Bellows Interview: “Brutal honesty and open eyes.”


Bellows new album The Rose Gardener is out on vinyl, cassette, and digitally on February 22nd, 2019 via Topshelf Records.

It’s only been about a week since I first listened to New York based bedroom pop/indie rock project Bellows. I just so happened to listen to the title track from upcoming album The Rose Gardener. Musically warm and enveloping, the track immediately grasped my attention and would not relent. Combining Kalb’s knack for delicate melodies, unfussy instrumentation, and an evocative lyrical exploration of a rose gardener’s doomed attempt to tend a sole rose. It left me yearning for more.

I immediately dropped Kalb an email to see if he would be intersted in having a chat. As he is a gentleman he acquiesced and we discuseed satanic screeds, modern disconnection in the information age, and how his new album differs from his previous album Fist & Palm.

Check out his latest single ‘The Tower’ below.

Overblown: I have to start with the title track from your upcoming album ‘The Rose Gardener’. I absolutely love how tender, playful, and hopeful it is. I love the metaphor of a lonely gardener tending a rose even though his enterprise is doomed. Do you see that as a metaphor for your own creative process?

Oliver Kalb: I see it less as a metaphor for my creative process than as a metaphor for my personal circumstances while I was writing ‘The Rose Gardener’. I was in a particularly low moment in my personal life before I wrote & recorded the album, feeling alienated from the music scene in New York City and isolated socially. I felt paranoid and unable to really trust anyone around me.

That paranoia seeped into the album and became a running theme — the narrator of the songs feels backed into a corner, judged and hated by his peers. The metaphor of The Rose Gardener became something of a counter-balance for that negativity: how to possibly create something beautiful when the circumstances feel so forbidding?

Overblown: The album cover of the record is quite arresting. Who designed it and what is the concept behind it?

Oliver Kalb: Thanks! I made that album art myself — I’ve done all the album covers for all the Bellows albums actually. The cover art is based on a satanic screed I stumbled upon online, I’m not even sure exactly where and when I found it. I think I was searching online for old Book of Kells style calligraphy and I found this weird apocryphal “Antichristi” tapestry from the Middle Ages and really responded to its layout.

Instead of copying the Latin and numerology material in the original, I borrowed from the layout of the screed and filled my album art with evocative imagery from the album, using bright colours so the different boxes would pop like pieces of candy. The lettering is comprised of various words and phrases from the album that felt prophetic — some sentences are about the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, others about the killing of Harambe the Gorilla in the Cincinnati Zoo.

The Rose Gardener is filled with this deep sense of dread at the pain and harm in the world and I tried to synthesize all the disparate messages of the album, and the hysteria of the current cultural moment into the art. Jim Shaw’s The End is Here show at the New Museum in New York was also a big influence.

The Satanic Screed on which Oliver Kalb based the cover for ‘The Rose Gardener’

Overblown: Bellows is a bedroom project but in photos there looks like there are five people in the band. What gives?

Oliver Kalb: Bellows is really just a moniker for my songwriting and production work, it’s a solo project that includes numerous collaborators that help me embellish and arrange my albums. That press photo is of me, Gabby Smith, Felix Walworth and Henry Crawford, who all back me up when I play live Bellows shows and also contribute heavily to my recordings. But I also included James Wilcox in that photo too — he’s a hip hop producer who helps me arrange electronic drum parts and played a big role in the production for Fist & Palm and The Rose Gardener. Because so many people are involved in recording the Bellows albums I try to spread the love and include as many collaborators as possible in the press photos when I can.

Overblown: On your Bandcamp page for the new album, you write a lot about how, even though we are supposed to be more connected, we are in fact more divided than ever before. Despite this, I get the impression you are hopeful for the future. Is that accurate?

Oliver Kalb: I don’t feel particularly hopeful for the future, but I don’t think the role of art is to despair and hide from harsh realities. Even though I find this moment in history to be isolating and violent, I also think its important for artists to stare the difficulties of their moment in the face. I believe I’m only going to be alive this one time in human civilization, so why not try to speak to the complexities of it and rise to the occasion of its difficulties? It feels like the only civically-minded way to approach art, with brutal honesty and open eyes.

Overblown: How do you think this new album is similar or different to your previous album ‘Fist & Palm’?

Oliver Kalb: I think The Rose Gardener is a much angrier album than Fist & Palm, much more brooding and unapologetic in its tone. Fist & Palm was largely about looking for conciliation, trying to compromise and admit ways I was wrong and meet in the middle. The conflict of the album in Fist & Palm felt like it was partially my fault, so the album was about not pointing fingers and blaming, searching for self-awareness rather than self-righteous indignation.

In contrast, The Rose Gardener comes from a place that feels so extreme that compromise is no longer possible. Backed into a corner and facing total defeat, the narrator looks straight into the eyes of his enemy and admits the fundamental thing — that something deeply wrong has taken place and it’s time to acknowledge it.

Overblown: What are your plans for the rest of 2019?

Oliver Kalb: We’re touring down to South by Southwest in March with a band called Another Michael. I’m also shooting a new music video for one of my favourite songs on The Rose Gardener this month and I think we’ll be doing some more extensive touring in the summer. I’m excited for all of it.

Overblown: Do you have any advice for our readers?

Oliver Kalb: I’m not sure who they are so I wouldn’t know what you say! What can I tell you about the world?

Bellows Tour Dates:

3/1 – Albany, NY @ Chateau
3/2 – Kingston, NY @ BSP Kingston &
3/3 – Boston, MA @ O’Brien’s & #
3/7 – Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade *album release show* w/ Emily Reo & Onlyness
3/8 – Phildelphia, PA @ PhilaMOCA #
3/9 – Washington, DC @ Comet Ping Pong #
3/10 – Asheville, NC @ The Mothlight %
3/11 – Nashville, TN @ DRKMTTR %
3/12 – Little Rock, AR @ White Water Tavern %
3/13 – Austin, TX @ Topshelf Official SXSW Showcase @ Cheer Up Charlie’s %
3/14 – Denton, TX @ Andy’s Basement
3/16 – Austin, TX @ FRIEND OASIS @ SXSW %
3/17 – New Orleans, LA @ The Starlight %
3/18 – Atlanta, GA @ 529 %
3/19 – Durham, NC @ Duke Coffeehouse %
3/20 – Baltimore, MD @ Joe Squared %

% = w/ Another Michael
# = w/ Shannen Moser
& = w/ Soft Fangs

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