The Belle Game have come a long way since their train wreck debut at Vancouver's Railway Club.
Back in 2009, singer/guitarist Adam Nanji was home from Montreal for university summer break when a childhood friend approached him about opening a show at the venerable club. Though he had no band, no songs and no idea how to even navigate between song banter, he said yes.
"I used to get very nervous on stage, so I asked Alex (Andrew, guitarist) and Andrea (Lo, vocalist) if they would back me up for the show," Nanji explains. "We kind of had this one really, really long day of rehearsal and we threw together five songs. We thought it was rehearsed enough to go. We didn't think things through enough. We were really bad."
Still, amidst the wreckage, there were some salvageable pieces. The trio kept playing. Nanji returned to Montreal that fall, meeting and promptly recruiting pianist/vocalist Katrina Jones into the band, which continued as a long-distance relationship. By the end of that year, the group released their first EP, The Inventing Letters, a collection of warm upbeat indie-folk jams characterized by sweet boy-girl vocals.
"We were split between cities," Nanji says. "We were meeting up for one-off shows and... three people would fly out from Vancouver and Katrina and I could rehearse with, like, a violinist and trumpet player in Montreal and we would meet them in Toronto."
But like all long distance efforts, it got old. Feeling they didn't quite fit in Montreal's music scene, dominated by electro-pop in 2011, Nanji and Jones decided to rejoin the rest of the act — whose ranks had swelled to seven or eight, depending on the show — on the west coast. "On a career, business, creative level, I really feel after living in Montreal that Vancouver is kind of the place to be if you're in a new band that really wants to break into the industry," Nanji said. "Montreal is great to cut your teeth and it's such a creative city, but Vancouver is this hot spot for young bands working to get their music heard...(The city) is eager to have new bands become successful."
The move proved to be fruitful. In the summer of 2011, the group played at Vancouver's Summer Live then Squamish Live. They also earned a coveted spot as finalists for the Peak Performance Project. More recently, they've toured the country with fellow Vancouverites, The Zolas, and opened up for Australian superstar Gotye at The Vogue.
The latter opportunity was especially surreal. "To open for someone of that stature — I think he played Saturday Night Live two days later — it was pretty amazing," Nanji says. "He and his crew were amazing to us. Just to see, first hand, what someone at the top of the game, how they do it. I feel like we kind of got a cheat sheet."
Since taking on the band full time, the group has pared back to five core members, touring as a six piece. Not only were the logistics of travelling with so many people daunting, but breaking even also proved difficult. "We kind of learned how to make the same amount of sound with a lot less people. We expanded our repertoire of instruments and our technical abilities," Nanji says.
Those skills proved handy during the making of their forthcoming full-length debut, Ritual Tradition Habit. Its release is shrouded in secrecy, but the finished product is currently sitting in Nanji's bedroom waiting to see the light of day. Originally slated to be released this month, its been pushed back to 2013 — for some reason. "I'm not able to be any less vague. I'm really excited to release it, but we're really excited about the possibility of why we're delaying," Nanji says with a laugh and apology. "I think we'll be able to say more in really early January."
To compensate for the delay, the band released a second EP, Sleep to Grow, so they had something to offer fans at their shows. They will, however, be playing new tracks on their tour with Vancouver pop act Hey Ocean! — which includes a stop in Whistler Nov. 17. (See our story on that band in the January 26 issue.)
Nanji says the group has shed their sunny demeanour and wandered into darker territory. "It's catchy and energetic, but there's definitely something melancholy about the whole sound," he says. "We're all really proud of it because we pushed each other as bandmates to give more. I love our old recordings too, but they're a little tame, a little shy. We're excited to get out there and say, 'This is the band now.'"