Illinois-born musician, Andrew Belle, has focused his career on songwriting with a lush atmospheric pop sound that would be reminiscent if Chris Martin of Coldplay went solo. His recent release Black Bear, has received rave reviews and was placed on the iTunes Best Of list for the singer-songwriter category in 2013. Belle spoke with Glide on Black Bear, dream duets and much more. His love for music apparent is throughout, “…every song I write has to mean something to me.”
Firstly, tell us about Black Bear –
Well my first full-length album, The Ladder, was written four years prior so there’s a lot of musical growth that can be heard (hopefully) in the song writing and in the musicality. When I recorded my first record, I was very much influenced by albums that quirky-pop-acoustic songwriters like Greg Laswell, Katie Herzig, and Ingrid Michaelson were making – but over the years my taste in music began to shift toward a more ambient and electronic sound. I discovered artists like M83, Beach House, and finally (and quite ironically) began to fall in love with the records Radiohead had been making over the last 15 years – music, that I will admit, confused me for quite some time. So when I set out to make this record, I didn’t want to abandon my songwriting style (from a melodic or lyrical standpoint) but rather just wanted to change the style in which those things were presented. This one is a lot more beat and keyboard driven – but the songwriting still contains the same emphasis on meaningful and thoughtful lyrics intertwined with pleasing melodies. That’s what I’ve always been about.
Like I mentioned, every song I write has to mean something to me. I think almost everything I’ve ever written has been at least semi-autobiographical and so that’s probably why I don’t write that often – it’s emotionally exhausting and I never want to write anything that could be perceived as filler. For Black Bear, my relationship with Jesus – the joys, the questions and wrestling – and my relationship with my wife were the biggest themes. They sort of weave in and out of each other in that my commitment to her is ultimately an analogy for God’s commitment to me. So, some pretty heavy stuff but, for me, that’s what makes music and writing exciting: when there’s a relational and existential urgency woven into it.
The recording process was really different than how I have ever worked before and that’s probably why the sound is so different than anything I’ve ever released. For the first time, I made all of the demos at home – after buying some basic equipment and teaching myself how to use it (sort of). I think that was the gateway to really opening up my sound on this one. I kept clicking around, discovering new, fun sounds that I had never considered before, but always been attracted to. Before I knew it, I was making these really out-there sounding songs and had to reel it in a little bit. But once I found that blend of quirky meets listenable, I took the demos to a studio in Oklahoma called Blackwatch and we built right on top of the sessions that I had begun at home – using the demos as a road map and just replacing sounds/adding more layers. That place is synth-paradise and so we had a lot of fun seeing how far we could push things in the ambient/electronic sense.
Describe your music and/or sound in one sentence:
My music can be described as thoughtful, slightly quirky, singer-songwriter pop.
Who are your musical influences?
All-time: Adam Duritz, Chris Martin, Jesse Lacey and Greg Laswell
Currently: Thom Yorke, M83, Passion Pit, Beach House and Bon Iver
What do you think is the best album ever written?
Completely subjective, but for me it’s Brand New’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me.
What’s been your best gig so far?
It’s pretty hard to pinpoint a single show, but being a part of Nashville’s “Ten out of Tenn.” tour was amazing. Ten accomplished, eclectic singer-songwriters on the same stage, playing each other’s songs every night. Nothing beats that.
If you could duet with anyone, who would it be?
Right now, Lorde. I think our style and voices would mesh well…
What TV show would you like to hear your music featured on?
Top Chef! My wife and I are really into cooking and food culture.
Where in the world do you most want to perform (venue and/or county)?
Red Rocks Amphitheater – it’s been a dream of mine since I bought Dave Matthews Band Live at Red Rocks in 1999.
What’s your fondest musical memory?
Recording my first album, The Ladder, in a basement in Nashville with two friends. We made a fort out of three twin mattresses and some blankets to simulate a vocal booth.
What are you listening to right now?
Wild Cub – “Youth.”