INTERVIEW WITH BELLHEAD
THE RISING DARK POST PUNK DUO
By Stephanie Stevens
The Chicago based band BELLHEAD Consist of High Bass/Lead Vocalist Ivan Russia, formerly of the infamous Ahab Rex, Mr. Russia, and Sheriff Scabs; partnering with Low Bass/Vocalist Karen Righeimer – who has been a member of bands such as Fashion Bomb, Team Cybergeist, W.O.R.M, Bethany Thomas, and Pigface and are creating a unique, dark and punk quirky ambiance with the music they are making.
With the fire of male and female vocals intertwining with industrial esque music it becomes a unity of beauty and the beast.
‘UNICORN BONES’, the song on the duos newest EP entitled the same, ultimately drew me into the band. It just had a hard and haunting vibe to it that sucked me into the art that is BELLHEAD.
The band just recently did a cover of Bauhaus song SANITY ASSASSIN with a fascinating visual for it also.
Ivan and Karen are no strangers to the Chicago music scene but are making magic together as BELLHEAD.
I recently had a chance to ask them about the newest cover song, remixes and how Chicago has moulded them as performers/artists.
Q: When and how did BELLHEAD come into existence?
Karen: Ivan and I tossed around the idea of doing a project together for quite a few years – but it never stuck because we were both in pretty successful projects and didn’t have time for something new. In 2018 I left my music projects, and Ivan’s band mate moved to the east coast, so it was time to join forces.
Ivan: We had both played in the same band at separate times and got to know each other at shows and the like. I got the bright idea to propose a brand-new project to Karen outside of the bands we were in at the time. Progress was delayed by Karen being in a hit and run.
Q: Being a duo and having worked in other bands, how is it just having two people to throw ideas around versus a full band of different mindsets?
Karen: For me, it’s actually better than being in a multi-person band. When you’re working with up to six different members it can be frustrating coordinating everything from writing a song, scheduling rehearsals, or booking shows. With Ivan, we have similar work ethics and drive so it’s much easier to get things done.
Ivan: it’s a lot like throwing a medicine ball back and forth.
Q: How do you feel Chicago has moulded and sculpted your career as an artist and musician?
Ivan: Chicago has been a historically fickle mistress. Every show you go to there’s a handful of people standing arms crossed with a facial expression that reads “You think you’re hot shit? PROVE IT.” The meritocracy of the music scene has made me strive for nothing short of excellence. We have boundless enthusiasm for the music we are making and we engage with our audience and reward their participation. It feels more like a dialogue between us and the audience then a monologue of just standing on stage.
Q: What was the biggest thing that engaged you into the genre of music you create and perform?
Karen: When we started the band, we never really had an intention to be in a specific genre, or blend genres – we just wanted to make music that was enjoyable for us, and that we hoped people would also like. Ivan and I both have so many influences and music experiences that it just makes sense. You’ll hear aspects of anything from Nine Inch Nails, to Magazine, to Death from Above, to Johnny Cash. It’s actually pretty freeing not to have to be pigeon holed in one specific genre.
Ivan: If ‘Zooropa’ was a genre we would fit right in. Unfortunately, you’d never find us at the end of the search engine, so we pursue whatever excites us on any given song. It all makes sense from the crow’s nest.
Q: I see BELLHEAD keep a good recording and mastering team behind you and you don’t stray to work with others. What is it about them that makes you always go back? Do you feel they are as much a part of the band as you guys?
Karen: We are really grateful to have people behind the glass that are just as passionate about BELLHEAD as we are. Both our recording/mix engineer Neil Strauch (Iron and Wine/Counting Crows/Owls/Joan of Arc/Walking Bicycles/Slow Mass) and mastering engineer Carl Saff (Acid Mothers Temple/Smoking Popes/Red Fang/Guided by Voices) have impeccable talent, and what’s best is that they understand what our vision is, so it is not only easy but enjoyable to work with them. I don’t foresee us straying from our recording team anytime soon.
Q: BELLHEAD just released a killer cover of Bauhaus’s song ‘Sanity Assassin’. What lured you to this particular song by them and what has this band meant to you?
Karen: It was actually fan-requested. Last year Bauhaus announced their tour and as a homage, we decided it would be fun to cover a Bauhaus song. We let the masses suggest what they thought we should do via social media and had an overwhelming response for ‘Sanity Assassin’. Our intention was to really only play the song live once or twice, but due to fan enthusiasm coupled with no shows most of the year, we decided to release it as a single for people to enjoy. We are grateful to our audience. Their likes, comments, shares, messages, enthusiasm at shows, purchases, all the comradery, we are grateful for their feedback.
Q: Was BELLHEAD supposed to tour with Bauhaus also? If so, do you think it will eventually be rescheduled?
A: We were not scheduled to play with Bauhaus (BUT if they are reading this, we’re down for 2021). We’ve had a lot of shows cancelled in 2020 including playing with Birthday Massacre and Sister Kill Cycle. We hope that next year we’ll be able to hit the road and play in front of people again.
Q: You added a huge element to your team with Scott Fedor (Marvel’s Avengers VFX) directing the ‘Sanity Assassin’ video. How did this come about, and did you let him have free reign of the video theme for the song?
Scott Fedor: Please tell them you met me at a Hollywood soiree and after you finally pulled me from the middle of an orgy pile you asked if I’d be interested in helming the project.
Q: Tell me about creating a song and then putting a remix flair to it? Does it take about the same time to do both versions or do you feel one is easier than the other?
Ivan: Remixing our own song like we did with ‘Knife’ for the ‘Knife (Beware The Light)’ remix was about giving the song a different feel more of a club track/dance banger. When we remix other artists it’s mostly keeping the original artist’s vocals and building a new BELLHEAD song around it. In a sense we ask the question “What music would we write for this vocal performance?” Karen will add some bass, keyboards and vocals after I’ve gotten the beat together and various sounds I’ve found interesting for the song. We like to keep the remixes single length. Short and catchy.
Q: What do you hope the music world takes away from your band and music?
Ivan: I hope people enjoy the music as much as we do and have a good time feeling something. We like to see our shirts and stickers in the wild. It lets us know we are touching people’s lives in a positive light. I’m not here to save the whales or tell you who to vote for. I’m here for the music.
Q: Empower another artist and tell us why they inspire you?
Ivan: I play bass in a band called [ m e l t e r ] and they are a creative lot. It’s great to be “just the bass player”. I really enjoy playing the [ m e l t e r ] songs and contributing as requested. I will generally work on BELLHEAD songs during breaks in rehearsal so there’s probably some direct influence in there somewhere. Also, the [ m e l t e r ] remix of the BELLHEAD track ‘Runway’ makes me grin.
Karen: There’s this super talented multi-instrumentalist in Chicago (John Syzmanski). The first time I saw him play was at the Davenport where he went from playing the drums, to the bass, to the fucking SAW- like bending a wood saw on his knee and using a bow to make sounds. He’s in a ton of projects but has settled in really well with John Langford these days. Don’t tell him that I said he’s one of my major inspirations.
CONNECT WITH THE BAND:
‘Unicorn Bones’ (Official Video)
‘Sanity Assassin’ – Bauhaus Cover (Official Video)
Disclaimer: This interview is solely the property of Stephanie Stevens and East Coast Romper, and has been released to Ever Metal on this basis. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this interview, unless you have the strict permission of said party. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.