Sun. April 2
235 East Bay St.
Academic: that’s the sound Lowcountry transplants Bell (a.k.a. “bell”) are going for. With an eclectic set of piano-powered songs, a burgeoning coed fan base, and a recently completed six-track demo, the lofty description isn’t too far off … and local audiences are getting schooled.
Guitarist and frontman Tyler Mechem and classically-trained pianist Joe Giant arrived on the Charleston music scene last summer following their graduation from Ohio’s Miami University. The quintessential boys-next-door happily left their accounting and political science degrees behind in an attempt to make a dollar or two playing tunes down South.
“We got our first gig the second day we were here and we’ve been playing regularly since,” says Mechem. The band’s first-ever Charleston performance took place at the Blind Tiger almost accidentally after the scheduled band packed up early.
“The manager said he wouldn’t pay us … and if we sucked, we’d get the boot,” Mechem says.
Two hours into their impromptu set, the duo made a strong enough impression on the manager to land a weekly gig from 8:30-11 p.m. on Friday nights. From there, Bell’s performances expanded into a four-night-a-week weekly downtown routine, playing the likes of O’Malley’s, Charleston Beer Works, Meritäge, and, most recently, Johnson’s Pub.
In November, the twosome strengthened their sound with the addition of deft drummer William Pitonyak, a CofC student and Detroit native. As the new guy in an established duo of two close friends, Pitonyak’s situation would seem daunting. He disagrees: “I felt like I could jump right in because it was all my favorite music,” he says.
So then there were three. While any group performing renditions of familiar tunes on a couple of rubber bands, an upturned cereal box, and a cheap microphone could call themselves a “local cover band,” delivering a top-quality set in a unique way actually requires skill. For now, Bell is, by definition, a cover band, but they’re a damn good one. With their lineup solidly in place, they hope to eventually become an “all original” band.
Bell managed to record six original tracks in their tiny makeshift studio in West Ashley. What emerged from their low-budget recording sessions was a refreshing series of road trip-worthy recordings.
Sounding as if weened on a rusty spoon, Mechem grittily croons about the complexities of relationship troubles on one standout titled “‘Neath the Weeping Willow.”
“It’s an analogy or metaphor for how we went from very simple to very complicated,” says Mechem. “I mean, growing up across the street there was a willow tree — it sounds so dumb — but that’s where we always hung out.” Pitonyak’s dexterity and ability to navigate through multiple musical genres added a funky, jazzy flair.
The band’s innovative pop-rock sound hinges on Giant’s impressive technique on the ivories. Echoing the dynamic skills of Ben Folds, Giant’s impeccable handle on melody and syncopation may ultimately prove to be the basis for Bell’s ‘academic’ aspiration.
The group hits the road this summer. “It’s Motown or bust!” says Mechem. In the meantime, they plan to win a few more fans each week with a busy rotation of live shows, including Sundays at Meritäge, Thursdays at O’Malley’s (with the exception of this week), Fridays at Blind Tiger, and Saturdays at Café Paradiso.