Sibling duo Charlie Belle put their spin on pop


“Get To Know,” the debut EP from virtually unknown Austin indie pop band Charlie Belle, nabbed a surprising amount of media attention when it dropped in January. The band earned enthusiastic shoutouts from National Public Radio, British newspaper the Guardian and Nylon magazine to name a few.

Curiosity spurred some of the interest. Charlie Belle is led by a pair of young siblings — 17-year-old Jendayi Bonds on guitar and vocals and 14-year-old Gyasi Bonds on drums — but most of the buzz centered on the music. The EP unwound a set of tightly constructed, jangly pop tracks. The songs were deceptively breezy, with feel-good melodies masking quick-witted, biting wordplay. By late spring, the Bonds had signed to NYC-based boutique record label Fanatic Records and their second five-song collection, “I Don’t Want to Be Alone,” comes out this week with a release party on Tuesday at Stubb’s.

The new EP finds the Bonds siblings — accompanied by a rotating cast of backing players — branching out sonically. Hints of soul enter the mix and on one track Jendayi raps, but the core of the material revolves around solid pop songcraft and Jendayi’s sharp lyricism.

She loves a good metaphor. “It’s like a brain game because you want to get your point across. But you only have so many syllables and words, so you can’t just write a free-verse poem,” she says during a school break. Jendayi is a senior in high school and Gyasi a freshman.

The Bonds have been playing music together almost as long as they can remember. A few years after Jack Black starred in the 2003 film “School of Rock,” inspired by music teacher Paul Green, their mother enrolled 7-year-old Jendayi and 4-year-old Gyasi in the Philadelphia school where Green still taught. Though the Bonds have grandparents who are professional singers, no one in the family is an instrumentalist. The siblings aren’t quite sure what their mother’s motivation was.

“I think she wanted us to have a hobby,” Gyasi says.

As it turned out, they also had a gift. In a few years they were playing in showcases around the city. When they moved to Austin seven years ago, they officially formed a band, named Charlie Belle after their great-grandmother.

For years playing music was just something they did — “muscle memory” Gyasi calls it — but as they pulled songs together for their EP they began to suspect they had something special. Producer James Stevens, who recorded them at EAR Studio in East Austin, agreed. He passed the EP along to Josh Bloom of Fanatic Records, who signed the band.

Their sound is a mish-mash of styles. The Bonds listen to a lot of R&B, but they both name Arctic Monkeys as a favorite band. Gyasi says his drumming style merges the Brit rockers with the Roots. “I also really like pop music, like that bad pop music, like the early 2000s Disney movie pop music,” Jendayi says with a laugh.

The Bonds say they bicker constantly at rehearsals, but the vibe between them feels easy. They hate the term “family band” — it sounds dismissive — but they defend each other with fierce love.

“People are like ‘Oh, you play with your little brother. He must not be cool and your band must not be cool,” Jendayi says. She rolls her eyes. “I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, but my brother is cooler than you.’”

Austin Music Video Festival

“I had always kind of wanted to be a filmmaker even before I got into doing music,” Will Sheff, frontman of indie folk rock band Okkervil River, said from his home in New York last week.

Growing up in New Hampshire, Sheff was inspired by his father, who dabbled in experimental filmmaking in the ’70s. “He had a lot of his books lying around and taught a class on it,” he said. “What passed as babysitting for me was taking me to my father’s film history classes.”

When he was in college, his celluloid dreams butted up against the logistical and financial realities of making a movie. “I realized that I already had a guitar and it doesn’t cost anything to write a song,” he said.

Picking up the guitar served Sheff well. His Austin-formed band has recorded seven full-length albums, five EPs and a slew of singles. Last week national music blogs buzzed when Okkervil River announced a special anniversary reissue of their critically acclaimed 2005 album “Black Sheep Boy.”

But Sheff’s cinematic vision was never shut down. On Wednesday the Alamo Ritz will host the Texas premiere of his first long-form film project, a 45-minute piece called “Down Down the Deep River,” inspired by the 2013 song of the same name. The screening, followed by a solo acoustic performance by Sheff, will kick off the new Austin Music Video Festival.

This is not Sheff’s first time in the director’s chair. Back in 2003, he shot Okkervil River’s first video for “Ends With a Fall” on a $300 budget. The video, filmed in Austin, included a “really elaborate kind of hokey, silent-movie-style set.” Close to 20 friends and fans operated a scrolling backdrop, rows of cardboard ocean waves and leaping fish on wooden dowels. “It was pretty darn ambitious for how little we spent,” he said.

Artistically, Sheff finds the dream-like quality of music videos as short form films appealing.

“You don’t have to say, ‘Here’s the characters and here’s what happens to them and this is their motivation … and I know it seems unlikely that this would happen if we’re being realistic but would you just bear with me,’” he said. “You can get rid of all of that and you can live in a realm of just image and emotion.”

Over the years, he filled in when his record label needed low-budget videos — at one point he shot footage of the band’s Australian tour on a toy Tiger Electronics VCam — but the idea for a bigger film percolated in the back of his head. When the band released the 2013 album “Silver Gymnasium,” which includes the track “Down Down the Deep River,” the timing felt right.

The album is “so centered around my childhood memories and the concept of memory and the concept of nostalgia… what’s good about it and what’s scary about it,” he said.

The project was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, but Sheff says working with child actors and filming outdoors in the Northeast, sometimes through snowstorms, it “very quickly became incredibly out-of-hand in the amount of work and the amount of money.”

Throughout the process, he was wracked with uncertainty — but watching the final product is validating. “I think when people see it they will see that there’s a lot of love, there’s a lot of urgency, a lot of tenderness and care.”

The Austin event will be the film’s third screening and the most involved. In addition to Sheff’s post-show performance there will be a pre-show screening of a curated selection of Okkervil River videos. Custom memorabilia — including a read-along adventure book, a trading card run and a soundtrack album housed in an old Nintendo game system cartridge, created to accompany the film — will be available at the show.

The Austin Music Video Festival continues through Saturday with panels, screenings, workshops and parties at venues around town.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Music

Making turkey soup this weekend? Here’s our family’s favorite homemade noodle recipe
Making turkey soup this weekend? Here’s our family’s favorite homemade noodle recipe

I can think of few comfort foods I love more than my family’s chicken and noodles. Homemade noodles can become the star of any soup, but they particularly shine with leftover turkey and homemade stock. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman My mom learned how to make handmade noodles from one of my dad’s co-workers in the 1990s...
Here are 10 Texas whiskeys you might want on your holiday wish list
Here are 10 Texas whiskeys you might want on your holiday wish list

Kentucky isn’t the only state in the U.S. making top-of-the-line whiskey. Texas may not have been doing it for as long as America’s bourbon bastion, but our proud state has proven that we can still hold our own against legacy producers — perhaps in part because the whiskey industry here is still so young and willing to be adventurous...
2017 Beaujolais Nouveau wine label is created by a St. Petersburg artist
2017 Beaujolais Nouveau wine label is created by a St. Petersburg artist

Every year, there are bad things we can count on: taxes and death. And good things: Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November and on the Thursday before, the Beaujolais nouveau arrives. What is less predictable is just how this vin de l'annee ("this year's wine") stacks up. Every now and then the young gamay from the Beaujolais...
Holiday gift guide: Food
Holiday gift guide: Food

These gifts will satisfy the appetites of the food and drink lovers on your list. The nubby handles take a little getting used to, but they encourage a proper knife grip by directing the hand into the proper position and enabling fingers to lock in the front and back. The forged steel eight-inch chef's knife and 3.5-inch paring knife slice cleanly...
Of pints and predators: inside the U.K. Parliament’s boozy hangouts
Of pints and predators: inside the U.K. Parliament’s boozy hangouts

LONDON — A plaque on a wall at the Sports and Social Club, a dingy and stuffy bar located next to garbage cans in the basement of the Houses of Parliament in London, reads: “The Code of the Man Cave. What happens here stays here! Violators will be shot — survivors will be shot again.” That jokey warning took on serious undertones...
More Stories