The Belleville Outfit’s Big Future
With musical influences that include jazz, country, classic, pop, swing and bluegrass, it’s not very easy to quickly describe The Belleville Outfit. It’s extremely easy to get hooked by their music, however. The young sextet plays with both virtuosity and energy and is quickly becoming known for a live act that’s won them fans across the country.
Since its formation, the group – consisting of Rob Teter (guitar, vocals), Connor Forsyth (piano, B3 organ, vocals), Jonathan Konya (drums), Phoebe Hunt (violin, vocals), Marshall Hood (guitar, vocals) and its newest member, Nigel Frye (bass) – has released two independent albums and won the 2009 Americana Music Association award nomination for Best New/Emerging act.
The Belleville Outfit is wrapping up 2010 with a tour through the Southeast and Midwest U.S. and will work on wrapping up its third album, due for release Spring of 2011. Teter took a few minutes to talk with The 9513 about the band’s sound and its future plans.
How did The Belleville Outfit get together in the first place?
When we first started, there was definitely more of a jazz and swing element. The piano player, the drummer and myself started the group in New Orleans, and the gypsy swing scene was kind of happening down there – the Django Reinhardt, Stéphane Grappelli style of swing music. Having met these two guys in college and found a mutual admiration for that style of music, we started doing it on our own, but more beefed up, more than fiddle and guitar. We had pianos and drums, and it came across with more power than if we had an acoustic trio.
We really got into that, and we wrote a lot of that, but there are so many songwriters in the group, and we’ve got people coming from Austin, the Carolinas and the Midwest, so the original writing along the three years we’ve been together has taken out some of that swing element. It’s still there, it’s still very present, but we’re doing a lot of [other] things.
Growing up, what were some big musical influences for you?
A ton of things. I’ve always been influenced by the Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli style of gypsy swing. Also, a big influence for me was Lyle Lovett, and I’ve always been big into 1950s and ’60s R&B, like Ray Charles, Wynonie Harris, all that kind of jump blues and danceable stuff. We try to incorporate a lot of that into what we do.
You mentioned two great cities in New Orleans and Austin. How did those two places affect the overall sound of the band?
Having started the band in New Orleans, we definitely had a love for that music and a love for that place. Half the band, including the female singer, Phoebe, was born and raised in Austin.
When we decided to pursue this full time, the only thing that was holding us to New Orleans was the fact that we were in college. The decision to do this full time kind of took the college out of the picture, and at that point we decided to move to Austin. It’s really been a great scene. There’s hundreds of music clubs here, and I can’t remember the last day or night I didn’t go out and see live music. That’s definitely going to rub off on you one way or another. I think Austin and Texas in general has that roots scene, but people go out in Austin to see music and to dance, and that certainly has influenced a lot of what we do.
When you’re out on the road, do you have people telling you that you’ve introduced them to a style of music that maybe they weren’t too familiar with?
Yeah, we run into a lot of that. They would say that maybe in general they wouldn’t get into some of the stuff that we’re playing, but they get into us. I think that’s a result of our sound being pretty definable, no matter what genre we’re playing in. It’s been cool to see that.
We actually have a video we put online about a year ago with one of our friends at a show in Gruene Hall, which is about an hour outside of Austin, saying what they thought about us. It’s pretty cool, all these people trying to define what we do. We have just as much trouble as they do.
For the Time to Stand album, you launched an “adopt a song” program. Could you talk about how that came together?
We did our first record through some private investors and donations. We had some great friends help us, but in the end, we were left with some sort of financial arrangement with a friend or a fan, and that could be dangerous and just not the best place to be. So we came up with this idea that maybe would be interested in donating money for some sort of service or credit in return.
Basically, we picked the 13 songs we were going to record, and we sent out a letter through our email list that said we were hoping that fans or a group of fans would adopt a song. The price tag for each song was $2,000, and once you paid that, you got a house concert out of the deal and a credit on the new album. We sold all 13 tunes for $2,000 and raised a great recording budget. That was the reason we were able to do that record. It was heartwarming and wonderful to see that kind of support pouring out from our fans.
It was a lot to handle and a lot to schedule, so that was the only downside, me being the one to facilitate the darn thing. It was a lot of work, with 13 people calling me saying, “I’ve got to see if I can get the money together and what day can you play at my house?”
It was a trial and it worked out really great. I’m not sure that we’ll do it again, just because of the sheer amount of work that went into it, but it was a cool program.
Is the next album going to be an independent release as well?
It’s not. We’re talking with several labels at the moment, and we think we’ve made a decision, but we can’t quite share that yet. I don’t want to jump the gun or anything. We’re looking at probably an April or May release at this point.
What made you want to look for a label this time around?
Early on, it was important for us to hold on to ownership of the stuff. Part of it was also waiting to find someone who was really excited about what we were doing and not just signing a record deal for the sake of signing a record deal. When you give up ownership, you’ve giving up a lot of your clout. But we’ve reached the point where we need some outside help, and we need that marketing machine that a record label brings to a record release. Just the stuff that we can’t handle from our living room/office. We’re excited about it, and we think it’s going to be a big step forward for us.
It’s great that there are so many independent labels out there that don’t really cater to a specific genre.
It’s been encouraging to see that, too. There’s a lot of people out there that have a passion for [music]. You find a lot of it at the tinier imprint labels that are artist-driven instead of money-driven.
You’re going on a Southeast tour for the rest of this year. For people who may not have seen you live in concert before, what can they expect?
It’s a really high-energy show, and we try to keep it up the whole time. Everything is danceable. We’ve put out two albums independently over the last two years and have taken this year to really hone in on the tunes and put some thought into what we’re going to record instead of making it a rushed effort. So we’re going to be playing a lot of that material on tour, just to get it out there and see what people think about it before we go into the studio and cut it.
You’re played a lot of smaller places and larger festivals. Is it a big change to go from a smaller room to a big festival stage?
There’s certainly a difference in how we would approach it, but we try to convey the same energy in a small room. Eddie’s Attic (Decatur, Ga., Saturday Nov. 6) is definitely the smallest room on the tour that we’ll play, but we love that place. There’s an amazing sound there, and Eddie’s been doing it forever and knows how to take care of the people that come through there. We’ll always support Eddie.
The festival thing, we do a lot of that, and it’s fun because we gain new fans who have never seen us before. When we go to the clubs, we’re bring out the people who know us.
What are some of your other favorite places to play live?
The Southeast has always been really good to us. I grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, so we’ll tour through there twice a year and have great shows. It’s always fun and always sold out.
I saw on your website that your new record is being produced by Matt Rollings. Can you add anything more about what we can expect from it?
It’s going to be well-produced, definitely. In the past, we’ve worked with producers who’ve kind of let us do our thing, and we think it’s important, especially with how young we are, to get in there with somebody who is up on the technician level, and can really dig into what’s going on and pull out what we don’t need and add what we do. It’s been a pleasure working with somebody who does that this time.
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