The Southern Belles are: (from left) Aaron Zarrow, Tommy Booker, Andrew Carper and Adrian Ciucci. (Photo by William David Lawrence)
For someone who might stumble upon a Southern Belles show during their upcoming tour, the band’s appearance could come as a surprise, not to mention their wide-ranging sound, variously described as groove-centric, psychedelic space music, rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass and jam band.
Founding member Adrian Ciucci takes responsibility for the name, which came about when the group of musicians was asked to play at a friend’s Halloween party. “We were just messing around and knew a couple of tunes,” he says. “I thought we should call ourselves the Southern Belles and dress up like ladies. We chickened out, but the name stuck anyway.
“We’re a bunch of bearded hairy dudes,” he continues. “That comes across as the antithesis of the idea of the Southern Belles, but the irony, to me, is funny enough. At least you can say we’re from the South.”
It’s a nod to their heritage as (mostly) Richmonders without taking it too seriously.
Now in their fifth year, the Belles are venturing into new territory on the tour, which starts after their show tonight (Feb. 5, 9 p.m.) at The Camel. They’ll head south to Florida for the first time, hitting Jacksonville, Jupiter, Dunedin and Gainesville, and then travel up the East Coast to New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire before stopping by their hometown for their usual First Fridays show at The Camel in March. Then it’s off to Tennessee, Iowa, Missouri and Colorado.
This year marks another change for the quartet, with Aaron Zarrow replacing original drummer Raphael Katchinoff.
“In early December, Raphael sat us down and told us that he had been asked to join The Congress, yet another great band from Richmond,” Ciucci says. “I have always known that was his dream job. He and Jon Meadows (of The Congress) go way back. I know that Raphael put in many important years with us because the friendships are important and the Belles are important to him. I am eternally grateful for Raph's commitment to getting us this far. “
Ciucci and Katchinoff also go way back — they first played music together when they were in fourth grade and formed a band called The People.
“We didn’t know how to play anything,” Ciucci says. “We had a good ‘Louie Louie’ — my dad would let us ‘practice’ at his flower shop in Scott’s Addition." They went to Trinity Episcopal School together and met up again after college.
Keyboard player Tommy Booker also started playing music early.
“My grandmother had an upright piano,” he says. “I even wrote a song on all the black keys when I was 5.” While attending Deep Run High School, Booker met Ciucci through a mutual friend, Zach Hudgins, who served as the band’s bass player before current bassist Andrew Carper stepped in.
The band met Zarrow, who’s from Philadelphia, backstage at a festival in Pennsylvania.
“He really liked the band, we stayed for his band, The Royal Noise, and were immediately blown away,” Ciucci says. “We all hit it off right away and over the next couple of years we met up many times to do shows together or would see each other at festivals.”
Ciucci says he thought of Zarrow immediately when Katchinoff told them about his plans, but thought he might not be available. “About a day later, Aaron called me after he heard we were looking for a drummer and told me he wanted in real bad, which I was thrilled about.”
The Belles hit the road with their résumé boosted by a coveted appearance at the Lockn’ Music Festival last September. They got in by winning a battle of the bands, held in July at Capital Ale House’s downtown music hall.
The Southern Belles at Lockn' Music Festival, Sept. 2015.
“We were by far the smallest beans there,” Ciucci says. “I took a great picture of our van —parked next to all these huge tour buses — in the shadow of Susan Tedeschi’s bus and Widespread Panic.”
Playing in front of an audience of about 2,000 at Lockn’ “was pretty nerve-wracking to be honest,” Ciucci says. “It was just a moment in time I don’t think any of us will forget. I said afterward, ‘If I am lucky enough to play a thousand stages that size in my life, it will never feel like that first time.’ “
Shows like their First Fridays at The Camel, with at most a couple hundred people, are still the best, though, he says: “Time after time our favorite shows are the ones we get to play at home.”
Ciucci is also jazzed about the local music scene. "We should appreciate what we’ve got now," he says. "It could maintain, or people can lose interest, or it could blow up and become competitive. Live in the moment – the music scene happening right now is arguably underrated and awesome to have."