Bellhaunts Turn Uncertainty into a Radical Reinvention

Bellhaunts Turn Uncertainty into a Radical Reinvention
Courtesy of Bellhaunts

Part Sleater-Kinney, part doo-wop dark arts coven, Santa Ana’s Bellhaunts are no strangers to the art of angst, tragedy, and ultimately reinvention. After 6 years of hard work, line up and aesthetic changes, loss, and soul searching, the quartet will celebrate the independent release of their highly anticipated full length Bad Wolf on Saturday at Beatnik Bandito. It's a gritty and bittersweet collection of both fantastic and personal underdog anthems worth rooting for.

Their current line up officially formed in 2012 after a drunken spat ended with the original Bellhaunts bass player quitting before a show. “I went inside to inform the drummer and he let me know he would be leaving too,” remembers front person Adrienne Santellan. Current Bellhaunts bassist and co-vocalist Ritchie Sandoval happened to be in the crowd that night and agreed to join the new line up. Santellan called current drummer (then Street Spirit frontwoman) Redd Astran the next day with a hunch that the combination of these new additions along with Santellan’s baby brother Josh could “push the band away from the country garage punk sound Bellhaunts had started out with and forward into the pop punk indie tinged sound” Santellan hoped to capture before the untimely implosion of their original incarnation.

Bellhaunts are somewhat of a Santa Ana super group with decades of indie-punk experience between them. Josh and Adrienne Santellan and Sandoval first met while playing in their Y2K era band Slow, one of few long running riot grrrl inspired acts in the post 9-11 Orange County music community. Astran got her start drumming as a young girl after being inspired by her uncle, eventually playing in local staples like Mystery Hangup and Street Spirit. Siblings Josh and Adrienne Santellan have been heading up bands, writing, and playing music together for over 15 years. “We have a psychic sibling bond that allows us to communicate progressions, melodies, and harmonies through aural osmosis, just like Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart,” says Josh, who begrudgingly picked up guitar as a kid after Adrienne made him learn the unlikely pairing of Social Distortion’s “Story of My Life” and Heavens to Betsy's “Axemen.”

Since 2012, their change in direction has been well received by local and out of town audiences, leaving fans hanging in anticipation as they worked out the kinks for “Bad Wolf” for nearly 2 years. Their new music is inspired by both formative punk and feminist Northwest bands and pop punk and grunge acts like RVIVR, The Thermals, and Dinosaur Jr. “I really wanted to be able to write a 3 chord song that was visceral, had snotty vocals and sounded earnest,” says Santellan reflecting on their writing process. For Sandoval, “[Bad Wolf] is a reflection of change.”

In the midst of writing new material, Bellhaunts members lost people close to them and experienced personal tragedies, which is reflected musically and lyrically in the diverse offerings of Bad Wolf. Uncertainty was a major underlying theme, “I think everyone has that moment when you’re not quite sure if you’re where you should be,” says Sandoval, a moment reflected in the often unresolved anticipation of “Wolf.” The track list is every bit cohesive as it is chaotic, moving the listener between dreamy post-punk, bright indie-pop, brooding grunge, and even melancholy-yet-energized pop-punk. Josh Santellan’s reverb drenched metal infused signature leads and Redd’s Gene Krupa meets Questlove drumming style have become hallmarks of the Bellhaunts sound, shaping and shifting the music just as much as the dynamic vocals of Santellan and Sandoval. Since the band is comprised of comic book enthusiasts, the tape cover features original artwork by local zinester Melina Mena, inspired by Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve graphic novel Sleepwalk, intentionally modeling a moment of uncertainty.

But even in the midst of anxiety and murkiness, Bellhaunts have no intention of slowing down. “Loss, angst, wompiness, stagnation, dumpster babies, Doctor Who: we're dealing with the trappings of adulthood,” says Santellan. “Nothing panned out like we thought it would. We've learned to find hope in the trash can that is our lives, [our] songs are indicative of that.” Oh and if you’re wondering about those estranged Bellhaunts, everyone lived happily ever after. “We still get along. We're just older and sleepier.”

Bellhaunts “Bad Wolf” Tape Release Party will be held Saturday February 13th at Beatnik Bandito 417 N Broadway, Santa Ana, CA, 92701. Also appearing are The Grinning Ghosts, No Side, and Nico Bones. 7PM, all ages, $5.

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