Scene Point Blank: Talk about West Virginia a little more. Being from there myself, I have conflicting feelings about the place. On one hand its natural beauty is as much a gift as the sense of humility growing up there gives you. There’s art and entertainment, great food and culture if you know where to look. But on the other hand, it has a rich history of working people being tethered to the will of industrialists and by-and-large it’s a very boring place.
David Bello: Now that I've been living elsewhere for five years or so and have been to other countries and stuff, I really do appreciate how fucking weird West Virginia is. In a good way. And a part of me misses it. Not so much that I think I'd ever live there again. There's too many backwards-ass people who have control over the businesses and government there, but I definitely miss the strange, strange people and the just plain good people.
The music, the food, the sense of humor and wildly absurd situations and behaviors; nowhere else can compare to that shit. Maybe like parts of Ohio, that's it though. [Laughs].
I definitely needed to get out to see that. I hated more than I liked about living there while I was living there. Small towns, in general everywhere, have a lot of the disadvantages I found, like not really having a glut of people with common interests. If you want to start a business or build a community around something, you're either going to be limited to under a hundred people who know or care about it or you have to appeal to common interests. I was super, super lucky to find people like me and make friends, but I think about all the possibilities where that didn't happen or all the kids who are just like, "Well, I guess it's just me and Tim who have ever heard of Boris and he's twenty years older than me," and they have to build their life on the Internet. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but in cities you could go to 100 shows in a year and meet 20 people who went to at least 50 of those too and five of them have the same favorite season of the Simpsons as you. There's just way fewer opportunities for that.
The other side of that, which kind of makes West Virginia beautiful to me, is that you have as many common interests as you have friends and you convert each other into liking the stuff those people like. There were 28 people in my year at my high school and everyone knew each other's names and half of them watched Mr. Show because two kids loved Mr. Show and got everyone else to watch Mr. Show.
Scene Point Blank: Are any of these experiences relevant to your lyrical content? Elaborate on what you write about.
David Bello: It definitely informs my writing, I think the absurd shit that goes on in West Virginia like packs of dogs being an actual risk sometimes, seeing so many enormous bellies on shirtless guys on the lawns of burned out houses, backwoods junkie antics, true religious schizophrenia, true economic schizophrenia, etc. is the pure "vibe" I go for in everything I write.
It’s like how Kurt Vonnegut had this way of writing that was purely upstate New York, or maybe more a specific time in the US generally or a specific subset of people, where his whole sense of humor, way of speaking, and understanding of situations was tied to a place or how he grew up. That’s how I feel about West Virginia. Not that I’m good like Kurt Vonnegut or as sophisticated in this at all and I’m sure if you read enough or learn enough you can find this is true with anyone who has a "style" or "self" and makes "stuff." But, it’s so deep in my head that even how I’m writing this sentence right now has roots in how my idiot role models used to type on AIM back in the day or the jokes I make/what I think is funny or smart all has to do with being in the woods and not wanting to be in the woods, or somebody shirt stealing cigarettes and stepping in a dog turd.
Scene Point Blank: I've seen some harrowing things that I wouldn't trade for anything while growing up in the Northern Panhandle of that state. Moving into more contemporary territory, what is currently challenging you?
David Bello: Right now I just moved to Philly because I couldn't afford to keep living in NYC, which sucks, but Philly is cool. Money is fucking stressing me out a lot right now cause my girlfriend and I just dropped like over a thousand dollars for security deposits and first and last month's rents and all that. And TWIABP hasn't been touring as much as we usually do so I have less income, but it's nice to have a short break from that. I'm very excited to get back on the road. [Laughs].
For now I'm trying to find a shitty job here in Philly, like at a pretzel place or something.
Also, this fucking election is messing with my head. It's obvious how shitty it is and nightmarish that this reality TV guy is so close to being a real leader and I’m always reminded of it going on and it's terrible.
Those are the two big challenges I've got going on right now and I'm definitely making music at home that reflects that kind of extreme hopelessness, making synth drones on my laptop that sound like the end of the world. [Laughs].
Scene Point Blank: I think financial security is a major issue for a lot of people from our generation and, without a doubt, for those who chose to pursue creative endeavors as a means of making a living. I guess sometimes we just don't have a choice but to take solace in our circumstances and turn them into something, even if it's just an interesting life.
I can empathize with how troublesome this presidential election is to you. At the very least this whole situation raises some serious questions about our process for electing people into political office. I'm uncomfortable with the volume it speaks about American culture and how enveloped people become in treating civic duty as a battle between red team vs. blue team where both teams are predominantly made up of people that are equally out of touch with what it takes to get by in America in 2016. To a lot of people it's the theater they crave and an extension of their favorite reality television. It's like the Trump/Clinton narrative and this whole election cycle is a manifestation of a system (i.e. oligarchic government and the forth estate) being designed to keep people from realizing how badly they're getting fucked by said institutions.
David Bello: For sure! I watched a thing from The Guardian where they went to McDowell County and talked to these old men who only knew the coal company gave them work and barely anything else. They're voting for Trump because they think he'll help, which is kind of that common idea that anyone can help. None of the people in charge will make a real difference for the people on the ground. You'd like this I think: https://youtu.be/eqceHviNBC4
"I'm definitely making music at home that reflects that kind of extreme hopelessness, making synth drones on my laptop that sound like the end of the world"
Scene Point Blank: I suppose operating against one’s self interest is a common condition of being a member of the underclass. Whether that susceptibility to empty rhetoric is based out of fear and false hope or just the fact that economically depressed areas aren't exactly hubs for intellectual discourse, it's tragic to see the trajectory of people's lives being determined by the global market changing in a way that’s so beyond their control.
The piece you shared is a fair portrait of what a lot of places in West Virginia look like and I hope our readers take the time to watch it. Though as poignant as the end of it is, I get a sense of comfort from a 92 year-old expressing that all presidential candidates are often full of shit.
Do you go back very much?
David Bello: I definitely get that sense of comfort too, that even though Trump won the election, we're still going to survive (fingers crossed) and in a practical sense, things will even out in the country/the world/our lives.
I wish I got to go back to West Virginia more often, but most of the time when I'm not traveling with TWIABP I feel like staying put in one place, right now Philadelphia. If I'm lucky, I go see my parents in Parkersburg for at least one or two week-long visits and a night or two in Morgantown with friends, per year.
A year or two ago I got to do a short tour with Howard Parsons, Tyler Grady, Keegan Lester, John R Miller, and Bryan Richards as The Travelin’ Appalachian Revue; each of us playing songs or reading stories and poems in five or six towns in West Virginia. It was awesome to get to do that kind of thing in my home state when I'm so used to doing it throughout the rest of the country. It really got me to appreciate West Virginia in a way that I find the rest of the country to be either bland or hostile.
Scene Point Blank: I'm familiar with the collective. Those interested can find updates on their work at https://travelinappalachiansrevue.org/.
What records make you think of West Virginia? What were the first albums you owned?
David Bello: The first album I bought was Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by The Smashing Pumpkins on tape. My first CD was Dookie of course. [Laughs]. I don't know that I would tie those specifically to WV though. The first vinyl record I ever listened to was Harvest by Neil Young, a copy my mom had from when she was young. I feel like that had kind of a connection to WV for superficial reasons of it being country-ish. My impression at the time was rooted in coming out of listening to punk/indie rock/nu metal as a preteen rebellion and accepting that I didn't have to just be mad at small town life and people. Maybe more connected in my memory to WV is that nu metal phase I went through. There's definitely nostalgia for Life is Peachy-era Korn and the first few Limp Bizkit albums in thinking about when I used to go to the Grand Central Mall in my stupidly baggy jeans and chain wallet.
Scene Point Blank: Ah, the transition from Dookie and Insomniac to JNCOs and Korn. Sucking at skateboarding and stealing cigarettes...good times. Is there any music or literature you're particularly excited about right now?
David Bello: I just started listening to Young Thug a few weeks ago and it's definitely not something I ever expected myself to like, mainly because I've never enjoyed the auto-tune effect on vocals, but it took hearing that music to finally understand it's worthwhile. I watched an interview/lecture with one of his collaborators, this audio engineer named Alex Tumay and he kind of outlined what goes into making that music. I ended up with appreciation for that vocal effect and it kind of opened a whole new field of rap for me; people like Travis Scott, Lil Yachty, all these people using computer technology on their voices.
I have been trying to wade through more abstract philosophy writing like this crazy Gilles Deleuze book on capitalism and schizophrenia. I have mixed feelings on whether or not it’s highly academic to the point where it's so far above my head or if it's written in such a psychotic or psychedelic way that it's pure poetry or gibberish. Either way, it's been super entertaining to skip around the book he wrote with Felix Guattari called Anti-Oedipus, mainly because a lot of the topics like mental illness, socioeconomic inequality, logic and order are things I try to write about for TWIABP.
Scene Point Blank: While they don't utilize the auto-tune effect, if you're on a hip-hop kick I highly recommend Czarface, which is Inspectah Deck's latest stuff, and the new ScHoolboy Q record Blank Face.
Some philosophical literature can be difficult to decipher because of how unnecessarily verbose and poetic it is, though I suppose that gives it aesthetic value beyond its academic purpose. Themes of mental illness and economic inequality should make everyone excited for the next TWIABP record as both issues seemingly increase in relevance year after year. Speaking of that project, you've managed to do extensive touring with TWIABP, where are your favorite places you've spent your time and played shows?
David Bello: The first place that comes to mind is Philly. I always had such a cool time visiting here on tour and I had come here a lot as a kid because my sister lives in the suburbs with her family. I liked it so much that when I couldn't afford NYC anymore it was the first choice. I really like Portland, Oakland, Denver, and Chicago. I highly prefer cities in general. Most anywhere, I know I can take a bus and be in the woods no matter what within a few hours. But it's way more important to me that I can get a sandwich within 10 minutes walking from where I am in a big city. My absolute favorite place to tour in is Germany. We've been lucky enough to play shows there on two separate tours and the people are wonderful and welcoming, the food is awesome, the buildings look cool, and since it was the first place I ever arrived outside of US/Canada, I have this vivid memory of feeling like a tiny alien or a pilgrim or someone who just felt snow for the first time when we walked outside the airport… like I put on new prescription glasses or something.
Scene Point Blank: How do you spend your time when you're not touring or working on music?
David Bello: I try to read as much as I can, but I end up spending most of my time watching YouTube videos mostly [Laughs]. I watch a lot about how to make electronic music or do audio engineering because I'm trying to learn more about that for doing solo stuff. I watch a lot of movies and TV shows and play a lot of games on my phone. Lately, I've been doing transcription online as much as possible to earn some extra money, but the jobs are kind of depressing. I recently spent a few days transcribing collect calls from prisons, which was pretty weird. They all start with this notice that the calls may be monitored and recorded, but I doubt the inmates realize some guy is frantically typing what they're saying to their loved ones for a dollar a minute or whatever. I do a lot of cooking, too. Nothing gourmet really, but I like to experiment making cheap stuff like rice and chicken taste really good. NYC had plantains everywhere for super cheap, but here in Philly they're all organic and expensive so I've had to faze them out of my regular diet.
Scene Point Blank: Are you comfortable discussing any content of the prison conversations you've transcribed and how you felt about it? Does it give you any perspective that influences your creative mode of thought or is it just a total drag amounting to nothing more than another mental burden?
David Bello: Well, it honestly kind of goes in one ear and out the other as I'm doing it. There's a level of distraction with transcribing really fast that kind of lets the content just wash over you and you're left forgetting most of the details. Most of what they say is pretty mundane anyway. They're talking to their spouse about what they had for dinner, how work was, what their children are up to. None of them talked about crime very much, and when they did it was bland and regretful. When I first did one, I tried to find the guy's mugshot or a police report. Turned out he had broken into a house, but there weren't any facts about it and all he wanted to do over the phone was tell his wife to call an office on his behalf to get some paperwork turned in on time so he could shorten his sentence by a few months.
Scene Point Blank: Is there anything else you'd like to say or promote?
David Bello: People can check out my back catalog on Bandcamp. It's all free. TWIABP have a bunch of merch constantly being designed and produced on our web store, and we're going to be doing a ton more touring this year.
Scene Point Blank: David, thanks for taking the time to hang out with us and good luck on the new record. I know there are a lot of people who are really proud of you. Congratulations on all of your hard work and I'll see you when you come back to Portland.