Emerging out of Toronto’s music scene is the alt-folk band Birds of Bellwoods. Likened to Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and Arkells, the quartet is known for their unique ability to blend storytelling with lovely harmonies and strong musical talent. Stephen Joffe (lead vocals/mandolin), Adrian Morningstar (guitar/vocals), Chris Blades (banjo/electric guitar/vocals) and Kintaro Akiyama (upright bass/vocals) are now about to drop their latest album, Victoria, the follow-up to their debut EP The Fifth.
Ahead of the Oct. 20 release date, the band will play a special show on Saturday, Sept. 23 at Toronto’s Mod Club Theatre. In a recent phone interview, the group shared that this will be the first time headlining that particular venue. They also plan on adding other players to the show – because we all know that more players equals more fun.
The start of Birds of Bellwoods dates back 17 years. Adrian recalled the story of how he met Stephen during a theatre production when they were kids. He went to middle school with Kintaro and the three joined together in high school. It wasn’t until they finished college in Montreal and came back to Toronto that they started making music together. Once Stephen saw Chris performing, the relationship was kindled and the band began their journey together.
When it came to discovering who they were as a unit, Kintaro tells AXS it was actually how their individual instruments mixed with the vocals that instantly gave them this “folk sound.” But who they were and the songs they were writing weren’t just rooted in folk, so they eventually transitioned to more of a folk-rock vibe.
As they’ve progressed as a group, they say they now draw influence from other genres of music. “We’ve kind of expanded our sonic palette to include more electronic instruments and drums. Sounds that are more relevant to who we are as people,” Kintaro explains.
Adrian thinks it’s their varied influences that make writing songs together such a unique and interesting experience. “We have four completely different backgrounds in music, four different opinions that build on one another rather than oppose one another to create something new and fresh.”
For Chris, moving from banjo to guitar was a naturally-occurring thing. “I think we just had a taste for expanding our sound,” he explains. The boys say that in the year and a half it took to record their new album Victoria, they grew a lot both musically and as people. “Our writing style and our playing style kind of evolved throughout that process. In the same way that we are growing, our listeners are growing as well. They would never expect us to create the same album twice,” Kintaro adds. “I think if we did that would be kind of a letdown for all of us.”
As to where Birds of Bellwoods will go from here, they believe that is a story yet untold. They say they never knew they could be a folk band or a rock band, for that matter. While the group joked about a hip-hop album in the future, Kintaro notes, “It actually wouldn’t be such a great departure. It might be a little bit confusing, and some people not might be totally on-board, but I think as the band grows and develops, there’s room for change and opportunity for growth. We want to leave ourselves open to all of that.”
You can keep up with Birds of Bellwoods on social media and check their website for upcoming tour dates, as well as details on their new album. Tickets to see them live at the Mod Club Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 23, are available here.