We speak with Andrea Belair, co-owner of Belltower Records, in the NORAD Mill, North Adams
Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Wednesday: 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Thursday: 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Friday: 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Phone: (413) 398-5569
CELEBRATE RECORD STORE DAY with a THREE-act show!
Unknown Liberty, Grawlixes, Red Herrings
Greylock Glass: And with me on the line is Andrea Belair, co owner of Belltower Records. Andrea, it has been too long that we’ve been waiting to get you on. Thanks so much for joining us on the Top Left Corner.
Andrea Belair: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Greylock Glass: So let’s start with some of the basics before we get into the the juicy what’s coming up. Talk to us. You’re over at NORAD Mill. You’ve been there for how long?
Andrea Belair: About four and a half years, I think, or pretty close to five years, it seems.
Greylock Glass: Yeah, it seems like it’s been a while now. It has been. Were you ever were you did you have a place before that or is this the first shop of its kind that you and Wes have run?
Andrea Belair: Oh, we this is the first shop of its kind that we ran together. We actually it was an existing business before, um, Toonerville Trolley was located in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and Toonerville was around for about 40 years. So. So we took it on when the owner sort of retired and we purchased it from him and moved it a little bit over to North Adams and so, and changed it to Bell Tower. So Bell Tower Records. Mhm.
Greylock Glass: Now vinyl is a lot heavier to move than mp3’s. You actually have to put them in sturdy boxes and ship them over there. And I’ve moved my own record collection a number of times and I really don’t want to move it too often. How much of what you carry is vinyl.
Andrea Belair: Uh, probably around. Well, most of it’s vinyl. I mean, 85 to 80 5 to 90%. And it’s definitely, yeah. Heavy to move. It’s not something that’s very fun to do.
Greylock Glass: So no, but.
Andrea Belair: We have, we’ve moved a couple times and it’s, it’s never a but it is something you get better at planning.
Greylock Glass: I’m sure. I’m sure. Now here’s here’s the obvious question. You know, it’s 2023. And while it is certainly the case that vinyl has made a comeback in terms of sort of specialty printings pressings, you’ll have somebody who puts out a, you know, their their CD, but then they have a limited edition vinyl. But it’s not a huge market. What made you to decide that this was the time was right for for literal platters that you drop the needle on?
Andrea Belair: Well, we didn’t really it wasn’t necessarily our choosing timing. I mean, we had I had seen that Toonerville was going to be up for sale and we had sort of wanted to move back to western Massachusetts area. We were in New Haven, Connecticut, and, um, I’d been, you know, sort of missing the mountains and everything. I am from Western Mass originally. So and I wanted to be a little bit closer to family, that sort of thing. And so it just seemed like kind of a good time. I also was moving up for a job and not too far away, so we were thinking it might be just timely there. But both Wes and I have always sort of listened to vinyl, whether or not it was popular or, you know, um, it’s not something that necessarily they’re like people who collect it or people who listen to it. Um, probably have. For a long time, we were in the music community. We were touring, you know, and performing. So, so it was sort of always a part of something we did or were involved in. So it seemed like a natural extension. So it wasn’t really necessarily about, um, about whether or not it would do well. I mean, obviously we would hope that it would do okay. But, but yeah.
Greylock Glass: Well, let me ask you this. Now I have my own personal feelings and I won’t say what side of the argument they fall on, but there are people who claim that vinyl, if you have a pristine, you know, vinyl with no scratches, no scuffs, and you have a quality needle and quality sound system, that vinyl is a much warmer, richer sound. Do you believe that to be the case? And if so, why do you suppose that is?
Andrea Belair: Well, I mean, there can be a lot there are, you know, audio files or people who have a really quality stereo system. Um. And, you know, keep everything in pristine condition and that sort of what they do. And you really have to have sort of the means to be able to keep things in that condition and to, you know, we’ve moved a bunch. Our stereo systems are good, you know, but they they’re not the best. And for me, I. Prefer to have it as a delivery of content. You know, like I’m happy with a less expensive repress of something than like, the original, you know, because I’m probably going to destroy the original or it’s probably I just wouldn’t, you know, not destroy it, but it’s it would be a little harder. But in terms of sound, I do think that it that there is a difference in sound between vinyl and maybe something like Spotify or a MP3 streaming, right? For sure. I even I worked at a school and I even brought in a record player and a lot of the students were like amazed They’d never heard it, heard an album they love on a record before. And they were like, Wow. The difference I mean, there is a difference, you know.
Greylock Glass: I’ve always I’ve always thought so to be, you know, to, you know, I’ll come right out and admit that that has been my my feeling for a long time. And I know the audio files will give you technical explanations of why, as you said, an MP3 at 128kB per second, which is about what you get over the radio. It’s just not as it doesn’t have as full a range. That’s what I’ve been told anyway. And, and I think.
Andrea Belair: It’s the whole tactile experience too. I mean, would you prefer reading a book with pages and turning a page or, you know. Reading it on your phone. A book on your phone. Like it’s. Yeah, I can’t. I mean, there are a bunch of things that sort of can be applied to the experience. You know.
Greylock Glass: It’s really almost a ritual.
Andrea Belair: Yeah.
Greylock Glass: You know, you you get it out and you put it on the turntable and you you sort of inspect it. If you’ve got a record cleaner, you know, you let that roll a couple of couple of rotations and then you very carefully. Yeah, it’s almost like a sort of an incantation or some sort of magic magic act.
Andrea Belair: Yeah, but I would assume that something to do with the groove of the vinyl to actually. There’s a there is a difference in the sound that it creates. But who knows how much you can really tell?
Greylock Glass: Well, even if I’m even if I’m fooling myself, I’ll go on believing that because, yeah, I’m a curmudgeon and I like your I like your attitude that you you’re using the, the record to to play it. I mean you’re it is to be used just the way people did in 19 you know 50, 60, 70 into the 80 seconds. They just that was like you said, the delivery, the content delivery device I had I’ll admit I was kind of obsessive about my record collection. And I would buy Chrome like Maxell. I think it was Maxell Xl2 or Xl2 SS or something. And I would record I would play the record only once, and that was to record it. And then I wouldn’t touch the record again. And so I had a lot of very expensive, you know, high quality cassette tapes. And of course that was in the days when you could actually count on having a cassette player handy or we.
Andrea Belair: Love I love cassette cassette tapes myself, you know, my handy.
Greylock Glass: Is anything.
Andrea Belair: And so they’re durable. They’re like not not that expensive to produce I. Wish wish that cassette players would. And, you know, a lot of cassette players do hold up, you know.
Greylock Glass: Yeah. And when you make somebody a mix tape and you spend hours picking out just the right songs to follow one after the other, it’s I think it’s there’s more that you put into it than just slapping a Spotify playlist together although that’s nice to have too. But you know when you actually hand somebody a cassette tape and say, I recorded this for you.
Andrea Belair: Oh well of course.
Greylock Glass: Yeah. So the. The the shop and and I’ve been it and in it and it’s a cozy shop. It’s a very it’s got a really nice vibe. It’s got a very sort of retro vibe which I love. Of course. It kind of has to, I suppose, with, with vinyl all over the place. But what, what made you decide that the treadmill was a good place and has it worked out?
Andrea Belair: Well, I mean, again, it was just one of those things. They were under construction or they were undergoing construction. We, um, you know, took a look at the space. It had these really nice high ceilings and everything. And at the time. We moved. We were first on the third floor, now we’re on the first floor. But it was sort of under renovation. But you could see what they were doing on the floors that they’d already completed. And it looked really beautiful. And they have been great. You know, there are like, for example, restrooms. There’s like now there’s a cafe right there. So, um, it’s sort of very self-contained and very pleasant that way. And we have been lucky too, because sometimes we do have shows and everything there. We can even have them outside. So the courtyard space is really great to have shows. It’s really awesome when it’s warm enough or weather permitting.
Greylock Glass: So Right, right. No, that’s that’s it is a it is a an under-visited location. I think. I think more people need to just go in there and just sort of check out all the different shops. And like you said, the cafe there is now there. Um, I. I just find it to be a really, you know, a very welcoming space, I guess, is how I’d put it. Um, yeah. So the the. Shows since you broached that subject, which is kind of where I wanted to go. The shows have obviously started again now that people are sort of getting together for events. More or less. You really picked kind of a rough time to get started. I mean, it was before the pandemic, but not much before. So did you. Did you really have to kind of make decisions about whether or not you could keep it going or or did you manage to have enough sort of a trickle of of business coming in during the pandemic?
Andrea Belair: Oh, we were fine during the pandemic. We actually had kind of a backlog of what we did. We had to close, of course, the store, the shop location for a while, but we did find online, um, and West was actually delivering a little bit to doing, delivering to people locally in North Adams, which was kind of fun. But for him I think he kind of enjoyed, you know, with sort of contactless. Delivery, however you call it. But we did. We actually had a backlog of things like posters and everything that we had were part of what we purchased from Toonerville. Um, and so we, we sold a lot of that because it had just sort of been moving with us and we were keeping it in our basement in storage, these rolled up posters, some of which were really amazing, Um, but we’d never really been able to go through it. So we did actually, we were able to go through a lot of that back stock and sort of sell it online. Nice. I think probably, yeah. I mean, for better or worse, people were probably also stuck in their homes and like thinking about what to put on their walls. So, you know, it helped a little bit. I mean, it’s not the same at all, but. You know, we could have stuff at home like that.
Greylock Glass: Well, I mean, let’s face it. We a lot of us spend a lot more time at home than we ever had. And we’re listening to music and yeah, we’re looking and saying, well, yeah, you know, that wall. I didn’t really notice it because I haven’t been here much, but it’s looking a little bare. It could use something. So yeah, I can totally see how, you know, obviously nobody, nobody wants the pandemic to return for any reason, but there are certain businesses, I suppose, that are going to be less immediately impacted. The shows, of course. How long has it been since you’ve been doing shows again?
Andrea Belair: Um, well, let’s see. When we had the first one, I know when we first started having them again, um, we were having them only out exclusively outdoors for a while. We were requiring even masks and proof of vaccination if they were indoors. And sometimes that, um, we were doing that. But also that was a lot of times at the specific request of the musicians or people that were coming to the shows, they might have had some immune system issues. Sure. So sometimes that was actually a specific request and we just made sure that we actually did that to try to protect everyone attending. Um, but I don’t even remember when we started having them again. And, and we did require masks for a while. Now it’s optional. Um, but um, so yeah, I don’t remember specifically when they, when we started having them again.
Greylock Glass: Right. So it sounds like you sort of gradually, you know, getting back to, to a normal, a normal kind of. Yeah. You know, presentation. Now you, um, you said that you are, you and Wes are musicians as well. What is your history there and have you been playing?
Andrea Belair: Oh, I mean, I am not really actively playing now. Wes is in a band and. Right. And he it’s a, you know, they perform, they’re called Luxor Rentals. So, um, yeah. And he sometimes he plays mostly bass guitar. Um. But yeah, I’m not actively performing anything right now, but we both have experience as like touring and everything, so we sort of. Like to support that. Sure. Absolutely.
Greylock Glass: But yeah. What what kind of what is what is your I mean, obviously you’ve got a record, so you probably have plenty of genres that you love. But if you’re looking to cue up a record on a Friday night, you’re feeling kind of festive. What’s what’s your genre? What do you reach for?
Andrea Belair: Oh, it’s really hard. That’s really hard to say because for me it’s so it depends so much on like the season, my general emotion, you know, Friday night. I do. Um. I don’t know. A lot of times to what I really like to do is listen to something new. Right. So it’s hard to pin it down. Um. Because I’ll find myself listening to something that. That just comes across. I do listen to a lot of new artists on Bandcamp, you know. Um, so if there’s a new collaboration I was just looking at, I was just listening to one today. Tashi Dorji You know, these a lot of times it tends to be experimental, but on a Friday night. It might be more celebratory. It’s so hard to say. I knew it.
Greylock Glass: Was. I knew it was going to be an almost impossible question to answer. I should have.
Andrea Belair: Thought that that was coming and prepared.
Greylock Glass: More for it. No, I mean, the answer is you love music and and, you know, just like, you know, radio free Berkshires. I only have two shows that are new music shows that are genre based and even they are pretty loose. One of them, the Cornbread Cafe, is American Roots music, and that’s everything from gospel to blues to Dixieland to you name it. It’s if it’s in that that large tent of American roots music, you’re going to hear it. And indecent exposure is has been although I have to I have to narrow that down because it’s been everything from world music to experimental, you know, sort of, you know, noise noise, which is, you know, sometimes you’ll hear some experimental stuff, you know, right on the heels of some reggae, which does sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Yeah. But so it’s one of those things. I get it. I, I can’t really be pinned down hour by hour even sometimes what I’m in the mood for.
Andrea Belair: Yeah, well, a lot of times too, we get, like, some interesting collection that walks in and I’m like, That sounds really cool. Let me explore that. I want to listen to some of those artists like, so sometimes it’s not just internal circumstances, it’s just external something, you know?
Greylock Glass: I get it. Yeah.
Andrea Belair: Or that I heard I overheard in a shop that reminded me like, Oh yeah, I want to hear, you know.
Greylock Glass: So, yeah, no, I imagine it must be even kind of tough some days because you’ve got so many choices. Well, let’s switch gears and let’s talk about that live music you’ve got there. Go back to that, to that gear. You’ve got live music. You’ve got some shows coming up and they sound really great and and such a breath of fresh air. And now that people it is I think it’s is it spring finally does it seem like maybe has it.
Andrea Belair: I think technically it’s spring.
Greylock Glass: Technically I don’t know. Yeah it’s still. But the weather is getting a little warmer. People are starting to think about going outside. Certainly they’re going to want to be seeing shows in the courtyard whenever they can. Why don’t you give us a rundown of what you’ve got coming up? And we will include those dates in the show notes to this episode.
Andrea Belair: Sure. Well, we have really we’ve been actually doing a few really cool collaborations. Um, actually, April 22nd, which is a record store day, we’ll have it just happens to be Record Store Day. We have a show, um, that’s going to be in our shop, so in store and it’s a punk show. It’s with unknown liberty. Grawlix is there and they’re touring. They’re from upstate New York. I think the Hudson Valley and Albany region. And they’ll be playing with red herrings which who are based out of Western Mass. And so that’ll be a punk show. That’ll be really cool. Um, that’ll be in the shop May 6th. We actually are having one at a show at a chapel, the Stone Chapel at 39 Commercial Street in Adams, Massachusetts. Uh, so it’s being run there. Um, it’s the promoter we’re sort of working with is called they’re calling it the Dusk Chapel. Okay. So and that’s at that this really awesome stone church. It was Saint Mark’s Church in Adams, Massachusetts. And it’s really an amazing space to be able to host a show. So that’ll be sort of punk too. But more gothy or, you know, sort of we’ve been putting some shows there that are really interesting to sort of go.
Andrea Belair: It’ll have sort of more of a dark ish vibe that’s with a mirrored hell out of Boston, which Slap, which is a band out of New York City and Clock Serum, who’s a musician out of Amherst, Massachusetts. So that’ll be really exciting. Um, that’s May 6th. And then after that we have more. Yeah, hopefully in the courtyard we have some really cool ones. Josephine Foster and Grace Smith, actually. Stella Cola. Yeah. We’ll be playing May 13th. Um, and that I think will try to have outside. We’ll see how the weather is. So it’s one of those things. Sure. Um, we’ll be collaborating with the Clark Art Institute again to be doing regular shows there. And so we’ll be doing those outside at the Londoner Center at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, you know, very good. And yeah, so definitely I’ve been trying to keep these things updated on our website and. And on social media, and the clerk has been putting them as they go along. So, yeah.
Greylock Glass: And we’re going to make sure that they are in The Greylock Glass Events calendar. Yeah. You know, a lot of people don’t realize that they can add events themselves. I pay for this pro version of a calendar where people can add events themselves. I obviously have to approve them because naughty little people will do naughty little things on my calendar if I don’t keep an eye on them. But yeah, it’s you can add events. It’s perfectly completely free and I’ll make sure that we get these these dates on there as well. Andrea What’s the secret to putting on a good show?
Andrea Belair: I don’t know if there was a secret. I mean, I think since it’s helpful, like Wes and I were touring musicians, so sometimes, like I said, so sometimes. I don’t know that I try to be a good host because I know that touring can be hard. You know, so I try to like, give food, but I don’t know how much it helps, but I know that like it was always when we were touring. You can be really tired and really, you know, moving equipment in all day, driving, you know, 13 hours and then have to play a show. So like it can be really helpful to have someone say, here’s a. A nice, comfortable place to sleep or I don’t know. I mean, a lot of it’s hosting, but putting on a good show. I mean, we try to have a good vibe. We definitely try to have a diverse range of shows, like a lot of different kinds of music, but make people feel comfortable and welcome, you know? Yeah, if people can’t afford to pay, we have a small cover, but if they can’t afford to pay, we’re not going to say you can’t come in, you know, or whatever. But.
Greylock Glass: Well, that that sounds like actually a pretty good recipe. I know I have with different bands walked into venues that really sucked at being good hosts and you kind of wonder why they’re even in the business. And I walked into other places where the hospitality was was remarkable. And I’m like, Wow, you like, really care about the musicians. I know that’s one of the reasons I was really hoping that in North Adams that Halo would actually take off because they had I don’t know if they ever finished renovating it, but they had a green room upstairs, which was a really nice sort of lounge area. And they also had like a little apartment. So if the band or artist didn’t have a place or maybe couldn’t afford a place, they could stash them upstairs. And and that would have been, you know, the sort of hospitality that that, you know, you’re talking about making sure they felt welcome and so forth. But obviously, you’re one of the only games in town now because there’s not a lot of venues locally.
Andrea Belair: I know. Yeah, we’ve heard that a lot, you know, So that’s because it is sort of work to have these shows and everything. Um, but it’s worth it and we want to keep doing it. But yeah, we’ve definitely heard people say there’s really nowhere to play. There aren’t a lot of spaces in the Berkshires even so, or maybe at least not the northern.
Greylock Glass: Not south South County. If you want to hear like folky music, there’s all of that. I mean, you can get that. I mean, you can get that everywhere from the lion’s den at, you know, the Red Lion Inn to the barn or the Egremont barn to race Brook Lodge. There’s a ton of places in South County, but it’s a certain crowd and it’s yeah, you know, and it’s not a bad crowd. I mean, some great musicians play there, but it’s a certain crowd, you know, Not a lot of punk, not a lot of experimental. It was really now, I would say in South County, um, probably the foundry in West Stockbridge is, is the only thing that comes close to what you’re doing. And I don’t know if you’ve been there, but it’s it’s a fantastic venue. It’s a beleaguered venue because the town is stupid and doesn’t want to make it easy on on Amy Brentano who runs that. Um, but if you get a chance to go down there, please make sure you do because they I think, I think you and Amy would get along. You certainly have. Okay. Yeah. You have very similar outlooks on on how to treat the musicians that are coming into your space because she she likes to make them feel welcome as well. Um, so you’ve got some great shows coming up. Um, do me a favor. Tell me you said you’re still doing online sales, right? It’s not over because the pandemic, you’re still doing them, right?
Andrea Belair: Oh, yeah. Well, we we lift a lot of our stuff online anyway. So.
Greylock Glass: Nice. What’s. What’s the address? Where do you. Is it your website or, or do you use it on our website.
Andrea Belair: We we put a lot of stuff on discogs. Our username is tuner t o r that’s inherited from toonerville trolley. So and so. Yeah, we list a lot of stuff on there. Um, if you can’t come in. Yeah. Well we also have A0I should mention we also have a label Bandcamp, half a million records that we press and tapes we, you know, and stuff keep that’s where we post it. But yeah, all of that is available on our website too. We have links, but half a million on our Bandcamp is our label site. So we do have a little label of our own.
Greylock Glass: Nice. See, I knew that it would just keep unfolding and unfolding and unfolding.
Andrea Belair: Yeah, I almost forgot that. And that’s important.
Greylock Glass: No, and that’s great. And I think the. Well, I should probably talk to you off the air. I was actually considering there’s a space in North Adams that was it was perfect because it used to have four studios, soundproofed studios and it’s available for sale for purchase. And I would love to buy it and do a recording studio there. Oh yeah, because we don’t really have much in this area either for recording studios.
Andrea Belair: And solid sound and stuff. You get a lot of mass. You get a lot of people coming through that potentially could, you know, use that space. Yeah.
Greylock Glass: Well, I you know, I just keep rolling and rolling the dice when I see that the Powerball is up above 500 million. You know, I don’t bother playing if it’s less than 500 million because I could spend that in a weekend. But. Okay. Well, but but good luck. Right. No, the I think that there is a true hunger for local music for more venues, different kinds of venues. And I’m just not sure what the obstacles are. Do you have any thoughts on on why it’s so hard to keep the venues open when so many people say that they want to go out to see music?
Andrea Belair: Well, as a yeah, as a venue. I mean, I don’t know, but there’s a lot that goes into it. Um, and it doesn’t we don’t charge much because all the money goes to the musicians when we have a show, you know. So, um, so it’s a lot of work and it’s we don’t take home anything. So, um, that would be hard for people to do, especially if they’re trying to rent, to rent a venue for a, a venue, you know?
Greylock Glass: Right, right.
Andrea Belair: A lot with licensing, you know, there are always concerns, noise concerns in areas that have, you know, a lot of these things. Um, if you have people, you know, if the community isn’t necessarily welcoming either some of the spaces people don’t want people coming in so to. Or they might feel private about their face and they don’t want loud noise and everything nearby. And that’s sort of understandable, you know.
Speaker3: Well, but.
Greylock Glass: West Stockbridge is is just that way. They have determined that they have to that Amy has to keep any events in the in the foundry under a ridiculously low threshold of decibels. Basically, I mean, it’s insane. And she. She’s allowed to do it to continue doing shows. But, you know, the community is not it doesn’t get the the fact that this is culture, too. Sure, it might not be the music that you listen to, but, you know, people are coming in and they’re paying to see it. And when they show up, they come to the restaurants, they get gas, they go shopping, they hit you know, they hit the little cutesy boutiques on on Main Street. And it brings it brings income in. And I sometimes forget or I sometimes think that they forget that, you know, the people were coming in to see music. They do other things, too. And it’s it’s a driver of an economy, just like theater, just like art. Just like dance. Um, so that’s my little soapbox that I get up on pretty regularly there. No, for sure. And I’m sure the people of West Stockbridge probably will run me out of town on a rail if they catch me there. But whatever. Um, the. So the. We didn’t say it, but the web address for Bell Tower Records is actually Bell Tower RECs. And spell that for me.
Andrea Belair: Blt o w e. Rr x.com.
Greylock Glass: X.com. And we’ll have a link. Yeah, we’ll have a link to the. To that in the show notes. But what we’re going to do is. We are going to try to get at least one of the musicians that you’re going to have in the next, well, really month here or Yeah, a little over a month. We’re going to try to get them on the horn as well and see what they have to say about their their shows coming up and what we hope to do. And I guess I’m announcing this for the first time is the our radio or online streaming radio component, Radio Free Berkshires is going to be starting a show. And I’m not sure what night it’s going to be, but it’s going to be only local musicians and it’s going to be if we can find an hour of local music to to put together, it’ll be an hour and that can be. That can be Massachusetts anywhere in Massachusetts or 100 mile radius. So that would that would include Albany. That would include certainly up into Vermont, down pretty much to even into the Connecticut border and and certainly the Hudson Valley.
Greylock Glass: So we’re going to be trying to get as much local music here. And that way people can hear these things. And when I can get them on the show before they’re here playing at Bell Tower Records, then people can get to sample what they what they sound like and and and hear their band’s story as well. So I’m looking forward to promoting some of your, your favorites. So if you have any favorite bands in the area, you just let me know and we’ll get in touch with them. Andrew it has been such a pleasure and I thank you so much for what you’re doing. I know running a small business is not an easy feat, and when you have your heart into it the way you and Wes do, I think that that is the sort of that’s the sort of endeavor that the town that the area really needs to get behind. So I’m really hoping that this is a continuous success and anything that Greylock Glass can do to help out, we definitely will.
Andrea Belair: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Greylock Glass: All right. Well, I’ll see you at that event and I’ll send you a link when the show is live. Till then, have a great week and stay warm.
Speaker3: You, too.
Greylock Glass: Thank you. Thanks.
Andrea Belair: Bye bye.