With the release of Black Bear in 2013, singer-songwriter Andrew Belle completely redefined his sound. While his prior approach was much more guitar driven, the new record found the Nashville-based artist experimenting with electronic sounds, and doing so quite successfully.
Weld: You’re both really terrific, but your styles aren’t that similar — how did you end up with Diane for this tour?
Andrew Belle: I had played with her years ago, like, in Denver — just a one-off show. We were even stylistically different at that point, too. That was just sort of a random opening gig four years ago. And I didn’t really know her or have a close relationship with her over the past four years, but I think we have people in similar circles — my manager knows her manager or something like that. She put out this record a few months ago which is a little bit more ambient and electronic than what she does, and I put out this record this year which is a little more ambient and electronic compared to what I do. I think they just thought it would be a good fit.
I’ve respected her musically and when that opportunity came about, I jumped at it because she’s a great talent. It was sort of like our people thought it would be a good idea.
Weld: You sound like you feel that the new record was a big departure. Do you? How much of a departure was it?
AB: It’s a departure in the sense that I was kind of tired of doing what I’ve been doing for the past — I started writing music on my acoustic guitar in 2003, you know? I was beginning to feel limited by the instrument and I was beginning to take on inspiration from other sources, discovering new music the same way everybody does. Everybody sort of matures into what they like to listen to; I began to slowly move in a direction where I felt like I wanted to make the music I was excited about. More ambient and electronic music was starting to appeal to me and I decided if I was going to keep writing songs, I didn’t want to have to get out and perform, get out on tour, spend a lot of time away from home if it wasn’t going to be with the music that I was interested in making. So from a production standpoint, it’s a huge departure. It’s no longer acoustic. It’s still singer-songwriter in the sense of how I go about writing songs. I try to be poignant, it’s just delivered in a different way.
I delivered in the way a band would, almost. And a lot of my inspiration derives from bands. Bands like Beach House and Radiohead. It’s kind of the sound that I wanted to go along with my “singer-songwriter” status.
Weld: I know the artists that I think the new record sounds like, but what artists did you consider your peers when you were making this record?
AB: Well, I don’t know if I’d be so bold as to call them peers, but bands that were shaping the sound that I wanted? If I think back, I think of the earliest — I was telling my buddies, actually yesterday — when I first went on an airplane and I was watching that movie Drive, it’s a dark, heavy movie. But the film is sort of juxtaposed with a light, ’80s synth-pop soundtrack that’s kind of a little feel-good and emotive. And that’s what I love about music when I write: I like writing music that’s a little heavy lyrically and thematically, but I love playing on that with sort of a lighter musical tone. So I decided that’s what I’m going to do — when I heard those songs on that Drive soundtrack, I thought, “I’m going to move a little more in that direction.”
At that point, I had already begun to work backwards through the Radiohead catalog and experimenting with Kid A –– that was a big, inspirational record for me. Obviously their In Rainbows record as well. And then more contemporary bands, like I mentioned: Washed Out, Beach House, there’s a band in Nashville called Paper Route that I really respect a lot. Bands like that that were doing more left-of-center alternative music…I always strive to be a little on the quirky side of things, on the quirkier side of the acoustic, singer-songwriter genre, and now I kind of feel like we’re branching out into more of — it’s basically pop music, but I’m trying to get a little more to the left, more into the alternative realm.
Weld: How does this record and its new sound translate live?
AB: Last year, when I put out the record, I really was adamant about recreating it live as closely as I could. I had never really done that before, where I had spend a ton of time rehearsing and spent a lot of money hiring the right people and hiring enough people to do the job properly. I’d never gone about it that way. I always sort of threw things together at the last minute. Replicating the record was too much work, so we’d just sort of ad-lib or perform alternate versions of the songs. But I finally wanted to totally replicate the record. We did that for, like, six tours last year. We came through Birmingham and we played the record with a full band. It was a lot of fun, it was great. A lot of learning came from that.
Going into this year, I actually decided that I wanted to an alternate version of the record, Black Bear, this year. Something that’s not acoustic, but more stripped down, more simple, so that the lyrics and my lyrics and my voice and the simple elements of the songwriting could be more understood. We’re working on that now, and rather than it being an acoustic album, I wanted to maintain some of those digital, electronic elements, but I wanted them to just kind of mellow out a bit — where we’re slowing down tempos and adding the keys where it’s a little more chilled out.
In doing that, I realized, “This is how we should do the live show this year.” We should simplify, we should get back to basics a little bit, strip down, but maintain some of those cool drum and bass chillwave elements of the song. So that’s what we’re doing now: I’m playing keys, my buddy Josh is playing guitar. We’ve kind of reworked all of the songs. They’re completely recognizable, but they’re a little slowed down, a little chilled out. I’m playing drums on a sample unit, so I’m playing this hip-hop drum and bass style. We loop that and play on top of it. So we’re trying to push the envelope of what we can accomplish live for people, and I’m really excited about it.
Weld: Will you be releasing the recordings of the new versions?
AB: Yeah, we’re working on it now, so I’m hoping to get it done as soon as possible. I’m not ready to put a date or time frame on it yet, but we’re hoping this year, and it’s definitely something that we want to release.
Weld: Who are the top five American rock bands of all time?
AB: Holy cow. Top five American rock bands of all time. I’m not going to put them in order, but here we go: Counting Crows, the Killers…
[Friend says Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.]
I can’t comment on Tom Petty because I don’t know enough of their catalog. I wish you hadn’t said American, because I have plenty of British bands. I really like a band named Brand New, and obviously they’re maybe not top five all-time best bands, but in terms of inspiration, in the Andrew Belle universe, it’s Counting Crows, the Killers, Brand New and we’ll throw Death Cab [for Cutie] in the mix. And let’s say the National, that’s a good one. I like that one.