Local music: Bella Ruse brings musical marriage to the Rumba stage

  • Photos by Tim Johnson
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From the June 13, 2013 edition

Joseph and Kay Barker got married last year then instantly uprooted from Minneapolis to Columbus. The idea was to move closer to Kay’s friends and family (she’s from Cincinnati), but also to plant themselves in a central location to take their folk-pop band Bella Ruse on the road.

That’s lots of change at once, but Bella Ruse has always embraced the unknown.

“The first thing we did when we started playing music is we just went into our living room, wrote five songs, recorded them, printed a disc and went on tour all the way to California,” Joseph said. “So that’s our mentality. That’s how we’ve been doing it is just saying, ‘We don’t know how to do this, but let’s just do it and see what happens.’”

They met while working at a fine dining joint called Butch’s Dry Dock as college students in Holland, Michigan. Their manager booked them to play covers on Valentine’s Day, setting off a creative and romantic spark. But not until they relocated to Minneapolis in 2009 did Bella Ruse begin.

“Joseph was in another band, and pretty much that all dissolved and I took over,” Kay said, cracking a smile.

They toured through all 48 contiguous states, released numerous records and made a number of whimsical videos. By the time they ended up in Olde Towne East, they were happening upon a signature sound.

Those Were Good Times, Weren’t They?, recorded at home this year, culminates that growth. It’s still playful, but there’s a serious undercurrent after a year marked by bittersweet moments (leaving friends in Minneapolis) and tragedy (Kay’s brother lost his foot in a boating accident). The songs are richer and more substantial; it’s a good record to make first impressions with.

Now it’s back to touring. The local release party Friday at Rumba Cafe marks the end of one Midwest jaunt. This summer, they’ll travel every weekend — intriguingly, in a diesel van that runs on leftover vegetable oil from restaurants. That keeps transportation costs way down, helping to facilitate their musical marriage.

“We’re married. We live together. We work together,” Joseph said. “Everything that we do is together, and so writing music just becomes an extension of our lives together.”