Humble servant of song
Singer-songwriter Andrew Belle finds the sweet spot between writing and singing
Singer-songwriter Andrew Belle is humble to the point of being self-deprecating.
“I don’t have the audacity to call myself a musician, because I’m not really particularly good at any one instrument,” Belle says. “I can sort of play the piano and the guitar, and I can sing enough at this point. I had to teach myself how to sing my songs, but I’m not really a singer, either.”
It’s a bit of a surprising statement. Over the last five years, Belle, who performs Sunday, August 25, at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub, has released two EPs, three live albums, and a critically acclaimed first LP, 2010’s The Ladder, after all.
It’s not a question of productivity, Belle explains.
“I’ve always been good at writing, and I felt like I could write these poems, and I liked the idea of setting them to music,” he says. “So, early on, I just started replicating and imitating what I was hearing and [taught] myself music.”
For Belle, writing is key and music merely the method by which he gets to share his stories with others. He’s very particular, in fact, about the songs he writes, and says he prefers not to waste time on those which do not strike an emotional chord.
“The litmus test for me when I write is that a song has to resonate to that spot that I can identify with when I first discovered music that really touched me,” says Belle. “If it doesn’t strike that chord, then I don’t keep it. I keep moving on and searching.”
“Moving on” and “searching” are apt descriptors for Belle’s just-released record, Black Bear. Gone are the traditional folk, acoustic sensibilities that filled his previous releases, replaced by a more ambient, alternative, electronic-heavy sound. Now, his songs are wrapped up in echoing atmospherics (“Dark Matter”), skyscraping rock ’n’ roll and vocals (“Black Bear”), and anthemic lyrics (“Pieces”). Belle was looking for a new direction with this record, and he certainly found it.
“I knew I didn’t want to go in the singer-songwriter, folk, acoustic direction this time,” he says. “I was tired of that. So, that’s where the new, big, alternative, electronic, ambient vibe comes from.”
The change wasn’t necessarily sudden, however.
“I had always wanted to make music like that,” Belle says. “My tastes have shifted over the years to more of an alternative genre of music, so I decided I’d rather make the kind of music I really enjoy listening to.”
Relationships are the lyrical focus of this record with Belle dealing with the likes of God (“I Won’t Fight It”), family (“Sister”) and his new marriage (“Pieces”). The sometimes uncomfortable relationship dynamic between artist and fan is also examined closely in “The Enemy,” which stands as one of many deeply honest moments on this record.
“I feel like doing what I do and traveling around to play music and everything that comes along with it—social media, the glory and people bombarding me with compliments—I’m always super flattered and humbled by that, but I often start to feel like people sort of put me on a pedestal,” Belle confesses. “I’m very aware of my shortcomings and failures, so the message of this song was sort of like, ’Don’t view me as the perfect person.’”
Despite his work’s serious tone, Belle isn’t afraid to make fun of himself, and that is perhaps what endears him to so many fans.
“For being a songwriter, I haven’t written a lot,” Belle says with a laugh. “I have maybe 30 or so songs in the entirety of my catalog, but I know guys who write 30 songs a month.”