Diving Deep with Andrew Belle
Dive Deep, Andrew Belle’s third album, is a reflective work that
constructs a powerful visual and audible landscape. Having listened
to the album, I appreciated its musical and lyrical depth and was
delighted to find Belle just as reflective and honest in conversation.
We discussed the artist’s fears, inspirations, and idiosyncrasies
as well as the serendipitous way in which the album’s message
materialized. From his writing method and the way he challenges
traditional song structure, to how he approaches what it means to
be a touring musician, husband, and father, Belle is unafraid to set
his own rules. On an album that celebrates accepting the possibility
of making mistakes, Belle proves that diving deep is worth the risk.
How would you summarize the message of Dive Deep, and how is this album emotionally or lyrically different than past projects you’ve worked on?
On previous records that I’ve written I’ve had a concept in mind as I was writing, so this record was different in that I just didn’t. I began writing songs and hoped that at some point the message or the central theme would present itself. When I looked back at the album, I realized a lot of the songs revolve around the stage of life that I’m in right now. I’m in my early 30s, I’ve been married for a while now, my wife and I had a daughter last year, and last year we also moved crosscountry to Los Angeles. It’s been a period of big life events and decisions. I feel that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become prone to having a hard time making decisions and following through on stuff. I’m really indecisive these days, so in retrospect, a lot of these songs are about being afraid to make decisions or move forward but ultimately having to make a choice. I’m often afraid to make mistakes, so that’s something that I try to address in this record. The album is about being willing to dive deep into the different opportunities that are presented and challenges you’re facing. It’s okay to make mistakes and to learn and grow from them, and that’s the central theme I was writing about even though I didn’t realize it until I was finished with the record.
How do you balance having a family with working on your music and being on tour?
Making this record wasn’t this super intensive, multi-year thing where I was
working on it away from home every day. I did it in phases. So I had very dedicated studio time and dedicated home time. My daughter is about to turn one, so I’m still really new to it all. But for the most part, I have come to understand that if I’m home I have to be a Dad. I’m not perfect with it, but I have to be intentional. I can’t look at my phone or be on my email because the minute I get into that mode, that’s all I can focus on. So I focus on having intentional times of the day.
In terms of touring, it’s different now to be away from home and to have a kid.
My wife used to come on tour with me, so that wasn’t that big of a deal, but now we have a kid, which makes things way trickier and harder. One thing we decided was instead of having me go out and tour for two whole months and be gone for sixty straight days, we would break up the tour into chunks. I go out for a couple weeks and then I come home. That’s been one solution. Overall, I’ve always been able to separate my music life from my personal life. I think that’s why it takes me so long to make records. I do everything pretty seasonally, because if I’m touring I’m touring, and if I’m working on music then I’m just doing that. It’s not common for me to do both in the same season. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized it works better that way.
Has the process of moving from town to town influenced your sound or creative process?
It’s interesting you mentioned that. Location was a big reason why we
moved to LA because creatively I feel a little more inspired and engaged with
some of my friends on the West Coast than I do in the Midwest. But, ultimately,
now that we’ve bounced around and lived in a bunch of places and I’ve done
what I do in a variety of cities, I realize that what I do is not really influenced or
inspired by my location. I would write exactly the same if I were living in LA or
living in Chicago. I’m kind of an anomaly in that way. Most people tend to find
a music community in the cities where they live and that’s a big influence and an inspiration for what they do. But for me, I’ve found my little niche writing alone, so living in different cities hasn’t been that much of a factor.
So then, what factors other than location influence your sound?
For me, I really get inspired to make music when I hear a new artist, band, or
record that resonates with me. In that moment I’m immediately rejuvenated
and full of inspiration. Whenever I hear something that I wish I had created, it
resonates so deeply that all I want to do is create, and that feeling is really the
only thing that gets me in that mood. And it makes sense because when I first
started to get into music it was literally just because I had a handful of artists that I loved listening to and I wanted to create and write music exactly the way they did. So other artists have always been my biggest inspiration.
Who are some of the artists that influenced this album in particular?
There’s an artist, James Blake, who was really influential. There are also some
bands including Beach House, Washed Out, and Sylvan Esso. Those are some of
the artists I come back to time and time again, sonically. They don’t necessarily
inform the songwriting part because the vocal delivery and way I write lyrics are
my own. But musically, those are artists that definitely inspire the sound of the album.
I know some artists have specific moments that absolutely correlate to a song that they write or a mood they’re going for. Were there any experiences like that for you on this album?
I did have an interesting experience on this album when I was working on
the song “TRNT” in the middle of the record. I’d been working on the record
for a while and I was in the mood to write something that didn’t fit the traditional song structure of verse, chorus, verse, chorus. I wanted to write something more avant-garde that didn’t really follow any rules. So I just started playing this eerie piano base melody and then I created this ambient sound and before I knew it I was feeling really inspired by this sound I had accidentally created. But when it came to lyrics, I didn’t really have anything I wanted to sing about. Usually, when I’m in that situation, I find a book or piece of poetry and I’ll use those words to help find a melody or cadence. This time I used “The Road not Taken” by Robert Frost, and I started singing through it to find a melody. Usually, the process takes a while, but this time within two passes of the song I had come up with a melody that felt perfect. Then I started listening to the lyrics and even though they weren’t my words the idea of wanting to take both paths but needing to make a decision felt really true to the theme of the record. So I decided in the end to just keep his words, because every time I tried to replace them, nothing sounded quite right. So even though it’s not based on a particular experience, there was something kind of special about the way the song itself came together for me.
Since the sound of this album is so different from your past projects, how are you handling that on tour?
In the past I’ve done a variety of different presentations for my music; sometimes it’s a full band, sometimes it’s just me, sometimes it’s me and one other person. What I decided to do for this record was strip it down so it wouldn’t require as much production to pull it off live. I wanted to reinterpret the album and rearrange the songs in a way that they still feel close to the original recordings but are slightly different. I spent a month rearranging the songs in my studio using an electronic drum pad to sample some sounds from the album and build loops. I spent four to five weeks figuring all that out and rebuilding the set. And to make the shows more interesting than a solo set, I brought in other people to play with me on top of those loops I’ve been building. So the show is this kind of hybrid of the album and an acoustic show.