Unlocked: Ross Bellenoit on progressing from classical to rock to recording at home

He was trained in music in his native Boston, but Ross Bellenoit came into his own as a musician here in Philadelphia. When he arrived in town nearly ten years ago, he formed an early bond with a community of musicians based in South Philadelphia and was quickly enlisted to play guitar for many of them. Soon, he began playing for touring groups as well – like Brooklyn-based alt-folk combo The Sweetback Sisters – and in 2010, released his first collection of his own songwriting, Eight Track Mind. This year’s Home Songs series of EPs, which we’ve featured all week on Unlocked, show a tremendous growth in songwriting, production and overall style – which is interesting, considering that these songs are essentially demos recorded at home, with slight studio embellishments after the fact. Bellenoit and I grabbed lunch a couple weeks ago to talk about his growth, his process and parallels he has with a certain pop singer from Sweden.

The Key: With everything that you’re musically involved in, how do you find time for your solo stuff in the midst of all that?

Ross Bellenot: I find myself consciously having to make time to do it. It’s actually really interesting lately, for the past maybe like six months, because I’ve been not on the road anymore. And when I initially made that decision to not be on the road anymore, you know, I was like, “Great, I’ll have more time to focus on my own stuff.” It doesn’t quite work that way. I have to hustle a lot more than I was when I was on the road to sort of keep the same sort of level of income coming in. A lot of things have been taking up a lot more of my time, and I ended up delving into a lot of other projects, too – like Divers, and I started playing with Matt Landis’ group Minor Arcana, and Early Ape, I’ve been playing with those guys.

TK:  Wow.

RB: So, yeah, it’s like, there’s been a lot of things on the plate. And, uh, I was hoping to have started recording the next full-length while all these EPs were being released. It’s been really hard to like set that time aside to make it happen. But, I’m always writing songs Continue reading →


Unlocked: Get a look inside Ross Bellenoit’s home in the video for “Besides”

This week we’ve been featuring Ross Bellenoit‘s collection of EPs, Home Songs Volumes 1 – 3, in Unlocked, The Key’s regular series showcasing new and significant releases from Philadelphia musicians. It’s called Home Songs because Bellenoit recorded the bulk of the music at home, in the comfort zone of his living room. For this collection, his goal was immediacy – pinning a song down and documenting it when it’s fresh, before he’s had time to overthink. We’ll explore that philosophy and process tomorrow, when Ross tells us more in our interview. First, though, it seems appropriate to get a look at the house he speaks of. This video was made for “Besides,” the opening track on Home Songs Volume 1, and in it you see the songwriter wear many hats – percussionist, guitarist, accompanist and singer. When he celebrates the conclusion of the Home Songs project this Friday at Underground Arts, we presume there will only be one of him onstage – but how cool would it be if Ross and his Band of Bellenoits?

Home Songs Volumes 1-3 is the featured album in this edition of Unlocked; hear the spotlighted track “Down to One” in Monday’s post, read yesterday’s album review; and check back tomorrow for an interview with Bellenoit.


Unlocked: The Key’s review of Home Songs Volumes 1-3 by Ross Bellenoit

As a guitarist, Ross Bellenoit is a true expressionist. From spacey solos to smart tones, textures and accents, he’s worked with performers like Birdie Busch and The Sweetback Sisters to transform their music from “singer-songwriter” into so much more. So it’s interesting to approach him as a solo artist in his own right – what kinds of songs will he sing, and write? Will they be drifty, dreamy and epic, or will he mix in brash rockers, or contemplative strummers?

This week, Bellenoit celebrates the completion of his Home Songs trilogy, a series of three EPs he’s self-released since the spring. And as we wrap up listening to Volume 3, and reflect back on Volumes 2 and 1, it becomes clear: Bellenoit does all of the above.

If you had to characterize this set, it would be his late night at the rock-and-roll bar. Opening with a punchy, jagged cover of Richard and Linda Thompson’s classic “I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight,” Bellenoit jumps immediately into the single “Down To One” – which we heard yesterday as the featured download in this week’s UNLOCKED. Loosely a musical homage to “One” by Harry Nilsson, it also rocks a vocal melody similar to classic Elliott Smith or, digging even further back, The Beatles. Lyrically, it’s a study of trends and dubious trendsetters with chameleon identities: “The minds you’re deceiving are close to believing that they could be the new renegade.” So is he taking a critical character study of Nilsson himself here, or talking more generally to folks who overstep the bounds of the collaborator / producer role he so cherishes? It’s unclear, and the compelling lyrical mystery shows that Bellenoit’s skill lies in telling stories and studying characters as much as his slinging his six-string. Continue reading →


Unlocked: Download Ross Bellenoit’s “Down to One” from the new Home Songs Volume 3

You know Philly musician Ross Bellenoit, even if you don’t realize it. The versatile player has lent his guitar savvy to Birdie Busch and Sun Airway, his production know-how to Ali Wadsworth and Aaron and the Spell, and countless more in between. Somewhere in the mix, he also writes his own songs  – a wholly different exercise from accompanying other artists on stage, or helping them shape their songs in the studio – and this week Bellenoit is celebrating the third installment in his series of EPs he’s been self-releasing since spring. Home Songs Volume 3 has been online for a month and will be available on CD in a release party at Underground Arts this Friday. With the return of UNLOCKED – The Key’s regular series spotlighting new and significant releases by Philadelphia-area artists – we’ll dig not only into the most recent installment, but the series as a whole, and Bellenoit’s quest to make his life making music. He’s succeeding so far, and today we’ve got evidence of such that you can download and pop on your mp3 player. “Down to One” is a jaunty number from the new EP that’s an unapologetic homage to Harry Nilsson; Ross will tell us more about it in our interview later in the week. Tomorrow we’ll have a review of the Home Songs series, later in the week we’ll have some video and a (maybe) a Bellenoit musical genealogy. Today, though, you can get started with “Down to One” - thanks to Ross, we’re making it a free download for the next 24 hours. UPDATE: 24 hours are up! Enjoy the song in the streaming player below.


Documentary about J.C. Dobbs to screen at inaugural Liberty Music Fest

Not to be confused with the similarly-titled festival that the Phonographic Arts gang threw at The Level Room earlier this year, the inaugural Liberty Music Fest at The Legendary Dobbs on South Street showcases some 40 up-and-coming acts on two stages over the course four days. Some of the notable names on the lineup include Wilmington new-folk combo New Sweden (you can download their raging Key Session here), Philly rockers Black Stars, versatile local guitarist Ross Bellenoit and his band The Goods, emotive Americana trio The Parsnip Revolt, and many more. The festival begins on Aug. 16, runs through Aug. 19, and you can get the full lineup and set times here. Sure to be a highlight for longtime denizens of the Philly music scene is the opening night screening of Meet Me on South Street a look at the history of J.C. Dobbs by documentary filmmaker George Manney. Check out a trailer for the film below.


Tonight’s Concert Pick: “Philly Sings Philly” local cover series kicks off at The Fire

Andrew Lipke
Andrew Lipke performs 11/2 at The Fire

Love Andrew Lipke‘s “Mindgames,” but want to know how the rocking anthem would sound after being given the whimsical treatment by Hezekiah Jones‘ Raphael Cutrufello? Curious to hear how Suzie Brown‘s yearning vocals can completely change the tone of Ryan Tennis‘ road-weary “To The Moon?” Who eventually covers what is anybody’s guess, but one thing is for certain: the month-long, five-performance “Philly Sings Philly” series at The Fire features just about every acoustic-guitar-wielding singer-songwriter in town playing each others’ material. The series begins tonight, with performances by Andrew Lipke, Wissahickon Chicken Shack, Dawn Iulg, David James, Jessica McDowell, Scott Silipigni, and Susan Rosetti; notable names from later shows include the aforementioned Hezekiah Jones, Suzie Brown, and Ryan Tennis, as well as The Spinning Leaves, Sisters 3, Ross Bellenoit, Phil D’Agostino, and Joshua Park. Tonight’s performances begin at 8 p.m.; tickets to the show are $8.