Clayton sisters living their dream in music

Bella (right) and Lily Ibur 

By Margaret Gillerman, Special to the Jewish Light

When she was just 14, Lily Ibur of Clayton wrote “Chase the Moon” for her older sister Bella, a song about chasing their dreams in the indie/pop/rock music world.

Their mother, Anne Molasky Ibur, heard her daughters’ enchanting harmonies and, as a surprise, gave their dreams a push. She submitted the song to the 2013 International Songwriting Competition, and “Chase the Moon” came in third worldwide in the category for teen songwriters.

“That was such a Mom thing to do,” Lily says.

That has been only one of several high notes in the Ibur sisters’ career as the indie group Bella & Lily since their first public show at LouFest in 2012.

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Still humble, unassuming, bubbly and fun, Lily, now 17, and Bella, 20, have continued singing and strumming their way to success. Bella also plays piano on many of their songs.

On Thursday, Sept. 3, they’ll sing during the Jewish Federation’s Get in the Olive Groove event at the Public Media Commons between the Nine Network and St. Louis Public Radio buildings, 3655 Olive Street (see infobox at right for details). 

Bella & Lily also will play the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill on Oct. 17. 

If it all seems pretty magical, the sisters think so, too. The duo has worked with some of the best vocal coaches, including Jan Smith in Atlanta, who also worked with Justin Bieber. They’ve been coached by local St. Louis favorites Erin Bode and Rosemarie Cereghino.

In 2013, Bella & Lily not only won the songwriting contest with “Chase the Moon,” they also caught the attention of New York producer Henry Hirsch, who was Lenny Kravitz’s collaborator for more than 25 years and has produced albums for Madonna, among other artists. He produced Bella & Lily’s debut album of six original songs, “Count to Ten,” using reel-to-reel technology at his well-known Waterfront Studios in Hudson, N.Y.

As it turned out, he and the Iburs are distant cousins.

“He’s Uncle H to us,” Lily says.

Lily and Bella have written and recorded or performed songs in Nashville, Tennessee; New York; Atlanta; Austin, Texas; and Columbia, Missouri.

This week, they will head for Boulder, Colorado to record some unfinished songs and work on some new ones, Bella said.  They are about to shop for a record label.

Both young women compose the music and write lyrics for their songs.

“We like to mix it up,” Bella says

With so much happening, Bella and Lily are putting their education on hold to pursue their music. Lily accelerated her classes and graduated from Clayton High School this spring — one year early. Bella graduated from Webster Groves High School two years ago and was accepted into her first-choice school, Berklee College of Music in Boston, but postponed going to focus on her career.

It doesn’t hurt that the two young women have stunning good looks. They’re often mistaken for Israeli women. They also have a supportive family packed with talent. Their mother is a professional artist, and their father, Ted Ibur, is a novelist and Webster Groves middle school English teacher who plays drums and percussion in bands. 

Anne and Ted Ibur also run the Gifted Arts Project for artists and writers in middle school and high school.

Ted Ibur said his daughters showed musical talent very early on. 

Bella was “literally singing songs and melodies by 10 months,” he said. “She was a very operatic child.”

By 5, Bella had taken up piano, and Lily was playing drums. Guitars, mandolins and ukuleles followed.

When Bella was 15, she started playing around town as a solo act under the name Bella Kalei (her middle name, meaning beloved). When she needed a second person for a high school Battle of the Bands competition organized by LouFest, Lily joined her.

“Lily had been playing a few songs during Bella’s solo sets, they sounded great together, so Bella asked Lily to enter the competition,” Ted Ibur said. “They won, and LouFest was their first real show together.”

At a coffee shop in Clayton recently, Bella and Lily talked about their music, social life, childhood, songwriting and their pals, David and Jeff Lazaroff, front men of the St. Louis band Brothers Lazaroff, which is also performing at the Sept. 3 Federation event. 

“Our style has changed since the (‘Count to Ten’) album,” Bella said. “That was a lot more acoustic and organic. It had a ’60s feel. The new songs are more urban and modern.”

The music they like best is that of the late Amy Winehouse.

“And she’s Jewish,” Bella said.

The sisters get their song ideas from “everyday life” and enter experiences, musical ideas and words on their iPhones whenever inspiration hits them.

“We write about good experiences and bad,” Bella said. “We’re able to get our emotions out and express the way we feel.”

Lily added: “The songs are really like our diaries.”

The sisters are so close that they often finish each other’s sentences.

“Sometimes we just laugh and can’t stop laughing,” Lily said.

That is, except for most of the time when they’re working.

“We’re writing and practicing most of the time,” Bella said.

Asked which songs are their favorites, Lily named one of Bella’s, “Sleaze.”

“It speaks to a lot of women,” Lily said. “It’s so empowering, funny and smart.” 

Bella chose a song of Lily’s for her favorite: “Messed Up Avenue,” which Lily says is about a friend who was “doing some things that were not so great. I couldn’t be around it.” 

Writing the song helped her understand the situation better.

Bella & Lily includes Jharis Yokley on drums, Tony Zerbolio on bass, Jake Brookman on cello and Josh Kohn on guitar.

Bella and Lily said that they are looking forward to the Jewish holidays and sharing time with extended family. The sisters and their parents have attended Central Reform Congregation over the years and plan to be there for the holidays.

 “We’re both really proud to be Jewish, and we’re proud to be from St. Louis,” Bella said. 

“And,” Lily added, “we’re proud to be from Clayton.”