Analogue Music | Andrew Belle

Andrew Belle

By Matt Conner

Creatively speaking, Andrew Belle has always kept to himself.

Four full-length albums in and Belle says he's not keen to change what works. His songs have always been affecting and personal, and with such a strong connection at work in the music, there's no reason to mess with a good thing. Hence, Nightshade, Belle's latest album, is another exercise in sonic solitude.

That's not to say that friends aren't to be found on Belle's new long player. Brian Fennell (a.k.a. SYML) helped add some musical ideas to the mix, while collaborators like James McAlister (Sufjan Stevens) and Chad Copelin (Ben Rector) return for another round with Belle. However, the very personal elements that make up an Andrew Belle song are very much in place here on Nightshade as well, an album that feels like an obvious extension of his catalog.

We recently caught up with Andrew while at his home in the Chicago suburbs to talk about his creative approach, what these collaborations brought, and which track makes him proudest.

Analogue: I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that you ran into a wall at one point after Dive Deep in terms of writing new songs. Is that true and what was the overall emotional or creative space coming into Nightshade?

Andrew Belle: This is my fourth full-length album and it’s just like all the others in that it takes me a long time to make them. I’m pretty non-traditional when it comes to writing. A lot of bands or artists will write 30 or 40 songs for an album and then whittle it down to their favorite 10 or 12. I’ve never written that way. I’ve always written 10 songs I really believe in and then I make an album and that’s it.

I tend to really labor and get pretty meticulous about record-making, and it’s such an exhausting process that by the time I’m done, I have to really shift gears. Which actually works out because when you typically finish an album, there’s that season where it’s time to make sure everyone knows about it and go on tour. I have to access a different part of my mind to do those things, so it’s a natural break for me.

Typically we’ll tour an album for a year-and-a-half or so and then it’s time to go back to the drawing board and make another one. Typical to form, that’s how this process went as well. I wrapped up the Dive Deep tour in 2018 as far as playing headlining shows. It’d been a couple years since I’d written and recorded and it felt time to do it again.

At first, some songs came up naturally, but yeah, there was a period actually where I ran into a block, where I didn’t feel I had a lot to write about or say. I had to take a break and not get too flustered by that and let the motivation come to me. It eventually did and I had to stick with it. Then obviously having all of last year freed up was helpful for that reason. I was able to be home and not much else.

But it all just comes down to going into the studio every day. Some days, nothing comes out and it was frustrating, but eventually, just like with all my other records, I was able to make 10 songs I believe in.

Analogue: I’m glad you mentioned the studio, because I wondered how you were going to handle that block. But it doesn’t sound like you’re someone who waits for the muse. Instead you had this posture to at least be in the studio—

Andrew: Yeah, I think there’s a temptation to just wait until I’m in the mood. As I’ve gotten older in life and busier, I’ve found myself less and less in the mood to create because I’m distracted by so many other things. I’ve had to force myself to get into the studio and just power through those blocks in creativity. I’ve found as long as you stick with it, you’ll break through.

Analogue: Have you ever given yourself some sort of creative hoops or hurdles to change up the typical approach you mentioned using for four albums now?

Andrew: Not really. I’ve never really tried anything other than the avenue that I’ve become accustomed to when it comes to writing. Although now that I’ve finished four albums, I think at this point going forward, I might be up for some more non-traditional avenues of writing.

But no, it’s always been me writing by myself. I don’t write with others very often. I have a handful of collaborators on this album but it wasn’t really like we sat in a room and wrote a song together. It was more that they sent me snippets of ideas they had and I wrote them. It’s been working to this point, so I don’t want to mess with it.

"When I write, it’s always personal. I never feel as connected to the song when I’m writing with someone else."

Analogue: Is that a protective instinct for you? Do you have a hard time letting people in?

Andrew: I’ve found writing with other people to be an uncomfortable process that I probably, on some level, avoid. It’s a skill that people develop. I have a lot of friends who’ve been doing it for years where they just get in a room with someone every morning and get comfortable with that. That’s not something I’ve ever done.

When I write, it’s always personal. I never feel as connected to the song when I’m writing with someone else. At that point, it’s not necessarily as much my story as it is their story, so I have a hard time connecting to it. The songs I write are usually 100 percent personal, so it’s hard to bring someone into that process.

I will say that, musically, I do find that I run into obstacles. I’m a much better writer than I am a musician, so that is one area I’ve been opening up on the last couple albums—just allowing musicians into the process to contribute music that will inspire the writing a little bit better.

On this album, I worked with another artist named SYML—

Analogue: Yeah, I was going to ask about Brian.

Andrew: Oh good, you know him. Brian and I have known each other for a long time and had talked about working together. Then I had a few songs that I’d come to a point where I’d written most of it but it needed a little something or I just couldn’t get over the hump on a few of them. I brought them to him and he helped create things that put them over the top. So that’s an example of bringing in someone who’s a better musician. It’s not necessarily someone to help with lyrics or vocals or something but musically they help me do something I wouldn’t do.

Analogue: Given the personal nature of the work, have you ever had something surface that you thought was too hard to share publicly?

Andrew: No, I don’t think so. If something is outside of what I’m comfortable with, I might just mask it a little more. I’ll make it a bit more ambiguous or vague. But no, I haven’t shied away from releasing anything.

Analogue: Did you end up shelving this at all due to the pandemic?

Andrew: You know, I was planning on making the album in May of last year. That was our start date to go lay the groundwork for everything. It was pushed a few times. But when it was all said and done, it was pushed back three or four months. So really, in the grand scheme, it wasn’t much.

It was a little tricky trying to get everyone to make room. There was a point where no one was comfortable traveling. Then last summer, we got to the point where a few of us felt comfortable getting on an airplane but then some others didn’t. In the end, I had to shift around some of the people who were able to participate on the record. That was a bummer, but the overall impact on the record was still pretty minimal.

Analogue: What do you find to be your proudest musical moment here on Nightshade?

Andrew: The sixth track is an instrumental called “Shorthand” and I’ve always wanted to make an instrumental. On every record I’ve ever made, there’s always been a track in the middle that’s an outlier from the rest. The form isn’t as traditional as the others.

It’s become a thing now, so I wrote “Shorthand” by myself and was really proud of the way it turned out. I like those songs where I can assume a different persona for a minute. I can set aside the singer-songwriter guy for a minute and be a little more alternative. Musically, that’s what I’m most proud of and the fact that I wrote it and arranged it and composed it all myself is cool.

VISIT: Andrew Belle