When Jake Bellows left his native Omaha to be closer to his girlfriend in sunny Los Angeles, selling his Les Paul to buy a pickup truck, it seemed that his music days might be drawing to a close. He spent 15 solid years as the frontman for Neva Dinova, touring with some of indie rock’s biggest players, like Death Cab For Cutie, Bright Eyes, and Azure Ray, but his career had wound down to solo songwriting and a few shows here and there. Bellows’ return came in the form of a movie score: an old friend asked for his help composing a score to be perfomed live at Omaha’s Film Streams Theatre, and when they got together to work on it, Bellows was convinced to hit the studio and record some of his solo material. The end result was New Ocean, Bellows’ debut solo record, which dropped in August. He took some time to talk to us about his solo writing, Bright Eyes, and how to alter the universe.
How does it feel to be a solo artist after being in a band for so long?
In Neva Dinova, I/we always had the freedom to make the kind of music we wanted, and were only limited by what we knew how to play. I think that same thing has proven to be true with this solo effort, the only difference being, we had different people with different gifts.
Can you explain your belief that songs change the fabric of the universe through the frequencies they emit?
Good question and well put. Firstly, this is not really just a belief of mine as much as it is me drawing parallels from science to music. All things that exist in the universe are made up of energy vibrating at particular and unique frequencies. These are essentially the fabric of the universe. Putting order to these frequencies is the nature of creation. The way I understand it, this can be done in several ways, basically through manipulation of light(color), sound,and even thoughts (alpha/beta/theta waves). I feel like these parallels are significant because of the potential effect we could have on our world through these mediums. I’d like to see a world where happiness is a central goal, and we treat one another with love and respect. I think these things can be influenced by our diligent efforts.
Neva Dinova put out a split album with Bright Eyes. What’s a Bright Eyes song you love, and why?
I love many Bright Eyes songs but my favorite is “Spring Cleaning.” I just think it’s a beautiful look at a serious situation, with empathy for a fellow human. And it’s pretty.
Tell us a bit about your new album.
I’m lucky to have gotten the chance to record with some of my best friends and favorite musicians. It came together quickly and easily with a lot of laughs.
How would you compare it to your last album?
I think that my perspective has changed about how I want to use music. The last record just felt darker in my opinion. With this record I really wanted to try to do something more positive for the world, I hope that shows through.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
I guess that my appreciation for music is based on the songs themselves more than the writers. There are so many great and inspired writers that it would be tough for me to list them all but Daniel Johnston, Ryan from Our Fox, Simon Joyner, Alessi’s Ark, Smokey Robinson; golly there’s a lot of them!
When did you start writing songs? (Were they good right away, or did that come later?)
I think I wrote my first song in 1993 and it was one of the most gawd-awful sounds one would ever wish to hear. Everyone who’s heard that song is still bummed. Sorry guys.
What was the first song you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
It was called “chicken in my bowl,” and I think the title describes it better than I ever could.
What’s the last song you wrote or started?
I’ve been working on a few new ones that are really fun for me. I’m writing on instruments that I don’t know how to play so it gives you a lot of freedom to follow the vibe of the song without bending it to accommodate your old habits.
How do you go about writing songs?
It’s often different, but the best advice I ever read was from Neil Young. He said if a song is in your mind, stop doing everything else until you finish it. Pull off the road and get your pen out.
What is your approach to writing lyrics?
Mostly, the lyrics and melody will pop into the mind and I’ll try to figure out out to play it. Sometimes I don’t really know what the song is about yet, but it starts to get clearer as I get further into it. On occasion, it has taken years for me to figure out what a song was about. Weird.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
It’s often an attempt to illustrate the commonality of the human experience, or to try to describe a world that I would like to see exist.
What’s a lyric or verse from the album you’re a fan of?
I kind of like,”Bodies made of space-dust.”
Are there any words you love or hate?
I don’t like the word “li’l” Pisses me off. Not even sure it’s a word, so maybe I should just relax.
The most annoying thing about songwriting is….
That you can’t always do it. Sometimes you want to write a song but you just have to wait. You can be sitting there with a pen and a pad, and all you’re doing is holding them. Totally annoying.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
Jeez, I don’t really know. I hope there have been a couple.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
I really like writing with Todd Fink. 100% badass.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
I would have to say Alessi from Alessi’s Ark is very underrated. People gotta recognize.
What do you consider to be the perfect song?
“Thirteen” by Big Star. Any song that you never skip and can play 20× in a row must be perfect.