The BellRays Maintain the Faith
by Brett Leigh Dicks
There’s more than a touch of irony that the greater population’s familiarity with the music of The BellRays probably originates from a car commercial, seeing as the ethics and dynamics of this Southern California quartet — more than any other band — stem from the blending of rock and R&B that typified the ’70s Detroit sound. Back then, music was an active venture, not a passive undertaking. And according to lead singer Lisa Kekaula, as far as The BellRays are concerned, times might change, but the essentials of music never do.
Being such a dynamic live band, it must require a little courage each time you venture into the studio to record a new album. How do you feel that materializes on your new recording, Have a Little Faith? The one thing that I have control over within myself is my fearlessness to try new things. That is also the approach that everyone in the band tends to take, so there is somewhat of a fearlessness to this new album. On this record there is a lot more vulnerability as well as a lot of strength. And for me this really embodies The BellRays’ philosophy.
It has been 15 years since The BellRays first emerged from Riverside. How have you survived the various musical fashions that have come and gone? Everything that we have done has been about the songs and we have always done what we felt we should be doing. We went through the acoustic era and the ska thing. We went through grunge and we went through the hair bands. We didn’t really fit, but we never really worried about it and just kept doing what we do. Eventually people started paying attention because we were always in the way!
And that’s no small feat considering that you aren’t your typical rock band. You’re right. I’m a black female fronting a rock band in America — which is an oddity that marketing people don’t really like. It’s a weird thing. They want that image … but if they have the chance to have it, they quickly realize that it’s not for them. Everybody wants someone like Tina Turner, but they don’t want it to be their thing.
The BellRays have maintained quite a steadfast independence; was that a conscious decision or more the result of circumstance? Our independence didn’t come from us wanting to do it all ourselves — there just weren’t people there willing to help us. Our independence comes from being orphaned in a way. … We have always wanted help. The difference is that we have known what sort of help we have wanted.
Your songs have been used everywhere from video games to television commercials. How do you feel about your music being used after the fact? A song means whatever you feel it’s supposed to mean. If it happens to be the guy down the street or the dude over at Nissan, it doesn’t make any difference to me. It’s all about what that songs means to them. After we record a song, it’s out of our hands and we don’t know how many people are going to make love to the record or if someone’s going to turn it on before they shoot somebody. The Beatles didn’t know what was going to happen with the Manson family and Helter Skelter. And I don’t think that it’s something that we should be trying to control. Who knows how a song will plug into the synapses of somebody’s head?
The BellRays have an amazingly wide appeal. Your music seems to cross generations. How does that work in the band’s favor? We have always had a lot of young people getting into us as well as the older people sticking with us. The entire family can be fans of The BellRays’ music. And this is probably one of the things that has prevented us from being in the mainstream because so much of today’s culture is about seeing which group you can point something at. And when you appeal to different groups it starts to confuse the people doing the pointing because they’re used to dealing with just one demographic. Not that I’m any sort of marketing major or anything.
But you’re probably more in touch with reality than a college full of marketing majors. (Laughs) You’re probably right!
4•1•1 The BellRays play The Mercury Lounge tonight, Thursday, May 11, with The Spores opening. Have a Little Faith is out now on Cheap Lullaby Records.