FEATURED ARTIST – Bellhead
Interview With Bellhead
By: Dennis M. Kelly
Dennis: Hello Ivan and Karen! How are you both doing today? Thanks so much for your time and for answering some questions for me!
Karen: Of course! Thank you for featuring us!
Dennis: It has been too long, and for that, I am sorry. I am glad to be chatting with you both now and to get you featured before your gig opening for Christian Death at Reggies on the 6th, are you excited for this one in particular?
Karen: I’m excited for every show we do, but Christian Death is a long time influence for me, so it’s pretty cool to be on the bill with them.
Ivan: Always excited to play live.
Dennis: Cool. Now, I know Ivan, you have gone way back in the Chicago music scene to (at least) Ahab Rex, how long have each of you been making music in and around the Chicago area?
Karen: I’ve been in bands and performing since the 90’s primarily as a bass player. I jumped around a lot of genres.
Ivan: I’ve been at it as long as Karen. When Mr Russia called it a day, it was time to start a new duo band, this time with two basses and a drum machine.
Dennis: How did you come to decide on two bass guitars and a drum machine?
Karen: Ivan wouldn’t let me play with a washboard and spoons… so I had to play the bass. (laughs)
Ivan: Karen plays bass, I play bass. “It takes two to make a thing go right.”
Dennis: “oh, yeah….” For sure, and it definitely sounds great! You released your debut EP, Unicorn Bones in 2020, but when did you form Bellhead?
Karen: Ivan and I have been talking about doing a project together for years, but we finally started to become serious about it during a snowstorm in 2018. It was then, over some chicken shawarma and vodka that we decided to seriously make a band together.
Dennis: Snow, shawarma and vodka…. OH MY!! How would you say Bellhead’s sound compares to anything else here in the Chicago area, or in the rest of the world, for that matter?
Karen: We’ve been compared to bands everywhere from The White Stripes, Big Black, and The Kills, but really we’re not like anything else out there. There’s duo bands, but I don’t think any of them have TWO bass players. It’s nice to be pioneers in the scene.
Dennis: For sure!
Ivan: Nothing compares to the roar of our two bass grooves. It’s like opening a switchblade on a motorcycle. Dangerous and sexy.
Dennis: Yeah, I can see that. How would you describe the Chicago music scene?
Karen: Everyone’s still recovering from a 2+ year shut down. We lost a lot of great venues, and even better bands. Come back and ask me this in 2 more years.
Ivan: Fighting to stay alive. Scrappy as ever.
Dennis: How did the band do during lockdown?
Karen: We did a LOT. 2020 was supposed to be our jump out of the gate, and then the pandemic happened and that throttled our ideas of touring. Very early on, Ivan and I decided to not take time off. We released 3 music videos: “Unicorn Bones”, “Sanity Assassin”, “Mercy”, 2 eps ‘Unicorn Bones’ and ‘Dead Lights’ 2 singles “Sanity Assassin” and “Nothing as it Seems”, a remix EP ‘Remix with Guns’, and we’re on a bunch of compilations. We never stopped rehearsals. We keep working on perfecting our craft. When things started to lift, we were ahead of the game and ready to tour immediately. I think it gave us a leg up from a lot of our colleagues.
Dennis: Speaking of the Mercy video, tell me more about it… Will there be more videos to look forward to this year?
Karen: The Mercy video was designed and created by Scott Fedor, who’s a digital composer for major projects (like Black Panther, Infinity War, and Stranger Things to name a few). He also helped us on the Sanity Assassin video.
I’m hoping you’ll see more videos from us, however, there’s a lot of planning involved, and we’re never one to cut corners and record something that isn’t great quality. I’m hoping you’ll see something toward the end of the year in terms of a music video.
Ivan: “Unicorn Bones” was a wild shoot with our director John Weaver taking us out to an undisclosed location. We brought a mate whose sole job was to carry enough water that we all made it back alive. We want to shoot with John again but maybe in a less treacherous locale.
Dennis: The band has always had some great art direction with regards to album covers and show posters…. I know Igloo Vacuum did the albums, but who is behind the flyers? Great job for both!
Ivan: Thanks! I always want to make something that pops. For the show posters, we nick sketches from comic book artists mostly from Cameron Stewart. We don’t sell anything that we nick for posters.
The art for release is a bit of a process and I send rough ideas to Karen on the regular, but when we go to do a release, it ends up being something else completely. For Instance, the photo on the ‘Remix with Guns’ EP. I had taken that photo a few months prior not knowing what I was going to do with it. When we quickly decided to put a remix EP together I knew I had this great shot of the Transylvania Elementary School begging to be on the cover.
Dennis: How is the band on the social media scene? Active or do you prefer interacting with friends and fans at the shows?
Karen: We’re available on all social media platforms, except Tik Tok and Snapchat. We’re always trying to find more outlets to reach our fans. I’m actually partial to our mailing list, emails won’t get buried or throttled like Facebook, and we do some great specials and giveaways there.
Ivan: We reply to all of our messages pretty promptly. I’m all about DMs and emails; happy to hear from people.
Dennis: What are your thoughts on the whole Twitter sale?
Karen: I’d be willing to sell the BELLHEAD name to Elon Musk for $200,000 and a bottle of Johnny Walker gold… if anyone knows him, just tell him to reach out to me. (laughs)
Dennis: (laughs) But what an obscene waste of money it was, right?
Ivan: Hospitals are very nice places until you let sick people in. Twitter is a hospital for sick people who don’t want to get well. Elon must have a plan to burn down the hospital and collect the insurance. What do I know tho? I’m not a doctor, I just played one on tv.
Dennis: Tell me about your inclusion on the Love & Rockets and Tones On Tail tribute album “The Work Of Sinners, The Work Of Saints”
Karen: We wanted to select a song that we could pay tribute to by sticking to our roots of “2 basses and a drum machine”- we really make sure to avoid songs that wouldn’t require heavy instrumental programming or the addition of musicians to help us fill out the sound. The Love & Rockets original version of “No Big Deal” really has that grit and swagger that BELLHEAD is known for. We listened to every version of the song we could from remix to edit to live. We absorbed everything the band had done before putting our take on it.
Ivan: When we went into the studio to track “No Big Deal”, we kept saying that the song needed to sound like a black leather jacket. You’ll listen to this song and it will transport you to a punk rock bar that’s open until 4am and reeks of warm stale beer. It’s the dead of night and you haven’t taken your sunglasses off. Everyone knows you could start a fight at any moment. When the song ends, you are getting on your motorcycle racing the dawn into the horizon.
Dennis: Great descriptions Ivan! How would you describe your live shows?
Karen: We are a live band and Ivan and I are both musicians that really enjoy performing. You’ll see that with our shows. We work at 110% at every show, no matter how big or small the crowd is. It’s visceral, intense, and by the time we’re done we’ve absolutely CRUSHED the stage.
Ivan: You can buy a lot of things. You can hire actors and employees. One thing we have that you can’t buy is enthusiasm. That enthusiasm is infectious and we spread it to everyone in the room.
Dennis: You’ve done some out of state touring too… How did that go?
Karen: I’m surprised how well we are received out of state. Every show we’ve had so far has been a success either in meeting new fans, connecting with bands, or selling merch. We definitely tore it up in Des Moines, of all places.
Ivan: I don’t read the police blotter after we leave a town, but the last time I saw the crowds they were very much alive and happy.
Dennis: While you always want to “knock ’em dead”, yeah, those basses of yours may have had some unintended side affects, so, you might want to check in on them just to be sure. (laughs). So, besides the Reggies show, what else would you like to share with our readers today? What can they expect in ‘22?
Karen: Well, we have a TON of shows booked all over the midwest and south for 2022, including jumping on with some other awesome touring bands. We’re also going to be featured on a few other compilations including a post-punk themed comp, a comp of women who rock, and an industrial comic book hybrid. We’ll hit the studio in the fall again, and Ivan may disagree, but I think we’re going to try for a full length release in early 2023.
Ivan: We are playing everywhere we can and if we aren’t in your area, reach out to your favorite club and tell them to book BELLHEAD.
Dennis: Well, thanks so much once again for your time and I really look forward to seeing a lot more from the band, and soon! You’re doing great work!
Ivan: Thanks man. Good to hear from you. Stay excellent.
Karen: Thanks so much for featuring us, we hope to see you at our upcoming shows, and don’t forget to check us out online at www.bellheadband.com