Photo from Belle Adair’s Facebook page
“We are going to start slow and speed it up as the night goes on,” says Belle Adair’s lead singer Matt Green before the band plays their first song at Callaghan’s in Mobile. The music begins with atmospheric melodies gliding around Green’s clear, calm voice, gradually shaped and driven by drums, bass, and the keyboard until it explodes in the last songs.
Belle Adair is based in Muscle Shoals and the band is bringing attention to music in Alabama. They played at last year’s SouthSounds Music Festival in Mobile and are playing a showcase at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas in March. Their debut album, The Brave and the Blue (released in August 2013) was praised by NPR music, Oxford American, Spin, and Paste. The album was released on Single Lock Records, owned by Ben Tanner (keyboardist for Belle Adair and the Alabama Shakes), singer/songwriter John Paul White of the Civil Wars, and fashion designer Billy Reid.
“The recognition has been nice but we can’t focus too much on that,” says Green. “We just want to play to as many people as possible and build an audience. Songwriting and this music is important to us. We can’t not do it.”
The members of Belle Adair are Green, Tanner, Reed Watson (drums), and the newest members Adam Morrow (bass) and Jonathan Oliphant (keyboards). Oliphant grew up in Fairhope.
How do you describe your music?
Matt: My biggest influence is Bob Dylan. Melodically and vocally he is brilliant and inventive. I also listen to atmospheric music and zone out if I am working or cleaning the house. Our songs are that way too. There is a lot going on beneath them that makes a more ambient sound and makes the songs float a little more. There is also a British pop sound that is even stronger in the new songs.
How did the band begin?
Belle Adair started four years ago. Ben Tanner and I grew up together in Muscle Shoals and we put this band together when I moved back home. We started recording, released an EP, and it grew from there.
What is the meaning of the album title The Brave and the Blue?
Matt: This is from the lyrics in “Losing My Train” and represents two emotional poles. Sometimes you feel brave and willing to take chances, on other days you are trying to overcome something. It describes the emotional push and pull of the past few years and the struggle of coming into adulthood. I had a lot of crazy stuff happen while I was writing songs for the record. My apartment in Birmingham burned down, I got really sick, and I lost my job. All of that stacked up on me and it took time to process. I moved back home to Muscle Shoals to start over.
The lines are unclear and send me back through
The days in between the brave and the blue
I’m taking my fear and packing it up.
I’m shipping it off to the end of the world. (“Losing My Train”)
Have the songs changed as you play them?
Matt: Playing these songs live are a little jammier and extended, but we play most of the songs on the record fairly straight.
We are playing four of five new songs right now and we are going into the studio at the end of February for a weekend of recording. This may be the first step towards an LP or just a few new singles. Most of these songs are still fresh and we are making a few mistakes when we play them, but they are falling into place and we know when they are done.
What is the story behind “Unwelcome Guest?”
That is the only song on the record about my apartment burning down. The fire is the unwelcome guest. It puts your life in peril and leaves you with no place to go.
The unwelcome guest came in the night.
Never took off his coat, put a record on slow.
Said I shall reveal a debt you have made
From which you’ve been kept but will not be saved.
Ghost from the west, he waited til dawn
Stole from the light, then he was gone (“Unwelcome Guest”)
Describe the creativity of Belle Adair
Reed: Creativity comes from live performances when you take a chance and try something new. If something positive comes from it, you are more willing to take chances again. This band wants to stay busy with songwriting and recording. The more busy we are, the more artistic change takes place.
What do you see is happening in Alabama Music?
Jonathan: The last four years has been an explosion of music in Alabama and there is a lot going on in the state that is putting us back on the map as a serious contender in the music industry. Jason Isbell and the Alabama Shakes are bringing a lot of attention to Alabama. There are great music festivals like SouthSounds, The Hangout, and the Waverly Boogie. Birmingham, Florence, Huntsville, and Mobile are also taking off as cities.
There are brilliant musicians in Muscle Shoals who are finally getting their due. It does feel like there is a Muscle Shoals comeback and people are in the right places and cool things are happening across the state. It is a really good time to be a musician from Alabama.