Nellybombs to perform benefit for A-Y company
Offstage, she is Nelly. Onstage, she is one-half of Nellybombs — “confident, comfortable, brighter.”
Singer and songwriter Nelly Llano and guitarist Francisco Mena perform together nearly every weekend at wineries, wine bars and private parties in the Hudson Valley. On Wednesday (Dec. 15), they will take the stage at the Howland Cultural Center for Holiday Dance Dance Dance, a benefit to support the third season of A-Y/Dancers, the Beacon-based modern dance company.
“I’ve known [A-Y co-founder] Claire Dean to be a phenomenal dancer,” says Llano. “I always knew the time would be right to collaborate together. I’m so excited because Christmas songs are so well-written and often have a jazz flavor.”
Llano, the daughter of an Italian mother and Cuban father, has lived all over: Wappingers, Albany, Newburgh, Montgomery, Walden. Her father worked in the music industry and discouraged her from heading in that direction.
“I went to college to please my parents, but I knew music was what I wanted to pursue,” she recalls. “At age 25 I started jamming out with friends and someone suggested we go to a Newburgh open mic. It was there, five years ago, that I met Francisco. We understood each other musically in a way that I had never experienced.
“We began thinking, ‘Maybe we should book some bar gigs.’ Fran had been playing in a band at bars in Beacon; he had equipment,” Llano says. “That started this crazy journey where we’d play any restaurant or bar for whatever money they wanted to pay us. We’d play dive bars we hated, but eventually we started making enough money for me to drop my day job. I never thought that could happen.”
The duo play their original songs plus a mix of “older Motown, blues, jazz and soul, covering artists like Etta James, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, plus some ’90s R&B at bars with younger people,” she says. Llano grew up listening to gospel, soul and Donna Summer.
Three years ago, they released their first single, “755,” which was “the name of the voice memo I used to write the song,” Llano explains. But soon after, Llano went through a breakup and stopped writing and singing.
“Fran was like, ‘You need to just write about this,’ ” she recalls. That turned into Dana Avenue, their second EP. “The songs are the emotions you go through during a breakup, in chronological order: sadness to ‘I hate you,’ to ‘I still love you,’ ‘I’m over you,’ ‘I love myself,’ ‘I’m moving on.’ ”
She worked on her most recent single, “On My Own,” in Los Angeles with the producer Smile High, part of The Main Squeeze, traveling there every other month. The song addresses the mental health issues she has suffered during the pandemic. “I felt stuck in a room, unable to perform,” she says. “It’s me being the realest I could be about what’s going on in my head.
“Still, I struggle. I have panic attacks, not knowing if the momentum will fizzle. I’ve had to buckle down, relearn how to be OK with myself, by myself. I want to help other people who are maybe too scared to talk to someone about their issues.”
Llano says that writing the song, getting it produced and doing a music video was therapeutic. “It’s like, OK, I think I can do this, I can be an artist. Now I can take my emotions and make them into art. I still think I have a long way to go, but I can see the progression of getting better and that makes me want to learn more, sing more, keep pushing.”
The Howland Cultural Center is located at 477 Main St. in Beacon. Nellybombs will perform on Dec. 15 from 6 to 9 p.m.; tickets are $25, $50 or $100 through aydancers.com. Proof of vaccination required. Nellybombs will also play at 8:30 p.m. today (Dec. 10) at the Reserva Wine Bar, 173 Main St., in Beacon.