Thoughtful lyrics, catchy melodies, and layers of sound inform the endlessly listenable songs on Dive Deep, singer/songwriter Andrew Belle’s latest album, which dropped August 25. The Chicago native began his recording career relying primarily on acoustic guitar to shape his sounds. Despite achieving success with his folk-centric debut record The Ladder in 2010, by 2013, Belle had grown tired of his troubadour bent and began experimenting with keyboards and electronic drums.
“When I set out to make my second record, called Black Bear, which is now four years old, my tastes just began to shift,” said Belle in a recent phone interview with the Santa Barbara Independent. “I kind of got burned out on my acoustic guitar; I was feeling sort of limited as far as songwriting goes on that instrument. I had bought some recording software and stuff to play around with on my computer with a keyboard, and I started getting into that. When I started exploring digital electronic instruments, it just opened up this whole realm for me in terms of songwriting that I hadn’t tapped into before.”
Dive Deep delivers 11 resonant tracks that take the listener on an engaging auditory journey, picking up where Black Bear left off. “[Black Bear] and this record are sonically pretty similar,” he said of Dive Deep’s musical undercurrent. “I made them with the same team of people. The only difference is that they’re four years apart, and so maybe things are a little tighter. We have a little bit more of a clarified vision on how we wanted it to sound.”
It can be a dodgy move to switch styles after finding popularity in one musical vein, but Belle didn’t fret the innovation. “My manager was nervous at the time about shifting genres so drastically,” he said, “but I just felt like the people listening to music were also evolving in their tastes and what they want to listen to. I just sort of trusted that they would come along, and, if not, that’s fine. We’d pick up new fans as well with the different sound.”
Dive Deep hooks from the first track, “Horizon,” a daydreamy number that washes listeners in an alluring, cascading wall of sounds. “We really labored over that one for a long time,” Belle said of the song. “It took us a long time to figure out how to produce it properly and to work the dynamics of it all. I ended up getting kind of burned out on that song, and not even sure if it was good or not. But a lot of people have been saying it’s their favorite, so I’m glad that it worked.”
Another standout is the buoyant “Down,” which has a chorus so catchy it immediately burrows into your aural memory. Its bright chords are a result of Belle’s collaboration with another songwriter. “[I] had begun recording the record, and somebody reached out to me from Nashville and said, ‘Hey, I’m a producer, songwriter from Nashville, we have mutual friends, and would you want to collaborate on a track?’” Belle explained of the tune’s evolution. “At first, I turned him down. I said, ‘My wife and I are about to have a baby, and I’m trying to finish this record, and we’re just super busy, so it’s not great timing.’ Then I ended up finding myself with a few days … and I just randomly pulled up that song idea he had sent me, and immediately the melody for the chorus kind of came to me. I got real excited about it, because it felt special, and then I wrote the verses.”
Lyrically, “Down” — and Dive Deep in its entirety — addresses some major life changes Belle was going through at the time. “I’m in my early thirties now; I’ve been married for five years. My wife and I … decided to pack up everything from Chicago and move to the West Coast, which is something we’d always wanted to do, and yet [we] were kind of scared to make that big of a life transition,” he said of the events that influenced the material. “I was kind of writing a song about making a choice … moving forward confidently and just not really looking back or down, so to speak.”
For this tour, which includes a stop at SOhO, Belle is performing stripped-down versions of his songs. “I’ve been working for the last month creating a solo show … that I can dupe using a drum sampler onstage, and some other sampling equipment,” he said. “I’m rearranging all of the songs so that they’re not going to sound exactly like the record, but they’re not going to sound acoustic either. They’re going to be somewhere in that middle zone.”
Andrew Belle plays Wednesday, September 20, 8 p.m., at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.). Visit sohosb.com or call (805) 962-7776.