Dark ages

Jack White isn’t the only big name interested in Nashville-based garage-goth quartet The Black Belles. The all-women band has already performed the theme song for Elvira's Movie Macabre and played backing band for Stephen Colbert’s song, "Charlene II (I'm Over You)." They’ve also been tapped for a Helmut Lang campaign.

“They gave us some clothes — leather leggings and blazers,” says bassist Ruby Rogers of the designer label. “And the jewelry designer Eddie Borgo gifted us some things.” Earlier in the band’s skyrocketing career, vintage and vintage-reproduction seller American Gold set the Black Belles up with dresses and retro bell bottoms. Rogers jokes that she hopes someone else sends apparel soon, because she’s getting tired of her wardrobe.

It makes sense that the Black Belles, with their if-Wynona-Ryder-in-Beetle-Juice-started-a-band style and their Wednesday Addams deadpan expressions appeal to the fashion savvy. Their raven locks and floppy hats are as bewitching (check the band’s Tumblr page: they inspire frenzies among teen-age British girls as their heavy, restless, smoke-and-voodoo brand of rock).

Rogers admits that everyone in the band (singer/guitarist Olivia Jean, keyboardist Tina NoGood and Shelby Lynne —not the Nashville-based country singer — on drums) likes to shop for vintage clothes in the various cities they visit but “the apparel is more inspired by the music,” says Rogers.

Then again, “I definitely feel different when I put the hat on and have the makeup,” says Rogers. If she forgets her black lipstick, she feels odd. And, in the band’s newest video, “Wishing Well,” the bassist says that wearing brightly-colored clothes (she’s in a purple pleated number) created a marked difference in the creative process. That, and the video (unlike their others) was not directed by White.

The members of the Black Belles met White while working on a number of projects at his label, Third Man Records (including the Dead Weather video for “I Cut Like A Buffalo”). “We all kind of had mutual friends that we’d heard about each other through and we all kind of met — we looked alike and liked similar things, and we all played music,” says Rogers. “I think it was being at the right place at the right time.”

The Black Belles gelled with White and his visions, creating the band’s debut, self-titled album which was released last November (along with an exclusive glow-in-the-dark “Absinthe Vinyl,” naturally). Since then, White released his solo album, Blunderbuss and his own touring has taken him away from the producer role.

“We’re kind of impressed that he wanted to do [our first record],” says Rogers. It’s got to be an exciting (and somewhat daunting prospect) for an up-and-coming band to be taken under White’s wing. But he does have a history of working with women, from The White Stripes with ex-wife Meg (from whom, by marriage, White took his surname)  and The Dead Weather (his collaboration with Alison Mosshart of The Kills) to his relaunching of the careers of Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson with albums Van Lear Rose and The Party Ain't Over, respectively. “I read where he said that women don’t have as much ego in the recording studio,” says Rogers. She adds that women also don’t get enough credit in the music world, not even as session artists. Changing that, the Black Belles’ own Olivia Jean is doing a lot of session work for Third Man (including appearing on John C. Reilly’s Blue Series singles).

As for being an all-girl band on tour, Rogers says she likes the sisterhood element. In fact, the Black Belles is the second all-female band with which she’s played. And, as far as being a garage-goth group based in the country music capital, Rogers is just fine with that, too.

Nashville “makes sense to us since it’s music city,” she says. “We’re not like any of the other bands in Nashville, but they have so many recording studios and music is more like a career there.” There are grant programs and insurance for touring musicians — both boons for professional artists. And having all of the business end of the band taken care of leaves time for more creative endeavors, like hosting a video tour of favorite spots in Nashville (Grimey’s record store where they played their first show, Merchant’s restaurant where “supposedly a man hung himself”) and performing “What Cab I Do” during a Black Cab Session while in London.

— Alli Marshall can be reached at amarshall@mountainx.com.

who: The Black Belles, with special guests The Coathangers and Zombie Queen
where: The Emerald Lounge
when: Monday, June 18 (9 p.m., $8 in advance or $10 at the door. http://www.emeraldlounge.com)

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

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