Twenty one years and an admirable back catalogue, Californian quartet The BellRays are back with their new album ‘Black Lightning’ and an ass kicking mix of soul and rock ‘n’ roll. Vive Le Rock caught up with guitarist Bob Vennum to find out more.
It’s been a little while since you put out a record. What’s new in the BellRays camp?
“We basically had a lot of time off last year getting the record finished. We missed a couple of cycle periods in releasing it so it was hard to get a tour booked. The good thing about it was we got to spend enough time on the record to make it sound great and give the songs what they needed. Other than that we’ve just been keeping busy trying to be good people.”
Talk us through the titling and recording of ‘Black Lightning’.
“This record really does mark where the band is in this point in time. It’s the first time that Lisa [Kekaula, vocals] and I sat down to write a record. ‘Close Your Eyes’ is the only song that we’d been out playing for a long time before recording it. This time Lisa and I sat down and actually wrote all the songs on the record with the intention of getting a record out. It’s nice to know that we can operate like that and come up with what I think are some of our best songs.
“We had Matt Radosevich to help produce it, which is a new thing for us as well. In the past we had to do it all ourselves for whatever reasons, but this time we were able to bounce ideas off Matt. Having him in the control room saying, ‘you can do it better’ or ‘try this’ or ‘that’s not really working’ was really helpful. He had some good ideas about the song structures and stuff too. It really freed me up and helped me concentrate on my own performances since I didn’t have to tweak knobs or worry about pushing any buttons. I didn’t have to any of that other stuff that I usually have to. I was able to just hand everything over to Matt, who knows way more about making stuff sound good than I do.
“As far as the title goes, ‘Black Lightning’ just seems to describe our situation when we were putting everything togther. It’s all about power, energy, suddenness and rarity. Lightning doesn’t strike that often and ‘Black Lightning’ strikes even less than that!
It seems that ‘Black Lightning’ sees the BellRays reinvigorated. Songs like ‘Sun Comes Down’ and ‘Everybody Get Up’ have a real punch and power to them for example. Do you think this is the case, listening back to it now?
“I do think that. I was really happy when we were in the song writing process and we were coming up with such good ideas. I would do the demos and think that they sounded great. Then after we recorded everything for real it was amazing to hear how much better they sounded and more alive. I think it had to do with coming out of our shell and working in a completely different way. We really just got out of our own way for the most part and let people do their jobs, as opposed to trying to herd the process ourselves and it freed up so much energy. I feel kind of stupid for having it take this long to get to how most bands usually operate.”
How much of a difference do you feel there is between, say, The Stooges and the Supremes in terms of heart? Just thinking that you combine the two…
“I see us more as including the both of them in what we do, as opposed to combining them. Maybe stylistically they’re near our centre point but I’m way more interested in groups like The Beatles, The Who, Cream and Cheap Trick because of the songs and the song writing and the places they could take you to musically.
“I’ve always wanted to be in a band that had no limits and could do whatever it wanted to musically and not be hemmed in by style. The bands I like could make a set or an album really go somewhere. You could start out here and end up in a different place. The songs could all be different sounding and different styles. The Beatles put ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Helter Skelter’ on the same album! Two completely different types of songs. I’ve also always liked powerful singers. When I met Lisa I was blown away because she sang like all the singers I really listened to (Otis Redding, Etta James, Mavis Staples, Mose Alison etc.). I was always way more interested in the singers than I was the guitar players. When the whole punk thing happened it really just showed how free things could get, that you didn’t necessarily have to do things in a an official way. You could just grab an instrument and make whatever noise you wanted to. It’s all about options with The BellRays. We want to incorporate everything into what we do.
“The other thing is people think that because we play loud and fast that bands like The Temptations, Martha And The Vandellas, The Supremes and Little Richard didn’t. Everybody remembers the radio hits ‘My Girl’ and ‘Stop In The Name Of Love’ and all that but, if you went to see them in a show, they played loud and they played fast! It was the hardest rocking stuff around.”
What are the BellRays plans for the rest of 2011?
“We’ll be getting ‘Black Lightning’ out there to the people. We plan on being in everyone’s living room this year!
Read the review of The BellRays’ ‘Black Lightning’ in issue 2 of Vive Le Rock, out now. Order your copy HERE.