with AKA BELLE and LUKE MESSIMER
The world of American roots music is no stranger to Seattle songwriter Sera Cahoone. Even though her last three albums were on Sub Pop Records and she spent years at the top of the indie charts, she’s always had a streak of Americana that ran through her music, a love of the humble folk song that bolstered her art. She’s returning now to these earliest influences with her new album, From Where I Started (to be released March 24, 2017). Growing up, Cahoone first found her voice in Colorado dive bars, backing up old blues musicians at age 12 on the drums. Her father, a Rocky Mountain dynamite salesman, took the family along to mining conferences and old honky-tonks in the state. The sounds she heard there—the twang of country crooners, cowboy boots on peanut shells—have stayed with her all the way to Seattle, where she lives now, and the seminal indie rock bands she’s been a part of in the city (Carissa’s Weird, Band of Horses).
To make From Where I Started, her first new album since 2012’s Dear Creek Canyon, Cahoone traveled south to Portland to work with producer John Askew (Neko Case, Laura Gibson, Alela Diane). Askew brought together key Portland musicians like Rob Burger (Iron and Wine, Lucinda Williams), Dave Depper (Death Cab For Cutie) and Annalisa Tornfelt (Black Prairie) with Cahoone’s Seattle bandmates – Jeff Fielder (Mark Lanegan, Amy Ray) and Jason Kardong (Son Volt, Jay Farrar). The band lays a deep bedrock beneath Cahoone’s songs, supporting her arcing vocals and innovative guitar and banjo playing. The album is driven by a strong rhythmic sensibility, owed to Cahoone’s background as a drummer for indie rock bands. “A lot of my songs start as a beat, I add guitar, then lyrics at the end,” she says. “When I write songs I usually sit at my drum kit playing both drums and guitar at the same time.”
From Where I Started plays on the rougher, darker edges of the traditional love song. Like any good country album, the songs here deal with love and loss, but Cahoone also knows how to surround loss with hope, to temper a sad song with a turn in the major key. The optimism of the love song “Up To Me,” buoyed by fingerpicked guitar and banjo, gives way to the weary resignation of “Taken Its Toll,” with its plaintive pedal steel and echoing vocal harmonies. “Ladybug,” is a poignant song that followed the tragic death of Cahoone’s cousin Tawnee.
From Where I Started represents a refocusing for Sera Cahoone. It positions her as a songwriter beholden to the old country sounds she grew up with, a songwriter who’s always been able to deftly translate a personal perspective into a universal view. It’s an album about falling in and out of love, finding new hope, and learning that the best way to move forward is to remember where you began.
Led by multi instrumentalist/artist/vocalist Catherine Merrick, this band mix genres with traditional instruments – the band are known to rock heavily, swing with retro jazz grooves, and create unhinged sounds that will melt you with their undercurrent of bittersweetness. Part sultry performance art/part spiritual experience, a.k.a. Belle’s recent live shows have been described as “freaking epic!”
The seedlings of a.k.a Belle began in a land far, far away called Los Angeles, CA, where Sam and Catherine Crooks Merrick, Boise, ID natives, found themselves sharing a flat in pursuit of musical greatness. They didn’t know it then, but their paths would cross many times over subsequent decades and eventually their lives would converge in a very personal and musically magical way. In 2008, after Catherine returned home to Boise, ID from living and performing under the moniker of Belle of Les Bois in Manchester, England, she reunited with her former roomie (and soon to be husband) and a.k.a. Belle was born.
Catherine grew up in Boise, ID amongst some major musical talents. She played alongside Doug Martsch (Built to Spill) in Suiciety and in the B-sides with Curtis Stigers. Merrick’s overflowing with instrumental chops and is most often seen wailing on guitar or banjo, but it’s her voice that audiences find most captivating:
“… when you are blessed with a vocalist like Catherine Merrick, you’re light years ahead of the game. The Singer and multi-instrumentalist for a.k.a. Belle has an alluring, lovely voice – the kind that stands out in any genre.” – Michael Deeds, The Idaho Statesman
Between LA and 2008, Sam was met with major musical success. He toured the US and Europe with The Leaving Trains (SST Records) and signed a multimillion dollar contract in blood with LA band The Nymphs (Geffen Records). He’s also played bad-ass guitar and lent vocals to a variety of of musical projects based in the US.
a.k.a. Belle’s eclectic sound is elevated by the creative musical minds of John Townsend (percussion) and Michael P. Waite (stand up bass), who hear and interpret Merrick’s songs intuitively, not to mention the sweet backing vocals provided by “Cousin Mollie” Long Williams, Catherine’s real life cousin!
In March 2017, the band released a single “Remembering the Sound,” a moody jazzy-rock-n-roll number featuring guest musicians Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer from The Posies.
The 4 track EP, “I Hear It Now” came out the same year, and features the crowd pleaser, “Crooked Path,” featuring a guest, as well (you’ll see a pattern developing here) – Brett Netson from Built to Spill/Caustic Resin/Snakes.
“The Devil Loves You,” a.k.a. Belle’s second full-length record was released in February 2014. It is darker and more experimental than their debut album, exploring themes of time travel, serial killers, losers in love and evil trees. (It also features a guest appearance from internationally acclaimed saxophonist, Curtis Stigers.) Tracks from “Devil” (the album nickname) are championed by many DJs on local radio stations such as KBSU and KRBX.
Their debut album, “Disappearing NIght” released in 2012, spent several weeks on the Top 20 best sellers at Boise’s independent record store, The Record Exchange, and came in at #6 for best selling records there in 2012. “Austin Calling”, from their debut CD, continues to get air play in Boise and it’s environs.
a.k.a. Belle is a rock band that’s not afraid to play with different genres to get the desired effect in creating well-crafted, thoughtfully constructed songs.
Luke Messimer is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter from Portland, OR.