like – where can I find you, this is great! And I’m always like ‘Nowhere!’ I mean I did soundcloud stuff for a little bit and then I don’t know. I wanted to record with a few people and it just never worked out. I decided I would just keep playing shows. But honestly it’s been great it’s been kind of fun having that mystery.
Even getting booked, people would say ‘You know we have never heard your music before but we saw our really good friend post you on their story and we really liked what we heard.’ A lot of it has been word of mouth or Instagram stories. At first I was like should we just become a live only thing?
But then I was like nah. (laughs)
C: I just want people to be able to listen to it in the car, you know what I mean? Maybe someday we could do a different project that would be live only. It’s been really interesting this age of cultivating your fan base online where for me its really been kind of the opposite and now people are just waiting. It’s kind of getting to that point where people are like ‘If you want me to keep coming, I’m going to need something soon!’ Maybe, I don’t know.
J: You probably have an interesting history with music, I know you started off playing piano and that you attended a Cathloic school, where they probably made you sing…
C: Yes! Taste and See!
J: Taste and See, is that the jam?
C: Taste and See was the slow jam. And if you saw the little hand with it… like ‘Oh shit, it’s about to pop off!’ But yeah, grew up Catholic. I’m technically legally Catholic.
J: Legally? How does that work?
C: I got confirmed! So in the eyes of the Catholic world I am a Catholic. But I’m still figuring out what my spirituality is, if that even means a denomination, you know.
Yeah, I took piano when I was four but my teacher would tell my parents [that my attention span was bad]. My parents said ‘She’s 4.’ (laughs) When I was six I jumped back in and did that for seven years and then I was over it. I was an angsty teenager who didn’t want to do the homework anymore. It’s homework with piano lessons, you have to go home and do your music theory. I was like ‘Mom, no. I’m a middle schooler!’
I started playing guitar, I would steal my Dad’s guitar, and we would be fighting over it. (laughs) He’d yell across the house ‘Do you have my guitar?’ I would yell back ‘Yeah, just one more song!’ Then he eventually got me my own.
My Dad has always played guitar, he plays soukous style. It’s a genre from the Congo – rumba inspired. It’s really fun.
J: Do you feel that your music is inspired by some of the sounds that your Dad would play, or that you developed your own influences during your teenage years?
C: I feel like I thought that I formed my own taste. But now looking back, in the way that I write there is a lot of inspiration that comes from the Congolese music that I would listen to. A lot of it is really long form – seven to thirteen minutes – and they go through all of these different interludes. I feel like some of my songs reflect that. Just being long like ‘When is this going to end?’
When I was younger, I liked Congolese music but I was very ‘That’s my parents, that’s not me!’
I went to a predominately White or White-passing Hispanic Catholic school and so I was always one of three or four or five black kids depending on the school. I was very ‘That’s not me, I’m just like a White kid!’ There were a lot of identity struggles.
Now that I’m older I’m like ‘Oh yeah, fuck yeah. Congolese music slaps.’ Which I’ve been able to discover in moving to Austin which is ironically another very White city. It’s been interesting navigating the music scene – the indie rock music scene. It’s a bit of a White boys club, but it’s fun. We are doing it.
J: I feel like you navigate it pretty well. You haven’t had to many bad experiences?
C: I’ve been fairly lucky. I have had a couple of experiences where people wanted to book me for R&B showcase – little micro-things like that. I think people like the music and so maybe that – I don’t know. I feel sometimes almost fake. I want more black and brown people to explore genres that maybe feel like they are just for White people. But then I’ve got a White band! That’s something I think about sometimes. But they’re very cognizant of that. They are very much ‘This is your thing.’ They’ve never made it about them and so it still feels like my black thing.
J: You describe your music as nigga folk…
C: That was an accident! My best friend Kat who lives in New York now, we were chatting while we were both at work. I had some rough mixes at the time. She was like ‘Bro, this some nigga folk.’ (laughs)
And I was like ‘Honestly…’ I was thinking about SXSW applications at the time and you have to provide a genre. I wish I could put that in!
It’s not just folk though, there are a lot of different influences. I hope it gives Black people the space to listen to something more rock influenced. I think everyone wants to, but people are told they have to listen to this one kind of music and if you listen to anything else, you are less Black, or a type of Black. I just wanted to make the space where I can just make my music and it doesn’t mean anything other than that I like it.
J: Under the umbrella of the nameless genre that you occupy, could you think of any other musicians you are aware of who are maybe in the same space as you?
C: (long pause)I think Lianne La Havas’s debut album did a lot of treading the line between folk and soul. Bringing in that sort of jazzy, soulful slow ambiance, but then also having the occasional, grittier, heavier sound incorporated. I draw a lot of inspiration from her, I draw a lot of inspiration from Alex G, I don’t know if our stuff Is that similar apart from the fact that it sort of walks that line between hard and soft. I draw so many inspirations from so many people that I sort of wonder ‘Yeah, who is doing what I’m doing?’ I don’t know. I’m sure someone is, I’m sure I’m not the first.
J: How do you feel about the upcoming SXSW shows? You recently signed with Father Daughter records!
C: Yeah that was just…I played a very small house show. I almost didn’t play it because I was sick. Then Tyler, I don’t know if y’all know Tyler Andere, who does A&R for Father Daughter Records. We just connected on Instagram and then he said ‘Oh, by the way, would you like to talk to my boss?’ I was like ‘Whoa, you were undercover!’ (laughs) Wait, what was your original question?
J: It was just a prompt around South By.
C: I’m excited for SXSW! I’m kind of nervous because I’ve never done it. This will be my first time playing SXSW shows. A lot of people love it and a lot of people hate it, so I’m pushing it but I’m trying to be low key because everyone’s got such mixed feelings about SXSW. I think it will be great. I’m hoping it will start to expand my reach. I feel that I’ve got a good buzz going in Austin, but maybe someone who lives somewhere else will think ‘Hey, I saw this really good act Christelle, can’t find her anywhere online but I’m going to stay tuned.’ Got a weird little on foot campaign going.
J: You’re like Bernie Sanders!
C: Exactly! I’m stoked for SXSW though. I don’t know what it’s like, so I’m excited to know because I’ve never done it before.
J: I was talking with Teeta the other day, he was saying that once you start moving around in the industry a little bit, “things start getting spooky”. You’ve said that as an artist your desire is just to play your music. Have you thought any about how your desire will interact with the fact that music is often thought of as a consumable?
C: I think about that all the time. Once this EP drops it’s going to be ‘Album, okay where is that?’ Of course I want to make an album but I just don’t know if I’m going to be able to balance the expectations and timeline – because I work pretty slowly. I’m a new artist so do I take my time and hope people stick around or do I work quickly and have something out by the end of this year? It definitely does get a little spooky. I hope that I’m able to keep that same love and happiness and making music.
I don’t think that’ll be my experience at least with Father Daughter because they’re so small and they’re really all such compassionate people. I feel like it will be okay. But the anxiety in me is like ‘Oh my God, produce, produce, produce!’
Not even just the music, my brand! On social media, more industry people are starting to follow me. Do I change the way I express myself on social media? Do I need a spam account for my Twitter? I’ve already had to change my Instagram name because @christellemiller was confusing. I have a lot of worries but I’m more excited than worried. If people really like this project then I can expand my reach, play for more people, maybe around the states, but there’s a small voice in my head saying ‘Okay, but are you ready?’
J: Does present day Christelle have any advice for middle school Christelle?
C: …niggas ain’t shit. (laughs)
C: You’re weird but it’s fine. You don’t need to look like whoever or act like whoever. Stop trying to be another artist. Be yourself. Trust that your parents love you even though they yell at you a lot. You are loved. I was always feeling like the world was against me and no one liked me. People care about you! A message of love, always.