The BellRays

The BellRays

BandRockPunk

Formed in 1990, The BellRays - Tony Fate (guitar/songwriter/lyricist), Lisa Kekaula (Singer), Bob Vennum (bass) - exploded on to the Los Angeles music scene with a fiery sound described as “maximum rock ‘n soul.”

Biography

For the BellRays, the title of their latest album, Have A Little Faith, is a command, an ultimatum even. “We need more fearlessness!” firebrand singer Lisa Kekaula declared last fall when the Southern California quartet appeared in front of the Washington Monument alongside acts like Thievery Corporation for the Operation Ceasefire concert. On this disc, The BellRays lead by example, barreling through an impassioned, genre-bashing 13-song set of “maximum rock and soul,” as they, in no uncertain terms, describe their sound.
In another era, the BellRays would be blasting out of car radios. Nowadays, they’re jump-starting car commercials, where cutting-edge bands seem to be getting more airplay than on your local FM station. For many listeners, their first exposure to the BellRays came from the Nissan Xterra commercial that featured the audacious vocals and killer guitar riffs of “Revolution Get Down,” from the foursome’s previous release, The Red White and Black. It’s fitting somehow that the group has been linked to the auto industry because their sound is often compared to the hard-edged, defiant, rock-meets-R&B sound of late sixties/early seventies Detroit and specifically to Motor City artists like the MC5 and the Stooges (though Kekaula is way more Aretha than Iggy). The BellRays do reference Detroit, but more philosophically than geographically. They evoke a time when rock and roll was as much catalyst as soundtrack.
“We can deliver live,” guitarist and primary songwriter Tony Fate declares. “We don’t go out and just play twelve hits, it’s a whole communal thing. Everybody has to give something. There has to be an energy exchange. It’s not like watching a TV show.”
“At our shows the age range is so wide,” Kekaula adds. “We have a good mix no matter where we go in our world. They come to see us because they all find something to believe in. And we’re not lying. It’s like when you’re talking to somebody, having a conversation. Sometimes you get more excited, sometimes you’re really laid back, sometimes you have love in your heart, and sometimes you’re angry. That’s what we used to expect from bands, to go through the whole emotional gamut.”
The band has connected directly with its progenitors. Kekaula toured Europe and the states with the surviving members of the MC5—Michael Davis, Wayne Kramer, Dennis Thompson—on their much-heralded DKT/MC5 reunion, guest starring as lead vocalist. But the BellRays are no mere revivalists; what they do is neither designed to be ironic or imitative. They synthesize punk, R&B, funk and psychedelic rock with an undercurrent of gospel and the improvisational approach of jazz. As Fate explains, “We utilize a jazz sensibility for what we’re doing. That makes the songs change every night and brings a chance element to the picture.” The result is always in—and about—the moment.
As an NME reviewer once put it, “It could be 1968, 1977 or 1989, and The BellRays’ music could be burning out of a sweaty inner-city basement instead of floating off across deserted Brighton beach to the Channel. That they’re here and now is all that matters. This is music spiked with attitude, but—just as importantly—it’s music to dance to. And dammit, you will dance.” A reviewer from London’s tonier The Independent heartily concurred, calling the BellRays “some kind of dream combination: a belting soul singer backed by a tight punk-soul band...there’s nothing quite like them.” Gavin Martin, in London’s Daily Mirror described their show as “an intense, cathartic and mind-blowing experience.”
The BellRays have been working in the here and now for the last decade and a half, emphasizing commitment over concept, passion over pose. The group has its roots in Riverside, California, where guitarist Bob Vennum and singer Kekaula grew up. They recruited Fate, an Indiana native who’d moved to the west coast, from another band on the Inland Empire bar scene, and Vennum switched to bass to accommodate him. “When we got together,” recalled Vennum, “we played one song and realized this stuff was going to be really, really good.” They released their first album, the R&B-laden In the Light of the Sun, on their own do-it-yourself label, via cassette. When these sought-after songs were finally reissued on CD, Rolling Stone called the work “lightning in a bottle...a mighty exhilarating ride.” The BellRays went through several drummers before Craig Waters permanently took over the spot.
“If the BellRays can do anything for music,” Kekaula says, “it’s to dispel the idea that if you see a black singer that means she grew up singing gospel, she’s the soul element of a band that has white guys in it. Because that’s not the way it is. We’ve all got rock, we’ve all got soul, and all of us coming together to do that is what makes us sound the way we sound.”
American audiences lag behind their U.K. counterparts, who have enthusiastically embraced the authenticity of the BellRays sound ever since indie rock icon Alan M

Discography

Red, White & Black
(January 25th, 2005/Alternative Tentacles)

Meet the BellRays [IMPORT]
(Poptones 2003)

Raw Collection CD
(Uppercut Records/Vital Gesture Records, 2003)

Grand Fury LP/CD
(Uppercut Records/Vital Gesture Records, 2000)

Let It Blast LP/CD
(Vital Gesture Records, 1998)

In The Light Of The Sun CS
(Vital Gesture Records, 1993)

The BellRays CS
(Vital Gesture Records, 1992)