The True Bella of the Ball

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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 20 – Summer 2022

Though 14-year-old Bella Ficili is relatively new to guitar, you’d never know it when you see her play. Undoubtedly one of the standout campers at this year’s “Sounds of Seattle” Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp in LA, the seemingly shy and modest teen completely transformed into a bonafide rock star any time she took the stage. While she’s only learned how to play over the pandemic, Ficili possesses the same confidence, stage presence, and command of her instrument as someone with many years of experience. Now that she’s caught the music bug, there’s no telling what’s next for this young axe-slinger.

A lot of people have understandably had a rough go during the pandemic, but you saw it as an opportunity to learn guitar. Which YouTube videos or tutorials did you find to be the most helpful in terms of instruction?
I really tried to turn the negativity of COVID-19 into something positive and since living in a rural area, on lockdown, in the midst of a global pandemic, made any musical opportunities virtually non-existent, I had to be creative. I learned a lot just by ear and by watching recordings of my favorite live shows. I also found YouTube tutorials for my favorite songs (I especially like Carl Brown and Ryan Lendt) and used tabs on the Ultimate Guitar App. I realized I really, really enjoyed guitar and I just kept playing and playing. It was never a hassle or bother to me — I just wanted to play every chance I could. This led to me picking up other instruments like bass — and eventually even drums. It actually surprised me, and I just wanted to immerse myself in music and learn as much as possible.

Who are some of your favorite musicians or guitar heroes?
I am a huge fan of the ‘90s grunge movement, so naturally, a few of my musical influences include Jerry Cantrell, Stone Gossard, Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, and Andy Wood. I am also really inspired by David Gilmore, John Frusciante, JimI Hendrix, and Jerry Garcia. Kim Gordon is also a huge inspiration to me, as not only a female musician but an overall role model.

Your first time officially playing live was at Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp in Los Angeles, CA, this year, in which you jammed with ‘90s grunge icons Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains), Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), and Dave Krusen (Pearl Jam). Not a bad first gig! What were some of your personal favorite moments from camp?
Wow. That’s really hard because this camp was an experience that totally blew my mind in every way. I went in expecting to learn a lot, but I had no idea it would be so life-changing. Where do I start? On day three, I got to perform live alongside Jerry Cantrell. Jerry is one of my biggest influences and one of the main reasons I wanted to attend this camp. I look up to him so much, and suddenly, there I was, right next to him, performing “It Ain’t Like That.” When it came time for the solo, he looked over at me and whispered, “You gonna solo?” I couldn’t believe it. Jerry Cantrell just let me take HIS solo. It was indescribable. Afterward, he gave me some really encouraging words, and he was just so down to earth and acted like he really cared. That interaction truly gave me so much confidence, and I still can’t believe it happened. Oh, then there was that time I got to play on stage at two of Hollywood’s most iconic venues, The Whisky A Go Go AND the Viper Room. I really can’t say enough about my experience, but the sweetest parts were the unexpected friendships I found along the way; from rock star counselors to fellow campers, I made relationships and memories that will last a lifetime. For example, I attended camp masterclasses with Adam Kury of Candlebox. He’s an amazing guy, a killer bassist, and I learned so much from him. I just went to their show up here in Roseville last week and got to see him again. It was like running into an old friend. 

Your camp counselor was monster guitarist Robert Sarzo. Can you share any pro tips or words of wisdom he may have given you or your band while you were rehearsing with him?
Robert Sarzo is a class act and probably the nicest person you’ll ever meet. Words can’t begin to describe how grateful I am for being able to play with him. He reached out and started working with my band before we ever arrived at camp, so I kinda felt like I already knew him when I got there. I learned SO much from my time with Robert that I couldn’t fit it all in this interview, but mainly he taught me to just “roll with it.” Things aren’t always going to work out exactly as you picture them in your head, and sometimes you just have to let go and know that everything is gonna work out. Although you wouldn’t think so after hearing him RAGE on guitar, he is actually incredibly chill. He became such a mentor to me, and one of the biggest bits of wisdom he gave me was to start singing and writing songs. It’s because of him that I have really been pushing myself out of my comfort zone with vocals. Robert may be a guitar monster, but he’s also an amazing singer-songwriter, and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from such a rock legend.

Any musician will tell you that it’s Murphy’s Law when it comes to performing, and things can go awry on stage, like pedals or cables not working, not being able to hear yourself, etc. Did you experience any of these things at all while you were playing on stage at the Whisky or the Viper Room? What did you do in those moments to alleviate those issues?
I actually had an issue with my pedalboard when I was performing with Jerry. I went up to hit my wah right near the end of the solo, and the board totally collapsed. I could hear this crazy feedback, and I had to react in a split second, mid-solo, with JERRY watching. Somehow, I managed to drop down and click off the wah just in time without panicking. Don’t know what I would have done without the amazing tech crew that worked behind the scenes too. They were there immediately to make sure everything was on point. Watching the video back, the audience probably didn’t even notice, but it definitely freaked me out at the time.

After your time at camp, have you found that music is ultimately something you’d like to do professionally?
Yes, for sure. I have no doubt that I want to pursue a career in music. There’s something about being on stage and seeing all the happy faces in the crowd that just makes me feel excited, like it’s where I am supposed to be. It’s hard to explain, but nothing brings me more joy than music, and if I can be a part of that in some way, any way…my dreams will have come true.

Do you have any new guitars, basses, or pedals on your wish list right now?
I collect vintage guitars and am obsessed with Univox’s 1975 Cream Hi-Flier Phase 3 and Fender’s 1960s Relic Aged Stratocaster. But other guitars I love are Robert Sarzo’s VUDU guitar by Sawtooth, Fender’s Precision Jazz Basses, and, of course, a new Martin acoustic (I really like the Street Master Series). My gear wish list is a mile long and always changing, but anything by Friedman, an Orange full stack, and Aguilar Tone Hammer are at the top right now.

Photo provided by artist with permission to use.

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Alexx Calise is an accomplished singer, guitarist, and songwriter. Perhaps best known for her hit song, “Cry,” which became a staple on the show “Dance Moms” and boasts millions of hits on YouTube, Calise’s raw emotion, heart-and soul-lyrics, and unmistakable vibrato have impacted thousands of young girls all over the world. Calise is currently working on new solo material and songs for licensing, and she recently released a new EP with another music project, Batfarm. In addition to her musical pursuits, she also works in public relations and marketing and owns her own party entertainment business. When not playing shows or writing music, she enjoys horror movies, exercising, or taking a well-deserved nap. alexxcalise.net