By Tomi Milos
A short biography on Dinner Belles’ MySpace page will tell you that a barroom brawl sparked the formation of the band. This story is probably the only contrived gimmick behind the Southern Ontario outfit. As one of its many members, Scott Bell, told me, “That blurb is false; none of us are the fighting type.” But what follows in the rest of the bio regarding how they’ve become a family of fast friends couldn’t be more true.
Among the current sea of hipper-than-thou bands that resort to banally replacing vowels in their names with the letter “v” and corporate jokes like Mumford & Sons, the Belles are an anomaly. Their folksy take on country bears doesn’t follow any trends; they’re just damn good. A cursory glance at Scott Bell, Brandon Bliss, Greg Brisco, Jonathan Ely Cass, Brad Germain, Terra Lightfoot and Melanie Pothier will leave you wondering what they all might have in common. But Bell said that what started as a novelty – “Want to join my country band and have a laugh? Maybe learn some Hank Williams and play a show?” – turned into a mélange-like, but harmonious, family that has outlived the short lifespan they initially predicted.
Since its conception four years ago, the band has acquired loyal fans in a modest, unassuming fashion. They’ve become locally renowned for their raucous live shows where they’re constantly smiling and laughing while inspiring the same reactions from the audience. “Some of it must come from the music. I’ve never met a nicer group of people. It’s such a joy to play,” said Bell on the band’s chemistry.
Their first record sprang up from the roots of lighthearted jam sessions in their houses. The record’s cover-art that harks back to Southern Ontario’s tobacco belt represents the organic process through which they create music. “Original tunes started to trickle in, and before you know it, we had enough music for an album,” said Bell.
Although news of the band largely traveled through word of mouth, Bell notes that recording a session for La Blogothèque was huge for the band: “Mitch Fillion of Southern Souls did a great job, and people mention it all the time. It definitely gave us tonnes of exposure.” The resulting videos were beautifully poignant and shot in stunning light, but above all they depicted everyone having the time of their lives, including Bell’s daughter, Kennedy, who was two years old at the time. Hard-pressed to put into words just how close they’ve all become, Bell contented himself by saying, “They are just fun people to be around… a family almost. We practice at my house and my kids are always there soaking it in.” With his daughter currently taking piano lessons, Bell hopes that his children, who they consider to be the band’s most dedicated fans, can eventually take on a more prominent role in their music.
The band has managed to remain close despite emotional roadblocks, like Terra moving to Toronto. Bell explained, “We take each day as it comes. No pressure.” Financially speaking, Dinner Belles is a steady ship. “It’s odd being in a band with money. We’re always getting asked to play weddings and stuff like that. So money is not a problem.”
With West Simcoe County, the band literally captured the sounds of Hamilton by recording most of it in the open air of Gore Park. These days, in preparation for their sophomore effort, the band has shifted camp to Cambridge’s House of Miracles studio. As you would expect from such an affable bunch, the Belles have developed chemistry with in-house producer, Andy Magoffin. “He has a lot of input and is definitely on the same page as us. It’s been an amazing experience, which isn’t always the case,” said Bell. The songwriting process has been democratic from the get-go and a testament to the agreeable disposition of each member. “Basically, if you have a song, you bring it up at practice. There are more co-writes on this record, which can happen in a variety of ways. Each song then goes through the Belles filter with input from everyone,” quipped Bell.
The untitled record is near completion. “Most of it is done. We need some backups and tambourines added,” shared Bell. The homey sound of the first album won’t be lost here, as Bell told me they’ve been recording the new tracks live off the floor before mixing and mastering the results. Bell gave me a welcome scoop and mentioned that Greg had written a song about his upbringing in the Ottawa Valley fittingly called “Back Home In The Valley.” He also hinted at playing this year’s Supercrawl.
If ANDY were to judge Dinner Belle’s upcoming record by appraising the male members’ beards rather than listening to it, there would be a unanimous thumbs-up around the office. Bliss, Brisco, Bell and Germain are all amazingly hirsute guys. When asked for facial hair growing and grooming tips, Bell laughed and said, “Keep growing it no matter what your wife says.”
While most students at Mac haven’t yet experienced a spouse’s passive-aggressive “advice,” they will certainly be able to appreciate Dinner Belle’s forthcoming record.