It’s two years ago on a fall night in Dallas, Texas and Christelle Bofale Miller is tuning her acoustic guitar in my bedroom, strumming and humming through the songs on her setlist. She was performing that night at a local venue but I was stealing a private show. To say that I was caught up in her moody melodies would be an understatement. I was utterly enamored and floating on the gentle waves that rippled through each riff.
Now, Christelle Bofale is an emerging artist in the stellar Texas music scene. If you fiercely follow along with music speak, you know that Pitchfork described her debut EP Swim Team as a diligent piece of work that “calls back to the way the Antlers float guitar lines through foggy air, or the ribboned arpeggios on Frank Ocean’s “Ivy”. And while it’s an incredible honor for a freshman EP to be described with such praise, let us not overlook the natural and organic momentum that she produces in her own right.
As someone who prides themselves on a methodical approach to how she showcases her music, Christelle chose to host live shows only – making her soundscapes difficult to come by unless you’re able to walk into one of the many venues that Christelle and her band are blessing that evening. That was until now. With the debut of her first EP, we don’t have to travel far to soak up the sultry, sweet and rhythmic sounds of Christelle Bofale. You can catch her wavy sounds in your car speakers, pods or whatever your ears find favorable.
Christelle took the time to get with MUD to discuss the release of her new EP, how Congolese music influences her process, serendipity and of course, what the South means to her.
I put your song, “U Ouchea” – 7 minutes of pure heaven – on a playlist titled Soft. It came on and I was literally just bobbing and weaving in my seat and was like wow! – she really did that. It was familiar to me, yet something I knew I had never heard before. If you could make a playlist of your greatest influences, who should we expect to see on it? More importantly, how do you take those influences and weave them into the artistry that we see from you?
Lianne La Havas, Mbilia Bel, John Mayer, Joni Mitchell, St. Vincent, Sade, Enya, OneRepublic, Paramore, Tyler, the Creator, and so many more. I’m not sure. I feel like my tastes cover a lot of ground and so I’d like to think that this impacts my songwriting in that it’s something that people of multiple musical interests can enjoy.
As someone who’s not only friends with you but a fan of your music, I kind of took the release of your first song seriously. Would you say that you chose “U Ouchea” as a purposeful debut to shed light what’s been going on in the shadows of you paving this journey?
I was afraid to release this song for the exact reason I ended up choosing it: its length. I figured that on the one hand, people would stop listening after a few minutes or simply not listen at all upon seeing how long the song is. However, at the same time, I felt like that would be really intriguing to listeners. Like, “what’s next,” you know? And yeah, I chose it because it says a lot about the past couple years of my life especially in regard to a past relationship. Just seemed right to be like, “Hi, this is me and the emotional work I’ve being doing lately. Lol.”
You’re very vocal about your mental health too, which is anomalous. It’s destigmatizing not only mental health but the conversation around it when you put yourself out there to let your friends, followers and fans know – hey, it’s not all what it seems. So, how do you find balance in being an artist in the modern, digital sphere while also trying to just get through everyday life?
It’s really weird. There are days/weeks/months where I’m really low and don’t have the emotional capacity to be like “Hey, show on Friday!” but it’s just like something I’ve got to do. Also, it’s weird balancing what my online life looks like vs. my real life. Like yes, I’m very vocal about my mental health online and people are aware of it; however, people tend to forget about that once you post a few brunch pics and some cute selfies. Some cool things have been happening in my music career and naturally, I’ve posted about them. People will tell me that my life must be so perfect now and it’s like “hahaha, I cried for hours last night.” I just want everyone to know that things are not always as they seem. I can have one aspect of my life be really really good and another be really really bad. It’s not a complaint, it’s just the truth.
Do you think it’s possible to be a “successful” – whatever that means to you – artist without social media? And how do you cope with Instagram being a type of host for that fear that all artists get when putting something out there?
I think it’s definitely possible. It’s difficult, and the payoff may not be likes or brand deals, but you can bring such a wonderful community to fruition. It has been really cool that people have been coming out to shows consistently without me having anything online. I have to give the internet SOME credit though because some people at shows would put me on their Instagram stories or something and that brought more people out.
It’s the culture. And we can’t talk about music without talking about culture. What I love about you is that you’re an artist in many ways. But you also lend your voice to speaking up about matters that are important to you, specifically black mental health. How has this contributed to your range as an artist?
I think I’m simply relatable in that I’m not one thing. I’m not just a moody musician. I’m not just a clown. I’m not just into spirituality. I’ve got multiple facets, like we all do. I think artists — whether on purpose or by accident — end up having a brand that defines them, and that brand is usually one dimensional. Seeing someone that is writing songs about depression, but also making funny Instagram videos speaks to the complexity of ~*the human spirit or whatever*~
When do you feel like you’re most yourself?
I feel the most myself when I’m fresh off a shower and full skincare routine, in a glass of wine, and enjoying the solidarity of my apartment. I love spending time alone because I can do whatever I want and be my utmost self. On the flip, I feel most myself with my best friends. I struggle to feel completely comfortable in social settings and so I’m so thankful for the handful of people I can do my nastiest laugh around. Oh and in any body of water.
Speaking of a body of water, when I listened to Origami Dreams, the second single that you released from your EP, I felt like I should have been driving down Pacific Coast Highway. And it’s different from the slower melodies on the other tracks. I was thrown into this surf-rock, cool-girl universe. What was the overall inspiration for this song from start to finish, from the music theory down to the lyric?
The song is about me trying out a relationship with a friend. It went completely south because I simply couldn’t say “I love you” back and decided to end things. I wrote the guitar part before the lyrics. Once I had the words, I was like, “These two things would be a cool pair.”
Your line – “I don’t have the time to wait on you, hurry, hurry” – I feel like this could be applicable to love, life, your dreams. Were you thinking that when you wrote it? It jumped right out at me.
I was, albeit selfish, asking my friend to hurry up and be my friend again. I wanted things to be back to normal as quickly as possible. Naturally, they needed some time to process all that had happened.
Video by MUD OG Matt Winkler (@matt_wink)
This is your first release with Father/Daughter Records. Knowing a little of what I know about you and the influence that you draw from your family’s fluent musical background, do you think being signed to “Father/Daughter” is a little serendipitous? And can you dive into how your Congo heritage and your upbringing around music guides you through your transformation as an artist and also the development of Swim Team?
Ha! I had never thought about it that way. It is very cool actually that I am signed to a label called Father/Daughter. I used to be such a daddy’s girl and was very influenced by my dad and the music he played/made. Very serendipitous indeed.
I grew up with songs that were very long and filled with multiple parts. It never felt disorganized, but there were very specific “acts” that transpired over the span of sometimes fifteen minutes. I learned how to sit in songs and not be ready for them to end in three to four minutes. I like to steep in songs like tea.
What does being the first American born in your family mean to Christelle Bofale?
It means finding balance while navigating what feels like two worlds.
Not only are you the first American born in your family, you’re also from San Antonio. One of the few epicenters for diversity that we have in Texas. What does the South mean to Christelle Miller? What does it taste like, sound like, smell like?
The South tastes like sweet tea; The South sounds like “Thanks, you too”; The South smells like sunshine. Honestly, that’s kind of a hard question. The South tastes, sounds, and smells like a lot of things, and they’re all home.
And your band mates, do they respect the sound that you really work hard for when it comes to paying homage to the sounds that made you into the Christelle Bofale that we see today?
Yes! It has been interesting bringing three other people into what feels like my child’s life. They’ve helped bring ideas swirling around my head into the “IRL” for that I’m really thankful.
How did you guys meet and decide, hey this is something we should be doing?
Short version is: I met them all through dating apps. I wish there were a fun romance story, but there really isn’t. But yeah, thanks Tinder and Hinge for bringing me friends who were down to come along for this weird musical ride.
As a solo performer, how have you had to adjust going from an independent creator to someone who is now creating with a crew?
It is cool to be able to play my songs and not just hear my guitar and my voice. Being able to fill in those gaps has helped create an atmosphere that listeners can really get lost in.
Speaking of budding bands, dynamic duos, solo peeps. Who are we sleeping on? Do you have any recommendations for us?
Y’all are sleeping on Blumoon. Y’all are sleeping on Juuwah. Y’all are sleeping on Ukeme. And y’all are also sleeping on Vonne.
Now that the EP has dropped, where should we expect to see you next?
I don’t know yet. I want to do a full album next, but I’m trying not to think too hard about it right now. I’m nervous, haha. Touring would be cool though— thinking about maybe later in the summer or early fall. I don’t have any real answers just yet.
What’s something that should never, ever come back. This could be style wise, music. Even personal choices.
Not considering myself when making decisions! Past little while has been about prioritizing myself and not feeling guilt about it.
Lastly, and most importantly, how do your cats cope with you – you know – when you’re deep in the process?
They drink. A lot.