Local synth-pop band chooses to look on the bright side.
Synth-pop band Belladon was all set to start off 2020 with a bang: releasing its debut album and celebrating with a January show at Music Box.
That show did happen, and it went off without a hitch. Except for one thing: There was no album.
At the event, Belladon band leader Aimee Jacobs got on the microphone and announced the album’s release date was postponed … indefinitely.
Why? Numerous reasons, Jacobs later said, like a delay in receiving the masters from the studio and not having enough time to promote the record.
And perhaps the biggest reason there isn’t a Belladon album yet is a recent staff shake-up. Last fall, founding member Anastasya Korol quit the band.
“It was kind of a hard pill to swallow at first,” Jacobs said of the split.
She first met Korol while working at San Diego Music and Art Cooperative, a music and art school in Miramar. The two formed Belladon in 2017.
Korol left the band on good terms, agreeing to stay on and finish recording the album. But now that she’s gone, Belladon is left to perform as a four-piece, with Jacobs on keyboard and vocals, along with guitarist and vocalist Heather Nation, drummer Billy Petty and bassist Alex Bravo. (Though Jacobs said Korol’s departure was not why the album was delayed, the remaining members have to reevaluate how they want to present the album to the public, as well as how they want to play the tracks featuring Korol at future shows.)
Belladon’s sound is largely characterized by three-part, female harmonies, and Korol was the second lead vocalist. There are no plans to add another member, so instead Belladon is leaning into the absence and splitting up Korol’s keyboard and vocal parts.
Jacobs, now playing with two stacked keyboards, said some tracks had to be chopped and altered to fit the new configuration, making the music less composed.
Though not necessarily in a bad way.
“It sounds more spatially dynamic,” said guitarist Nation, who is now the second lead vocalist.
“It does end up actually leaving a lot more room for the songs to grow, which was a pleasant surprise,” Jacobs added.
Then there are the songs Korol wrote for the album. Those have been dropped from Belladon’s live act so the members still in the band can evolve.
Jacobs and Nation can’t quite articulate what that evolution is, only that it will take some time to figure it out.
But so far, the journey has led to some “weird discoveries and happy accidents” — like realizing bassist Bravo’s perfect pitch could keep the famous three-part harmony.
“It seems almost stupid we didn’t think of it before,” Jacobs said.
As the cliché goes, when one door closes, another opens. And Belladon is embracing that open door to forge its new path as a band.
“Creatively you kind of just have to keep moving forward,” Jacobs said. “The fact that we’re dealing with a record we’ve made in the past that we still are promoting — and we are also simultaneously opening up this completely new door that wasn’t really open before — is a very interesting juxtaposition.”
Growing pains: Before Belladon, Jacobs got her start at age 18 with The Burning of Rome, a rock band popular in San Diego and beyond. During the 10 years Jacobs was with the group, she also worked corporate jobs, but wasn’t able to hold one down for more than six months because of her sporadic touring schedule. She described her time with the band as an exciting but imbalanced experience. “My life is a lot more adult now, as adult as you can be as a musician, I guess.”
On the record: But about that album. Titled Dreaming/Dreading, the double EP is split into two sections. Side A (Dreaming) is full of dreamy, poppy, sugary songs, while Side B (Dreading) sounds scary in comparison, with much darker tracks. Its official release date is still unknown, but Jacobs estimates it will be out in the spring. Though she’s not in a rush to release it to the general public, people on the email distribution list will likely receive an advance copy. “If it’s done and people want it who are fans here (in San Diego), sure I’ll f**ing give it to them,” she said.
Banding together: San Diego Music and Art Cooperative (SDMAAC) is a music and art school for kids and a second home for Belladon. When they aren’t on stage, everyone in the band works there as music teachers. The Miramar space also serves as a creative hub and rehearsal studio for a handful of local bands. Unfortunately, while Belladon was still dealing with the loss of Korol, the band also almost lost the music space. In December 2019, a water main break flooded SDMAAC, resulting in more than $100,000 of damage to instruments and a nearly three-month closure. Yet Jacobs was able to see the silver lining in what she called a devastating experience; dealing with the tragic situation strengthened their relationships, and the required renovation will give them a fresh start.
Power struggle: When it comes to the San Diego music scene, Jacobs and Nation point out a huge problem. Without naming names, they say many of the venues aren’t paying the band enough — sometimes not even minimum wage. “Bands don’t know how to change that. They feel kind of powerless in the situation. Part of it is not being informed about how the venues are behaving illegally,” Jacobs said. The other part? Something Jacobs calls a “natural naiveness,” which can happen when bands really want to play shows and share their music in spite of the unfair situation. “We just want to go and perform and do what we wanna do, and if somebody doesn’t want to pay us for it, f**k you, but I’m still gonna do what makes me happy.”
You’ve got mail: Belladon has recently shifted away from social media to focus its attention on email. Though the band still keeps an active presence on Instagram, it doesn’t want to rely on social media. “It’s not a platform for musicians, it’s a platform for images,” Jacobs said. Plus, the elusive and ever-changing algorithm pisses her off. According to the analytics for the band page, only 12 percent of its followers see Belladon’s posts on average. So Belladon created an email distribution list and sends out newsletters to fans. In addition to getting information about gigs directly to their inbox, Jacobs wants dedicated Belladon supporters to know they’re appreciated. “I’d like to reward that behavior by doing more cool s**t.” Fans on the email list receive exclusive content from the band, including early access to releases and rehearsal videos.
One step ahead: Despite the record delay, Belladon is already working on a new one. Jacobs has begun writing some songs, ranging from electro-jazzy jams to singer-songwriter type tracks. In addition to playing around with genres, she also sees the next album as being much more collaborative. (As the band founder, she wrote many of the songs on Dreaming/Dreading before anyone else joined the group.) “These other people are here for me now. They are super creative and super f***ng talented and I trust them … this (next album) is going to be way more free and left more open to feel like it’s theirs just as much as it’s mine.”
Stream Belladon’s three singles — Carnival, Haisa and Tribute — on Bandcamp, Spotify or Apple Music. Like what you hear? Follow the band on Instagram (@belladon_clan) and sign up for its email distribution list for updates about shows — and maybe even hear the elusive album before anyone else.