You often hear about the dreaded sophomore slump.
Musicians will pour a whole life's worth of experiences into their debuts, so by the time the second album is due out, they have nothing left to draw from.
You probably don't need me to tell you that most record labels have little time for the kind of prolonged soul-searching that sophomore albums sometimes necessitate — especially if you're a band that has enjoyed as much buzz as Vancouver dream-pop outfit, Belle Game.
The group released their 2013 debut, Ritual Tradition Habit, to widespread acclaim. They had everyone from Rolling Stone to Pitchfork singing their praises and comparing them to some of the biggest names in the biz. They even took home the Prism Prize Audience Award for their slickly produced music video, "River."
Needless to say, there was pressure to build on the momentum — and fast.
"As a musician, there's always so much pressure when you get some attention to start creating again," says lead vocalist Andrea Lo. "That was our main intention: to get something out as quickly as possible after that album, get writing and start releasing right away."
That plan, like a lot of things in life, didn't go off quite as expected. It would be four years before Belle Game's follow-up, last summer's lush, mesmerizing Fear/Nothing, an apt title for a band that spent the intervening years venturing into uncharted waters, completely reconfiguring their relationship to music — and themselves.
"I don't want to call it a wayward journey, but it seemed to be wayward at the time," recalls Lo. "It was a process that started quietly, began to turn us inside out and left us with new perspectives and new ways of engaging with music."
Key to this revelation was Kevin Drew, co-founder of Toronto indie collective Broken Social Scene. Drew mentored Belle Game in 2013 as part of the Banff Centre's Independent Music Residency, and would go on to produce Fear/Nothing alongside Dave Hamelin of The Stills.
The result is a more mature, confident record than their first that sounds like a band finding itself in real time. Along with the serene mountainous surroundings of Banff, Lo says it was Drew's honest, almost primal approach to creating art that really rubbed off on the group.
"If anyone listens to Broken Social Scene's music, it's so entirely present and so entirely — I feel like this word is thrown around a lot but it's the best word I can think of — authentic," she says. "So what (Drew's) presence alone taught us... is to essentially just create as opposed to unconsciously imitating and putting restrictions on things."
In its early days, Belle Game (which also includes guitarist Adam Nanji, keyboardist Katrina Jones and drummer Alex Andrew) felt the same pressure a lot of young artists do to conform. They were, quite simply, creating from their heads, imitating whatever the trendy band of the day was doing. Now, their music comes from a less definable place — for simplicity's sake, let's call it, the gut.
"I try to create from a place that is born within the body," Lo explains. "We go through so much in our lives that I believe we begin to accumulate a lot in our body, whether it's tensions, stresses or memories.
"It's almost like this flow of energy that comes through and allows you to move through those moments and express them. Music is a channel for allowing that."
All of the transformation Belle Game underwent over the past few years wouldn't have been possible without the personal evolution of each member in the band. For Lo, that meant confronting her stage fright, an odd-seeming phobia for the lead singer of an international touring band.
"Being onstage is not my desired place to be," she says. "The band is something in my life that forces me to confront myself all the time: vulnerabilities with sharing, with judgment, with imposter syndrome.
"A lot of people struggle with emotional vulnerability, and what my understanding of my role has progressed to is that I need to get up onstage and essentially allow myself to unravel and come apart as much as possible in a way that is real, to the point where people see it and it becomes their permission slip to do that themselves. I think we really block ourselves off from that. So that's fucking hard."
Thankfully for the rest of us, Belle Game has no problem taking the hard road.
The band brings its ethereal soundscapes to the Maury Young Arts Centre on Sunday, Jan. 12. Doors are at 7 p.m., with fellow Vancouverites I M U R opening the show at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are $25, available at artswhistler.tix.com.