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Belgrade: Finding The Right Balance.

April 12, 2013

BelgradeSmall01Text by Rick Kauffman. Images by Michael Bucher.

What makes Philadelphia different from cities larger and denser, or from those smaller and sparser, is that our artists stay here, stick with their friends and grow from their home as much as their home grows from them.

Belgrade, a shoegazing indie rock band, is a shining example of that.

“Our band would have never happened without the locality and proximity of Philadelphia,” says guitarist Matt Hanemann. “We were able to call on people who were really good musicians to build this group.”

It wasn’t a stretch to find able-bodied and accomplished musicians to complete the band. In fact, they felt as though the long list of possibilities was overwhelming. Drummer Jeff Meyers, for example, has been a part of 27 different bands.

“Does that make me a whore?” he jokes.

BelgradeSmall02Belgrade, a band Hanemann and Meyers describe as consisting of “a bunch of post-hardcore dudes,” is nothing like the thrashy, violent music they grew up on. Their sound is reminiscent of the post-punk and indie rock that came out of the UK starting in the late ’70s with Joy Division, the ’80s with The Cure and My Bloody Valentine, or more recently in the 2000s with British Sea Power.

“I wanted to show people that we see past ourselves and release music and create something they don’t expect,” Hanemann says. “Playing aggressive music is fun but I wanted to be challenged by being more restrained.”

By embracing the softness, Belgrade aims to create music that is more poignant. They are instrumentally focused, backed by veteran musicians — bassist Derek Zglenski, who Hanemann calls “a Swiss Army knife” who “can play anything we need him to play,” and second guitarist, Jason Bucci. The vocals of singer Mike McNelis, formerly of New Jersey’s The Progress, is appropriated into the music rather than being the focal point.

“We’re trying to make a sound that pushes dynamics,” Meyers explains. “There are moments we get loud but it’s to make those soft moments more impactful.”

“Vocals make the music much more powerful by connecting to the people,” Hanemann adds. “Mike has a really unique voice which is, in a way, retro sounding.”

Their aim for now is to stick close to home and create the music they want to make.

“When you’re younger and you have that whole notion, that dream of being a big artist, you want to be like Dave Grohl,” Meyers says. “But do I actually want to be like him? I want what I write to speak for itself, and if 20 people like it, that’s awesome.”

Hanemann, who works full-time as a graphic designer and creative director, agrees.

“I finally have found a balance between my career and my passion,” he says. “If no one cares ever (about the music), I would never care. I’m doing what I love to do.”

He also creates the album cover artwork and web design for all the bands he’s in.

“When I’m feeling stale visually, it sometimes makes it hard to write music,” Hanemann explains. “But I’ll often inspire myself with a visual feeling and try to keep that feeling going. And music is my go-to outlet.”

Belgrade will perform at the First Unitarian Church on Sunday with The Appleseed Cast. They’ll debut their first LP on April 26 and celebrate with a release show at Kung Fu Necktie. They haven’t made any plans to tour in support of the album.

“Being in a band touring the county is great but it’s also total shit at the same time,” says Meyers. “I spent three years of my life traveling, being on the road. I was totally disconnected from what’s important to me. I like being home. I like seeing my friends.”

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