OCWeekly — February 18, 2016
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Locals Only
Candace Hansen

Ringin’ Reinvention

Part Sleater-Kinney, part doo-wop dark-arts coven, Santa Ana’s Bellhaunts are no strangers to the art of angst, tragedy and, ultimately, reinvention. After six years of hard work, lineup and aesthetic changes, loss, and soul searching, they are celebrating the independent release of their highly anticipated full-length Bad Wolf. It’s a gritty, bittersweet collection of both fantastic and personal-underdog anthems worth rooting for.

The current foursome officially formed in 2012 after a drunken spat ended with the original Bellhaunts bass player quitting before a show. “I went inside to inform the drummer, and he let me know he would be leaving, too,” remembers front woman Adrienne Santellan. Current Bellhaunts bassist/co-vocalist Ritchie Sandoval happened to be in the crowd that night and agreed to join the new lineup. Santellan called current drummer (then-Street Spirit front woman) Redd Astran the next day with a hunch that the combination of these new additions, along with Santellan’s baby brother, Josh, could “push the band away from the country/garage/punk sound Bellhaunts had started out with and forward into the pop/punk/indietinged sound” Santellan hoped to capture before the untimely implosion of their original incarnation.

Bellhaunts are somewhat of a Santa Ana super-group with decades of indie-punk experience between them. Inspired by her uncle, Astran started drumming as a young girl, eventually playing in local staples such as Mystery Hangup and Street Spirit. The Santellans have been heading up bands, writing and playing music together for more than 15 years. “We have a psychic sibling bond that allows us to communicate progressions, melodies and harmonies through aural osmosis, just like Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart,” says Josh, who begrudgingly picked up a guitar as a kid after Adrienne made him learn the unlikely pairing of Social Distortion’s “Story of My Life” and Heavens to Betsy’s “Axemen.” The two met Sandoval while playing with Slow, one of a few long-running riot grrrl-inspired acts in the post-9/11 Orange County music community.

Since 2012, the Bellhaunts’ change in direction has been well-received by local and out-of-town audiences, leaving fans hanging in anticipation as they spent nearly two years working out the kinks for Bad Wolf. Their new music is inspired by both formative punk and feminist Northwest bands and pop/punk and grunge acts such as RVIVR, the Thermals and Dinosaur Jr. “I really wanted to be able to write a three-chord song that was visceral, had snotty vocals and sounded earnest,” says Adrienne, reflecting on their writing process.

For Sandoval, “[Bad Wolf] is a reflection of change.”

In the midst of writing new material, Bellhaunts members lost people close to them and experienced personal tragedies, which is reflected musically and lyrically in the album’s diverse offerings. Uncertainty was a major underlying theme. “I think everyone has that moment when you’re not quite sure if you’re where you should be,” says Sandoval.

Bad Wolf ’s track list is every bit as cohesive as it is chaotic, moving the listener between dreamy post-punk, bright indie/pop, brooding grunge and even melancholy-yet-energized pop/punk. Josh’s reverb-drenched, metal-infused signature leads and Astran’s Gene Krupa-meets-Questlove drumming style have become hallmarks of the Bellhaunts sound, shaping and shifting the music just as much as the dynamic vocals of Santellan and Sandoval. Since the band is composed of comic-book enthusiasts, the tape cover features original artwork by local zinester Melina Mena, inspired by Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve graphic novel Sleepwalk, intentionally modeling a moment of uncertainty.

But even in the midst of anxiety and murkiness, Bellhaunts have no intention of slowing down. “Loss, angst, wompiness, stagnation, dumpster babies, Doctor Who—we’re dealing with the trappings of adulthood,” says Adrienne. “Nothing panned out like we thought it would. We’ve learned to fi nd hope in the trash can that is our lives, [our] songs are indicative of that.”

Oh, and if you’re wondering about those estranged Bellhaunts, everyone lived happily ever after. “We still get along,” says Adrienne. “We’re just older and sleepier.”

Hey, Orange County/Long Beach musicians & bands! Mail your music, contact info, high-res photos & impending show dates for possible review to: Locals Only, OC Weekly, 3420 Bristol St., 6th Floor, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Or email your link to: localsonly@ocweekly.com.
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