Charlottesville’s Bella Morte is one of the most successful contemporary goth bands in the world. But unless you can name any contemporary goth bands, there’s a good chance you don’t know this. The band has found incredible fame within a devoted subculture, and it’s one that allows touring the world and playing sold out shows, but still requires the members to hold service industry jobs here in town. This is partly due to the current realities of the music industry, but it’s also a result of their commitment to the band.
Bella Morte’s music is almost excruciatingly sincere—there’s none of the winking, joking self-parody of some of its peers. “I like writing songs without a hint of irony in them,” singer Andy Deane said. “Stuff that people might call cheesy—I love that. I love sincere, dark, emotional music.” But despite the all-black wardrobe, skull tattoos, and ludicrously somber, brooding attitude of the album covers and press photos, Deane and guitarist Tony Lechmanski are friendly and funny. Hanging out with them involves a constant stream of jokes at each others’ expense, peppered with references to old horror movies. I know few people who make each other laugh as much as these two.
Bella Morte formed in 1996 as a duo of Deane and Gopal Metro. While the early records were minimal, brooding, and synthesizer-heavy, they began adding band members and taking the music in a heavier, more energetic direction. Lechmanski joined in 2000, and became a permanent member. Metro left the group amicably in 2006.
“We were not getting along well,” Deane said of Metro’s departure. “We added a lot of metal elements to the band, that he was not happy with. At that time the band was growing at an insane rate, and that’s something he wasn’t comfortable with. It’s a weird thing, going from playing for 70 kids to playing for hundreds of people.” Deane and Lechmanski now form the core of the group, amidst a rotating cast of side musicians.
“No two of our albums sound the same,” Deane said. “Whenever a band changes styles you’re going to have people saying, ‘Oh, they sold out.’ Well, we never got the check. That’s one of the main reasons this band has been Tony and I for so long.”
“One tour we couldn’t get anybody, and I stayed up for days programming all the parts into a drum machine. But our luck there has been great. We’ve had several drummers, several bass players, and when people have left, it’s not been a controversial thing, like ‘You’re fired!’ or whatever. It’s more like, ‘Oh, you got a real job? Great!’”
“That’s why me and Andy get along so well,” Lechmanski explains. “We’re both the biggest failures in our group. He works at [Studio Art], and I work at Lucky 7, and that’s all we have, and that sucks. It’s like ‘Would you like to play a show in England for 6,000 people? Or would you rather sell beer to homeless people?’”
Despite Lechmanski’s jokes, both he and Deane do keep busy with a number of other projects. Lechmanski has also played hardcore and punk for years, first with Riot Act and then The 40 Boys, while Deane, who played metal in Nerve No Pain, has authored a number of teen paranormal romance novels, and was recently reunited with Metro in the group Brighter Fires.
“This town, no matter what brand of music you put out, is amazing in terms of support,” Deane said. “I’ve traveled everywhere in the world, and I’ve never seen a more incestuous scene in my life.”
Lechmanski cites stories of running into members of The Hackensaw Boys or Sons of Bill while on the road. “They’re on such a different planet from what we’re doing,” he said. “But any time we see any of them, we feel that Charlottesville family unity.”
In June, Bella Morte released The Best of Bella Morte (1996-2012), and on Saturday, August 3, they’ll host a formal release party at the Jefferson. “It’s a few weeks late, but it’s the CD release,” Deane said. “Gopal is playing the show. It’s been fun having him back at practice. We don’t know what the future of that’s going to be. It feels partially like the old days, but it also feels like a new thing.”
“When you’ve been doing it for 20 years, you’ve got fans who listened all the way through high school, but haven’t heard our last five albums,” Deane said. “From all of our years back at The Dawning at Tokyo Rose, there are all these people who are flying in, we’ve been getting e-mails about which hotels to stay at. On Facebook, I’ve seen people say they’re coming in from Michigan, from Ohio, from New York.”
The concert’s opening acts are Synthetic Division and Lauren Hoffman, both of whom have long associations with the band. Hoffman is making a return to the music industry after a hiatus, and Lechmanski has been involved with co-writing her new material. “Synthetic Division is Shawn Decker,” Lechmanski explained. “We’ve known Shawn forever, we took him on tour, he wrote about us in his book—hell, I played with him in a gay pride festival.”
In addition to the retrospective collection, Bella Morte is also working on a new album. “For all intents and purposes, it’s done,” Deane said. “Without trying to retread the same turf, we did reconnect a lot to our dark wave roots. We have Gopal playing on a few songs.”
Unlike the early efforts, the latest releases have been self-recorded in a home studio. “There’s no reason to go into a [professional] studio anymore,” he said. “I guess for bands with an enormous budget, the equipment is better, but as far as getting our sound, nobody’s going to be better at that than the band.”
They’re also preparing for more live dates, including an appearance on something called the Goth Cruise. “It’s going to be thousands of goths on a boat. I don’t know what they’re going to do about the damn sun,” Deane said. “Hopefully it’ll be dark and stormy the whole time.”
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