The Y Axes frontwoman Alexi Belchere has little patience for the claim that being an artist in the Bay Area is impossible. Trust her, she’s doing it.
But she’s also the first to admit making it work as a musician here isn’t without its difficulties. And that it often means holding down multiple jobs.
“It’s exhausting,” she says. “I’m working now. I’m always going to be doing two things at once. I don’t know how to not live a 70-hour week.”
She insists this comes with an unexpected silver lining: Given how difficult it is to be an artist here, the artists who are here are absolutely committed.
“The Bay Area is still a free and safe place to create art, even if it’s difficult,” Belchere says. “Surviving in the Bay Area, you really have to be serious about making music all the time. I feel like it shows. I go to a show and I’m like, ‘None of these bands are half-assing it.’ They’re always throwing themselves into it.”
The same applies to her own band, indie-pop four-piece, who occupy a space in the more established half of the Bay Area scene. They’re approaching their ninth year as a band, something Belchere finds a bit mind-boggling. Nevertheless, the core writing partnership of Belchere and guitarist Devin Nelson remains intact.
Belchere met Nelson as a freshman studying creative writing at San Francisco State — “One of my first memories of him is playing Dance Dance Revolution with a couple of friends at a friend’s birthday party,” Belchere recalls — although they didn’t begin writing music together until after she’d graduated.
Belchere took a roundabout way into making music. Her parents weren’t overly musical. She describes her upbringing as filled with “basic parent stuff,” which is to say Joni Mitchell, Donovan, and The Beatles, plus a handful of Punk-O-Rama compilations and ska bands like Skankin’ Pickle and Voodoo Glow Skulls.
She’ll even own up to a Sublime phase, on account of being raised in Oxnard.
“When they started playing Sublime, I was like, ‘This is what I want.’ I would do the whole rap for ‘Don’t Push,’ she says with a laugh. “Where I’m from in SoCal, there’s nothing to do. Our biggest thing to do is go to Denny’s in the middle of the night.”
She moved to the Bay to attend SFSU, where she started writing a sci-fi novel for a senior class. She had been writing lyrics “with nowhere to put them” since she was 10, but now she had a sci-fi fixation to play around with — and a potential band.
“It was very mid-recession, lost-generation vibes,” she says.
Far keener on Ray Bradbury’s subtler suburban-meets-apocalyptic sensibilities than the stereotypical laser fights in deep space side of the genre, she stuck to sci-fi as she ventured further into lyric writing. On the melodic side, Nelson started chipping away at the band’s sound. It’s indie-pop, by definition. CHVRCHES and HAIM are consistent reference points, although Belchere is lately obsessed Carly Rae Jepsen. To wit, Jepsen’s hyper-enthusiastic pop sound is even apparent in the band’s most recent music.
Lyrically, Belchere probably won’t skew too far towards Jepsen’s open-hearted style and general boy-craziness. The four-piece has long possessed a keen sense of the apocalyptic and abysmal, albeit one mixed into major key sparkle. Their 2012 full-length debut, Discopocalypse, attests to as much.
“Both Devin and I love the idea of a dualistic nature of upbeat but also sad – fun party songs about the end of the world,” she says. “It would be boring if it was just one thing. Devin tries to write a straightforward pop song and on top of it is lyrics about being a vampire or a social pariah.”
It’s no different on most recent album Umbra — a title taken from the term describing the inner region of a shadow cast on the earth or moon during a total eclipse. Its 11 tracks mash sparkling synthpop and commanding guitar lines (occasionally fuzzed up á la The Strokes in their prime, such as on album standout “Aloine”). Belchere ricochets between interior explorations of youthful liberation and intergalactic epics — audible in the leave-town-for-the-stars anthem of album opener “Meteorite” or the more melancholic “Passcode Protected”, an investigation of isolation by way of social media via the computer interface imagery.
Belchere gets caught in heartache and barbed wire throughout. Crash landings, distress signals, and omnipresent danger make regular appearances. Beneath her, bassist Jack Sundquist acts as locomotive, Nelson filling the space with ultra-bright guitar lines. Drummer Paul Conroy, the band’s newest addition, having joined in April of this year after answering their ad, is perhaps most responsible for the band’s inexhaustibility.
But looking forward, Belchere is no longer sure how much longer the apocalypse will suit her.
“I’ve started to see this post-apocalyptic or even apocalyptic vibe turn too real. The world has become such a dark, horrible place that I’m almost like, ‘Well, I’m done writing that way because it’s too close to reality,’ ” she says. “There’s got to be another form of escapism.”
And with no intention to leave the Bay Area any time soon and a new album in the pipeline, the band will likely have an answer for listeners soon.
The Y Axes, Friday, Aug. 31, 8 p.m., at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., $10-$12, bottomofthehill.com
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