IMAGE: nilina mason-campbell
What do astronauts, dinosaurs and furniture have in common? They can all be found, in some form, inside a toy store. And if broken, they can also be found in the hands of Southern Belle members.
Every Thursday night, the lo-fi indie-pop trio joins forces with upwards of 20 friends for a “Little Boys Club” meeting. “We get together soldering irons, candles, lighters, knives and saws, and [we] have toys that we cut apart and reshape,” explains Southern Belle co-frontman Ross McLeron. It’s a pastime that McLeron’s part-time job at Finnegan’s—where “there’s a new pile [of broken toys] every day”—significantly aids. While the whole affair may sound like child’s play, the club has already sold its chimeric creations at First Thursdays in the Pearl (its franken-toys have also been given away as gifts to bands Southern Belle has shared bills with).
The story of the three-piece’s formation has similar roots in splits and rebuilding. For McLeron, Hurah Hurah came before Southern Belle; in that twee folk-pop outfit, his saw wielding wasn’t used for deconstructing toys, but as musical accompaniment. Much beloved in the house-show scene, Hurah Hurah folded this summer for a handful of reasons: McLeron chalks his departure up to artistic differences—“a story as old as Adam and Eve,” as he puts it over coffee at Elephants Deli.
Speaking just a bit louder than the Abba and Village People playing in the background, McLeron describes himself as “normal and plain.” And despite any creative disagreements within Hurah Hurah, current Southern Belle bandmate Austin Jackson jokingly describes McLeron’s personality as that of “paint drying on a wall.” Yet, McLeron’s journey into the landscape of electro-acoustic music is as sensational as it is complex.
Broken down in spirit after unsuccessfully attempting to become a bean expert via the University of Wisconsin’s horticulture program, McLeron moved to Portland only to awake one day screaming in pain. A monthlong hospital stay came to reveal three damaged vertebrae pinching the nerves around his chest, a condition for which there is no treatment. Sent packing with a boatload of prescription pills and a six-figure medical bill, the 19-year-old enrolled at Portland State University—largely for the health insurance.
McLeron was then introduced to fellow student and musician Jackson while taking in some local disco-rock at a Strength show. The two bonded further while working together at college radio station KPSU and, later, as members of the Little Boys Club. After awhile, similarities among the pair’s musical interests, namely a love of electronically enhanced indie-pop, became apparent. And in a town like Portland—where Southern Belle can refer to local dance-pop act Starfucker (a band that doesn’t even have an album yet) and not only mean it, but have fans know what it’s talking about—a collaborative effort was inevitable.
Hunkering down in McLeron’s Sellwood house, the pair played at least twice a week and quickly dreamt up a signature sound adrift with samples, pop melodies and danceable beats—an experience both guys humorously refer to as “band camp.” Unable to create their desired drum sound artificially, the duo then enlisted drummer (and current high-schooler) Elliott Preston, who recently left the band only to be replaced by Starfucker’s Josh Hodges (go figure!).
Much in the same vein as the guys’ playful, experimental after-school activities, McLeron’s primary goal with Southern Belle is “to get to a comfort zone, so then we can smash that.” McLeron expects the band—which is soon to peddle unique merch in the form of homemade Southern Belle wine—to continually adopt new sounds; it’s less a goal, he says, and more an acknowledgment that people’s musical interests change. He adds that Southern Belle’s purpose is simple: “putting something together and having fun with it”—a concept that, when applied to the Little Boys Club, he describes as “a Barbie with an army-man head and Godzilla arms.”
SEE IT: Southern Belle plays Friday, Nov. 9, with DJs Ilian & Flying J at Chaos Cafe & Parlor. 7:30 pm. $1-$5. All ages.