Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In The Spotlight--The Van Allen Belt

Pittsburgh's The Van Allen Belt coming to the Galaxy June 2nd
The Van Allen Belt is at once new and original, while using sounds and styles that would have fit solidly in the late 60's or early 70's.  Blending samples, effects, and harmonies into a swirling, almost cinematic sound, The Van Allen Belt is like few other bands that have come to the Galaxy.

Originally formed as a studio only project by B.K. Ferris and vocalist Tamar Kamin, the group has developed into a regularly touring live force that has played Cincinnati's Mid-Point Music Festival among other events, and often mixes incredible visual art from Ohio State's Peter Luckner into their show.  While the group's sound will certainly evoke a feeling of being fresh but still familiar, they weren't aiming for a certain style.  Ferris said that, "I'd say there are tons of homages to what I enjoy, but I was never out to directly copy a style.  And I find I can't if I try."

He has found other artists, "both audio and visual" inspirational, though his primary influence is "real life".  "In The Van Allen Belt the music is always written before the words, and then I wait for that moment when I have something to say," he told us. "I try not to force it."

The group has been performing live for nearly five years, and Kamin said that, "Our decision to work on touring The Van Allen Belt more is based on where we are as a band right now."  She adds, "performing artists need audience to support their work.  The more places you go the more people you meet. The more good relationships you make the more people will like you, as a band or otherwise."

Working, like the Galaxy, as a totally DIY venture is both a dream, and a struggle for the group.  "Having a business where we can record, produce, publish, license, and perform in the black is realistically what we're working on," says Kamin.  She began to view the band as a second full time job in 2009, "and began seeing it as a business."  Working to break old routines and maintain a positive attitude have been the biggest struggles the group, and most DIY efforts, have faced.  When asked about the group's long term goals, Ferris replied, "I'd say in a word: Europe."

All of the group members have jobs outside the group to varying degrees, from part time office work, to bassist Tom Altes' work as a surgical tech.  Topping off everything else, the group stays active in the community, working for "various charitable organizations", as well as volunteering at festivals and galleries where they can.  Kamin sums it up nicely, telling us, "We don't sleep much."  Which is clearly the ethos of any solid DIY effort.

Being on the road has many challenges, but the band seems to still love it.  "I think it's great to see new cities and to visit ones we've played before," says Kamin.  She cites having a good show and meeting new people who like what they do as the high points, and the general "grumpiness" caused by the lack of food and restrooms as particular challenges.  Ferris points to "promoters out there who are looking to make money off of the entertainment rather than the audience," as a big point of frustration.  He tries to keep his expectations of new venues neutral, "as many of my favorite shows were in the oddest places."

Like many artists we've talked with, the group is generally pleased with the state of the music industry for unsigned indie artists.  "There are great things happening everywhere now.  We're all so in tune with the internet that local scenes have far less influence on music."  He concludes by telling us that "Weird is getting a lot of mainstream attention again," which gives hope to every artist out there creating their own vibrant slice of music.

You can see The Van Allen Belt this Saturday June 2nd along with Zach Starkie from Somebody's Something, and hopefully one more group to be added this week.  Showtime is 7pm, and the event is all ages and just $5.00.  Thanks to the band for taking some time to talk with us, and we'll see you at the show!

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