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Smokey Bellows plays ‘heavy, weird rock-n-roll blues’

By Andrew Henderson, Point Park News Service:

Nick Bigatel is the front man of Smokey Bellows, a electro-country band that was formerly known as Dick Whiskey & the Bottle Openers. The band has gained some attraction from the Pittsburgh music scene as it recently signed with First Flight Records and released a first official album, “Half Lucid and the Other Half.” Currently, Smokey Bellows is preparing to embark on an ambitious schedule of live shows to promote this new work.

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Nick Bigatel performs with Smokey Bellows at last year’s Layer Cake Festival in Deutchtown. Photo credit: Timothy Cox, submitted.

Q: Would you be willing to describe the band in your own words for someone who has no idea what you guys do?

A: Yeah, it started out as a solo singer/songwriter folk project. I did that for about a year. Then I recruited the band, which is myself on rhythm guitar and singer/songwriter still, a lead guitar, a banjo, a bass and, at the time, a mixed percussionist, [Alex] Volpe, who played the washboard, the kick drum and the tambourine. The band was more folk at the time. Since Volpe left, it worked into a much heavier, weirder sound with a full drummer.  It’s just pretty heavy, weird rock-and-roll blues, I guess.

Q: You guys have kind of had a full identity change since you started.  You have a new name, a new drummer and a new sound. Was that an intentional move or did that sort of just wind up happening?

A: The name change was completely intentional. When First Flight signed us and agreed to record our album, I thought it was a great time to sort of rebrand. The name Dick Whiskey & the Bottle Openers, I don’t think really fits the music anymore. So, we searched and came up with Smokey Bellows. And then the drummer thing was fortunate and unfortunate. Obviously unfortunate to lose Volpe, but the drummer we have now, Andy Collier, really changed the whole dynamic of the band and made it a much fuller, heavier sound.

Q: So where did the name Smokey Bellows come from? How does that represent you?

A: Um, J. Trafford from Suavity’s Mouthpiece wrote a song for me that had the line “smoky bellows” in the lyrics. And when he sent me the track, I just loved the line and I had been searching for a new name and it just fit.

Q: Going along with the identity change we’ve been talking about, you’ve also transitioned from being a sort of DIY band to being signed to First Flight Records, so what has that transition been like?

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Smokey Bellows performs live at Mr. Smalls Funhouse in Millvale. Photo credit: Zach Anzelone, submitted.

A: It’s been great! They’re a small, local label. Adam Levine, the owner of the label, like I said, agreed to record the album for us. We spent, I think, six to nine months at Liveburgh Studio doing that, and there’s no way we could have done that on our own without that kind of support. So he recorded, mixed and mastered the whole thing. And Jesse Davis from Bad Custer produced it.

Q: Obviously, there has to be a pretty strong music community in Pittsburgh that you guys are now a part of.  Would you say that’s accurate?

A: Yeah, I’d say so. I think Pittsburgh is in this really cool place where the music scene just keeps getting bigger and better. I don’t think it’s really exploded like maybe Austin has recently, but it’s definitely a strong, tight-knit community. We took about nine months off to do the album and we were able to come right back and reach out to the contacts we had and the bands we knew and start getting shows again. It’s not hard to play out.

Q: Is the goal for you guys to get out of Pittsburgh, or do you want to stay in the area?

A: I think we want to stay for now. We need to build a local fan base. Like you said, we kind of rebranded and a lot of people are starting fresh with the album. We have the goal to do a small tour in a year and a half or so. But for now, we want to stay, build our network, build our fans and build our community in Pittsburgh.

Q: Is there anything else about the band that you would want those new listeners to know if you could talk to them now?

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The album cover for the Smokey Bellows’ debut album, designed by Nick Bigatel.

A:  Well, I’m really proud of the album, but I’d also like to add that we recorded the album with Volpe, not Andy, so the album isn’t really what you’re going to hear at a live show anymore. [The show] is going to be a lot fuller, a lot heavier and different. But they are the same songs.

Q: Do you intend to either re-record the album or record another album now that you’re working with Andy?

A: I think our goal is to record an EP next. We really went all out with this one and recorded … I think we went in with 15 or 16 demos and came out with the 11-track album. So we have some writing to do. And then we will be recording an EP. And hopefully there won’t be any more lineup swings so hopefully that will be more representative of what we do now.

Q: Do you have anything coming up in the next few weeks?

A: We’re doing back-to-back Halloween shows. Friday, Oct. 21, we are playing at Moondogs in Blawnox, and Saturday, Oct. 22, we are playing at Liveburgh Studio in Glenshaw where we recorded our album.

“Half Lucid and the Other Half” is available now from First Flight Records. Follow the band on their Facebook page.

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