Andrew Belle says he was always the least musical member of his family.
Trailed by three younger sisters who played the piano and sang in church, Belle left the music lessons to the women and instead poured his energy into sports.
But despite his athletic childhood affections, Belle began to be enticed by music in junior high. When his parents suggested that he listen to Christian radio, he would tape record hours of the top-40 mainstream station on his boom box and listen to the tapes on his Walkman in bed after everyone was asleep.
During these years, serenaded by Counting Crows’ “Omaha” and “Mr. Jones,” along with the best of ‘90s rock, Belle’s relationship with music went from intrigued to hooked.
His fixation only deepened when he learned to strum a guitar during his early high school years. Then came the band years. Then college hit, and Belle continued to play in bands at Taylor University. In 2003, during his sophomore year of college, he saw Brand New in concert and says he was invigorated with a new energy to write his own songs.
“I started listening to the record, and I was so inspired by the way that guy wrote songs that I just thought I would try my hand at it,” Belle says. At first, he wrote for his own college band.
“We actually didn’t have a name,” he remembers. “The band consisted more or less of just me writing songs and getting together with a couple people. That was just kind of the early days of me songwriting.”
Belle graduated in 2006 with a business degree, began working at a restaurant and playing out as much as he could and made a name for himself living near and playing in Chicago. “I was just trying to get gigs everywhere I could,” he says. After about nine months, Belle was able to quit waiting tables and solely pursue music. “I was really by myself at that point,” he says. “I didn’t have the manager. I didn’t really know what I was doing.”
Still, Belle continued to work toward his career, teaming up with producer Matt Opal and releasing his debut EP, All Those Pretty Lights, in September of 2008. Within a few months, Belle’s songs were getting TV placements and gaining attention on the Internet.
Only a month after the release of his EP, Belle began working on his first full-length album, The Ladder. He says he wasn’t initially planning on creating his album so soon, but was spurred on by the purchase of a keyboard.
That same year, Belle’s friend, photographer Laura Dart, took him to a Ten out of Tenn show in Chicago, when the group was on their first tour. Belle says he hadn’t heard of any of the artists before the show but was floored by the performance.
“I just, I loved it. I just thought it was the most amazing thing, and all 10 of them were unbelievable,” he says. “It was one of the few shows where, when it was done, I was disappointed—not disappointed with the show, disappointed that it was over.”
When TOT returned to Chicago in 2008 for their Christmas tour, Dart contacted Trent Dabbs about doing a photo shoot with him, and she invited Belle to come along. Belle did, and he gave Dabbs a copy of his EP.
Though he wasn’t sure Dabbs would like the record, the transaction fared beautifully for him. After the show, Dabbs e-mailed Belle, telling him they should write if Belle was ever in Nashville, beginning a relationship that swung a door wide open for Belle and eventually landed him a spot in the ten piece collective he so admired.
While in Nashville for a few months recording The Ladder with producer Thomas Doeve, Belle took Dabbs up on his offer, and the two co-wrote the song “Add It Up,” which became the fourth track on Belle’s album. Dabbs later saw Belle perform at the 2009 South by Southwest Festival in Austin, where TOT were also performing. Taken by this ambitious 25-year-old with a bright and enduring sound that’s all his own, Dabbs offered Belle a spot on the fall TOT Tour, provided he was interested in moving to Nashville.
“I was kind of on the fence about moving here at that point,” Belle says. “So that was kind of like the tipping point. I was like, ‘You know, I would love to be a part of this, and I’ve wanted to be a part of this, so I think I’m going to take the gamble and move here.”
Belle relocated in June of 2009, toured with the third installment of TOT and then filled in for Griffin House during the TOT Christmas Tour. Belle was also recently honored with the MTV VMA title as “2009 Chicago Breakout Artist of the Year.”
With an impressive award to his name and songs appearing on television shows including 90210, The Real World, Ghost Whisperer and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Andrew Belle still seems most thrilled about his place in Ten out of Tenn.
“What’s so exciting is that it’s such a fun story,” he says. “I was literally just a kid in the crowd, like, ‘Man I would love to be a part of this.’ And of all the people who would probably love to be a part of it, it’s just so funny that I ended up practically willing my way into it.”
Belle’s manager, Seth Cassel of 1L Music, says Belle contributes “energy and youthful exuberance” to TOT. He also says he believes Belle has something novel to offer this city.
“Andrew could potentially act as a ladder, to elevate the thriving Nashville world of which he is a part and extend its reach to the larger, mainstream pop music universe,” Cassel explains.
Speaking of ladders, Belle’s album with the same name will be officially released on February 23.