Tyler Belluz//Photo: Michael Thomas
by Michael Thomas
It doesn’t take much to put Tyler Belluz into context with the rest of the Canadian music scene. If you follow the Guelph music scene in particular, you may have seen him with Gregory Pepper and His Problems, and the Common Grackle offshoot. If you’re in Toronto, there all kinds of acts you could have seen him with, like Bry Webb (though he’s no longer a part of that band) and Lisa Bozikovic. Now, though, he’s got two main acts going at the same time. One is Del Bel, the “cinematic” band who released the wonderful Oneiric some time ago. The other is Legato Vipers, the kickass instrumental surf-rock group.
Not to mention his past involvement with Kite Hill and Chrome and the Ice Queen.
“Quite the long list,” he says. “More often than not, everything’s been getting smaller for the amount of groups I’ve been playing in. I’m stretched thin. But at a certain point all that was kind of going on at the same time, so that’s probably why.” With involvement in those eight bands listed and the number of albums he’s recorded on, it’s no wonder he’s okay with downsizing a little bit.
Considering his upbringing, his heavy band involvement really isn’t that surprising.
“My sister played piano really young,” says Belluz. “To me, she was good at it and I really liked the way it sounded. I kept asking if I could play it, every year, and my mom would just hold off and finally, when I was about nine or ten, I started taking lessons. I hated it because it was so difficult, and that attitude didn’t stop the entire time I played.”
As he entered junior high, Belluz wanted to play guitar, but his mother had other ideas. “My mom wouldn’t let me,” he says. “She’s just like ‘No, play electric bass.’ And I was just like ‘I don’t want to play electric bass!’ I didn’t know what it was. I was like “The Beatles didn’t have an electric bass player!’” But he obeyed, and he played bass in a band he formed in junior high, playing original songs and covers of such glorious acts as the Offspring and Metallica. In high school, he learned double bass.
It’s not like he could do much else. “Honestly I’ve never had a real job,” he says. “In high school my job was to practice music. My parents wouldn’t let me get a job.” In university he did some bartending on campus and catering, but that was about it.
Later on in his life, Del Bel formed when Belluz began to try writing songs, something he had never done before. Lisa Conway around the same time asked Belluz to play with her for a few shows in the Toronto area, which he agreed to. “We started to collaborate together, and that’s where I started to form this very interesting relationship with Lisa,” he says. “I’m not sure if that necessarily inspired me to write music, I’m not sure what it was. Maybe I was just so impressed and so happy to be involved with working with her that I ended up doing my own stuff.”
When Belluz needed a singer for his project that would turn into Del Bel, he asked Conway, initially only asking her to sing on a few songs. That quickly ballooned into more than a few. “Little by little, she got more hesitant the more I put songs in her lap,” Belluz says. “And she even refused some of them.” And then there was the issue of who Belluz only refers to as Mystery Man.
“Mystery Man was supposed to write half the tunes, and did write half the songs,” he says. “And Mystery Man disappeared, no need to go in further, and I just started to write the rest of the songs.” Then Belluz corralled somewhere between 15 and 20 people into recording, and Del Bel was born. When they toured, they were an eight-piece band, which has since shrunk down to a five-piece.
Del Bel released Oneiric in 2011, and are set to release their new album some time this year. “Initially, I wanted to take so much time and craft the perfect album, and give Lisa plenty of heads up, and it just didn’t work out like that,” Belluz says. “I wanted to individually write every single line and orchestrate this huge piece. To a certain point I got to pull it off, but, similar to the first album, I just let it go and I just let it be in someone else’s hands. They would reinterpret my suggestion of playing or just do something completely different.”
The album doesn’t currently have a name, and Belluz is considering letting Conway choose the title, since he had to rush her titles for the new album’s recorded songs: “For some reason I just lose track of scheduling and then all of a sudden mastering hit and I was like ‘You need to give me the song titles right now.’ And she was like ‘What the fuck? I’m at work.’”
Del Bel established close ties with the Wavelength music series early on. Belluz and Johnny Dovercourt worked together on shows often; Dovercourt would help book the shows and Belluz would often have free reign to curate the show’s bill. “Essentially we just kept doing more and more shows to the point of ‘Why would I do a show with anyone else’ just because he does such a great job, and I love General Chaos and I love the team,” Belluz says. “And all of a sudden all of my bands started playing Wavelength.”
Del Bel became Wavelength’s first Incubator Band. “Essentially the role is Wavelength helps out any one of us in a field that we might not be completely rock-solid in,” Belluz says. “Some bands might need help booking, some might need help for publicity. They’re a connector.”
Two more bands have since joined the Incubator roster; Most People and Fresh Snow. This year, for the first time, Wavelength is hitting the road with its three Incubator bands in tow. They’ll be hitting up Montreal, Ottawa, Guelph, Hamilton and London.
“Every time one of my bands went on tour, I said ‘Could we possibly just have it sponsored by Wavelength?’” Belluz said. “And that might have pushed [Dovercourt] in the direction of ‘Hey, maybe we should actually do this.’”
The origin of Legato Vipers, on the other hand, is much simpler. “I was trying to flirt with a girl in London,” he says. “I thought I would try to impress her by writing songs in the basement. I was living with my parents at the time, so I was obviously trying to overcompensate for not being cool. ” The flirtation at the time was unsuccessful, but the songs eventually turned into the first material for Legato Vipers. Belluz gathered the band together during a recording retreat near Owen Sound.
“It would have players from all different bands, all different genres, so essentially we would go up there and convert this huge abandoned barn into a studio,” says Belluz. “All night long we could record with no noise problems, and either someone brought a project for their own band or that band was there. We’d all collaborate.”
The intention was always to create an instrumental band. “We wanted to just be able to go to a venue, plug in, not have to worry about any sound, and just play,” he says. “This instrumental surf-rock band, really basic rock setting instrumentation, is that outlet.
But there might be one more reason.
“‘Cause who the fuck wants to play with singers?” Belluz says. “A bunch of divas. Remove that aspect, it’s all fun.” He must have felt self-conscious about that statement though, adding near the end of the interview, “Not talking toward Lisa Conway!”
On top of Belluz’s numerous bands, he’s also in the process of starting a record label with bandmate Mike Brooks. The label, Missed Connection, will feature its first release very soon—by Saskatoon singer-songwriter Zachary Lucky.
Tyler Belluz, then, can justify the feeling of being “stretched thin.” He described how he manages to do so many things, seemingly all at the same time: “A lot of drinking. Realizing that I’ll never have more than five dollars in my bank account. I’m somehow comfortable with that.”