It’s late in the afternoon. We’re at the terrace and we can hear the Cathedral. Right in front of us we can see the Buddhist Centre, where Alex briefly lived after Christmas. From her window, she got to witness parties at the nightclubs nearby, but still found some peace and quiet. Softness amidst chaos. A bit like what her band sounds like.
They’re called Sweetbellechobaby. The idea has been there from when she used to live with bandmate Darren near Narborough Road. They would record songs in the attic, mostly as demos to eventually come back to.
“I think enough time passed that we listened to them and we thought they had something on their own”, shrugs Darren. “We liked them, so we just put these out”.
The project’s cute name comes from the titles of these early songs. “Sweet”, “Bell”, “Echo” and “Baby”. Together, they roll smoothly into one single word.
Darren is from Leicestershire and has done acoustic solo work here and there. You may have seen him live. Alex, on the other hand, is from Birmingham and she used to be part of numerous ska punk bands in her teenage years.
“I’ve never kind of released anything myself but it’s always been something that I’ve done as part of my own creative practice. I do other things as well – paint and write. But then together… about… well, the EP was made like 4 years ago now? On and off”.
But if they have been secretly concocting these beautiful noises, hushes, chants and scratches from their loft, why did it take them so long? They just didn’t feel ready.
“Definitely one of the things I would say about us working together is that we’re both absolute perfectionists and we’re very methodical with what we do”, explains Alex. “It’s compulsive for both of us but it’s also a process that requires a lot of intense emotional engagement.”
“I think life maybe got in the way as well”, adds Darren.
The singer had been working in the education system for over a decade. The guitarist had the same admin job for around the same period. Redundancy took them both and now they have more time to return to their early recordings and come up with new songs to reflect the changes they’ve been through in art, life and sound. Alex thinks the local spirit of the times boosted her confidence too.
“The beautiful thing about Leicester is that there is a scene that exists that wasn’t around when I was like 16 or 17. When I was younger what I was seeing was a lot of boys making angry music, and I was kind of angry too and listening to angry music; but my own projection in other people’s projections kind of meant I maybe let that get in the way of me taking an ownership of myself as a musician.”
“Whereas in Leicester now, we have a scene where women and queer people are leading, and it makes me feel like there’s a place for me; and not only that there’s a place for me but there’s a place for me to be my authentic self, and if I can’t be that then I can’t perform, and I can’t even create because I’m repressing, and when I’m repressing I’m literally repressing creativity.”
“The people around me as well [helped], you know… being involved in INTRSKTR and watching my friends start bands. I have people around me that are really inspiring and seeing younger people take the stage and being political and being angry and outspoken. I don’t mean outspoken just speaking – why do we call it outspoken? That suggests that you should be in in the first place. Just seeing people being themselves is really inspiring to me, and there’s such a mix of music going on in the city, in such a small place. Leicester is very much like a family, I guess”.
And what a family it’s been! In the past few months, they have played with local staples such as Kermes, Dayflower, Jitterz and Anatomy; and they keep bringing new, fresh, louder material. Songs like “Re-Read You” and “Love’s Bullet” are a lot catchier and the lyrics are more concise than the homonymous tracks from their days in the attic.
“I can’t listen to that EP because I hear someone that is so shy and quiet. It’s very difficult to hear her voice. If we’re playing those songs live, we have to change them now ‘cause my voice just won’t fit inside that tiny whisper anymore. That feels right that you can hear my voice. I think the sound is a lot harder and we’re much more interested in the kind of noise we can make rather than making it a pleasant experience”.
“It’s the pop element, as well. In terms of sound we kind of tend to favour gritty sounds these days, but there’s always this pop sensibility. We just really love pop music”.
Alex fondly remembers listening to the charts on a Sunday afternoon whilst getting ready for school on Monday. The duo likes pop from all ages, from “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross to Devo to the album Confess by Twin Shadow, going through the Stock Aitken Waterman days of Kylie Minogue and their almost aggressive stance on using every popular setting from the 80s.
“It pissed a lot of people off in independent music circles”, smirks Darren. “It was almost like a punk move in a way, releasing unashamedly pop music”. Speaking of shameless pop, the band has been part of two editions of Homage a Trois, John Helps’ tribute specials dedicated to old and new classics. They did “Sober” by Lorde from Melodrama, and a haunting finale for “Gold Dust Woman” by Fleetwood Mac from Rumours. It’s been said they’ll be at the next event on the 11th of August, doing a song from Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill.
If you can’t wait that long to see them, they’ll be performing at Barefoot Festival on the 27th of July. At some point in the upcoming months, they’ll release a single; and a full album more representative of their live performances by the end of the year. Like their current EP, we know it’ll be worth the wait.
Photography: Matt Cawrey