Mon. May 27th, 2024

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Interview: Jake Bellows

7 min read

Though New Ocean may be Jake Bellows debut record, he is no stranger to the music scene. Bellows fronted the indie/rock band Neva Dinova for over 15 years, releasing three full length albums, a live album, and two EPs, as well as touring the world as both support and headliners, before the band decided to head their separate ways in 2009.

Bellows moved from his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska to Los Angeles to be closer to his girlfriend, gave up music and began installing glass doors for a living instead. That didn’t last long though. Pretty soon, Bellows was coaxed back into recording music by friend, fellow musician, and producer Ben Brodin, and from there his debut solo record New Ocean was born.

JakeBellowsNewOceanNew Ocean is somewhat different to the music he was writing with Neva Dinova. It’s lighter and more optimistic, but still has that unmistakeable Bellows soul. Here’s what Jake had to say about his new outlook on life, and what this return to music means for him:

Francesca Tichon: Congratulations on the impending release of you first solo record! Are you excited to be back in the game after your brief hiatus?

Jake Bellows: Heck yes! It’s the best thing I can even think of to do with my time. Stoked!

FT: New Ocean seems to be quite different from the music you wrote with Neva Dinova. A lot of the music there was often quite dark and pessimistic, whereas this album seems a lot more relaxed and uplifting. What’s changed?

JB: I took some time to think about the nature of music and the possible influence it has on our world. If music does have an influence, then I had to consider what kind of effect my music was having… looking back, I noticed that much of my older music was referencing the sadness and pain that exists in the world. I felt like that was the opposite effect that I wanted to have, so I took some responsibility for my actions and decided I wanted to change. I want to help make the world into a nicer place to be.

FT: You description of this on your website of New Ocean comes across as quite new-agey and deep, saying that you wanted “to create the world he wants to see instead of reflect the world that is”. What do you mean by this, and what do you hope to achieve/convey with your music?

JB: What I mean is, if music/frequency does have an effect on our world, as it’s been proven through science, then I want to take the responsibility to project a vision of the world where we treat one another better. I’m aiming for happiness for everyone. I know it sounds like a lofty goal but I believe in humans and think it can be a beautiful future.

FT: On the album’s title track, New Ocean, you talk of the East LA valleys flooding, and rather than scrambling for safety, “let’s lower down the ropes and let our brothers in, give my body to the fish so they don’t starve”. There seems to be a theme of chilled out acceptance throughout the album. What inspired you to write about these sorts of subjects?

JB: I was distracted and disappointed by the self-absorbed nature of our culture and New Ocean, to me, represents the truth that we are all on the same side and part of the same superorganism. It seems to me that, for us to battle each other is for us to battle ourselves.

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FT: The video for Super Computer is really cool, and it seems to be comprised of cuts of vintage science footage. Where did you find that stuff, and what were you trying to say with it?

JB: Firstly, I want to give credit and thanks to Morgan’s Brother for the genius vision that became the video. He was able to find vintage public domain footage and juxtapose these clips with the song in order to create an independent piece of art. The song toys around with the idea that, through computers and the internet, man has been trying to create a resource that can answer all questions. A reaction possibly, to feeling ignored by the dieties of our current sources of spirituality and knowledge. An omniscient resource that parallels our understanding of God. I’m stoked that you like it!

FT: It’s a fascinating and terrifying idea… Before releasing this new album, you released some songs and some “deep cuts” on a cassette tape. What inspired you to do that? And was that venture worthwhile (as most people don’t even have cassette players anymore)?

JB: I love tapes! That was both the inspiration and the impetus for the idea. There is also something about tapes that is more personal and special then a downloaded mp3; and furthermore, they just plain sound better! Was it worth it? I think so.

FT: You toured the world with Neva Dinova, headlining and supporting some huge acts such as Death Cab For Cutie and Rilo Kiley. What made you throw in the towel after 15 years of making music together?

JB: We were all abducted by aliens and some of the guys got probed so hard that they didn’t want to make music anymore. But I liked it.

FT: And why did you decide to quit music altogether and move to LA to install glass doors after the band split up?

JB: I needed to take some time to reassess what was motivating me to make music. I never completely stopped with music, I just mostly stopped playing shows. I also wanted to spend more time with my girlfriend (Morgan Nagler/WHISPERTOWN) who was/is living in Los Angeles.

FT: How did you find living in LA after Omaha?

JB: Living in Los Angeles was a major change for me. I had a lot of friends and family that were still in Omaha and I missed them a lot. Still do. I go back as often as I can.

FT: I imagine it would have been a huge change… Your music is a great mix of indie, acoustic, and woozy Midwestern country. Who would you say are your biggest musical influences?

JB: Jonathan Richman, Chet Baker, The Only Ones, Flaming Lips, Replacements, Velvet Underground, Daniel Johnston, Pixies, Kinks, etc. There are so many great ones that, for the sake of brevity, I have to leave most of them out.

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FT: How did you get into music?

JB: I sang in a children’s choir when I was little, with my brother and my longtime friend Heath Koontz. I liked it!

FT: Was it something you always wanted to do, or did it just kind of happen?

JB: One day they said they were having a battle of the bands at our high school. So Heath and I started a band. That was in 1993.

FT: I read somewhere that you blew out your left eardrum in a bar fight. Can you tell us that story?

JB: The story about the blown eardrum isn’t really that spectacular. I was out having a drink with my friend Jessica and some guy was being a bully so I told him a couple of things. Then he sucker socked me in the earhole and my drum exploded.

FT: I assume this would have resulted in some serious hearing loss, has this affected your music at all?

JB: It grew back! They can grow back if you’re lucky. It takes a while, and my hearing suffered in the meantime but I’m pretty good these days.

FT: You performed at South by South West this year. That must have been an unbelievable experience. Was that your first time at the festival?

JB: I have been to the festival 3 or 4 times in the past. It’s always quite a novelty when you get that many wierdos together. We had a lot of fun. And the radiator blew up and the motor mounts broke and the engine nearly fell out of the van. It still sits on the street outside as a sad reminder of how expensive SXSW was.

FT: Any plans to tour New Ocean?

JB: I can’t wait to tour this record! I want to come to everyone’s town and play songs and hang out.

FT: Are you still installing glass doors in LA, or focusing on your music now?

JB: I think I’ll always install doors in one form or another. You can take the man out of the door, but you can’t take the doors out of the man.

FT: Good luck with everything and thanks for your time.

Jake Bellows new album New Ocean is out now.