As artists, Bianca Goyette and Julia Lee Norris know the healing and recharging powers of nature.
So the two packed up The Bellow & the Whale and plotted an escape from Chicago as the pandemic started to lock down the city. Working remotely from New Mexico for the majority of the last year, they nurtured in each other the inspiration to finish work on the band’s new EP, “Wild Dogs Howling.”
“The stress levels were inching up. I can just be in my room by myself puttering around. So the pandemic really brings out kind of the worst in me, because I’m just like I could do this forever,” said Norris. “But my partner, he was losing his mind. And actually our partners were working together, so it makes sense if we all kind of stick together and form a quarantine, since we work together and our partners work together. Just find a place where we can all be and be safe. And try to be as productive as possible while still preserving a little bit of a social element to our lives.”
Goyette, a web and graphic designer by trade, and Norris, whose specialty is illustration, found inspiration hiking, exploring nature and learning to snowboard in their new quarantine bubble.
If there’s a right way to ride out a pandemic, it sure seems like this is it.
The duo first met when Norris moved to Chicago with her husband for his new job … working with Goyette’s partner. As the two men became fast friends, they introduced Goyette and Norris because of their connections to music.
“I had never heard her do anything, obviously,” Goyette said. “So she came in, we did a song, and when we finished recording it (we did a video of it), we kind of looked at each other, and our partners looked at each other and looked at us and were like ‘So you guys are gonna keep on doing this right?’”
“And we both were like ‘Yeah! Yeah? Yeah. Is this a thing now?” Norris interjected, as both started laughing.
Three years later, The Bellow & the Whale has played the Homegrown Arts & Music Festival, guested on a number of Chicago-area podcasts and forged countless connections on the music scene. And as the duo dances through genres and influences in this five-song collection, many of those connections make appearances, bringing different styles and different lives to each track. Their work (some pre-pandemic, some during) with local artists is on full display, with musicians including Adela Skowronski, Jonathan Marks, Kevin Ford, Tayiib Dauda, Alex Austin and Caleb Ramos prominently showcased on the EP.
In addition to their lyrical creativity — rumor has it Norris has a notebook filled with interesting words and phrases she challenges herself to work into their songs — a hallmark of The Bellow & the Whale’s music is in their beautiful melodies and tight harmonies. In the new EP, the two don’t miss that high bar they’ve set. Each track is part of a cohesive set while also featuring its own style.
But the music isn’t where the art stops for the duo. Norris has her hands in a stop-motion video for “Regents Canal Waltz,” a favorite from the EP, that is due out shortly. And the two are putting together a campaign of images and video shot by California photographer Sarah Anderson to help create an enveloping sense of context for the music.
Watch The Bellow & the Whale’s Instagram to catch that visual campaign and for clues about the video’s release.