Belleruche Bring the Scratchy Soul
Three Londoners met in the market one fateful day: Kathrin deBoer (vocals), Ricky Fabulous (guitar) and DJ Modest (decks) struck up a conversation and soon realized they had similar musical tastes. Ricky and Modest, who played experimental turntable and guitar sets in London bars, auditioned deBoer over a cup of tea and Belleruche was born. Now with numerous singles, three albums and non-stop touring behind them, Belleruche are well-established in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and are poised to take on America.
Things began humbly enough for the band. Initially, they released a handful of extremely limited 7” records on their own Hippoflex label, including the ‘Four Songs EP’. These individually numbered 45’s (with hand-printed sleeves) quickly sold out in the UK’s independent record stores and attracted a cult following in the UK and Europe.
With the buzz generated by these singles, in 2007 Belleruche signed to Tru Thoughts Recordings and their debut album ‘Turntable Soul Music’ was released in July of that year to great enthusiasm from fans and the media alike, garnering admiring reviews both at home and abroad. Belleruche’s second, more bluesy sophomore album “The Express” thrilled its fanbase while also bringing them to the wider world’s attention and garnering many listeners. The first single “Anything You Want (Not That)” was awarded the coveted Single Of The Week spot on iTunes and the album hit Number One in the iTunes electronic album chart.
With their third full length now reaching audiences new and old, ‘270 Stories’ sees the trio hitting their stride with style, tying together all that is distinctive about their off-kilter mix-up of scratchy beats, bluesy guitar and soulful, honeycomb vocals that we know and love, with the unmistakable vibe of a band pushing forward without pretension, letting their ideas roam free and lead them to a new place. In their own words it is “layered, tougher, more aggressive and possibly at the same time more introspective” than their previous, highly acclaimed, long players.
Kathrin deBoer ups the ante with multi-layered harmonies that see her skirting the line between sugary and spiky, with a distinctly doo-wop style making an appearance on some tracks. In addition to his unique, bluesy lead stylings, guitarist Ricky Fabulous plays a lot more bass on this album, which makes for a dynamic and irresistible melodic interplay between basslines and vocals. More new and exciting sonic surprises include tougher edged beats from turntablist DJ Modest, exploring darker, contemporary influences; all this alongside more rigorous attention to song arrangements and form, harnessing the beautifully dishevelled, charmingly chaotic energy of their music for a powerful result.
Belleruche have played a range of festival dates at home and abroad, including Glastonbury and the Montreux Jazz Festival, where they struck up an impromptu jam with The Raconteurs and Vampire Weekend that was reportedly one of the highlights of the festival. The trio have developed a new live show to match the new developments of “270 Stories”: “We’re playing new stuff in new ways: Ricky is playing bass on stage now for some songs, Kathrin’s using loopers and guitar delay pedals and Modest is using Abelton and loads of new things he doesn’t really understand.” With a great reputation already for their live performances, these new developments – described in characteristic self-effacing style – are set to add another level of intrigue. Look out for headline album tours of the UK, Europe and North America later this year, but first you can catch them at a host of major festivals this summer, including the Secret Garden Party, Bestival and the Big Chill.
Mundovibe Editor John C. Tripp caught up with the extremely affable and good humored Kathrin deBoer over Skype and a cup of tea to discuss the band’s influences, inspirations and what to expect from their tour for “270 Stories”.
MundoVibe: You’ve been compared to, to some degree, Portishead or the like. I don’t want to start by drawing comparisons; I’m talking more about traditions. Your music taps into the blues but it’s also modern, so you’re carrying forth a certain state of mind and music. It’s interesting how you’ve done that.
Kathrin deBoer: I think it probably helps that all of us have come from very different backgrounds. DJ Modest comes very much from a hip hop background and soul and funk. Ricky Fabulous is definitely involved in hip hop but not to the degree of DJ Modest. He was into all kinds of music, a lot of gypsy jazz—Django Reindhart’s his idol. And then I came from a jazz background, so it’s inevitable just because of the setup that comparisons would be drawn to trip hop artists. But, out of all of us we didn’t actually get into the era when it was popular in 2002. It just wasn’t our thing, we were listening to funk and soul and obscure hip hop records, so it’s interesting and I don’t think it’s actually such a bad thing drawing comparisons, it’s an entry point to understand what you’re trying to do. But then they need to keep an open mind to what’s actually there as well. Because I don’t think we sound like Portishead at all. Yes, there’s some heavy beats and there’s a female vocalist but I think that’s where the comparisons should be left and move onto something a little bit more open. It’s very hard for us to be able to describe our music because we’re just playing or creating or making what we feel we enjoy or what feels good to us. So, there isn’t this “oh, we need to make it a certain style of music, or we need to make trip hop or blues music”, it’s just what we feel, we quite hedonistic that way it seems.
MV: You’re onto your third album so you’re quite seasoned. You’ve been on the live circuit and you’re very much an established band as opposed to just a project.
KD: Oh gosh yeah. Our live show started off being a jam session in a bar in Islington and from there it just grew. It’s just a natural progression and evolution that we’ve come from that place to doing full shows. And for our album launch, which is here in London, we’ve invited some other musicians to come and join us. Which is the first time we’ve felt we needed to because everything grew in the studio: our music and the sounds grew so to do some of those tunes live it’s a perfect opportunity to bring some other people in.
MV: I’ve noticed in “Clockwatching”, your first single, it’s got that driving bassline and from the press release you’ve got a bass guitarist that’s joining you.
KD: Well, we were meant to have a double bass player come and join us but the lady that we were hoping to get, she got double booked so she won’t be able to do ours. It turned out that I needed to learn the bass pretty quick so we went and bought one last week, I’d been using Ricki’s bass, so I’ve been learning for a month. So, one of the tracks I’ll be able to play.
MV: That should be interesting.
KD: (laughs). It should be very interesting. Ricky’s been very kind and he’s arranged the track quite easily for me because I’ve never played bass but it should be fun.
MV: Well, you know Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads didn’t know how to play the bass and they were a band.
KD: Hmm, I’m sure those comparisons will be made straight away because we’ve been learning for three weeks. But it’s fun, it’s great that music makes you do things that you never thought you would do and it just makes you a bit more adventurous.
MV: And you clearly have fun with it.
KD: Yeah, it’s got to be. Otherwise it’s not really what you should be doing. I think music is one of those things that needs to be fun, otherwise what’s the point? You’re making music to make other people feel good as well as yourself so if one of those things don’t really work I don’t really see the point. It needs to be enjoyable, the creative process needs to be enjoyable.
MV: Talking about how your music might affect people, a lot of your lyrics and your subject matter seem to be around personal or human issues. There’s a lot of “we” or “me” in there or “I” and of course the question would be are these your experiences or observations and where does this material come from?
KD: I think it’s both really, it’s from personal experience but also from observations. Perhaps I’m a little bit lazy but I’ll make something first person if it’s, say, something happening to a friend. Yeah, I’ve tried to get out of that “you” and “we” and “me” and all of that kind of vocabulary, which I think I’ve achieved a few times but I must say that I find it easier to write things in first person. But things like “Ginger Wine”, I do think I mention “we” in there – “I’m the stranger one can trust” – but it’s more metaphorical really. There’s a musician called Mulatu Astatke who I got to know last summer and we went out for dinner and he told me these wonderfull ridiculous stories about him playing all over the world and travelling by ship to all of these cities and him playing with Duke Ellington and these sorts of things. Somehow I felt very poetic, so ‘Ginger Wine’ was a product of just meeting and getting to know Mulatu.
MV: Yeah, he’s a legend.
KD: He’s a bit of a legend (laughs). He’s a lovely human being and he’s very enthusiastic and he’s not the youngest of musicians that is touring but he manages just so well and I think it is just because he enjoys it so much and he still enjoys the creative process. I don’t think in any way he’s become complacent or he says “I’ve done what I needed to do”. He just continues to try and do something different and I think that’s admirable. He’s been in the industry for a good part of his life.
So, lyrically, I suppose a lot of it’s personal but inspiration comes from many different things, it could be just observations or watching people on a bus or in a café but they’re all different.
MV: The three of you have quite an interplay in your music, it’s a completely unified sound. How on earth do you all come together to do this?
KD: I think that comes down to the amount of time we spend together and starting from the basics, starting from the bottom. Ricky always knew how to play the guitar but all of us kind of understanding our roles and I think all of us respecting each other and what each of us bring into the group. That underpins the fact that there’s always room for each of us to say something or do something and that comes out musically I suppose.
MV: Let’s go into “270 Stories” and you’ve got 11 tracks on there, everything from ‘Clockwatching’ the first single to a song called ‘Churro’ which is a delicious little dessert.
KD: (laughs) We eat them in France a lot, tastey and fatty. Yes, churros have got us through many a good gig.
MV: How would you describe “270 Stories”?
KD: Oh God, that’s really hard. Turntable soul music, and it’s just a progression from what we’ve done before. It’s just a bit harder and better, as in better produced. And we’ve all learned how to use certain bits and pieces that make music (laughs). Yeah, we’ve all gotten better at it. So, to describe it I’d say it’s still turntable soul music and within that it’s too hard for me to deconstruct it and define it as blues, soul, funk, jazz, hip hop: it’s all in there.
MV: Again, you’re probably taking your backgrounds and coming together. The Django Rheinhart of Ricky and the hip hop of DJ Modest and your jazz background. You know, I’m quite amazed at how you all met, it seems quite fateful, I’m sure you look back on it in that way.
KD: Yeah, theres’s these small things that happen that change your life and direct you in certain ways but it’s always about choices isn’t it? You make a choice every day to do certain things or to be in certain places, which you get to meet certain people. That’s the fun of it.
MV: Have you performed in the United States or is this going to be the next touring area?
KD: Belleruche hasn’t performed in the United States yet but we’re just hoping the visas will get through and then we’ve already got some shows booked in but of course that’s pending on the visa issue. But I came there a couple years ago and played with the Giant Step people, with Nickodemus and Nappy G on the 4th of July and at Water Taxi Beach.
MV: Turntables on the Hudson?
KD: That’s the one, yeah.
MV: I know Nickodemus, he’s a good guy.
KD: Yeah, he’s lovely. But that was pretty much off the record. But we’re really looking forward to it, it will be so interesting because people have made comments that sometimes our music sounds a little American, as in inspiration.
MV: I read that you have a new studio that you recorded “270 Stories” in, is that right? Called the basement.
KD: Yeah, well it was a basement and now it’s been all packed up because DJ Modest has left that place. It was kind of a massive space where you could ride your bicycle in the front, and that was their living room. And then in the front underneath the street and there was the studio and it was brilliant and I think it really shaped the sound of the album because we had a specific space which was just for writing music and a space where when we went there was like ‘now I’ve got to get to work’. Because beforehand we just recorded wherever we could, which had been people’s spare rooms. That definitely wasn’t set up for recording music. We did our best, trying to make rooms sound quite dead and put blankets up and DJ Modest did construct a few wooden, kind of strange looking apparatuses to hang things over to try and work but that part was really, really fun but not sustainable. We wanted to step up the sound and we wanted to do the best thing we could. So, having that setup, that subterranean studio was fantastic, it really helped.
MV: And you’re still in control of everything, in terms of the production and the final mixing?
KD: Yeah, we’ve kept that always in-house and that’s always been ours. DJ Modest does a lot of the production work but we all agree on the final sound. He has a lot of patience with these sorts of things – I have to say that I don’t have that much patience for tuning a kettle drum over a couple of hours, that sounds like torture (laughs). But unfortunately we don’t have that studio anymore, but we’re all geared up for touring anyhow.
MV: You certainly have a busy schedule.
KD: Yeah, it is! You get a spare moment and you think ‘Oh, I should be doing something’. Yeah, we’ve got a great tour in France, the U.K. and coming to America, I think that works out nicely with the visas as I said and after that we’ll take a month off for Christmas and family stuff and then start again in Australia and New Zealand and then America, hopefully for South by Southwest. And then, yeah, Switzerland, Germany and back to France.
MV: The three of you must have a good understanding of one another to tour so much, and create music . What’s the dynamic of the three of you?
KD: The dynamic (laughs), I think that would be different for each of us. I think we all give each other enough space and we know the signs when someone’s a bit either pissed off or needs their space. So, that’s easy to do, because there’s three of us you know? That one person can go off and do whatever they want for a bit and the other two don’t get lonely or whatever (laughs). With three people I think the dynamic is I suppose quite easy.
MV: That’s good.
KD: But we genuinely like each other as people as well and that helps as well.
MV: And you’re kind of in a good family with the Tru Thoughts people. They have clearly embraced you and you’re growing with them, which these days is kind of rare.
KD: I think so because a lot of record companies want you to do certain things or they have their vision of what you should be. When we started up I think we were quite strong in defining who we were, which as just us you know? We’ve had people say, ‘why don’t you get a drummer?’ and a bass player and ‘you need a string section’ or whatever. But that’s not the point, the point is we have a sort of do it yourself kind of sound. And Tru Thoughts, they were quite happy to endulge us in that. So, we’ve been very very lucky that when we’ve given them music they’ve like it and we’ve not had to go back and change anything. I don’t think that’s how they operate either. So, yeah, we’ve had freedom to do what we’ve wanted to do musically and I think that’s quite lucky. But I think that’s also why we chose an independent label to sign to because you do have a relationship with the people putting your music out and getting it around the world.
MV: Now, you’re already at a certain level of success and of course there’s always that “next”. What would be that next that would be something you’d shoot for?
KD: (laughs) Oh yeah, those plans. I think we’ve been in the business long enough to realize that it doesn’t matter what you plan or which you think, you’ve just got to take what comes. So, on a short term I’d love to be invited to play at the Montreux Jazz Festival again just because it’s an amazing institution and they invited us previously and we thought ‘oh, maybe they got the wrong band?’ but apparently they hadn’t. I think being invited back to a place like Montreux Jazz Festival, that would be really really cool. I think being able to get to a point where you have a few more choices as in, you want to do a tour and you can do that sustainably and so we would be able to dictate ‘well we’ll be taking the train instead of airplanes’ so we’ll need to have a day off there. And for that to be economically feasible so we could do it the way we like to do it. That would be a great luxury. But to keep making music – we’ll just see how it goes. I don’t like to put money into the equation but it is a fact of life that you need to be able to live and with digital down loads and the movement of music I think touring is the way that you need to be able to secure that.
MV: You know who comes here to the States on tour quite frequently is the New Mastersounds. Are you familiar with their music? It seems like they’re here touring constantly.
KD: Working hard (laughs).
MV: Yeah, getting out there with their music and they’ve been embraced here. I guess the reason I brought them up is because I would hope that you would be touring here in the States on a regular basis in the future.
KD: That would be amazing, it’s such an enormous country, that would be brilliant. I’d love that. It’s an enormous country and the States are so different and people are so different. It’d just be amazing if we could.
MV: But as of now I know that you’re very popular in Europe and particularly in France.
KD: Yeah, France it’s key for us. I think it’s grown that way because early on we had radio support. National radio like FIP and NOVA. I think it’s still very powerful being on the radio. We had some radio play, we’ve had a lot more radio play for this album already – we’ve had early support in the UK again in France and Switzerland. I think that’s still very much a key part of being able to tour in places if you have that radio support.
MV: You actually had support here in the States with public radio with a Song, I think, of the Week?
KD: Oh, the NPR Song of the Day?
MV: Yeah, OK it was the song of the day — it’s still online streaming and that creates buzz for sure.
KD: That’s amazing, that’s brilliant. It’s priceless really.
MV: You mentioned the digital downloads and the fact that everything is so digital and online – is that something you are actively involved in? Because you’ve got podcasts that I listened to – and that’s cool to listen to and it sort of brings people into your mindset.
KD: Into our little world.
MV: Yeah, the chocolate and beer and podcasts.
KD: (laughs) Our favorite things, yeah. Digital communication is fantastic. To be able to hear music that someone’s made in their bedroom, you know, a couple days after it’s been made and for that to have the potential distribution around the world – that’s awesome.
MV: Do you ever feel that you always have to be on it – on Facebook – or are you all kind of distanced from all that to some degree?
KD: To some degree we’re not as proactive as a lot of bands. It’s just because we like to do other things like make music. We self manage at the moment so there’s a lot of other things to deal with. So, we try to keep on top of it with Facebook and Twitter. And, as anybody who follows us on these knows, we’re not that good at it (laughs), because we’re just busy doing other things. We do try but we’re definitely not that active. We have been told we should be more but it’s all of that balancing of stuff. I just think it’s a brilliant resource and it’s available to everyone – it’s a good thing to be involved in.
MV: You live in London and London is clearly a big inspiration for you, a big part of your lives. How does that filter into what you’re doing with your music?
KD: There’s always something to do in London and there’s always something to hear. If you feel – I don’t get bored but if you do feel ‘oh, I want to be inspired’ all you have to do is leave your front door and just go wander about and meet up with some friends and go to the pub and it’s more than likely that you’ve got a band playing in the corner of that pub that’s starting out or they could well be people like Kit Downes you know, just playing in the pub with some mates (laughs). It’s just a constant source of inspiration that way, it’s quite humbling as well that people that have won enormous prizes are just at the pub with their mates and playing for the pleasure of playing and experimentation. London does encompass experimental music and because it’s so populated, there’s just so many people that live here the concentration of musicians that are ‘just hanging around’ (laughs) is quite big. I suppose it’s the same in New York that way.
MV: Yeah, it is to some degree. Although I think London’s more of that. You know I’ve never been to London (any sponsors out there? –Ed.) so I can’t draw too many comparisons but I have lived in New York. I was just in New York for a month and it seems like New York is more commercially oriented – everything is about paying the ‘cover charge’.
KD: Ahh, OK, I suppose that does creep in. In London no one really feels as though they want to pay for music, to hear live music so for the artists it’s not a very lucrative place to be but for the punter they rule (laughs).
MV: Are you looking forward to performing in, say, New Orleans? I can see you at some smoky bar there.
KD: Yeah, that would be amazing (laughs). If we were invited to New Orleans we probably wouldn’t say no. Would love to, there and New York. Over the last few months we’ve gotten to know a few people and I’m very much looking forward to meeting the people we’ve been working with to make the tour happen. And just to understand why they’re so lovely to work with. I think it’s all about people at the end of the day isn’t it – the people of the city. We’re very much looking forward to getting out and seeing as much as we can and experience as much as we can on the road.
Join Belleruche on an intriguing guided tour of the London bars, venues and other locations that informed the creation of ’270 Stories’, interspersed with music from the record.
FREE SONGS BY BELLERUCHE
Download a free track from Belleruche’s forthcoming album at http://amzn.to/auHvX5 (USA only)
|TRU130||Turntable Soul Music||Belleruche||album|
|TRUDD061||Limelight / Longer Days, Longer Nights||Belleruche||single|
|TRUDD023||3 Amp Fuse||Belleruche||single|
|TRU220||Clock Watching / Mirror In The Bathroom||Belleruche||single|
|TRU7173||Anything You Want (Not That)||Belleruche||single|