Chicago-based singer-songwriter Andrew Belle returns to South By Southwest this year as part of his tour with Ten out of Tenn, a group of 10
singer-songwriters from Nashville, Tenn. Belle will perform on two separate days, beginning Mar. 14 at The Listening Room at Winflo and Rowdy’s Saloon. Belle said he hopes his presence at SXSW will allow him to reconnect with old friends, listen to some good music and have a great time.
Ever since his move to Nashville, Tenn., in 2009, Belle had secretly always wanted to be a part of Ten out of Tenn. His sister-in-law, a photographer familiar with local Nashville artists, helped him get plugged into the local music scene. He later joined the Ten out of Tenn troupe and was invited to perform with the group on its national tours.
“They really helped me launch my Nashville touring presence,” said Belle, who eventually moved back to Chicago in 2011. “All of a sudden, I went from no tour experience to performing on stage in front of hundreds of people, and playing in cities I’d never even been to before.”
With two albums behind him, The Ladder (2010) and Black Bear (2013), Belle is currently working on a stripped-down version of Black Bear.
“It’s going to have a similar feel,” Belle said. “But it’s going to be less ambitious. We will be reinterpreting the songs so that people who were fans of The Ladder and who weren’t fans of the Black Bear record will be able to listen to music that’s somewhere between the two albums.”
Belle said the Black Bear album title is derived from a personal experience he went through a couple of years ago.
“I had a very real, impactful experience with God and in my relationship with God,” Belle said. “I didn’t want to be confronted by the way I was living my life, and I felt like God was sort of pursuing me, much like an animal pursues its prey. So when I was writing lyrics for the song ‘Black Bear,’ the name just came to me.”
After discovering artists such as Radiohead and Washed Out between 2008 and 2012, Belle began dabbling in electronic musical instruments and found that alternative and electronic music presented him with more opportunities to experiment. During this time, he also continued to play in Chicago bars and restaurants, trying to make a living playing cover songs.
“I had a lot of new inspirations to draw from,” Belle said. “I discovered a singer-songwriter, Greg Laswell, who was a big influence on me and my writing at that time. I would go into work and I would be playing in bars for a couple of hours. I would use that time to work on new material and song ideas. I would strum these ideas, piece together the lyrics and would just play around.”
Belle’s interest in music developed in school when he first heard the band Counting Crows, but it wasn’t until college that he decided to do more songwriting and singing.
“One of my first stage performances was an open mic in college,” Belle said. “I didn’t perform very well because I got very nervous. I do wrestle with a mild case of nerves now and then since I’m not really a natural performer. I love songwriting, and performance is just a consequence of that.”
Most of Belle’s inspiration to write is borrowed from his personal relationships.
“Romantic relationships have been an inspiration,” Belle said. “I got married last year, and my marriage holds endless amounts of inspiration for me. My family and relationships are the most meaningful to me. Those are things that constantly appear in my music.”
Belle said he always approaches songwriting from an emotional standpoint. “That’s kind of what attracts me to music in the first place,” Belle said. “I just love having an autobiographical approach to writing lyrics. I’m a typical guy who is not super dramatic, but when I write, I feel a little more dramatic and emotional than I normally am.”
Belle’s songs have been featured in the television dramas, “One Tree Hill,” “Castle” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
“I didn’t really know how to handle that success,” Belle said. “I had decided to keep living the way I was living, but then I realized with success comes responsibility. I’ve learned that I need to find my identity, which can be possible only through my faith in God. I’m learning to not put my identity into what I do for a living, because the minute it starts to go away, you don’t have a self anymore. You don’t know who you are anymore.”