Once More With Feeling

What if we lived in a utopian world where bands were categorized not by genre, but by the feeling their music creates? Instead of worrying about inventing another clever-sounding sub-strand of indie pop, we could focus on emotional doors music can open. Or the synesthetic flood of sensory perception-smells, colors, flavors-that cause intensely nostalgic memories to surface.

I’ve had this vision for years (and FW’s readers are glad I’ve never spoken of it), but Vancouver’s Belle Game has made me rethink the viability of such a world. Call it dream pop, electro pop or, as the band prefers, “crush pop”-but talking to lead singer Andrea Lo about the band’s open, honest and emotional intentions shines even more rays of hope on a genre-free future.

Folio Weekly: Belle Game is opening for Broken Social Scene this spring. This isn’t your normal opening gig, is it?
Andrea Lo: To be totally frank, being with Broken Social Scene feels like family. They’re incredible people with such big hearts. We met [BSS founder] Kevin Drew at a Banff Centre residency program he was directing with [BSS bandmate] Charles Spearing, and we all fell in love with each other. We had this long-distance thing where we were, like, “Let’s make an album together!” It took a while to happen, but we did it with 2017’s Fear/Nothing, which came out on [BSS’ label] Arts & Crafts. Fortuitously, just after our album release, Broken Social Scene got back together and went on tour, so Kevin invited us out for that run last fall, and now we’re doing it all over again.

After several months of touring, Belle Game went home to Vancouver, took a breather in January, and played a hometown headlining show in February. How was that?
It was nice to be settled for a little bit-to get our feet back on the ground and achieve that balance. There’s always a little bit of anxiety surrounding hometown shows, and Vancouver dumped more snow than I’ve seen in years that very night. We were concerned people wouldn’t show, but a lot did, and it touched us deeply to have a crowd that size be super engaged, open, honest and ready to feel. It was beautiful.

How did those attributes become Belle Game hallmarks?
From my perspective, going to a show isn’t just about seeing the band on stage-it’s how the people in the crowd are willing to be seen themselves. Music touches each of us on a deeply personal level, and it’s interesting to see how that relationship plays out. How do we connect? How are we not connected? It’s about the individual, as well-it’s really important for me to look at individuals in the crowd and make eye contact. I’m singing, but it’s like I’m speaking, too. In devoting my attention to an individual, I can take time to see who’s able to hold a gaze and who looks away. I feel that reflects the notion of how much you’re willing to be seen yourself, something we all yearn for as people.

And something that may not happen every night-especially when you’re the opening band playing in big theater or stadium.
It’s a bit of a roller-coaster ride. I’m still navigating those highs and lows. But it’s about being free of expectation and knowing that if you can connect with one person in the crowd, that’s fucking amazing. As artists, we put out a message and a feeling that’s quite vulnerable. I think Belle Game and Broken Social Scene come from a similar heart space of unraveling yourself, allowing that self to be seen, and therefore granting permission to other people to do that themselves. We all need those examples, especially since we’ve become a very shut-off world. We need to feel free and safe to emote-even break down a little bit. As an opening band, it’s a little bit tougher. But if people want to listen, they’ll listen. If people want to be seen, they’ll be seen.

You and the band have talked about writingFear/Nothing?
I definitely need more practice. It’s an ongoing thing that will lead me until the end of my days. It was borne more of a physiological feeling-an instinctual, gut-reaction feeling. When we wrote
Ritual Tradition Habit in 2012-’13, we were so young in our careers. We were creating music as fans as opposed to as musicians. We were trying to consciously reproduce sounds we thought the public would think were cool, instead of dropping our guard and letting things flow. It may sound kind of nuts, but creating music is a form of channeling. It doesn’t have to be channeling spirits, but you’re channeling a higher creativity-something uninhibited. The practice comes in constantly getting out of your own way enough to let that happen.

You’ve talked about the band testing newly recorded material during late-night drives. I have to say that’s one of the most beautiful ideas I’ve ever heard of.
I’m so excited you said that! When we’re coming to the close of the writing process, that’s our test. How does this song feel when you’re driving on the highway late at night? When it feels pretty emotional, you know you’re on to something.