Music inspires the soul and allows listeners to feel joyful and free, and behind every piece of inspirational music lies a songwriter and a story. Throughout spring quarter, columnist Kaitlyn Peterson will sit down over tea with UCLA singer-songwriters to explore their musical goals, personal inspirations and what makes their songs so special.
A Sierra Mist bottle inspired Bear Redell’s first song. “Mist” discusses pain and darkness – pretty heavy themes considering they were written by a 9-year-old.
Although he wasn’t actually suffering, he enjoyed coming up with impressive-sounding phrases such as “light breaks the surface of the dark” and “what is its purpose to do to me.”
As soon as I started talking with the second-year sociology student on Kerckhoff patio, his child-like excitement for music rubbed off on me. He spoke in length about how fascinated he’s always been with music, whether it’s audio design, songs or album artwork.
Redell drank from his short chai tea from Kerckhoff Coffeehouse and told me about his childhood as a musician. He won the Teen Star Santa Barbara competition in 2011 at just 11 years old, landing the prize with his piano cover of Train’s “Drops of Jupiter.” The accolade earned him the opportunity to record his original “Think of You” in a studio with rock artist Kenny Loggins.
I found Redell’s performance on YouTube and laughed a little bit when I saw that he had the Justin Bieber haircut – apparently a symbolic rite of passage for any rising artist. Throughout his performance, young Redell closed his eyes and moved his body to the music while singing and playing the piano.
Redell smiled, remembering winning the prize and reminiscing about seeing his dad crying in the audience. That was when he knew he wanted to pursue singing professionally, he said.
Performing became a job for Redell starting his freshman year of high school. Early gigs consisted of family birthday parties, but by junior year he was performing at weddings and restaurants such as The Landsby in his hometown Solvang, California.
People requested songs from every genre, giving Redell an appreciation for all types of music from rap to country. Crazy requests included “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot and “Thong Song” by Sisqó, and after finding the chords online he would sing snippets for his audience.
Along with performing throughout high school, Redell played football and was a walk-on UCLA linebacker during his first year in college. Music was an escape from the sport’s fast pace and constant pressure. During long, grueling practices, he just wanted to leave the field and pick up his guitar, he said.
I related to Redell’s story because I played volleyball for six years and saw music as freedom from the stress of sports. A guitar served to soothe my anxiety every night before I went to bed, and Redell similarly used music to take a breath from the intensity of being an athlete.
One of my favorite songs by Redell is his acoustic “Lighthouse,” which was written only two weeks ago. He sings, “The dark is where I roam / Lighthouse take me home.” The lighthouse is depicted as a source of salvation.
I’m always intrigued by acoustic originals like Redell’s. The symbolism of a lighthouse reminds me that we are always looking for some light in our lives.
Redell also writes pop songs, like “Livin’ It Up” which describes the aftermath of a breakup. He sings, “I’m fine living without you, and that’s a lie.”
The upbeat, electronic vibe contradicts the sadness of the lyrics; this juxtaposition brilliantly portrays the realness of a breakup. While everything on the surface seems to be happy, the deeper message is one of loneliness and heartache. Inspired by a past breakup, the song served as Redell’s way to make sense of his emotional experience.
Redell doesn’t conform to a single genre, allowing him to be completely free in his songwriting. That’s what music is supposed to be – a way for people to express themselves without bounds. Redell wants his music to unite, in the same way it brings together genres such as rap and pop.
Just like his performance as an 11-year-old, more recent YouTube videos of Redell show him still closing his eyes while singing. When I listened to his original songs on SoundCloud, I felt invited into the happiness, sadness and inspiration by every belt and high note.
Redell’s music inspires me to be free; I’m given permission to be real with myself and the world around me.
While his acoustics depict raw feelings, his pop and rap allow listeners to engage and connect. His passion and appreciation for all forms of music leave me in awe.
Listen to some of Redell’s favorite songs: