To borrow a line from Uncle Nemesis, StarVox and Bella Morte - we go way back. On Sunday, November 7th, 1999 they came to play at our local dive - Dottie's - in Atlanta. I had spent the weeks before consumed by their CD Where Shadows Lie - learning all the lyrics and singing along. I read their webpage in anticipation of doing our first ever live band interview. The stories they told under their biographies were enough to bring tears to my eyes. I identified with them immediately - misfits who grew up in a small town that had found friendship amongst others like themselves. They had such a positive outlook on life when it could have been so dismal. They took strength in each other and from the beginning, it was clear just how bonded they were. This was more than a band -- it was a family.
Infact, our first face to face meeting was a pretty good example of that point: I found them all huttled together in the women's restroom! In the concert review I wrote of that show, I noted:
Now granted, there's no telling what you'll find in the women's bathroom at Dottie's, but I absolutely did not expect what I saw when I opened the door. All squished together, cramming for a glance into the one, small mirror over the sink, aerosol hairspray and combs in hand, were the three members of Bella Morte. Surprised, I think I said, "you're not supposed to be in here, " to which one of them explained with a laugh that it was the only mirror in the place and they needed to do their hair before they show.If only I had a camera in hand.
During the interview we did that night, Andy and Gopal told me their live show was powerful and boasted that people wouldn't be able to sit through it - that they'd be up and dancing by the end. I was skeptical - Atlanta's crowd was notorious for being lazily glued to their chairs for even their most favorite bands and Bella Morte had never played there before.
I was wrong. Afterwards in the review I wrote:
They turned the excitement up another riotous notch on the last song of the set, "The Fallen," which was one of their older, more punk sounding songs about Zombies. By the time it was over they had the people up front dancing, chanting the chorus with them and begging for more.[For those of you who haven't seen them live check out these video clips located at www.pheer.com. They're all great but #12 is a favorite!]
For the first time ever at Dottie's, I believe, there was an applause and demand for an encore. Smiling at the cheers and at the arrival of a much deserved pitcher of water, the boys treated us to two more songs: "Winter" off their new CD and the last song, *so* new that it doesn't even have a title yet, went off without a hitch. When it was all over I looked across the floor to indeed saw people standing - not in their chairs languidly smoking cigs. They actually did it. Hearts where beating and smiles were on everyone's faces. Hell, even one the old regulars had made it down to the stage and in a drunken stupor, offered Bn some money (as a tip I suppose?).
And as is usually the case, I had put my camera away too soon. I missed the best shot of the night. I turned back to the stage just in time to see Gopal set his bass down, smile at Andy and give him a big, enthusiastic hug. What a high. You would have thought, from their reaction, that they had just played the best show of their lives to a sold out crowd of 2,000. But it was just a handful of lost souls, in a dive bar, in a not-so-good neighborhood in Atlanta - and it didn't matter.
Years later I have seen Bella Morte play countless times - in Atlanta, in Portland, in Seattle and in Los Angeles. While in Seattle I had the privilege of hosting them at my house for an entire weekend, along with The Cruxshadows, while on tour. I still have the journal entry Andy wrote on my computer -- it's titled, "Andy the Mighty." They played video games (the Cruxshadows vs Bella Morte), washed their clothes, watched Momento, worked on music and ate Thai food. It was nice to have them invade for the weekend. It went by all too fast. The next time I'd see them would be at the funeral for The Last Dance's drummer - Ivan - in Los Angeles. It was great to see them again, but sad under such circumstances. I think we hugged and didn't say a word.
this time and I still count myself lucky to know them. Bella Morte has
grown musically, their live shows get better and better and that wonderful,
down to earth quality is still there. They've played all the big festivals
on this continent -- GothCon, Convergence and DragonCon. I daresay
their normal venues are a bit bigger than Dottie's now and they've successfully
done two US tours. I recently caught up with them to do our second
I asked them how their first US tour with the Cruxshadows went now that they've had some time to reflect on it.
Andy commented, "We had a lot of fun on the tour with those guys! The money situation got a little scary from time to time, and I'll never forget being in California, thousands of miles from home and laughing like crazy with the guys about having only thirty dollars left between us! But we've continued our friendship with the Cruxshadows and I'm sure it won't be long before we're sharing the stage again."
Gopal continued, "The Cruxshadows rock. I pretty much lived with them for about six months, as my girl, Beth, was Jess and Rogue's roommate. Good fun down in Florida. And GFL kicks ass! As for the tour, it really was a hectic time, but a thousand good memories."
Last fall they opted to tour again on their own. Booking dates across the US proved a bit of a challenge when some venues and promoters wigged out on them and some dates were canceled. They pushed through and played the remaining shows and probably had their best experiences to date.
Andy noted the positive elements of this tour, " I think that we finally found proof that we had a nationwide audience. We didn't know what to expect when we pulled into some of the places that we'd never done a solo tour. There were some small turn-outs, but for the most part we were really happy with the crowds and were even more surprised to see that many fans across the country knew the songs by heart."
Gopal added, " It was a lot more laid back, though also a bit more difficult at times. We made quite a few friends. Damn I love San Antonio! And yeah, pretty much anytime you go out on the road you learn something new."
Newcomer Tony (guitar) was delighted to be onboard. "This was my first tour and it was a great time. I suppose I didn't really learn anything in contrast to Bella Morte's last tour seeing as I was not there, but I did learn a lot about road life in general and that you really have to be more of a family than just friends with the rest of the band, which was easy for us because we have been close for so long."
And speaking of Tony...Tony replaced Bn as guitarist when Bn had the joy of becoming a first time father; I asked them how they found him and if Bn ever came back, would there be two guitarists for the band?
Gopal explains Tony's past with them, "Tony lived on my couch for about nine months a couple of years ago. I found him freezing in the snow wedged between two soda machines and invited him over. True story. And Bn, he's got a family now, and unless we all of a sudden start making bank we, as a band, sadly wouldn't be able to support him. Quite sad as it would be a hell of a lot of fun to have both these guys, but I guess that's life."
Andy agreed. "Tony has been a friend of ours for a long time, and he's an amazing guitarist to begin with, so the transition was easier than we could have ever hoped. As for Bn, we still hang out and what not, and if he ever decides to come back BM always has an opening for him. Two guitarists would be quite a lot of fun, especially since those two have very different styles of playing."
And from his own perspective Tony commented, "we have known each other for a long time so it wasn't like I went to try out or anything. They knew what I could do and I knew what they could do and we all got along so it was more like, 'Hey Tony, want to play with us?' ...I really love it. It is very easy and fun for all of us. I don't have to change the way I write to fit the band and they don't have to adjust to the way I play. It just all kind of fits together. We seem to write fast too. We had all of the songs I did with them on The Quiet done in like two weeks time. As for the bonus tracks on the Deathrock EP, Gopal and I sat and did the music in a day, and we are already a few songs into the new CD."
Back to their last US tour, Bella Morte was scheduled to do several appearances with the LA based band The Last Dance. After initially canceling the San Francisco area shows due to the shock of losing their drummer; The Last Dance found the strength and support to keep their dates here in Los Angeles and later in Atlanta with a new drummer. Bella Morte stayed with them while in LA and the two bands became quick friends. I asked Bella Morte if it was odd or hard being with The Last Dance at such an intimate and tragic time and if it helped them bond?
"You know, we were really happy that fate put us where we were when those guys went through that hard time. They're a really great bunch of guys who I think we would have bonded with no matter what (we'd already been good friends before this time), but Rick mentioned that they were happy to have a group of upbeat goofy dudes around to help lighten the mood. We're already looking at doing some shows together soon... " Andy said.
Gopal reflected, 'That really was a rough time, but I was glad to be there. I love those guys. And I would pretty much do anything for them. As for a bond, definitely."
Tony added, "I am not sure that the loss of Ivan was what helped us bond with them. It was a terrible thing for them to have to deal with and they are all such good guys. I do think we all DID bond though, and if nothing else I think we helped lighten their spirits a little. Either way I am glad to know them."
CDs and Mr. Pants
If one band is capable of pulling together this disjointed scene, it might be Bella Morte. As the scene polarizes -- deathrock/goth rock on one end alongside more aggressive [traditional] industrial and noise against EBM/futurepop/synthpop on the other - Bella Morte, while remaining true to their own muses, have walked the fine line between rock and club beats. Certainly with the release of their latest CD, The Quiet, this is most evident drawing fans from the deathrock scene to the synthpop scene. There is enough here for everyone and it's been done in a sincere, uncalculated manner. Given the diverse nature of this CD, Bella Morte commented on the reaction to it by their fans.
Andy, "...It makes me really happy that fans are able to enjoy our diversity of sound because we have some plans for other EPs that will lean towards one aspect of our sound. Our albums over time will be the meeting place for the different types of music that we experiment with. "
Gopal agreed, "People definitely still question what we're doing. I'm happy to say, though, that it will in all likely-hood only get more confusing. Just wait for the Polka EP."
Tony, " I have been very pleased with it as well. You might think that such a diverse style of music might hurt a band but it really has seemed to be working for us."
Starting with the aggressive track, "Regret," Andy is less fluid and more gritty as words spit out like bile and guitars grind and threaten in the background. The chorus breaks and the tension lets up a little bit, backed by classic Bella Morte synth lines only to give way to brutal love-gone-wrong cynicism. "Logic" was a favorite of mine when they performed live. More industrial in nature, the beginning incorporates samples and percussive bell tones. "Whispers"and "Always" are clear dance floor candidates with their upbeat tempo and melodic vocal lines that I can clearly see the synthpop fans gravitating towards ("Always" is very Depeche Mode-ish in places) while "The Quiet" and "Hope Again" (inspired by our own Michael Otley/VR) act as ballads on the CD - deeply emotional, its a swirly goth's dream. And then just when you think you've got them figured out, they'll do a track like "Living Dead" and "Christina" which are balls to the wall punkrock /deathrock. Full of energy and lots of zombie imagery, the boys slice up a big piece of old school and have a good time doing it. Other songs are anthem-like in nature - I find that I love singing along to "Follow" more than any other on the CD with its pain-filled desperation. The CD ends with the instrumental "Wires" which is the song you'll hear looped on their website. It's nothing short of being sublimely meditative - I think I could listen to it for hours on end.
The Quiet was released by Metropolis - a decision they made after their short stint with Cleopatra. I asked them how the new label was working and they all agreed it's been positive.
Andy, "So far it's been great! They are treating us very well and we're actually seeing a push for album sales... That's something new for us!"
Gopal, "Definitely a pleasant change from where we were. It's nice to be able to talk with the people supporting your record."
For me, the release of the Deathrock EP (CD) was very exciting. I was so busy playing promoter that I actually forgot to get a copy of the first release - the Deathrock EP(vinyl) - while they were playing in Seattle (doh!) and by the time they got back home, it had sold out completely. Not ONE copy was to be found. I was devastated and began to pester them about re-releasing it. As busy as they were touring and finishing up The Quiet, they managed to get this CD out AND add some bonus tracks that Tony contributed rounding out what was originally only 4 songs to 6.
I absolutely love this CD - from the cover art, to the photos to the music. The music on the CD is lighthearted and fun and definitely let's their love of old school punk and deathrock shine through. They are my favorite Bella Morte Tracks to date.
On the cover is what's become the Bella Morte symbol - the upper half of a skull with punk rock hair. Next to that is a black and white photograph of a handsome punk lad with a giant mohawk who I assume is Bram L.A. Wilfong. In another example of how sensitive these guys are to their friends, this CD is dedicated to Bram's memory.
Andy explains, " That album was dedicated to my best friend through high school and a few years there after. Bram was an incredible person who took his own life after deciding he didn't like it here. I'm not all mopey or melodramatic about the situation, but I do remember the guy fondly and I always miss the hell out of him."
In similar sentiment, the inside of the CD sleeve is filled with a collage of candid photos - friends, pets, flyers, live shots and lots of goofing off. A great example is the one and only Mr. Pants - a friend they found, as I recall, within the confines of a wall that was falling apart. Now I heard all about Mr. Pants when they came to Seattle but not everyone is privy to this story so I asked the boys to let everyone in on the laugh.
Andy, "Mr. Pants is a dead mouse. We had a box with a lid on it which contained the remains..."
[Gopal interrupts, "...sleeping body..."]
"...of our dear friend Mr. Pants. People would approach our merch table and ask what was in the box labeled 'Mr. Pants'. We would tell them to find out for themselves. The most common reaction was something to the effect of 'oh dear God', and sometimes we'd be told 'It's a dead mouse', to which we'd say something clever like, 'Yeah'. He was mostly bones by the time we lost his head. Yes, we lost his head. We think that it left the body and hid somewhere in the van... To this day children whisper that on the coldest dark nights his little teeth can be heard, 'click-clicking' in the moonlight."
And with that Gopal objected again, clearly sensitive about poor Mr. Pants, "Mr. Pants is NOT dead! .... just sleeping.... He did find a new head, that is before he turned to dust and was spilled all over the van. I think it was a peanut."
The band also re-released their 1997 Cd, Remains, which had been unavailable for quite some time. New fans had asked feverishly for a re-release and finally, the band has given them what they wanted. With songs like "Remorse," "Funeral Night," "Remains" and "Silver Crosses" - this is vintage Bella Morte: heart-felt, emotionally laden lyrics propelled by melodic synth lines and as always, Andy's fluid, strong singing.
Live Drummer and Passage to Europe
One area that I've found the band to be a little weak in is percussion. Live their energy is so over the top that the drum machine in the background is very anti-climatic. It just cannot compete with that driven human energy and I've always fantasized just how hard they'd rock if they got a punky drummer who could keep pace with them. To my relief they've recently posted announcements saying they are seeking a drummer although admittedly this will take some time. With Bella Morte, you don't just become a member because you can play - but you have to be part of the family. Personality and compatibility are almost, if not more important than talent because this band not only tours and plays together but they live together. It is one reason that I think this band will stand the test of time.
As for the prospect new drummer, Andy said, "We held our first tryout just a week ago! So we've got the ball rolling and still have some other folks to bring in for auditions."
Gopal concluded, "It's going a bit slower than I'd like, but I think it will have a very positive effect on the band. We've needed a new infusion for a while, and I'm looking forward to writing live again (as opposed to in parts and sequenced)."
After their successful performance at C8 in Canada which was attended by many UK scensters, Europe has been itching to see them overseas. Curious by the tales of their live show brought back by C8 attendees, Bella Morte certainly seem to have a potential new fan base in the UK and beyond.
I asked them if they had plans in that regard and Andy commented, "Oh yes, we are scheming as I type on crossing the pond and playing anywhere and everywhere that will have us. It's been a dream for along time and now we are finally hearing knocks at the door."
Enthusiastically, Gopal said, "WE ARE COMING!!!!!!!!!!!! As soon as we figure out how, heheh. Seriously though, it seems all the plans are finally coming together."
And as if being Bella Morte isn't enough - with touring and 3 recent CD releases - they've all found time for side projects and hobbies. Some people may not know that Andy is a fairly accomplished radio DJ who's been invited to spin this year at C9 in Las Vegas.
"I started DJing when Bram and I convinced the local college station to give us a show called 'Mindvomit' that featured Metal. Our show ran from 3am-6am Sunday mornings and was followed by a classical show for the church-goers. Well, Mr. Church DJ didn't show up one morning and we said all sorts of filthy things to the church going audience and were booted from the station... Ahem... So years later a new underground station came to town and I was on the committee trying to get it on the air. I started a goth/industrial show called 'Subculture Shock' which was quite successful for a number of years. I handed the show over to another DJ when Bella got too busy and now I do random appearances at clubs... I spin a lot of stuff that has been ignored lately in clubs. In other words, I always clear the floor."
Gopal laughs and comments, "Gooooooo Old School! Heheh, yeah, he isn't much good when it comes to Euro dance or synth pop, but he certainly can spin a bad ass set."
As for Tony, "I am also in a punk band that I do guitar and vocals for called Riot Act. We are a kind of street punk meets metal meets rock'n'roll kind of thing (if you can picture it). We have one CD out now called Live for Today, Fight for Tomorrow and we are almost done writing for our next CD. You can check us out at: www.mp3.com/riotactva. I also do a lot of acoustic music by myself that I am hoping to record. A buddy of mine named Porter and I also have another band that we just started, it's kind of just really trashy rock'n'roll."
I also asked Gopal if the side project that he and Tony have - Undergrave, a deathrock band - premiered for the first time at Sin13 in San Antonio last this month where it was a big hit.
"No, though it was rare. We've been together for about three years, but have only played out six or seven times and all shows but San Antonio were in Charlottesville. It's something we do for fun. Someday we may track a record, but at this point our main focus is still on Bella Morte."
Andy even has other side projects, "I have a couple...none of them very serious or active at the time. Nerve No Pain is a metal band I'm with but we haven't practiced in a while. We will release a CD eventually, I promise! Other than that, I'm in a band called Zerox doing indie-rock stuff. Fun fun."
Gopal adds, "I'm doing some stuff as Terminus Est, though I don't dedicate even less time to it than Undergrave. It's basically just random studio stuff I've thrown together. Studies in sound and what not."
Where do they find the time?
Domestic Settings and Love...er... Getting It On
Knowing that they live in one house, I was curious what a typical day in the life of Bella Morte is like.
Andy, "Wake up, tell the cats to stop doing whatever bad stuff they happen to be doing, say hi to Beth and Gopal, ask all but one stripper to get out of kitchen and leave the one to prepare waffles, eat waffles, shower, brush teeth, shake fist at the heavens, pout, use bathrooom, pout... You know, all the stuff anyone would do. Actually, I spend almost all of my free time in my room writing music..."
Gopal, "I spend way the hell too much time in front of the computer. I just got OSX and iCal, which has organized my life to a wonderful degree. Yesterday I got up, meditated and did some H an Overdrive pedal for my bass, worked on some new t-shirt designs, wrote a new song, troubleshot our computer network, called my little sister in London, studied German, welded for a couple of hours, and spent the evening with my girl. That is pretty much how my days go, sort of busy. I'm almost always doing something now. Somedays I landscape for extra cash. I don't know, it's a pretty good life I'd say. I mean there're always problems, but all in all it beats out a lot of other options."
Tony, "Usually (when I am there) I am not too different from Andy. I spend most of my time in my room working on and writing music. Otherwise I just watch TV or wrestle with Gopal."
And finally, seeing as how it was the day before Valentine's Day when we talked, I asked what their plans were...
Andy, "I'm in Ohio visiting my lady... I think we might (as the French say) 'Get busy'."
Gopal, "Beth and I are going to over to Shawn (from Synthetic Division) and Gwen's house to play the new Trivial Pursuit, and if Shawn and I can convince the girls, a round of Zombie."
Tony, "I am going to take my girlfriend out to lunch or dinner or whatever she wants I guess (it's all the same to me) then Riot Act is playing a show for Valentine's Day. Then if I am lucky me and my girl will.....hehehehe!! (Just so you know,hehehehe!! means doing it!!!!)"
So there you have it. They play good music, put on incredible live shows, they can laugh and make fun of themselves, and when it comes to Valentine's day, they're not doing too shabby.
you haven't met them yet - I hope you will next time they play near you.
You'll be consumed by spontaneous smiles and the sense that no matter what's
going on, no matter how big or small the venue or the turn out, they are
truly happy just to be there.
Bella Morte Official webpage: http://www.bellamorte.com/
Buy Remains, The Deathrock EP, Stickers & Tshirts here: http://stores.musictoday.com/store/default.asp?band%5Fid=479
Buy The Quiet from Metropolis: http://www.metropolis-records.com/
Check out these video clips located at www.pheer.com.
C9/Las Vegas: http://www.altgothic.com/c9lasvegas