The Weekly Vista

Bellwether Sirens navigate post-covid music scene


Not a single member of Bellwether Sirens knew one another before moving to northwest Arkansas from different parts of the country.

Guitarist Sean O’Brien jokes that he met drummer Geoff Atkinson through “missed connection­s” on Craigslist. Both moved here from the Chicago/Detroit area and were looking for like-minded musicians to jam with.

“The first thing I noticed was that the majority of the recordings he sent me were recorded by my (former) roommate,” O’Brien said. “We had run around in the same circles in Chicago, but we never actually met.”

Sharing a love of punk rock and early emo, the two started jamming with O’Brien’s co-worker, Dave MacLeod, who moved to northwest Arkansas from northwest Indiana in 2018.

“Ever since I moved here, I wanted to get back into music, but I just couldn’t find the right people,” MacLeod said. “So it was a blessing to find Sean and finally find somebody who was on the same page as me, and then getting to meet these guys. It was pretty awesome.”

O’Brien said his wife suggested that he meet one of her co-workers, Kevin Rej, who had similar tastes in music. O’Brien said he was hesitant until he actually saw his kindred spirit.

“One random day after the three of us had started to play, we were at Pedalers Pub — my wife and my son and I were having lunch — and she looks over, and says “That’s Kevin! That’s the guy I was telling you about!’ I look over and see his sleeves of tattoos, and said, ‘You didn’t tell me he was punk!’”

Once they all played together, O’Brien said Rej “started soloing over all my songs, and I said, ‘This is the guy!’”

Rej hails from South Carolina’s low country but spent 30 years playing in bands around Atlanta. “In the past 30 years, I was probably in three bands at a time — never not being in a band,” he said. “And then (I) moved here right at the beginning of the pandemic, so it was a really tough time to relocate and not know a single person.”

Still, something was missing. None of the guys considered themselves singers, so they placed an ad on Facebook looking for vocalists. Enter Anupriya Sharma, who answered O’Brien’s Facebook ad that she said “went into a little too much detail, but was funny and quirky.”

“We’re loud, and we auditioned a handful of people before she came out, and you could barely hear them,” Rej said. “Then she comes in to sing, and she gets on the mic, and her voice is so strong and piercing and loud. I had earplugs in, and my ears were ringing just from the singing.”

“Music is serious medicine for me,” Sharma said. She joked that she sounds like “one of those old people like (O’Brien)” but after a rough two years, she feels like “the universe brought me to these guys here” and allowed her a place to express herself without shame or inhibition.

“Before I joined these guys, the last time I had ever played music and performed with bands was 15 years ago — before I was married — and a lot of it was in India and Olympia (Wash.) and then I had this like really amateur thing in New York that was more casual.”

Although she was more than loud enough, her background was based more on classic rock rather than punk.

“They called me one weekend and gave me this song by the Misfits called “Skulls.” I’ve never heard the song, right? And I’m listening to it with my kids in the car, and the lyrics are outrageous,” she explained. “Then I said, ‘OK, can we also do one song that I’m comfortabl­e with?’ And it’s quite a different genre — ‘Zombie’ by The Cranberrie­s — that these guys had never played before. So we just got to meet and tried a few things. And then over time, I think it just started meshing.”

After securing a practice space in Bella Vista, which was no small feat, the quintet started writing music.

“I got a sense during the pandemic that a lot of people were stuck in their houses writing great music,” said Rej. “I’m still waiting for all that to be released into the world, and I think it’s gonna happen. Musicians and bands had two years, a lot of them in isolation, so there’s going to be some great work coming out … we really had a lot of quality time to kind of write the songs, while we couldn’t really play out. Which I think is a positive because we really were able to gel with each other and really work through the songs. I feel really good about what we’ve written.”

“We played together for almost a year,” O’Brien added. “We had an entire set of new songs written before really any bars were even open again with any regularity.”

The result of that work is “Hella Vista,” a four-song EP that’s streaming across multiple platforms and on Bellwether Sirens’ Bandcamp page.

“We have more than four (songs). We’re still working. We still have new music in the works; we probably have close to 12 or 13. But these are the first four that we worked on together,” Sharma said.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” O’Brien noted about the name of the EP. “When it comes to artwork, and naming songs, and I mean, we can go into stuff that probably shouldn’t go into print.” He said that the back cover is a collage of the band’s collective injuries. The front features Burt Reynolds enjoying a hot dog.

However, it’s hard to be punk rock and not have something to say.

“We’re living in a very interestin­g world,” Sharma said, adding that even though they don’t take themselves too seriously, “the words are still very intentiona­l. We have one song that addresses mental illness. There’s one that talks about wars and shootouts and can even be applied to women in Iran or abortion rights … we didn’t want just to create fluff.”

“And she’s a good lyricist,” Rej pointed out.

The Bellwether Sirens’s shared songs from their new EP at a recent show at Nomad’s Trailside in Fayettevil­le. Sharma and the guys made every one “Get Up,” with a fast, loud show that left the crowd wanting more with songs that sounded even better live than on their recordings.

They were joined at the show by the bands Fleure out of Tulsa and Protohive from northwest Arkansas. Rej says events like this help them meet other bands form networks.

“That’s such a big part of being in a band,” Rej said. “You build these friendship­s and relationsh­ips. You play shows together, and you travel together, people from other cities come in, and we go out and play their hometown, things like that. And that was something that was lacking for the past two years.”

They are looking to book more shows locally. Find them on social media to find our more.

 ?? Submitted photo ?? The Bellwether Sirens played an album release show Jan. 14 at Nomads Trailside in Fayettevil­le. Copies of their new EP “Hella Vista” were on sale at the show. Digital copies of “Hella Vista” are available for download at bellwether­, and songs can be streamed on all major platforms.
Submitted photo The Bellwether Sirens played an album release show Jan. 14 at Nomads Trailside in Fayettevil­le. Copies of their new EP “Hella Vista” were on sale at the show. Digital copies of “Hella Vista” are available for download at bellwether­, and songs can be streamed on all major platforms.

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