Andrew Belle on Living Off the Music
- Warren Cole Smith WORLD Magazine
- 2015 3 Feb
(WNS)--Andrew Belle was raised in a Christian home and attended a Christian college, Taylor University. But he says his faith became real for him only a few years ago when he went through a crisis. That’s also when his musical career began to take off. He got a big boost when one of his songs was used by Microsoft in a high-profile advertising campaign. I talked to Belle in Austin, Texas, at the South by Southwest music, film and, interactive festival.
When did you start playing music? I played music in high school and right before that, that’s when I got into it. I started playing guitar and bass in bands and things. I was always the background guy. I was never a songwriter or a singer. Those weren’t really my strong suits. Then in college, though, I realized writing was a strength of mine. I was inspired to sit down and put some lyrics to melody and try to write a song. My first attempt, I felt like I was pretty good at it. I felt like I may have stumbled upon a talent or calling of some kind, so I kept pursuing throughout college and kept writing.
What caused you to think that there might be something there? What really inspired me, from the beginning, was other artists and bands that I was discovering. My friends and I drove four hours from Indiana to Chicago in 2003, and we went to go see a band called Dashboard Confessional, which we were all huge fans of it at that time. Opening up for them was a band called Brand New, and I’d never heard of them. I just saw them play and my jaw dropped. I was like, man, there was something really special and different about their songs and their lyrics and melodies. I was really, really enamored with that, and I went home and I downloaded all their music.
I just studied it for a long time, and I realized for the first time I felt inspired to make music, just like the way that they were, writing lyrics exactly the way he was. And so that’s what I did. Those were my early blueprints.
You were at a Christian college, Taylor University. I’m assuming you were a Christian during those days? I certainly would have claimed that, but it really wasn’t until 2010, so about three and a half years ago, that I actually feel like I really became a Christian, or at least really put my faith in Jesus.
Was there a precipitating moment, a defining moment? It’s funny, because I have a lot of good things going on for me career-wise, but I think in my personal life there were a lot of hidden things that were going on that came to light and were really devastating and really just humbled me to a point like I’d never been before.
Do you mind sharing what some of those things were? I probably don’t want to get too personal, but a lot of them had to do with my relationship with my wife. We were just seeing each other then, and there was a lot of hurt and devastation in our relationship. We had to be apart for a while to repair those things, and in that time apart I delved into a lot of more personal things that had nothing to do with our relationship, things I had never dealt with growing up and things that I had maybe avoided. It was a long process of healing and repairing. Thankfully, my wife and I were able to repair our relationship and we got married a few years after that.
Your first album came out in the 2010 time frame, then Microsoft used one your songs, "Sky’s Still Blue", in a commercial. Was that a breakthrough for you, or was that just one step in the process? I think it was another step in the process. When that came about, that was in 2010, at that point we had some major successes with TV licensing and other things like that. When they approached us for this, they actually had asked me not for an existing song but to write a song for a campaign, which is something I had never done before and I’ve never done since. It was a little bit of a daunting task because they basically said, “We love what you do. You know, go catch lightning in a bottle again and make it exactly what we want, shaped around these parameters that we’re giving you,” and that was a scary task.
I wrote [“Sky’s Still Blue”] in the time that I was describing and talking about, when I was going through a lot of personal revelation. Thankfully, there’s a lot of depth and emotion that came out on that song that ended up being exactly what they were looking for.
The TV licensing thing has really changed the way musicians make a living these days, hasn’t it? We definitely realize that’s a huge driver of what we do. I don’t write music specifically for television or film, I never have. The subject matter that I tend to write about and the dramatic nature of it lends itself well to television and film, and so that’s worked out well for us. It’s absolutely helped us go from being just another independent artist trying to make a living to actually being able to have a career and being able to tour and play cities around the country and have people show up and know your music. We don’t have a major radio presence, so without television, I don’t know that I’d still be making music, honestly.
Andrew Belle is not your real name, your birth name. In some ways, it’s a persona and also the name of the band rather than the name of an individual. Explain the logic for having a stage name that separates you from your personal life. It wasn’t really intentional in the early days. I actually did release my first record under my legal name. I’ve since taken that off of iTunes because no one is very super proud of their first album five years down the road. So that’s gone. …
I want to have a clean slate. It started onto me that maybe I could create an alternate persona, and I knew that I wanted to be Andrew fill-the-blank. One syllable. I had no idea what that syllable was going to be. A couple of months of searching and looking around and waiting for the final word that fit. Honestly, Belle has no significance or particular meaning. I just saw it one day and inserted it into the equation. I liked the way it sounded, and so I tested it out for a while. It was a little strange. My family was like, “You’re going to go by what, now?” They were a little weirded out by it. It’s since become completely normal. …
I like the idea that there’s some separation there, there’s a little bit of the boundary between myself and the public. I will say though, it has been nice, especially for my wife, who’s not involved in the music business at all and is sensitive to how much of myself is floating around out there, available for the public to have. I like the idea that I’m able to shield her and our family from those things.
She doesn’t call you Andrew Belle? She does not, unless she’s making fun of me.
You say you write in seasons, and you haven’t written since your last album, Black Bear, came out seven months ago. I’m a left-brain and right-brain person, and when I need to be an artist I can turn on that switch. … But when I need to be the more type-A person, who needs to go out and figure out how to sell the music now, I can’t do both at once. Right now I’m in the type-A frame of mind, and soon those things will die down and it’ll be time for me to go back into that artist mode.
Talk about making a living in Chicago playing bars and clubs. Right after college, I was waiting tables, and the waiting tables was so exhausting that I would get home and I’d be too tired to write or work on music, or too lazy. I realized that I was never going to progress or go anywhere if I didn’t just quit that job and put my feet to the fire a little bit and force myself to try to make a living playing music. I’d heard about a bunch of restaurants and bars who would pay you a couple hundred bucks a shot to come in and play cover songs for the people who were hanging out eating and drinking. So I did that for a year and a half or so. I would just come in and I would play Coldplay covers, because that was what I sounded like and people loved it.
I had a lot of fun and, honestly, that season of my life was really, really beneficial for me to be able to learn how to perform live because I’d never done it before. Those years of playing other people’s music were my formative years. Eventually, I knew that I would get stuck doing that forever because it was comfortable if I didn’t take another leap. Again, I quit all those jobs and I moved to Nashville to make this record that I was really confident about. That’s the point at which we began selling music digitally on iTunes and in Amazon and touring. At that point, as well, the TV licensing money started coming in.
Right now Chicago is once again my home. I did live in Nashville for a while. Then I moved back and got married in Chicago a couple of years ago.
Most guys in your business, they aspire to Nashville. Why did you move back to Chicago? I moved back to Chicago in that time that I was describing of turning my life in a new direction, and we had started to become successful to the point where location didn’t exactly matter. Nashville is still in my touring hub. I make a lot of music there still. Personally, I live in Chicago, but Andrew Belle lives in Nashville. Thankfully, it’s a quick flight, and I’m able to maintain relationships and maintain our business. As the time marches on, the world gets a little smaller, and it doesn’t totally matter where you live now.
*This Article First Published by WORLD News Service