Idaho Press Tribune on a.k.a. Belle's Latest Recording Project
Interview with Idafolk Records
We recently spoke with Chris Langrill, writer for the Idaho Press Tribune, who joined us during several recording sessions - at both Audiolab and Tonic Room, where we've been recording new material. Why are we using two different studios for the same record? Find out here: a.k.a. Belle of the ball
a.k.a. Belle of Boise, Idaho... What is there to say that so many people don't already know about this super group of super people? How would one go about defining them? I asked the Singer/Songwriter and Frontwoman of a.k.a. Belle, Catherine Crooks Merrick, a few questions about being a musician in Idaho, How the songs came about on their latest amazing EP "I HEAR IT NOW" and What is next for a.k.a. Belle...
Idafolk Records: So Where did the songs on I HEAR IT NOW come from?
Catherine Crooks Merrick: A couple of the songs on "I Hear It Now" are tunes that we'd been working on for a little while, probably started playing them live in early 2015 - "Crooked Path" and "Mustangs." We had a completely different line up when those songs were written.
And in fact, I think I may have performed "Crooked Path" acoustically (on banjo) - with a side project I'm sometimes involved with, way before it had that rocking ending, so that first section of the song had been around for a a few months before it really morphed into what it is now.
It's pretty autobiographical - Sam and I have known each other a long time...since we were at Boise High school together; we moved to California in the 80's and were room mates in L.A.
IR: How has your music been described? How would you describe your sound?
CCM: We often get lumped in under the "Americana" label; which is understandable since our previous releases have a certain folky feel, but personally I don't like that label much. If you listen to our recordings, you'll hear a lot of influences - indie rock, a bit of weird experimental stuff, folk, lounge, Latin and old school '50's jazz. We try to incorporate all those influences into what we do; I don't know if there's a style that we strictly fall into. "Unhinged Beatnik No Wave?!"
IR: How long have you guys been kicking around in Idaho???
CCM: a.k.a. Belle have been together (in Boise) since 2008 - we were originally called Belle of Les Bois which was a moniker I was recording and performing under when I lived in the UK, but after I moved back to Idaho & put a band together here, we changed the name.
IR: Besides the obvious geographical differences, what's it like playing music in the UK versus Boise, Idaho?
Playing music in Boise is a little different than in England...we are a small pond here and there's a stronger sense of community. Manchester is a huge city, thousands of bands and lots of venues, with the largest student (i.e. college/university age) population in Europe. It's a very exciting place. But hard, I think, for bands to rise up to any certain level of "popularity" because there are sooooo many bands, and so many different types of music being made there - lots of individual musical communities, and not a lot of cross over between those groups into other groups. Whereas in Boise, I think you see a lot more musicians who are members of several bands at the same time. There are cliques, here, too, but I think for the most part - because we are still relatively small - Boise musicians are supportive of each other.
IR: As a Performer in this day and age what would you say is your biggest obstacle?
CCM: For us, personally, our problem is the audience. We don't really know who we appeal to - we sell a lot of records ("I Hear It Now" made it into the Record Exchange's Top 50 Best Sellers of 2016, which is a list that also includes international/major label releases - and in all honesty, I was extremely surprised we made it in) but I don't think those numbers are reflected in show attendance. And that could be our fault, we probably don't promote ourselves well, but also I think people are confused by us - what are we? What the heck is Unhinged Beatnik No Wave? We are older, too - I think the 20-30 year olds maybe see that, and can't decide whether they'd like us or not; and people our own age are hard to drag to shows because work/family etc. So that's our challenge as a band, I guess. We'd like to encourage younger people take a chance on us.
IR: What are your thoughts on the Boise Music Scene in general?What's it doing right? Could it be doing anything Better???
CCM: I came back to visit Boise in early 2008 (from Manchester, England), and I could feel this energy about to burst - it was one of the reasons I was enticed to move back. The Boise I had left in the 80's was not here. There were more venues, more bands, and a ton more forward thinking people working hard to make the arts/music scene here vibrant - people who truly wanted to make it a community that worked together.
In the time that I have been back (I moved back in August 2008), Radio Boise was born; GoListenBoise was formed; Treefort Music Festival began - so you know, there was that energy from so many people who believed that Boise could be become this viable, creative force on a huge scale making it happen. And there are a lot of different components that I haven't even mentioned yet, like the theatre arts, dance, creative writing, film making, visual & fine arts, etc., and these groups invariably are intertwined with each other. There is a lot we are doing right.
I'm encouraged by the efforts being made to make live music accessible to the under 21 age group - I have a 16 year old son who is an avid music fan and a musician, so it's relevant to me as a parent.
I wish there was a music paper in Boise, though. The Boise Weekly has some coverage, but not enough - that's really not a direct criticism of them - they simply aren't a music specific publication - but I wish there was more coverage of local artists and bands coming through town because there are so many! I think there is enough going on in Boise to warrant a music specific paper, with show reviews, record reviews, previews of upcoming shows, interviews with local and touring bands, of all genres. Not a style/genre specific fanzine. And really made of paper. I'm old fashioned and very tactile; I like something I can hold! Ha ha.
IR: So What's happening next with a.k.a. Belle???
CCM: a.k.a. Belle are putting finishing touches on a new song called "Remembering the Sound," which we hope to release as a single in March. We have guest musicians on this track - Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer from The Posies - they played a 'pop up' show in Boise - at my house - in November, and graciously agreed to be whisked away to Tonic Room Recording studio the same night to contribute to the song, which was an amazing experience. (And we think it sounds pretty cool...)
Our next show will be January 28th at The Vista Bar, with The Commonauts (it's their record release party), and Lovey.
We are currently in the process of writing new songs and will be adding one or two of them to our live sets in the near future.
A little note from Sean at Idafolk Records: Having listened to this album about ten times in the last week I have personally come to love it. The songs, which were recorded at The Tonic Room Studios here in Boise, are rich with creative maturity and deep, earthy melodies. It actually sounds like the band is playing in your living room at times, which is very comforting. From Catherines smooth, powerful vocals to the fun, smart, precision of the music itself, this EP is so easy to relate to.
On the very fine track,"Crooked Path", Sam Merrick (a.k.a. Belle's guitarist) and Brett Netson (of Brett Netson and Snakes, Built to Spill) perform a lovely dueling electric guitar jam that morphs into an homage of Neil Young's 'You are like a Hurricane'...
as Catherine admits, "The homage to Neil Young at the end of "Crooked Path" is quite relevant to our personal relationship - Sam and I are huge Neil fans, and when I moved down to LA, I moved into Sam's apartment [we were just friends at that point]. Not long after I'd moved in, I bought us tickets to a Neil Young
concert, thinking it was a date. He did not. Go figure. Funny side story, though."
...and as for the name 'Crooked Path'?
"It's pretty autobiographical - Sam and I have known each other a long time...since we were at Boise High school together; we moved to California in the 80's and were room mates in L.A.
A couple of years later, I decided to go to England; I always figured I'd be back at some point...I didn't really realize how long it would take me to find my way "home;" so that song is about that journey - taking a crooked path to get there. (Seventeen years, actually)"
To learn more about other Idaho artists, please visit:https://www.facebook.com/idafolkrecords/
““I think they’re one of the most creative bands I’ve ever recorded,” Fulton said. “They don’t really hold themselves back from anything that they write. So, it’s fun for me to help them realize what’s in their head and make it come through in the recording.””
— Steve Fulton, Audiolab Recording Studios
2016 Midway 'Best Of' New Releases
“I have to mention a.k.a. Belle.’s "I Hear It Now." It’s an EP, but 4 of their songs are worth 10 of most people’s songs.”
I have to mention a.k.a. Belle.’s I Hear It Now. It’s an EP, but 4 of their songs are worth 10 of most people’s songs. I am not very objective when it comes to their work. I feel very close to it, and to them. The song “Mustangs” brings tears to my eyes. Also, Thomas Paul released Singalongs this year, and I am not very objective about him either. Complex music from a complex writer, thinker and musician. Thomas and Catherine are lifers. They humble me with their talent and genius.I
To read the full article, please visit:
“As always, Catherine Merrick’s seductive vocals are the focal point of these songs. Sam Merrick’s shimmering guitars run free like the stallions his wife sings about. ”
“...country tunes, jazzy swing, raw guitar and sultry vocals have been a welcome part of the local scene. the release of a.k.a. Belle's new EP, I Hear It Now, which features guitar work by Brett Netson - should make for an exciting new chapter.”
I Hear It Now
There’s a noble side to this four-song collection from veteran Boise indie act a.k.a. Belle, fronted by married couple Catherine and Sam Merrick. The first single, “Mustangs,” benefits Wild Love Preserve, a Challis nonprofit that rescues and protects wild Idaho horses. As always, Catherine Merrick’s seductive vocals are the focal point of these songs. Sam Merrick’s shimmering guitars run free like the stallions his wife sings about. But the true sonic stampede comes when guest guitarist Brett Netson adds extra pyro to the smoldering, 7-minute standout “Crooked Path,” which climaxes with the meteor-shower power of an old-school Built To Spill jam.
You can't make this stuff up: In the 1980s, A.K.A. Belle lead singer Catherine Merrick played in bands with Doug Martsch and Curtis Stigers. She lived in Manchester, England, for several years, performing as Belle of Les Bois. BBC called her music "genuinely beautiful." Lead guitarist Sam Merrick played with Los Angeles-based hard rock band The Nymphs, which signed to Geffen Records in 1989. After the group broke up, his bandmates went on to perform with artists like Jeff Buckley and Iggy Pop.
Despite the different paths their lives took, the two Idaho natives both returned to Boise. They married and formed a.k.a. Belle, and the couple's country tunes, jazzy swing, raw guitar and sultry vocals have been a welcome part of the local scene. The release of a.k.a. Belle's new EP, I Hear It Now—which features guitar work by Brett Netson—should make for an exciting new chapter.
Song of the Wild Horse
Idaho band a.k.a. Belle and wild horse group Wild Love Preserve have collaborated on a very special project to benefit the preservation of Idaho’s wild horses with the band’s new single, Mustangs.
While this song was inspired by the screenplay, The Misfits, written by Arthur Miller, the lyrics also resonated with the story of Wild Love Preserve founded in 2010 in Central Idaho.
In February, Catherine Merrick of the Boise-based indie band a.k.a. Belle reached out to Andrea Maki, the founder of Wild Love Preserve, with her desire to support the non-profit’s ongoing work in preserving Idaho’s wild horses in their native habitat. As a singer/songwriter, Merrick has been a lover of horses since childhood, and as a youngster dreamed of saving wild mustangs as visual artist, Maki, has done with her organization in Idaho.
In Merrick’s initial letter to Maki she wrote, “We are about to release a single called Mustangs. Though it is primarily based on the screenplay written by Arthur Miller, The Misfits, it is still, in essence, a song about mustangs, as well as the changing world we live in and people who are struggling with progress.”
In turn, after receiving Merrick’s letter and listening to her song, Maki was touched and inspired to fuse song, lyric and visuals into a video with some of her 2014/15 footage from the range, and with Wild Love Preserve’s 130 rescued Challis, Idaho wild horses.
Mustangs in the wild in Idaho. © Andrea Maki
The resulting video collaboration has organically unfolded in a manner that reflects stars aligning on behalf of the greater good. a.k.a Belle and Wild Love Preserve are mutually delighted by all of the productive good energy and collaboration which serves to benefit Idaho wild horses remaining wild on their home turf.
Mustangs release date is March 4 via Bandcamp. The Record Exchange in Boise will be selling download cards and folks will be able to pick up a WLP wristband with purchase. In addition to spreading awareness, a.k.a. Belle is donating proceeds from the single Mustangs to Wild Love Preserve. -- Horsetalk.co.nz
Steve Fulton Recommends a.k.a. Belle
The evening’s headliner band is – The Soil & the Sun – out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Two Boise bands, Sleepy Seeds and AKA Belle, open the night’s performance. The concert is a blend of Indie, Folk, and Classical Rock ‘n Roll and the Crazy Horse is a fantastic downtown Boise concert location, let them tell you why:
Crazy Horse is a 21+ music club in downtown Boise, ID. We are open to music of all genres, patrons of all types and sizes, and offer a pretty awesome beer lineup. You can also get some pretty killer sake cocktails or just drink it the traditional way! Happy Hour is from 4-6pm every day and on show days the hour between doors opening and the show starting all our drafts are half off!
According to Steve Fulton, of The Audio Lab, one of Boise’s noted musicians and recording professionals, this is an interesting group!
Steve Talks about the Openers:
AKA Belle – Boise-based, AMAZING band! Fronted by the uber-talented team Catherine and Sam Merrick, I recorded their last two records and have become friends and a HUGE fan! I just LOVE these guys! You NEED to go see them and show your support. Swinging, Rocking Alternative Punky Folk! With Catherine’s Vocals and Sam’s Guitar you will be mesmerized!
Sleepy Seeds – another great Boise Band! Brett Nelson, formerly of Built to Spill, plays in this group. They are a very respectable Indie Rock band as well! Their music is best described as moody, with an ever-changing landscape!
The Devil Loves You - Boise Weekly
The album is sultry, and tracks like "Here Come the Death Traps" effortlessly jump between downtempo lounge and early rock and roll. Deep, dyspeptic brass sections cut to crisp guitar licks and upright bass. But the album's dark themes—"Cottonwood Canyon" is a song about a Foothills serial killer—give it variety and nuance. -- Harrison Berry, Boise Weekly
The Devil Loves You Release Party
Sam and Catherine Merrick met in the early '80s at Boise High School. At the time, Catherine Crooks was singing in a punk band called The B-Sides (her bandmates included a young Curtis Stigers). Sam hadn't played guitar anywhere other than his bedroom.
"I'm still listening to Hendrix and Yes," Sam remembered, "and people like her are walking through the halls and I'm like, 'What the hell? She's so cool.'"
"Yeah, but that look, to me, was like, 'She's so weird,'" Catherine said.
In spite of the misinterpretation, a relationship began that would lead to marriage and music, which has most recently culminated in The Devil Loves You, the second album by the Merricks' band, a.k.a. Belle. (Full disclosure: The author of this article wrote the liner notes for the album--unpaid--and works with Catherine at The Record Exchange). The band--which combines folk-country melodies with raw, Neil Young-esque guitar and swinging, jazzy rhythms--celebrated the release of Devil during a double CD release show Feb. 22 with local roots group The Country Club, which released An Idaho Dozen. The show, hosted by Bill Coffey, featured performances by a.k.a. Belle, The Country Club, Stigers, Hillfolk Noir's Ali Ward and burlesque troupe The Red Light Variety Show.
"Catherine Merrick--she'll always be Cathe to me--has been one of my favorite singers since we met back in high school in the early '80s. ... What a voice," Stigers wrote in an email. "I'm a big fan of her co-conspirator and hubby, Sam Merrick, as well. Sam's one of the most inventive and original guitarists around, and he's a ton of fun to watch onstage as well."
Though Sam and Catherine would eventually connect both romantically and musically, it didn't happen right away.
Around 1985, Sam and a friend were living in Los Angeles, and Catherine decided to join them. The relationship was strictly platonic, though Catherine remembered trying to take Sam on a date to see Neil Young. Sam didn't realize it was a date, but he did note that "it was so much more fun living with Catherine. ... Our personalities just go together really well."
In 1987, a love of bands like The Smiths and The Fall drew Catherine to Manchester, England, where she performed as Belle of Les Bois. Sam stayed in L.A., playing with The Leaving Trains and then with The Nymphs, which signed to Geffen Records in 1989.
"If they weren't trying to make us into Dokken or Guns N' Roses so much, we might've been able to do it," Sam said of The Nymphs. Instead, the band's debut album wasn't released until 1991 and The Nymphs broke up the next year. Eventually, Sam returned to Boise and went back to school.
Meanwhile, Catherine gave birth to a son, Gus, and watched drug abuse and violence seep into the Manchester scene. She recalled people holding street raves outside her council estate.
"They'd be screaming and fighting [outside]. We're looking out of Gus' bedroom window and there's a knife fight going on," Catherine said.
Through their various travels and travails, Sam and Catherine kept in touch. And when Catherine moved back to Boise with her son in 2008, Sam realized that their separate paths had been leading to the same destination.
"As soon as I saw her [in February of 2008], I was really surprised. It was this whole rush of, like, 'My God--you are one of the most important people in my life. Maybe the most important,'" Sam said.
They formed a.k.a. Belle soon after and were married the following year. While the songs on a.k.a. Belle's 2012 debut album, Disappearing Night, tell the story of Catherine falling in love and coming home, songs on Devil like "H.G. Wells is Alive and Well" draw inspiration from hardships the Merricks endured beforehand. But they don't do it alone. The couple credits bassist Chris Galli and drummer Louis McFarland with making the music swing both on Devil and at a.k.a. Belle's live performances.
"They have so much to do with it [and] it's not recognized," Sam said. "If your foot's tapping, there's a reason it is, but no one says, 'Wow, it's those two guys in the back.'"
The band plays Treefort Music Fest in March and after that, the Merricks hope to tour Seattle, Portland and England. They'd also like to record another album as soon as possible.
"We can't guarantee that [the four of us] will be together, and I'd be so bummed out if we couldn't get another record out," Sam said. "Hopefully, it's five more records, but if this is just a one-record thing, it would be really unfortunate." -- Ben Schultz, Boise Weekly
Treefort 2013 - Here Comes the Dumptruck Looks Forward to the Line up
Boise Weekly Gossip
Here Comes the Dumptrucks Favorite Idaho Bands
Also, as songwriters, the Merricks sound friendlier and more well-adjusted than Richard Thompson does typically (granted, it doesn't take much to pull that off, but let me go on). Songs like the goofy "At Least I'm Stupid," the straight-shooting "For A Fool" and the go-to live-show closer "Painted, Faded & Tainted" make me think of a much warmer and homier duo: John Prine and Iris DeMent. Toss in some old-school honky tonk and some Neil Young for good measure, and you've got a band that I'm almost genetically predisposed to love." -- Ben Schultz, Here Comes the Dumptruck
Disappearing NIght CD Review
"Whether they like it or not, most bands are defined by their singers. So when you’re blessed with a vocalist like Catherine Merrick, you’re light years ahead of the game. The singer and multi-instrumentalist for a.k.a. Belle has an alluring, lovely voice — the kind that stands out in nearly any genre. Fans of country-tinged, alt-rock crossover music (think Neko Case or Jenny Lewis) will appreciate her most.
Merrick lived and performed in England before returning to Boise and forming this group in 2008. While a.k.a. Belle benefits from the life and recording experience of Merrick and her husband, guitarist Sam Merrick, this album also feels inspired and fresh.
Several guest musicians help Americana songs swell into layered, big-sounding rock listens. But Merrick’s convincing, confessional lyrics always keep everything personal. On the opening track, “The Sweetest Sin,” she viscerally captures the diorienting bliss of new love: “How can I look at your face without smiling?” she asks helplessly, seeming to suggest it all might disappear in a heartbeat: “Woah, what a state I’m in!”
Drifting and beckoning, “Austin Calling” sticks in your head afterward. Merrick’s yearning vocals balance elegantly with intertwining guitar lines. Similarly, the title track soars and roars, all gorgeous vocal harmonies, reverberating guitars and chimes fading into the silent night sky.
A.k.a. Belle provides occasional lighthearted relief. The band taps its whimsical side on the drinking song “Painted, Faded & Tainted.” And things get randy on the holiday-themed “(I’m) Give Mice Elf To You.”
By the end of the album, wife and husband have made assertions that some might find dubious, even if they are understandable in the context of a love song: “I may not be the smartest girl,” Catherine says at the beginning of “For a Fool.” When he’s not twisting Crazy Horse-ish leads from his guitar, Sam tests his lead-vocal abilities (not bad at all) on a bar stomper about getting the girl: “At Least I’m Stupid.”
If only more bands had similar musical IQs."-- Michael Deeds, Idaho Statesman
CIMS Weekly Chart
The Next Bar Stool
- The Next Barstool (Jan 09, 2012)
Idaho ho ho Compilation CD Review
Making a good holiday compilation album is a tough chestnut to crack. You face multiple songs from various musicians of disparate styles, all recorded in different environments, then slapped together on one CD. Oh, and here’s the kicker: It’s Christmas music.
When the stars align and this sort of endeavor succeeds, it’s a pleasant surprise worth noting. Fourteen Idaho acts contributed a song here — mostly originals — and there isn’t a clunker in the bunch. Several tracks are worth savoring for their own merits. Or, if you’re in the mood for general holiday music, you can play this CD in the background without needing to skip any songs.
Charismatic vocalist Catherine Merrick injects holiday spice into AKA Belle's “I’m Giving Mice Elf (To You),” a smoldering alt-rocker for lovers on Christmas Eve. Keeping with the holiday spirit, indie-rockers Fauxbois use piano and layered vocals to soften the psychedelic-guitar edges of “Christmas, Be Mine.” Other well-known local names on the compilation include Pinto Bennett, Bill Coffey and Rebecca Scott, among others.
If you buy just one Christmas CD this year, strongly consider “IdaHo-Ho-Ho.” Not only will your $10 investment go straight to the Idaho Foodbank — each CD sold will feed someone for five days — the album itself will bring a smile to your face about the Boise music scene.
“IdaHo-Ho-Ho” is available at Moxie Javas across the Treasure Valley.Michael Deeds, Idaho Statesman