The muddy waters of Bellhound Choir

Sitting down with musician Christian Hede Madsen to talk about his solo project Bellhound Choir and making the transition from metal to blues.

Published: April 27, 2017Words: J.Scott Stratton

The music industry is sometimes a fickle mistress when it comes to artists that literally “changing their tune”. It’s not known for being overly forgiving when a singer or a band decides to break from their own status quo and do something that falls into a completely different genre of music. In fact, I would argue that many artist have held themselves back for fear of the harsh criticism that might await them for pursuing alternative musical ventures.

This is not always the case, of course, but I embellish in order to make a singular point. When you have begun to establish yourself for doing one thing as a musician, only to abandon it pursuit of something new—the retribution from fans and industry can sometime be swift and unjust.

For solo artist, Christian Hede Madsen, operating under the name Bellhound Choir, the dramatic shift in musical endeavors has not been so dramatic, but it has been punctuated by again finding himself at the bottom of another kind of mountain—one he must begin to scale again.

Garnering attention for himself and his previous band Pet The Preacher, the three piece Danish stoner-rock band (for lack of a more accurate categorical term) were picked on the radar of the legendary Austrian metal label Napalm Records. Wading through dive-bar shitholes throughout Denmark and Europe, they began to pick-up a bit of momentum amongst the stoner-metal and metal scene, with Christian front and center as the primary songwriter.

But, as somethings do, a creative disconnect eventually began to emerge in the band, as Christian himself described himself as, “becoming a bit of a dictator”. Being honest with himself, his creative convictions and his passion, he broke from the band and began pursuing his own solo endeavor—Bellhound Choir.

I caught up with Christian after working with him to produce a live recording of four of his latest song for the fledgling project called Spirit Sessions—a series of live recordings hosted by (and recorded at) Copenhagen Distillery in the aims of supporting local talent. I wanted to get his take on the transition from fledgling metal-god to wading through the muddy swamps of the Blues.

Making the change from a heavy rock band to the “one-man-and-a-guitar” set-up, how has it been re-establishing yourself and your music?

On a creative level, it has been liberating and challenging at the same time. Personally, I don´t see the big shift when it comes to the “heaviness” of the music. I grew up listening to Son House, Blind Willie Johnson, Nina Simone as well as classic rock, pop, and metal, but to me, nothing is heavier than songs like “Strange Fruit” or “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground”. But I have learned that the shift may look more dramatic in the eyes of the audience.
I am only slowly building my musical identity under the Bellhound Choir moniker, and it will take years till I am able to unfold my vision fully.

How you found yourself needing to find a whole new audience?

A few people know me from Pet The Preacher, but we were not a huge band in any way, so it’s not like I have a following from that period. But I do think the listeners that liked my voice, are also into Bellhound Choir. That is my hope. I am still finding my audience for sure.

But as long as half the people in the crowd, are willing to come back for the next show, I am on the right path. Let´s see how it looks in ten years.

You’ve taken the DIY approach to this project, can you tell me about what it has been like?

I have a kind of DIY approach towards it now, but I have been helped by so many talented people, that it does not qualify as “do it yourself”, but rather “do it with the help of the creative people you´ve met on the way”. My first EP was released on Lay Bare Recordings by my friend Desireé Hanssen, the second one by Bad Afro Records and Lars Krogh. Both are extremely dedicated people, that I admire. The same goes for the musicians who have played on the recordings, and at the live shows, the good people who books most of my shows and so on. So my DIY-approach comes from a lot of years, accumulating talented, visionary people around me. I started out by thinking that the more you wanted something, the more you keep at your work, the better it will work out. I still think that, but if you don´t learn how to listen to the right people and take critique, you are lost. I am still learning though haha.

On the other hand: The new record ( Worried Kid), my first real BC-album in my own opinion, is released on my own label, paid by myself and so on. So I guess I am more DIY than I´ve ever been before.

Bellhound Choir having coffee with Blacklisted

The first Bellhound Choir album had full instrumentation behind it, can you tell me why on the second album you decided to strip all of that away?

My first recordings all lack good arrangement and a clear idea of production from my side. That is something I am taking more and more seriously these days. I think I have written good songs before, played with amazing musicians and I love Jacob Bredahl, Moogie Johnson and Sebastian Wolff, the producers on my previous releases, but I didn´t have the money or the time to properly make the songs come to life. I like a lot of the material on the releases, don´t get me wrong, but I can do a lot better. That is why I chose to just focus on the songs, the acoustic guitar, and the voice. In this tradition, essence is everything and I wrote some songs that fit into the format. It is a record that feels like a cohesive statement with a sole focus on a live performance. Sebastian Wolff´s production is also a big part of this record. It´s raw, old school, no overdubs and will never get any airplay haha. But it has to be that way because that was the vision. No compromise. I miss that in a lot of music today. Why are we so keen on not showing the ugly sides, shortcoming and cracks in our music? It seems like mainstream popular music is made for dancing, having a good time and nothing else. Pure escapism. I like a lot of that kind of music myself, but feel we also need the other side of the story. We are human beings made up of a balance between light and darkness. If we only get what we want and not what we need, we will not be able to live the lives we are supposed to. That is my opinion.

For the people that know you, you’re known for being a storyteller—even and author of books—can you tell me about the stories that you wanted to tell on the new album Worried Kid?

The funny thing is, that even though I deal with a lot of storytelling in my work, I rarely tell a straight up story like Pancho & Lefty, Stagger Lee, Tom Traubert´s Blues or Jolene. I love that kind of writing, but I find it difficult to bring to life myself. I am working on it though. Up until now, I have saved that kind of writing for my work with prose. I have a novel out called “Mørkeræd” and I am working on two follow-ups. That also means that I focus more on atmosphere and open, dreamy lyrics for my actual songs. I´ll try and expand on this in the future. For “Worried Kid” I have taken on the character of a Samaritan of some sorts. He is helping out his friends and wants the best for the world ( Oh Little Michael, The Jacket, Dawn, The Worried Kid, Bad Weather), but is also ego-centered and has an evil, bitter side to him ( Full Moon Tide). HOME is more story-driven as well as Gettin´Bigger. It´s all fictional, no matter how personal it feels when you listen to it. That is what I like about songwriting: It´s like believing in a dream, you know is gonna end in a couple of minutes. When a good song ends, your world has changed a little bit.

Bellhound Choir at Spirit Sessions

Taking a step away from the music for a second, tell me about your ventures into the world of writing books?

Writing books ( novels, novellas, and short stories) are a natural thing for me. It demands a lot of time and dedication of you, which I like. It usually starts out with one sentence that I like. Then I just start to write and the characters build themselves before my eyes. After feverishly rushing out the first draft, I leave the book for a month or so. Then I start to edit the pile of shit I´ve written. That is where the real work begins. I am always working. That is how I like it. To justify giving my whole life to art, which takes a toll on family and friends too, I have to work as hard and as pure as I can. That is what matters. I am usually writing songs in bulks when I have an album or EP in the pipeline, but I approach book writing differently. I tend to start early almost every day and work between 3-6 hours. It is a long process, and for one with as little patience as myself, it is very healthy. My books are very different than my songs. They tend to revolve around passionate characters and have a bit of a lighter edge than my music. Right now my focus is all about building the two female characters of my third novel. They are taking shape and both Irene and Rose will likely turn into very interesting and strong women.

Do you feel that these two monikers—author and musician—fit comfortably over your head? Do you see them interacting at any time?

They fit me very well, but I think it´s difficult to get a dedicated reader interested in my music and vice versa. That will take some time. Maybe the two disciplines will interact at some point when my skills are equally developed. I see myself as much as a writer as a musician these days. The two have a positive influence on each other.

Back to the music—how do you see your sound evolving from this point?

I will definitely play with a group again. I love the solo stuff, but enjoy jamming out as well. Maybe a duo with just a drummer? Maybe some quartet shows with only guitar and backup singers? It all comes down to what songs I´ll write next. At the moment I am thinking about writing a whole album of modern sonnets, Shakespearean Style.
One thing is sure: my next album will be different from Worried Kid and expand on the universe Bellhound Choir inhabits.