Bats in the Belfree
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Bats in the Belfree

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"We Move Against the Tides"

Riley Sieverts, Kimo Carpenter, and Christian Von Hamm embarked on the adventure of their lives when they decided to take a roadtrip up the California coast. Having recently graduated high school, they were determined to spread their music to the mainland. Lucky for us, their band Bats in the Belfree decided on San Francisco, where they met up with their manager/neighbor, Marco Iwabuchi, a native Texan who had also recently decided to settle in the city. On a clear Saturday afternoon, I had the opportunity to meet up with Bats in the Belfree, and of course, Marco, at Simple Pleasures Cafe on Balboa and 36th. Although the three band members are all Hawaiian born and raised, one thing that immediately stood out was the diversity of the whole team, whose ethnicities covered just about every continent but Australia and the arctic tundras.

Riley (bass/vocals), who walked in sporting a light buzz cut, fair skin, an indie style and black shades over blue eyes, is mostly Dutch, Welsh and a medley of European heritage. Kimo (drums/vocals), who pulled off a surfer look with awesome dreads down his back and light grey/brown eyes, is half white/half black with his heritage roots stemming from African-American, Jamaican, Indian, Austrian, Hungarian, Russian, and Polish. Christian (guitar), a comedian with dark curls and green eyes, claimed to be- brace yourself- Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, English, Irish, and German! And lastly, Marco (manager), relaxed in a beachy pink button up with green eyes, tan skin and dark hair, is half Japanese and half Spanish.

What did that these diverse guys have in common? Their beautiful eyes (that would make anyone do a double-take), tattoos (Kimo even has a Bats in the Belfree tat), CONSTANT laughter, and of course a love for their music. These are the type of guys who know how to have a good time no matter what they are doing, whether it be having a couple beers on the beach or going hard all night. Their fun-loving personalities made for an exciting and entertaining interview.

It all started in an “AFI-type punk band,” says Riley. “Me and Christian were like, ‘we should do a reggae-type thing!’” Christian pipes in with a mischievous smirk, and “we started smoking a lot of pot.” This was followed by a round of confirming laughter from the group, after which Riley continued explaining. “The reggae thing went on and then we were like, ‘we need a better drummer’. Luckily Kimo was a great drummer at school.” Says Kimo, “We didn’t really even talk to each other! I mean, I would see Riley around… But then we became really close.”

I sarcastically exclaimed, “and then you became best friends for life!” to which Riley answered, “yeah then we got married…” Christian enthusiastically followed with, “Kimo’s expecting!” to which the drummer nodded his head in agreement. All jokes aside, these guys would probably make one badass, beautiful-eyed baby with talent, dreads and a whole new shade of skin.

When asked how the transition (9 months now, just enough time for the baby!) to San Francisco was going, I received first an almost unanimous, “it’s cold.” Each member left all family and friends behind and has grown to count on the others as their own little family. Even though they have encountered their share of obstacles, they all agree that they had to get off the island because although it was a great place, there was no real way to expand their musical ambitions. “San Francisco is just a big shock. [Musically] the scene is kind of a tight niche up here. All the bars focus on is if you can draw a big crowd or not,” says Riley. Marco quickly adds on, stating “the weather and the culture and diversity is a good thing… but it can also be a negative.”

“You can tell that [culture shock] has a really heavy influence on the new material we have been writing,” says Kimo. Christian feels this material comes from “personal experiences, things we think will inspire/relate to people and make them feel good.” The group seems pretty adamant that Satisfaction is their favorite creation at the moment. “Satisfaction is about drugs and how everyone goes through the drug scene and how it is just such a heavy drop-down in society- something that is hard to get through and will hold you back.”

As for their future goals, Riley says “we get gigs like twice a month but now we realize our focus needs to be tightening up our package and our new material so that our next album will just have the best songs ever.” Kimo is more specific about short-term goals, speaking about new material (coming out in a few months), and plans to be “drawing bigger crowds at venues like Bottom of the Hill and Independent.”

Luckily for these guys, they have Marco Iwabuchi to help keep them goal-oriented and organized. There was a time, before Marco, when Bats in the Belfree would forget important things… then do their best to improvise and fix everything. For example, Kimo recalls the “Marshmallow Story,” where ”we were really unorganized back in highschool and– I don’t remember exactly where we were playing –but I am setting up my drums and I realize I don’t have the piece I need to hold my cymbal up. We couldn’t figure out what to use as a cushion, so we ended up using a marshmallow and it… worked.”

“It didn’t work at all” admits Riley. Christian confirms his assertion, adding, “Yeah it worked for like one song and then exploded. Then the cymbal came flying off. It was awesome.”

Not only is Marco good at keeping these guys from playing with their food (literally), but he is also a true friend who looks out for the group’s best interests. When each member was asked who in their own lives inspired them, Christian gave his first actual serious answer when he spoke lovingly of his late grandpa. Kimo spoke appreciatively of his brother back in Hawaii, and Riley threw in Julius Caesar for reasons I have still yet to determine. Yet each one of them mentioned Marco an an inspiration as well.

“What am I chopped liver over here? I have to say my inspiration,” teases Marco after I accidentally skip over his answer. The way he inspires the band, they also inspire their manager. “My inspiration really is these guys. See, meeting and hearing them play was just like, amazing and it made all these other feelings come out that I never thought I would posses.” All the guys shared bashful smiles and nervous giggles, before Christian returns to his joking nature. “Whoa, chopped liver over there almost made me cry!”

When they’re not busy loving each other, they have typical SF hobbies. Marco says “laughing is a definite hobby for us.” They also enjoy “the always-entertaining Netflix”, occasional drawing and skating, their pet corn snakes, the Marina, and especially the beach. In fact, when texting back and forth to set up a time for the interview, Kimo messaged me a nonchalant “no rush, I’m just getting out of the water.” It’s no surprise that these guys are very attune to the surf scene at Ocean Beach considering all three are originally from the beautiful tropics of Oahu, Hawaii. But mostly, as Christian says, “music consumes our life. Our instruments are our best friends… and our girlfriends.”

Riley, Kimo, Marco and I just sort of stop to ponder this answer. “Our girlfriends?” questions Riley, confused. Christian continues on as if it is obvious, “Well yeah. I call my guitar tootsie pop… and sweetheart.” Then as if that wasn’t explanation enough he sings out, “she lets me lick the wrapperrrr.” After a round of gut-busting laughter, he also personifies his problematic guitar amp. “It’s always fighting me that son-of-a-gun. Ugh. I’m training it.” It’s obvious that all three band members are really attached to their instruments, but Christian’s… special …relationship with his equipment is both the most admirable thing I’ve ever heard of AND the weirdest.

When not training instruments, the guys have bills to pay, just like the rest of us. And how do they pay their bills? Music, of course! Although they do occasionally work alongside mere mortals in regular jobs. Riley can be found working at the local Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. waiting tables and dealing out that trivia that everybody loves. Kimo currently works security at the Fillmore, but has yet to kick someone’s ass. He claims to prefer fighting his drum set more than people. As for Christian? “I am a male nurse. My practice is over at Saint Mary’s Hospital. You can find me with my finger up old guys’ butts, making them cough… Just kidding, i’m unemployed.”

Please stick with music Christian. Your equipment will get jealous.

When asked who they would be if they could trade lives with anyone, dead or alive, they all had a knack for picking musicians who bit the bullet. Some names that were thrown around were Bob Marley, John Lennon, and Ray Charles. “We just want to be dead” laughed Riley, before Kimo spoke up with an enthusiastic “Oprah! My mom watches her.” Kings of Leon was also very popular with this group, as they pretty much agreed that if they could play a show with anyone it would be them.

These guys obviously have great chemistry and don’t seem to have too much of a problem agreeing with each other, so I wondered if they had ever suffered any blowouts or disagreements.

“All the time,” begins Riley without any hesitation. “What’s really weird is like, we’re fine when we’re playing music consistently, but if we don’t play together for like a week we kind of go into our own things, and when we come back together to play-” “The chemistry isn’t there and we have to get it back,” Kimo finishes. Christian laughs and adds, “yeah, we end up screamin’ at each other like ‘You son of a bitch you can’t play for shit!’ and stuff like that.” Riley admits to having an argument just the other day, to which Christian says, “yeah Riley was literally about to break the guitar over my head!” Yet what I’m sure was a heated argument then is just something for these guys to look back on and laugh at now. Riley agrees, remembering that “like ten minutes after we did that, we wrote an awesome song.”

And that song is…. a secret! Christian takes this opportunity to plug a new album, slated for release in January or February of 2013. “We are really focused on fine-tuning the music and changing it up so that it relates to the more vast audience of the city,” teases Riley.

Before we said our goodbyes I had to shake up the surfers a little bit with a solid San Francisco shark attack story. Yet while I was happy to see them grow fairly wide-eyed at the dangers of Ocean Beach, I hope they never encounter any real sharks. I’m looking forward to hearing from the new tuned-up Bats in the Belfree next year and they can’t let me down!
- Mia Torralba


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

It all started in 2008 where band members Christian Von Hamm (Guitar) Riley Sieverts (Bass) and Kimo Preis Carpenter (Drums) met during their sophomore years of high school. After randomly stumbling upon each other to find out they shared the same musical passion, they started a reggae band out of Christian's garage. The band gained several additional members and much attention, playing at respectable local venues around Hawaii where they were born and raised before long. It lasted a little over a year and a half before other members of the band left for college, bringing the three right back to where they started. To fill in those empty spaces and explore their own musical abilities, Christian, Riley, & Kimo started producing a sound in which no one has heard, and Bats In The Belfree was born.

Shortly thereafter the three members decided to take the leap of faith and leave their small comfortable island home in Hawaii and move to San Francisco CA to pursue their musical dreams. Before moving they recorded Their EP titled "Circus Club" which helped established the band's sound in the alternative music scene. Without The Shades a song from their EP started playing on Star 101.9 the biggest alternative radio station in Hawaii, where their music continues to be played. Hawaii's main newspaper "The Honolulu Star Bulletin" also featured the band and their move to the mainland.

After moving to California, Bats in The Belfree played at SXSW music festival in Austin Texas and upon return linked with Marco Iwabuchi who has become there full force manager and mentor. The band is currently writing their next album, which has already had inquiries. As one member has stated that "the next album is definitely a huge step above the last and is going to really portrait our true musical talents and emotions."