This refrain from the title track and first single off Andrew Belle’s new album Dive Deep might as well be its thesis statement. His third full-length album, Dive Deep, sees the Chicago-based singer, songwriter, producer and musician at his most personal yet, both in its intimate subject matter and in Belle’s renewed commitment to understanding the world around him through song.
Belle began writing what would eventually become Dive Deep in 2014, a year after releasing and touring around his sophomore album, the ambitious and critically acclaimed Black Bear. It also coincides with a particularly dark time in which Belle lost his voice for over two months, forcing him to confront what his life might look like without music at its center. Gradually, he was able to resume performing and recording the body of work that would become Dive Deep, which he recorded with producer Chad Copelin at Blackwatch Studios in Norman, Oklahoma, and with a newfound sense of purpose and passion.
In many ways, Dive Deep picks up where Black Bear left off: the 11-song collection expands on the electronic ambient sounds of its predecessor (which veered sharply from Belle’s acoustic-heavy 2010 debut, The Ladder), and isn’t short on cerebral, introspective songwriting. Where it evolves from Black Bear, though, is in, appropriately, its depth and in its striking vulnerability. Dive Deep marks the first time Belle has opened himself to co-writers, and sees the new father turning a wizened eye on love and domesticity, as recounted thoughtfully in the title track.
“When I wrote Dive Deep, I was thinking about my wife and our early relationship,” Belle says. “I was thinking about the early days, having nostalgia for that initial time spent together where it was all very new and exciting and unknown. Specifically, I was remembering that moment where you go from, ‘I’m not totally sure about this person,’ to, ‘Well I’m kind of all in now. This is the person I want to be with.’ It’s a very scary moment where you expose yourself and put yourself out there vulnerably.”
Belle experienced opening himself up musically on this record, as well, collaborating with two other songwriters on three of Dive Deep’s tracks –longtime collaborator James McAlister contributed to “Horizon” and “New York,” while Belle and Nashville musician Dustin Wise birthed single “Down” over a series of email exchanges.
“I had written the entire record and was pretty much done with it but then someone reached out to me in Nashville, a writer/producer named Dustin Wise, and asked if I’d be interested in collaborating on a track,” Belle says. “I thought it would be kind of fun and get my mind off the album. He sent me a track idea and I started writing to it not really expecting much to come of it and I ended up just loving it. We continued to go back and forth on this song over email and before we knew it we had this great demo for a song.”
Despite having a co-writer, “Down” is one of the album’s most important and closely felt tracks for Belle, who found inspiration in the song’s lyrics in his and his wife’s decision to have their first child.
“We knew we wanted to start a family but that’s also kind of a scary thing, and yet we knew that was something we really wanted to do,” he explains. “So we took a leap of faith and did it. When I wrote that song, the chorus is basically describing taking a jump like that and not looking down.”
The giant, soaring chorus of “Down” is one of the many unforgettable moments on the album, which, as a whole, takes cues from influences like James Blake, Bon Iver, and Beach House, all filtered through Belle’s own distinct sound. He smolders over a flickering beat on “Honey and Milk,” while gliding over a pronounced bass line on the ethereal, atmospheric “Black Clouds.” Closing track “When the End Comes” considers what really matters at the end of the day over optimistic synth lines culminating in a falsetto-heavy chorus.
Belle’s natural ability to craft such songs have earned him numerous past accolades, like a multi-week stint at number one for The Ladder on iTunes’s singer-songwriter chart, a John Lennon Songwriting Contest trophy, a coveted slot on the Ten Out of Tenn tour, and over 100 film and television licenses to date. It’s no accident that this album’s centerpiece — and Belle’s own favorite track — is “T R N T,” an ambient rendering of the classic Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken.” Belle originally recorded himself singing lines of the poem — which is available via the public domain — as a placeholder for future vocals, but couldn’t find anything that better fit the moody, cinematic feel of the song. It was also the perfect message for Dive Deep.
“For me, it resonated, this concept of life being these roads that we take, and how in choosing one, so much drastically changes,” he says. “When you stop to think about that for a minute, it can be kind of scary or it can be exhilarating.” Where Belle chose a road less traveled on Black Bear, on Dive Deep he’s taken to forging his own new path, heart in hand, and he’s done so to exhilarating results.