The Belle Game Fear/Nothing Living In The Abstract BC INTERVIEW+REVIEW+PHOTOS: THE BELLE GAME @ THE WILTERN 10/28/17
The term “nothing” has a bad wrap. The Belle Game, an effervescent crush-pop band from Vancouver, aims to challenge your perception of what it is to truly feel nothing. The Belle Game is Andrea Lo (vocals), Katrina Jones (keys), Adam Nanji (lead guitar), and Alex Andrew (drums). The foursome recently hit the road for an international tour with the pseudo-orchestral Broken Social Scene to promote their sophomore album, Fear/Nothing, which was galvanized into maturity and profound transparency by BSS’s very own Kevin Drew. The album delivers a heady cadence of sweeping reverb paired with Andrea’s assertive reflections of life’s many dualities. In this installment of BC Interviews, Andrea Lo digs into the complexities of the void, touring with some of her heroes, and how the band has fine-tuned their into focus on the genuine versus the contrived.
Blurred Culture: First and foremost, how has touring with Broken Social Scene been?
Andrea Lo: It’s been really exciting for us. You know, we’re just feeling extremely grateful for every show we get to play with them and for their fans, who have been so gracious and welcoming and warm-hearted. It’s only really sinking in now, with tomorrow being the last date we’re on tour with Broken Social Scene, who basically narrated a lot of our teenage lives. I had that recognition in Oakland last night, and I was like “Oh fuck, we’re on tour with BSS,” after a month of touring with them. Pretty surreal to think about it. It’s been great, a lot of fun, we just feel so grateful to have this opportunity for sure.
BC: I know you describe your sound as “crush pop.” What would describe “crush pop” as?
AL: It’s hard to say. Crush pop was an easy thing to swing to, but now we’re in debate with ourselves in regards to what the hell our music sounds like and what we want to summarize it in just a few words. We do have pop elements in our writing, but with the crush aspect we were thinking of the harder elements. We like to play around with our sound a lot, there’s a lot of ‘verbs, distortion and delays that kind of etherealize our sound. It’s pop, but it’s not a clean sound.
BC: What is currently inspiring your music?
AL: Being in this album cycle and playing these songs. We’re just playing songs we’ve written for this album. We’re not writing right now. But I think when we were writing for the album, what was basically inspiring us was, moreso than pinpointing bands and what-not, an influence for sure was our desire to explore and change our relationship and conversation with music. Writing from a place moreso out of feeling and out of physiologically– letting music move through us as opposed to logically writing out a song being like “oh i like this artist” or “i like this sound so we want to replicate it.”
BC: What are some dominant themes on Fear/Nothing?
AL: I think that in retrospect, what the album is to me now is more of a transitionary period. A lot of it was about a sense of dualities and contradictions, and the grey areas in our lives as opposed to having very set and defined points or emotions. Having happiness and having depression at the same time. All the strange ways we contradict ourselves as we go on living.
BC: What would you say is your favorite song on the album?
AL: It’s hard to say, I love them all and I’m highly critical of every single one of them. As any creative would do, you’re never fully satisfied with your work ever. I think that “I Want Nothing” is possibly my favorite track. I think that was the first point in my writing where I had some sort of honest admittance to myself and coherence and full transparency in regards to what i was going through at the time and what I wanted.
BC: What were you going through?
AL: I think it was more of a state of mind. Just kind of self indulgently admitting that I wanted absolutely nothing. I think it’s interesting it’s my favorite song because the whole album explores different concepts of nothing, so you can have nothing in kind of a tangible, material sense or you can have nothing as an elevated, blissful euphoric space. Or you can have nothing as…just nothing. Walking into a dark black space with absolutely nothing around you. Devoid of sensation and all of the senses and noise and day to day. The song was written about one thing, and one exploration of that term, but in retrospect, I see how much the theme plays throughout the album and I think it’s fun to see how all that came together.
You can have nothing which is driven by anger, or you can have nothing driven by euphoria. You can have nothing that is complete neutrality.
BC: What is your experience of being a woman in music?
AL: Katrina and I have been pretty lucky for the most part, not to say that all of our encounters have been savory with some people, however we have two really wonderful men in our band and I really think that, and it’s sad to say, but I think that helps in a certain way. We’re softening the stigma a little bit. But there are occasions where you’re dealing with someone, and they’ll assume to go to someone else to ask something, or they won’t take you seriously at times. I’ve found that the more I have to deal with that stuff, the more determined I am to just bulldoze right in and just deliver the facts as is, and there’s just no room for any of that bullshit at all.
I think it’s true that there are still stigmas attached to women that are extremely incorrect about our intelligence and our abilities, so I think women do struggle a lot, but if I were to speak for myself, Katrina and I have been quite lucky. I try leave as little room for that as possible. Not to say everyone can avoid it, which is unfortunate.
I haven’t had a crazy amount of those moments, but there were moments before where someone tries to pull me off stage to dance close with me, and just not taking no for an answer. We haven’t really had to deal with a lot of those encounters, though.
BC: That’s refreshing.
AL: Just taking the good with the bad, and when the bad happens just trying to make it known you’re here to do a fucking job. And you don’t have time for any of that crap. You do your job well, and people have to rethink their positions. There’s been lots of times where we’re treated one way in the beginning, or maybe there’s hesitancies, or maybe not the greatest vibes, and then after you do you’re job well and show you know what you’re doing, and at the end of the show: completely different position. It really just depends on the people. Some people can just be shit. I’m not gonna shit on men, but I am gonna shit on people who can be… shit.
BC: I too shit on shitty people, so I can appreciate that. What would you say has stemmed the most growth for the band as a whole?
AL: Living? Experiencing life, going through our emotions and exploring the dynamics of oddly close relationships with three other people. I think that our album Fear/Nothing was a direct result of that growth, and if I were to pinpoint it to any moment, I would have to say it was in the fall of 2014. We attended the Banff Center and had a residency there. Kevin Drew was the director of the program that time around. He really challenged us. We were fans of music and loved creating it, and we were in a state where we wanted to be like ‘we really like what this band is doing, how can we do this.’ Kind of approaching it like ‘what is palatable and digestible?’ Being more logic-based as opposed to feeling. And you know, Kevin and Broken Social Scene, they’re just about being human. The most raw, honest, transparent humans as possible. And so he really taught us, maybe not even through the use of a lot of words, but he really just threw his own way of being, to be more into writing based out of what comes out of the heart and the spirit. That was huge. We actually wrote the song “Spirit” there, that was kind of the beginning of all the changes and the shifts, musically. Not to say that the shift was easily maintained at all times, because you’re learning something new, and you’re trying to shut off the old at the same time so it’s really challenging. You’re so used to your old ways and so stubbornly stuck to it. But you know there’s a better way. So, I would pin it down to that moment specifically and everything that came after. The whole journey.
BC: And it’s still goin’.
AL: Yea, fuck, it’s still goin’.
BC: How would you describe your music in the way you hope other people hear it?
AL: I think that the process of writing this music was the challenge of being as honest and transparent as possible. And it didn’t achieve that always, but there are a good amount of moments of that. I really do hope that whoever listens to our new album, I think music is such a source of catharsis and release, and identification, and community, that whoever listens to the album, to be totally frank, for it to be whatever it is to them, and whatever they need it to be. I don’t want to make a guide for music and say “you should feel this” and “you should do this,” just… whatever this music brings up in you, or whatever it helps you acknowledge or move through. Feel or not feel.. Just let it be that for you.
The four of us are able to enjoy the abstract because we write that music, and it is what it is to us, and I even know that even though I write the lyrics and explain them and diversified the conversation which makes it awesome, I think that other people can have different concepts of what the song means. It’s whatever they need it to be. And if you want to know what my stance is, you can ask me. I’m not going to tell anyone how to feel.
BC: Are you currently working on any upcoming projects?
AL: We just released this album a couple months ago, so we’re still fresh in it. We have started tinkering around with other music just for fun. We’re going on tour in Europe at the end of November. Probably going to have a little family time over the holidays. I believe we’re going to come back and do some more stuff in the states during the winter, but it’s not all locked in yet. Hopefully just keep touring and have this album cycle going. Really connecting with as many people as possible through music.
Los Angeles, CA- The last show of the tour was at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. I can’t think of a better venue to match The Belle Game’s celestial energy, with all of its romantic Art Deco detail and high golden ceilings. I may or may not have paid to park in an apartment building that wasn’t actually okay to park in (the “attendants” were gone at the end of the show and the gates were closed). The house was completely sold out. The eager anticipation was palpable as people began to file into the somewhat tight GA section; Broken Social Scene plays in L.A. once every billion years. The Belle Game seemed to be immediately welcomed by the devout wave of BSS fans as their first song swelled into fruition. I was a little confused by the initial absence of Andrea as the band really dug in, I began wondering if I somehow mixed up the date of the show, but she made her entrance about a minute in and definitely didn’t disappoint.
Andrea has mastered the art of flowing between heartbreaking vulnerability and commanding, bold vocals. Her range is something worth envying; one minute, she would sound like an ethereal presence with the most wispy vibrato, and the next she would deliver an arresting bellow of soul. Just as Fear/Nothing ricochets off of the concept of “nothing,” every vacuum of silence within the cadence of each song was filled with a controlled stillness. Every facet of the band married together with a dreamy effortlessness, playing off of each other with a fun yet poignant resonance. Katrina’s synthy addition played a strong role in the articulate attention to detail prevalent in their performance. Alex pounded out beats with a keen enthusiasm. Adam’s guitar work provided a well-balanced and grounded element to the airy tunes.
What struck me the most about The Belle Game’s set was the band’s tangible chemistry. I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a group of friends living their best life, and smiling goofily at each other while reveling in the surreal reality of playing with their icons. They earned that opportunity together, and the payoff was out of this world. I’d imagine it would be impossible to contain one’s excitement over sharing a stage with heavy hitters such as Broken Social Scene– not to mention vibing seamlessly with their forever loyal fan base. The Belle Game is an amazing specimen of relentless evolution and growth, and I personally look forward to what direction they choose to cultivate their art into next.