Let it not be said that the Belles are rock stars.
"When I think that people refer to the Belles as 'lo-fi,' I feel as if it's just more of our approach as to how we do things," says singer and guitarist Chris Tolle. "We don't have a big, machine-type thing going." The Belles are the melancholic acoustic rock duo of Tolle and drummer Jake Cardwell. In fact, the two musicians are reluctant to refer to the Belles as a band at all. It's understandable, considering that the pairing began primarily as a recording project.
"Jake and I didn't ever have any clue that we'd be able to travel around the world or make a band out of it all," Tolle says. "We have a Tuesday-night get-together thing. If I've got a new song, then that's what happens."
The Belles' relaxed aesthetic was evident in the CD-release show — held in the back of Lawrence record shop Love Garden Sounds — for their newest album, Time Flies When You're Losing Your Mind. Tolle's vocals, backed by the intimate sounds of his acoustic guitar and Cardwell's simple drum setup (which utilized a suitcase rather than a kick drum), didn't even need the amplification provided by the microphone in front of him.
"It's a little funny, just because I build drums for a living, to use a suitcase," Cardwell says. "But it's appropriate. The properties are a lot like a kick drum."
The Belles' new album comes six years after their last release, 2004's Idle Acres EP. Shortly after the release of the band's 2002 debut, Omerta, on Lakeshore Records, the duo began work on a follow-up release, Misery Loves Industry. Lakeshore had signed the Belles for two more records after Omerta, and the band used the advance to create a home studio.
"[We] made a kind of a natural record in my living room, and when we sent it to the label, by then they'd started talking the usual, 'Single, where's more singles?'" Tolle says. "We'd just made the next thing we were going to make. We didn't make the first thing for anybody else. We didn't make the second thing for anybody else, either. We were pretty surprised they didn't like it, in fact."
According to Tolle, Lakeshore Records sat on Misery for two years. The duo eventually wrangled the record back and had been trying to decide how to move forward when S-Curve Records came calling.
"S-Curve has been a label that we've known about for some time. Those guys contacted our manager and said, 'What's going on with the Belles? Do they have anything they want to release?' And it was like, 'Well ... yeah,'" Tolle says. "We had recordings that we had done since that point, and we had done a lot of deconstructing of that record anyway, so we just put something together."
That "something" is Time Flies When You're Losing Your Mind — and the Belles are quick to explain that's it's not Misery Loves Industry with a new name. Cardwell and Tolle describe the new record as "a group of songs that we wanted to do, that we wanted out there. The old record was a whole other thing entirely. We used songs from it. It's just a different record."
The two finish each other's sentences so fluidly that the explanation is hard to attribute to Tolle or Cardwell individually. Such is the case with their enthusiasm for the album's artwork by Joel Schlotterer. His artwork for the album was originally intended for the band's unreleased Misery Loves Industry.
"Luckily, Joel didn't sell that artwork out to anybody else, and it's been sitting there, waiting for us," Tolle says. "Even though [the album art is] out on iTunes and all of that, I want people to buy the CD just because Joel's paintings are awesome, and it's just really cool to be able to see them up close."
Cardwell and Tolle are refreshingly laid-back for a pair who have toured Europe and whose new album will be released by EMI across the pond. This isn't to say they're indifferent, though. "We're excited to see what the European stuff has for us," Tolle says.
Cardwell agrees: "People seem to get it more over there, anyway."
As to whether the Belles will tour in support of Time Flies remains undecided. Cardwell says, "Chris and I could go jump on a plane and go play a gig in most major markets and only be gone for one night, if it presented itself."
The drummer also would like to see London again. He has fond memories of playing town dances in Ireland for little kids and old men in wheelchairs. The band has nothing on the books at the moment, however. "We're just gonna kind of wait and see how the record does for now," Tolle says. "Nothing — no pressure. It's just endless possibilities, you know? We're not beholden to anybody but ourselves."