Rochester, NY’s Drunk With Love Records have been putting out some great stuff for a few years now. From the music of co-founder Jake Bellissimo (both under their own name and the moniker Gay Angel), to releases from the likes of Devon Mello, Kitchen, Ryder Eaton and Maud Scheltinga the label has rooted out some of the most distinctive new indie pop around. But for their first release of 2018, Drunk With Love Records are looking back rather than forward.
The album, In My Dreams: Songs of Bill Vuono is a personal project. Bill Vuono is Bellissimo’s great-grandfather, who wrote songs “back when you had to sell sheet music to sell songs,” producing a series of 78s before stopping his writing career to raise a family. Several years ago, Bellissimo inherited the records and became invested in the music, covering ‘Think of Me’ on the first Gay Angel album places i’ll eat, people i’ll meet, before several of tracks appeared on their epic floral project. To celebrate the third anniversary of Drunk With Love Records, Bellissimo decided to revisit the records and curate an album of their favourite songs, a Best of Bill Vuono, and plans to release it as an album accompanied with modern covers, featuring the likes of Emperor X, Devon Mello, Karen Walker (of The New Tarot) and Bellissimo themself.
In My Dreams will be released this month, and Drunk With Love have put out a video of the first single in preparation. Check out the video below. It uses footage from the wedding of Jake Bellisssimo’s grandmother Rachel, and features Bill Vuono playing the piano, set to one of his songs, ‘Think of Me’. The song captures Vuono’s 1940’s style perfectly, the gentle piano supporting vocals that quaver with love and emotion, feelings that if anything seem advanced when beamed 70 years into the future.
“In my dreams
I see a face sleep can’t erase”
As the project is such a special, personal endeavour, we decided to speak with Jake Bellissimo and their grandmother Rachel in order to get a better understanding of the music and the man behind it.
Have you always been aware that your great-grandfather / father was a musician? When was the first time you heard his music?
Jake: I can’t remember exactly when I learned he was a musician, but my grandmother shared a CD of his recordings when I was in high school and later gave me the original 78s. I don’t think I really processed/appreciated the music until I started playing the songs, after which I covered “Think of Me” on the first gay angel album (places i’ll eat, people i’ll meet).
Rachel: My father used to play them on the piano, in fact. Growing up I would sing them in exchange for a quarter, which I would then take to the park to spend on a Creamsicle ice cream.
Rachel, how do you feel when listening to them? Do they bring back specific memories? Does the voice you hear have a resemblance to the man you remember?
Rachel: Well, he never sang his songs, but on the album in places you can hear his voice in the background. These songs in general make me sad—years ago I couldn’t listen to them, but as time goes by I enjoy listening to them and they remind me of him. In the song “Dreaming at the Keyboard”, I can hear my brother Irving talking with my father in the background.
Jake, you never met him, so the closest you get to him as a person is listening to these recordings. How do they make you feel?
Jake: It’s weird, because I feel a connection to him through his music, despite having never met him. His songwriting, and the way he (and his wife, Barbara, who wrote lyrics sometimes) made songs all resonate with me. When I first heard his music I was surprised at how similarly I aligned with it despite starting my own songwriting with no prior knowledge of it.
How has his music influenced your own?
Jake: I started diving deeper and deeper into the recordings (about 1.5hrs worth) when I was making the 100 piece album floral, and I’m sure that influence was running through. There are also two songs that were just put on the album (‘I Have a Flower’ and ‘Dreaming at the Keyboard’) after unsuccessful tries to re-record them.
Why do you feel that now is the right time to release Bill’s music? What about them do you think appeals to a twenty-first century audience?
Jake: Drunk With Love Records was started with Bill’s music in mind, that it would be published when the time was right. Since over the past few years DWL has come to represent a celebration of emotion in many facets, beginning with a connection between the melodrama in modern emo music and early 20th century pop, it’s always made sense. I also think it’s a shame how long-lasting these songs feel as opposed to how few people knew of them, so to publish them for the first time is a pleasure. And, based on the people who have talked to me about him when I cover his songs at shows, it seems that other people want to hear them as well.
How do you feel about Jake re-releasing Bill’s music to a modern audience?
Rachel: I’m thrilled that Jake is releasing these songs, as now that they’re published people have an opportunity to hear Bill Vuono’s music, giving (at last) his songs a chance to live on.
Would you like to say something about the covers album? How did you recruit the bands? And how did they choose which songs to cover?
Jake: All songs on the covers album are either artists who are associated with Drunk With Love or close friends. The songs were chosen through a list I gave that included all of the songs on the album plus some outtakes ranging from songs to lyrics without music to just abandoned song titles. The goal was to not just re-record the songs but re-interpret them, so I feel grateful to have such wonderful musicians and friends as collaborators who more than added beauty to this release with their covers.
You can find more info on the Drunk With Love website and pre-order In My Dreams: The Songs of Bill Vuono now via the Drunk With Love Records Bandcamp page. Each album comes with a super cool calling card from the late 1800s/early 1900s
It’s worth noting that 50% of all proceeds will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and the other 50% to Bill’s family for the preservation and storage of related mementos and sheet music. So what are you waiting for?