Fresh from a well-received full-length debut, singer-songwriter Andrew Belle was less on top of the world and more lost at sea.
What felt like a lifetime of personal maturity and artistic growth left the wholesome folk-pop approach carried into Ladders feeling tiresome. But for all the Chicago-based performer’s frustrations, a new direction wasn’t making itself immediately apparent either.
“It took me a couple of years to really find the groove I wanted to get into,” Belle said. “I kept trying to write on my acoustic guitar, but I had gotten to be pretty bored with that … I wasn’t sure what to do for so long.”
Lucky for Belle, he found all the answers in Ryan Gosling’s steely gaze.
“I saw Drive, and the movie itself — in terms of subject matter — is very dark, but the music was this sort of ’80s synth beat, poppy soundtrack, and I was fascinated by that,” Belle said. “It clicked that this is what I wanted to do.”
Inspired by the stylish action flick’s soundtrack (featuring memorable turns by Chromatics and Glass Candy) and a newfound admiration of Beach House and M83, he holed up in his apartment with some amateur recording software, determined to take his acoustic guitar-driven, heart-on-his-sleeve balladry and reinterpret those inclinations in new, challenging ways.
Fellow singer-songwriter and tourmate Ben Rector had mentioned his positive experiences recording at Blackwatch Studios with Chad Copelin and Jarod Evans to Belle while out on the road one spring. And on a whim, Belle decided to record what would become his sophomore effort, Black Bear, at the Norman retreat.
Filled with vintage keyboards and retro synthesizers, he quickly realized the studio was the perfect sanctuary to complete his metamorphosis from a perceived John Mayer disciple to something more multifaceted.
“From the first minute I walked in the door, it felt like the right atmosphere to make this record in,” Belle said. “The musicality of it wows me. I’m not a great musician; I’m more of a songwriter. And to go through that process is daunting … but Chad and Jarod really brought it to life.”
Recharged, Belle — appearing Sunday at Bricktown Music Hall — is eager to explore all ends of this new earth. The summer will usher in a stripped-down, organic version of the Black Bear album, and soon after, he will dive back into writing for another record, fully intent on staying the new course.
“I’d love to keep exploring that world, maybe even push the envelope more,” Belle said. “I definitely think I’m going to stay in this terrain for a while. There are so many singer-songwriters out there, plugging away with an acoustic guitar. And after all those years, I kind of got burned out on it. This feels like unlimited possibilities.”