Shepherd Express – The Belle Weather Feature
The Belle Weather Find a Leaner New Identity
By Joshua Miller
Nov. 10, 2015
For most people planning a vacation or journey, a suitcase is an important thing to have. It usually contains a conglomeration of things from our lives that we deem important for our trip, but its limited space restricts what we can and can’t bring, forcing some hard decisions. In a similar fashion, Milwaukee’s The Belle Weather had to make some rearrangements for their second album Suitcase.
In their case, it was a change in lineup that sparked a shift in sound. When founding drummer Steve Spalding’s degenerative nerve condition forced him to quit playing drums and get treatment, singer-songwriter Eric Cox and bass player Tom Abromaitis decided to repack their musical suitcases into something new.
“[Steve] had to go take care of himself,” Cox says, “so we decided to try and go out there and put on a really interesting show as an acoustic duo.”
While their debut album Hold On had layers of guitars, keyboards, big drums and lots of production, the arrangements on Suitcase are much more sparse and folk based. But at the same time Cox says they “don’t lose the heart, the grit and the energy” of the band’s indie-rock roots. They returned to Howl Street Records to record.
“We were able to come up with some ways to make a really big and interesting sound that had roots in folk and anthemic indie rock and meld those together and make what we feel is a really dynamic and interesting force of nature when we play,” he says.
In addition to Abromaitis adding a unique and dynamic element with his upright bass, Cox expanded into other instruments like ukuleles and plays “mad scientist with some of the sound effects.”
Cox makes the analogy to packing a suitcase. “You have to make really careful choices when you’re putting it together,” he says. “In a lot of instances it was about what we left out that ended up making the songs come together.”
So far this change has been met with open arms from fans. “It’s great when someone comes up to me after the show and says, ‘Man, I can’t believe two guys can make that much sound!’” Cox says. “That’s been our calling card the past year or so.”
Cox says that while their debut was about them finding their place in the world, Suitcase is about finding a sense of home. “A lot of the songs are about places where I lived and people I knew when I first started this journey of music and playing in bands, when I started this,” he says. “It was about the journey and packing and things you leave in and things you leave out and the people you bring along with you.”
This album has more of a storytelling aspect than the first one. One of the album’s most stirring songs is “Roulette,” which Cox wrote after learning that his uncle died from his addiction to alcohol a couple years ago. Writing about his feelings in this song helped him deal with his grief.
“To lose the person that started it and was the first spark for me—he sold me on the idea of how great music was and what an awesome addition it was to have in your life—so early was tragic,” he says. “I don’t always put my family into the public eye like that [but] the reason I put it out there was to have a forum to talk about addiction and lend them some hope. If one person hears it and knows the story and decides to talk to someone in their life suffering similarly and can head that off and give them some help, then that song will be a tremendous success. That’s all I really hope for it.”
Cox says that while it’s tough to top their performance at the Pabst Theater, where they played a release show for their first album, they’re always looking for venues big and small to play.
“It’s a chance to be heard out in the world and create a spectacle when they come to see us,” he says. “The most fun is finding ourselves on bigger stages in rooms with bigger sound systems and really turn up and to fully actualize the two identities coming together. We haven’t backed away from playing up-tempo song and heavier songs and are finding ways to keep that energy and vitality alive.”