Bells Atlas

Oakland’s Bells Atlas released their strong debut LP earlier this year to pretty decent acclaim for an independent release from a previously “un-googleable” band. Saturday night, they’re opening for Tumbleweed Wanderers at Great American Music Hall, so I caught up with Bells Atlas guitarist Derek Barber to learn a bit more about the band.

The Bay Bridged: For those that don’t know, how did you guys get together?

Derek Barber: The band started a little over two and a half years ago. Sandra and Doug started collaborating musically a while before I joined the band — we played our first show in March of 2011. The band wasn’t complete, however, until Geneva joined up shortly after our first gig. Even though I had known Doug from my Jazz guitar days in Ann Arbor, it really felt like all of us found each other in a very kismet way…

TBB: You play with several musical projects – do they influence your work with Bells Atlas? How?

DB: Yeah, I play with a lot of my friends, but each band is pretty different from each other. For example, Astronauts, etc. is quite different from In Watermelon Sugar which is quite different from my solo project Perhapsy and so forth…

Playing with Bells Atlas, however, I really try to think in terms of what will serve the song or vibe best — it’s actually a blast to play in such a different group because you’re always trying to bring out a different side of your playing. A lot of times it’s a subconscious process though, and I think some of the best music in Bells Atlas gets made when we’re not over-thinking what we’re working on. For me, that’s when it’s really fun.

TBB: Has any of the feedback for your LP surprised you?

DB: In some ways, absolutely. Geneva and Sandra were saying that a bit ago, a woman came up to the two of them quoting some lyrics to “Dit Dit” even though they didn’t know who she was… I thought that was awesome and pretty cute.

It’s probably the best album I’ve ever taken part in though — which makes this group such a special thing for me.

TBB: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a band?

DB: That’s a tough one. Y’know, I feel like we’re always trying to learn how to do this whole thing better. But it’s tricky, on one side I always feel like I just wanna work on music and ignore the other necessary parts of keeping the band moving, etc. I think we’re getting a lot better at navigating some of the business craziness involved.

Still, I guess it was a bit silly to think we could keep our original name: Bells — one of the most un-googlable names ever… Haha.

But Bells Atlas has been a nice ring to it.

TBB: Do you have any particularly memorable local shows? (good and bad)

DB: Well, it’s always a blast playing gigs in Oakland because that’s when we see of our best buds come out — The New Parish has been one of our favorite spots. Still, opening up for the band Hiatus Kaiyote at The Independent in SF was a very special night. We’ve been fortunate to not have had a bunch of really crappy local gigs but our last trip passing through San Diego back to LA was, uh, interesting…

TBB: What does your mom think of Bells Atlas?

DB: She friggin’ loves us. Love ya, momma!

TBB: What’s next for Bells Atlas?

DB: Well, we’re doing a lot of demo-ing, rehearsing, planning for future touring, working towards a new album. I think we’ve got more than a couple surprises up our sleeves this time around.

We’re kinda like a family at this point. There’s some deep love invested in the group — I’d be lying if I said it was always super-easy but it’s the most worthwhile music I’ve been fortunate enough to hang with… Always stoked for what’s to come with these guys.

Tumbleweed Wanderers, Bells Atlas
Great American Music Hall
November 30, 2013