It’s been just over a month since Columbia pop-rock quintet Bellavida released its first full-length album into the world. Recorded at locally at Archer Avenue Studio, Why Don’t You Know What You Want? is a sprawling 10-track effort that pushes the impressive musical chops the band debuted on the 2016 EP Letters to Rose into new territory. For vocalist and guitarist Logan Baldwin, the album’s release is certainly celebratory, but feels more like a sizeable weight off the group’s shoulders.
“It was a little bit grueling, honestly, to get to the point where we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, we finally have an album that we can release,’” Baldwin says of the winding road that led to the new record.
Drummer Blake Hunter recalls that some of the oldest ideas that made their way onto the album came about when he was a high school senior four years ago. Since then, the band has seen multiple lineup changes, having played with four different lead guitarists and two bass players, and struggled with the sisyphean task of balancing the schedules of five college students.
“I hate being like, ‘Oh, we have school,’” Hunter laments. “It sucks, I wish we could put more time into it.”
“Oh, it’s a nightmare,” Baldwin interjects with a chuckle, echoing his bandmate’s sentiment. “It’s like waiting for a full moon trying to get us all together.”
Why Don’t You Know What You Want? materialized through Bellavida’s persistence in continuing to hone their sound, performing the required organizational gymnastics to reach the ultimate. Engineer Kenny McWilliams was willing to work with the group members on a piecemeal basis, allowing them to come in and track whenever they could find time as opposed to cutting the record all at once. Baldwin can’t begin to recall how much time they actually spent in the studio, while Hunter estimates at least a day, sometimes two were spent on each of the 10 songs.
Despite the scattered nature of its construction, the album comes across focused and fully realized, demonstrating the development of Baldwin and fellow vocalist and violinist Cat Galan as singing counterparts. Whereas the group’s first EP features largely ubiquitous harmonies between the duo, Why Don’t You Know gives each singer a defined voice, with harmonies doled out in precise and effective snippets.
Baldwin’s bright midrange croon is grounded and gorgeous on the finger-picked acoustic ballad “52,” yet capable of stretching to a near wail a la Jason Mraz and Dispatch on driving numbers like “The Life, the Road.” Galan provides the record’s vocal showstopper with “Fading Away,” detailing the dying embers of a relationship through legato passages that evoke both the soulful legacy of Amy Winehouse and the grandiose performances of Celine Dion. “I Miss Your Face.” showcases the pair at the height of their vocal interplay, featuring a solo verse from each and a sliding harmony chorus that provides the melody for the opulent orchestral arrangement that follows.
Underneath Baldwin and Galan’s pristine vocal display, drummer Hunter, guitarist Evan Hooker and bassist Jake Parler push Bellavida’s sound beyond the Dave Matthews-adjacent acoustic drive of 2016’s Letters to Rose. On the Galan-fronted “Different Directions,” electric guitars take the fore, fusing a riff seemingly hotwired from early Coheed and Cambria hits with a bouncing pop-funk strut anchored by Hunter and Parler’s propulsive groove. “Back Again” stands out for Hunter as a watermark exhibition of the band’s playing talents, with its humble intro and verse shuffle giving way to a massive instrumental break.
“That guitar solo just rips every time,” the drummer says, unable to conceal a genuine grin talking about Hooker’s lead playing. “I love listening to it.”
Now with full-length album and EP under its belt, the band’s focus turns toward freeing up time to tour. Though it hasn’t been able to experience the road life thus far with everyone still in school, Hunter can’t wait to sink his teeth into it.
“I’m 100 percent positive that when that time comes next year, we’ll be really working to play different cities and line up small tours through the Southeast,” he says.
Baldwin, who chose not to finish his degree at Winthrop, smiles as he thinks about his bandmates’ upcoming graduation from the University of South Carolina.
“I am so goddamn excited for you guys to not be in school anymore,” he concludes.
Where: The White Mule, 711 Saluda Ave.
When: Thursday, Oct. 3, 9 p.m.
Price: $8 ($5 advance)
More: 803-708-5908, whitemulemusic.com