When a band strives to be simultaneously original while still tipping their hat to what came before them, the result can be polarizing. Photo courtesy of The Bellfuries
Joe Simeone started the Bellfuries in 1998 and began playing rockabilly that would widen the perception of what could be accomplished in the genre. The Bellfuries broke ground by incorporating ‘60s pop melodies with R&B rhythms and soul, all pulled together by great playing and Simeone’s rich vocal abilities. While investigating the many areas of their musical palates, the band solidified their lineup as a four-piece and is now ready to take on the world. With a show set for Sept. 27 at the Garage, I had a chance to chat with guitarist Mike Molnar to discuss the road the band is headed down and where they’d like to end up.
SLUG: Where are you guys at now as a band?
Molnar: The band really functions around our lead singer and songwriter, Joey Simone, who I see as kind of (and I don’t want to imply this as a primary influence), but sort of like an Elvis type character—a great singer and a guy that’s interested in a lot of elements in popular American music, from country and early rock n’ roll to the Beatles. Where we are now as a band I’m pretty excited about. We just picked up a new drummer, Chris Sensat, who’s a real musician’s musician, a great singer, and I think this lineup is going to really gel nicely around Joey’s new material.
SLUG: With the band treading all over the roots and pop music map, do you guys still think of the band as fitting into the rockabilly genre?
Molnar: Nowadays, there are so many terms out there, and I would sometimes prefer that people draw their own conclusions. The best answer I could give you is that we’re interested in a crossroads where a lot of great American music intersects. It’s easier to look at it as a singer-songwriter setup, but as a cohesive unit instead of bunch of hired guns. As far as rockabilly, I understand why, because of our instrumentation with the upright bass, people immediately think rockabilly—and that’s definitely there—but its only one piece of what we do, from soul and R&B to pop stuff, so roots music is always a safe term. I think of rockabilly the same as blues and country—its all as different American folk music.
SLUG: Do you think that there’s a certain personality that digs retro music?
Molnar: There’s a pop culture element to music where, if you listen to country, you probably drive a pick-up truck and wear a cowboy hat, but that’s changing because of the Internet and all these music-sharing applications, to where everything is available. So you have people that are into a lot of different stuff and just getting stuff piecemealed from a friend or whoever, but there’s always diehard music fans out there that fill their houses with records, and I guess that’s kind of a personality type.
SLUG: It’s been a while since you’ve released a record. Will we see new material soon?
Molnar: We’ve got all kinds of material sitting around that we want to get to, but we’ve been touring pretty relentlessly. Then we had coordinated a re-release of the first album, because when we went overseas, we found out that it was being bootlegged to an insane degree. The album was out of print and in Britain, people were walking up to us with new copies that we knew weren’t from us. We wanted to get that back out there and make it worth everyone’s while, so we loaded it up with extra tracks, but a new record is forthcoming.
SLUG: Do you think that roots music is on the rise, and where do you think the Bellfuries can fit in there?
Molnar: You know, it’s funny because you never know what people are going to connect into. Like the White Stripes: very talented, but it’s very direct and not miles away from what you might see someone playing in their garage, but they were able to become superstars, essentially. At the end of the day, it so direct you don’t have to think to yourself, “Do I like this?” And I think that’s the strength of roots music: it’ll affect you right away. I don’t think that we’ll be this huge media storm, but we can go out and win people over every night we play, and build a successful following from that.
When a band strives to be simultaneously original while still tipping their hat to what came before them, the result can be polarizing. But when people who treat songwriting and melody like religion do it, then the result is simply tremendous. Where the Bellfuries want to take me musically, I’ll go. When they play at the Garage on September 27, I will certainly go, as should you.