“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.
Charlie Belle CD release
When: Doors at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: Stubb’s inside, 801 Red River St.
Cost: $7, includes a CD copy of the EP.
‘Down Down the Deep River’
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, 320 East Sixth St.
Cost: Admission included on a first-come, first-served basis with a $25 Austin Music Video Festival general admission wristband. Early arrival is recommended.