Hurricanes are unpredictable. The sensory experience unleashed is full and complete when in the presence of such a magnificent force of nature. Such is the case when in the midst of a performance from original indie rock band The Belle Weather from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Band members Eric Cox (vocals, guitars, ukulele) and Tom Abromaitis (upright bass) exude a natural resonance that instills a sense of awe in audiences fortunate enough to experience their artful presentation. An approachable yet formidable twosome, The Belle Weather beckons listeners to ride the ebb and flow of their passionate, lyrical presentation. At first hook you are pulled in, letting their waves take you where they will.
A few questions during a recent interview with Eric Cox took me a bit closer to the eye of a storm into which I can’t help but be drawn. Join me on the journey. I promise you’ll be safe. JD: You say your dynamic duo is “a hurricane.” What do you mean by that?
EC: I’ve always been captivated by great storms. The power, the energy, the anticipation. I wanted us to be the type of band that felt something like that. I wanted to put together a group that could sweep an audience up in a great swell and then pull them all the way back down to “pin drop” level — to be both the storm and the eye of the hurricane. If you can capture people’s attention at both ends of the spectrum, then you really have something. We were never going to be the heaviest band, so our quiet moments make our heavy heavier, our loud louder, and our high energy songs that much more frenzied. When we’re putting together our set lists, we’re always really conscious of where we want to take the audience and which songs will set up the next. We hope our performances draw people in and keep them engaged throughout — kind of like waiting for a storm.
The hurricane theme is also closely linked to my love affair with Louisiana. I only lived there for about a year, but it was a formative time, and it captures my imagination to this day. I love that part of the country, and I’m still heartbroken over Hurricane Katrina. We were back in New Orleans on our spring tour last year, and it was shocking to see how much of the area still hasn’t recovered. It’s one of the great tragedies of our time, and I think those people were largely forgotten. It will be ten years ago this August.
JD: Talk about your latest music.
EC: On July 11th we’ll release our sophomore album Suitcase! It has 14 tracks, the first of which was actually cut three years ago during the sessions for our debut record, Hold On. The album title is derived from the idea of packing for a trip (or a tour, in our case!). You’re only allowed so much space, so you must choose carefully. Putting this album together was as much about what we left out as what we ended up including. The ‘rootsy’ tones of acoustic guitar, upright bass, mandolin, and hand percussion are blended with the ambient tones of organs and ethereal electric guitar sounds to lend the album a very unique sonic character. We wanted to take the listener to a very distinctive place, and these were the sounds that fit into this particular “Suitcase.” In the end, we added 8 new songs and one cover (Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”) to the 5 songs from the Hold On sessions. We are very, very excited to bring this next chapter of The Belle Weather catalog to our fans!
JD: What are some of your aspirations for the future?
EC: Our primary goal, always, is to continue creating and finding new sounds, new songs, and new stories to tell. We’ve been truly fortunate to find a group of fans who continue to support us no matter what direction we take them. As long as this sense of creative adventure continues to keep us engaged and excited, we’re certain we can do the same for our fans. Sharing this experience is what it’s all about. If we continue to make passionate music to a group of passionate fans, we’re happy wherever that road leads.
JD: Where do you derive your inspiration?
EC: There is so much incredible music of so many varieties out there in the world – and we try to hear as much of it as we can. From our first record to this new one, I think you can hear the wide range of influences that have helped to shape our collective sound. The challenge is never inspiration — it’s interpretation. How do you take the new sounds you hear and find a way to channel them through your own unique musical voice? That is the challenge of every original artist — making something that is uniquely your own, and staying true to it.
Beyond sounds, we’ve always tried to make music with a social conscience – stories, themes, and commentary that matter to us on a personal level. For instance, I used to live in Louisiana, and both albums feature songs that came out of Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon tragedies. My hope is that the songs convey the way I felt about those events to people who probably aren’t as connected to that corner of the world. On some level, I hope that makes the world feel like a smaller place. The artists I grew up listening to certainly expanded my horizons this way. They changed the way I saw the world. If our songs can do that for someone — can bring a sense of empathy into a world that can always use more — then I think we’ve created something artistically valid.
JD: What are your perceptions of the local music scene?
I like where we’re headed! We come from a great musical hub in Sheboygan – a scene that revolves around Kate Krause, owner of Paradigm Coffee & Music, and all of the great artists she has brought to town. Paradigm has been our musical home from the start, and our local fan base here is incredible. In the past year or so, we’ve found some other pockets of really dedicated music fans as well. Appleton has a scene that really feels like it’s on the verge of something special. Manitowoc has a group run by Kevin Harris called Music Without Boundaries that is bringing all kinds of great acts to the lakeshore. We recently played a community concert in Horicon, and the town came out en force for the event! It was awesome! We’ve found so many great people out there in every town we’ve played. That’s truly what a “scene” is all about. Put us in a room with even one person who really loves what we do, and we’ll play our hearts out all night.
JD: Tell us something your fans may not already know about you.
EC: I sincerely doubt there is a band out there that consumes as much candy as The Belle Weather. Most of this is my doing! We’re not going to win any drinking contests, but if anyone wants to go toe to toe with us over a bag of Sour Patch Kids, a case of Mambas, some saltwater taffy, a bucket of nerds, and some Sour Skittles, we will gladly accept the challenge!
On tour last spring, we saw a man get stabbed in the street in New Orleans. Having lived in Baton Rouge, this was not as shocking to me as it was to the rest of the band! Their first question? “How far is the hotel from here?” It was just down the next block! Welcome to New Orleans, y’all! We also received our first (and only) full band indecent proposal in Birmingham, Alabama last spring. Probably the only moment of awkward silence I can ever remember from our group! We’ve never been the kind of “cool guys” or “rock star types” to garner this type of solicitation even on an individual level, much less “the whole band, all at once.” It was hilarious! Like the band of nerds we absolutely are, we replied, “Um… Maybe next time?”
We love animals, and try to visit the Zoo in every city we play. My wife and I also have six rescue cats at home. (If you asked the cats, they would tell you that we are two rescue humans in their home!)
As I mentioned earlier, we’re a total nerd band. We love books, and we read way too much to be legit rock stars (that must be what is holding us back!)…
Tom is from Elkhart Lake, WI, and his background is in auto racing. He used to tour with a race team and worked with the pit crew. He’s an avid cyclist and soccer player. About a year ago, Tom’s father passed away from cancer. Tom was given a small inheritance, which he used to purchase his upright bass. His dad loved music, and the instrument is a fitting tribute. Tom has been playing music for most of his life.
My background is all over the map. I grew up in Milwaukee until the age of 9, when my family relocated to the small town of Palmyra, WI. I got to be a city kid and a farm kid. At 18, I moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana (I followed a girl – it didn’t work out, but I more than made up for it in adventures that became songs). I have a degree in literature from Vermont College in Montpelier, Vermont. I first picked up a guitar at age 20, and had no musical background before that time. I started by playing open mic’s at The New Moon Café in Oshkosh, WI. At age 23, I moved to Rochester, NY and joined my first band, Stealing Andy. At age 27, I moved back to Wisconsin. I wasn’t planning on being back here for long. While I was working a temp job to make enough money to move out west, I was set up on a date with a girl from Waukesha. We were engaged four months later, and married a few months after that. My wife Mariya and I moved to Sheboygan in 2008 when she took a job to teach English and run the theatre program. She has supported my crazy music dream for nine years now. She is incredible!
The new album is dedicated to Tom’s dad, Mark Abromaitis, and to three of my relatives who passed away in recent years: my Uncle Dan (Terry), Aunt Bonnie (Terry), and Grandma Patricia Terry. My uncle Dan battled a long alcohol addiction, ultimately drinking himself to death on New Year’s Day, 2012. He was only 45 years old. My Uncle Dan was a musician. He gave me my first guitar, and taught me my first chords. His passing was tragic, and both my Grandma and Aunt followed shortly thereafter. I don’t think they quite knew what to do after he was gone. I wrote the song “Roulette” the day after he died, trying to make sense of his life and the nature of his addiction. I think we probably all know someone we wish we could help, but don’t quite know how. I tried to write the song from his perspective — things he said to me, things I know he hoped and dreamed for, but could never quite get to with the bottle in the way. If I have one hope for the new album, it’s that someone hears “Roulette” and finds something in that song that allows them to better understand and to help someone they know who struggles with addiction. Listen to Roulette here: www.thebelleweather.com/music.