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BEL AND THE DRAGON
Surrounded by the din of elevator music, Shawn Covert the guitarist for Bel and the Dragon calmly sips a beer while songwriter Ian Johnson orders a coke and nurses a hangover. We're sitting at a bar in the Tower District two nights night after Bel's surprise performance at a North Fresno Birthday party. We managed to convince the pair to sit down and discuss their triumphant return to the Fresno scene and future plans for the group.
Fresno Famous: You've had quite the hiatus.
Shawn: We do it all the time, we really do.
Ian: This longer one was needed.
S: It just keeps people from getting burnt out on us and us from getting burnt out on each other. I think it's good to recharge all that energy.
FF: You guys are recording an album. Is that the story?
S: We've almost finished recording. Not to say that the record is going to come out anytime soon, but the recording part of it is almost done.
FF: Do you guys have plans for a future tour?
S: Eventually, it depends how the record is released and who is going to release it and who is going to do the promotion.
FF: What are you guys hoping for? What's the best thing that could happen with your new album and what's the worst?
S: The worst thing that could happen is that we erased the entire session and that would be really depressing.
I: I think if it just sat on a shelf.
FF: What's the best?
S: The best thing is that somebody loved it so much that they gave us lots of money for it.
I: Well, that's nice and ambiguous. I don't know, I guess the best we could hope for is an independent, nationally based label like Barsuk or someone like that. Someone that is well established, but I think what we have to do right now is lillypad from a smaller label onto a bigger label.
S: Which is the exciting thing about the greytank thing right know. If they're really serious about doing it, I don't see any reason why they wouldn't make it work. I think there are a lot of people that are really motivated. I think potentially it has a lot of potential.
FF: You have two songs on their upcoming compilation, what are those songs?
I: The Concept, The Plan and Mirrors.
FF: It's coming out Friday?
I: Yeah, I think they'll have it done for the show, on the 3rd. That'll be our first official show back, the party we played last night was thrown together. That was more or less to get all the willies out before we play the Starline.
FF: I remember I saw you guys a couple of years ago and it was Bel and the Dragon and then there was this other band, Superplane and then I saw you later and it was like the two bands had merged.
S: Actually that's pretty accurate. We were once two bands and we morphed into one.
I: When Bel first started it was me, Shawn and Mike and Shawn was playing bass. Superplane was a holdover from days of power pop and it was me and Grayson and some of the guys from The Fallouts. And they just melded together. We took a hiatus for a year
S: Well didn't both of the bands break up? Mike moved back to Canada at the time.
I: Yeah, I went up to Seattle and I was hanging out with some friends and some family. I took both recordings, some Bel stuff and some Superplane stuff and some of my friends listened to both and they convinced me to keep working on stuff for the Bel project.
S: I think at that point is when we started writing songs the way we do it now. Where Ian starts laying down demos and we tool around with it and I put my parts on it, and Grayson his bass parts. It didn't make a lot of sense to really practice with Mike in Canada.
I: I wrote a bunch of songs in Seattle and then moved back down and taught the stuff to Shawn and Grayson. And it just seemed to work that way. It seems to have a more unified vibe to it. This has more continuity to the creative process ... that's one of the reason we had a hiatus and why we have so many side projects...
FF: Cause you are such a band nazi?
I: [laughs] Partly yeah, and partly no. Shawn told me a quote from Thom Yorke that was like, "A band should be like the United Nations , but one guy should be the United States. " That's probably not the best analogy in these times, but maybe like in Clintonian years.
FF: So does the new album have a title?
I: Well, we were kicking around the idea of writing a record specifically with Greytank, which is what we're working on right now. But the other one, we're going to call it Judah. A lot of those songs I wrote when I was living in San Francisco, and it's a reflection on that.
FF: So you guys are off of hiatus and it's game on now?
S: The hiatus was mostly just a hiatus from playing out. It wasn't like we weren't doing anything. We were still wrapping up the recording and preparing and working and talking to labels and getting insight on that stuff.
FF: Has the Bel sound changed any?
I: Yes, there's more rock edge than we used to have.
S: More experimenting.
I: More past influences are coming through. I mean Shawn used to listen to Faith No More religiously and Grayson and I worship Pinkerton era-Weezer and Mike is -- I don't know.
S: If you listen to so much music eventually you're just pulling things out of a big filing cabinet in your head. If you're really passionate about music, just like anyone who's studied jazz, you can pull out little runs and stuff--
I: Musical vocabulary
S: That's the reason we sound like we do.
FF: So who are you're influences?
S: Well, that's the neat thing, I think you could go on forever. If you wanted to sit down and do the rest of the interview just talking about all the bands we listened to ...
I: It's a lot of everything.
FF: But you're okay with Faith No More and Weezer being the two mentioned by name?
I: You can add slayer, the Beatles, and Coltrane
S: Mile Davis, Louis Armstrong.
I: Woody Guthriue.
S: Wilco and the Dead Kennedys.
Bel and the Dragon will be performing Friday with Pinkeye and No Cello at the Starline.