"I caught a few minutes of Boise's aka Belle, whose darkly jazzy country, augmented by bursts of loud guitar, would fit in great at Pickathon." -- Matthew Singer, Arts & Culture Editor, Willamette Weekly
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