Aka Belle

Aka Belle

Boise, Idaho, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2010

Boise, Idaho, United States
Established on Jan, 2010
Band Alternative Americana




"Sagebrush Athenians"

The new album on CD by AKA Belle. This is essential listening, by an essential band. Perfect antidote for troubled times. The War On Love is a very real thing. Here are 10 salvos in response, slices of emotion to counteract the grim tenor of life in an uncaring world. You need this music. You need this album. If they play in your town, go see them live. If you see them around, buy them coffee. - The Record Exchange

"Best of the Best Kind...So Far"

a.k.a. Belle, Sagebrush Athenians (self-released)

Probably no local release this year will have more erudite liner notes than those of Sagebrush Athenians. Said notes start with a description of the original Athenians—"the inventors of democracy, which they practiced more vigorously than any modern democracy"—before praising their modern descendants, who "wish for true democracy, for acceptance and respect for all peoples."

Cynics might find this high-minded, but it's hard to deny the music's eloquence. Songs shift between pop, rock, country and jazz, and Catherine Merrick delivers the most trenchant lyrics and the savviest singing of her career. Sam Merrick's guitar follows suit, equal parts Neil Young, Duane Eddy and Wes Montgomery. - Idaho Press

"May Day Micro Festival"

"a.k.a. Belle's self described "unhinged Americana" set was an affectionate, empowered and hope-inspiring call to resist" - BUMP magazine review of our performance at the Visual Arts Collective, a show which took place in May 2017 - BUMP magazine

"400 Bands, a Giant Neon Spider and Not Many Rappers: A Treefort 2016 Re-cap"

"I caught a few minutes of Boise's aka Belle, whose darkly jazzy country, augmented by bursts of loud guitar, would fit in great at Pickathon." -- Matthew Singer, Arts & Culture Editor, Willamette Weekly - Willamette Weekly

"Belle of the Ball"

The Rolling Stones album “Exile on Main Street” was famously recorded in the late 1960s and early 1970s in France amid a sea of drug use, sexual escapades and general hedonism.

That wasn’t quite the scene when Boise band a.k.a. Belle (featuring Catherine and Sam Merrick) recently entered the studio to begin recording their third full-length album at the Audio Lab in Garden City.

Producer Steve Fulton instilled an amiable but business-like atmosphere and the only things imbibed by the band were fruit and vegetables from the plate that singer/songwriter Catherine Merrick brought with her to the studio.
Fulton started the studio in 1992 and since then he’s recorded hundreds of artists. But he said working with the musicians in a.k.a. Belle is a special treat.

“I think they’re one of the most creative bands I’ve ever recorded,” Fulton said. “They don’t really hold themselves back from anything that they write. So, it’s fun for me to help them realize what’s in their head and make it come through in the recording.”

Through the years, Fulton has recorded a variety of different musical styles at Audio Lab.

“I used to say a couple years ago that we’ve done everything but opera,” he said. “But then we did some opera recordings. … We’ve done everything, every style of music there is, even Jewish klezmer music. It’s really fun that there is a lot of diversity that comes through this studio. But I’d say our core thing is kind of Americana, rock.”

Americana and rock are right in a.k.a. Belle’s wheelhouse. There are also elements of jazz at times (especially on their EP “I Can Hear it Now”). It would be difficult to pigeonhole the band’s sound into one musical genre.

And that’s by design.
So is the fact that they decided to record their new album at two different recording studios, Audio Lab and Tonic Room Studios, while being recorded by two different producers, Fulton and Jason Ringelstetter.

Fulton brings his technical expertise to the table at Audio Lab, while Ringelstetter’s expertise is in capturing the moment at the Tonic Room. As such, the Merricks had a good idea where they wanted to record each of the songs on the album.

“Jason works very, very quickly,” Catherine said. “So, we tended to record songs with him that we felt were almost ready.”

Added Sam: “Songs go better at Jason’s when we can just go in and play live. Songs go better with Steve when they might not be fully realized, and they’re going to need some troubleshooting.”

The hope is that the two studios and producers give each song the unique sound the band was looking for.

“I wanted two different approaches to help us with the creativity, to get 10 songs that didn’t sound so homogenous,” said guitarist and songwriter Sam Merrick (who is married to Catherine). “Ten songs, when you’re working on a budget, can just sound like a set. So, I knew I wanted two approaches. (Fulton and Ringelstetter) know that we’re fond of what they can do, but they also know that they’re not replicas of each other.”

Said Catherine: “We like them both. … We trust them both to do the best thing for the song.”

The Merricks bring considerable talent and experience to the studio, as well. Sam recorded his first studio record in 1987 in Los Angeles and has continued to record music regularly since then. He’s been involved in 16 recording sessions and has worked with two Grammy Award-winning producers. Catherine is a certified recording engineer whose recording career began in England, where she recorded with various bands – including her solo project Belle of Les Bois – and worked as a session singer.

A.k.a. Belle has recorded with a few different lineups, but the new album — which should be released around mid-September — will feature Mike Waite on bass, John Townsend on drums and Mollie Long Williams on backing vocals.

“We have a really good lineup right now, which is one of the reasons we thought it was critical to get in and record,” Sam said.

The Merricks can be critical of their own work, but they at least acknowledge that they are faced with some financial considerations when it comes to recording new music. Both have other jobs that help pay for the time in the studio.

“Budget has so much to do with being creative in the studio,” Sam said. “That’s the biggest challenge in recording as weekend warriors. With this record, we’ve actually had some success with doing some different things, though. … But we can’t really think about it too much, because thinking about it and planning it takes time, and time is money in the studio.”

Money aside, however, the Merricks said recording options — and the quality of those options — have grown exponentially since the Boise High graduates left Boise to pursue music in the 1980s.

“Creative people don’t have to leave Boise to pursue what they’re doing,” Catherine said.

Fulton, with his 25-plus years of recording experience, agreed.

“When I started there were no other studios that you would call a commercial studio,” he said. “But through the years there have been others that have popped up.”

Along the way, technology has gone from analog to digital, creating even more new opportunities for recording.

“It’s to the point now that you can do pretty much anything here that you can do anywhere,” Fulton said. “In those big markets, what you have is a bigger pool of musicians that you would consider studio musicians to pull from. But now it’s amazing how many great musicians there are here, too.

“So, I do think you can pretty much do anything here.”

As such, musicians across the board are taking advantage of the recording options and forging their own new musical territory.

“When (Catherine) and I left Boise, we had to leave,” Sam said. “I don’t think you have to leave now.” - Idaho Press

"Mixtape: a.k.a. Belle, 'The Devil Loves You'"

In a liner note to a.k.a. Belle's second album, The Devil Loves You (2014), dated March 2, 2013, vocalist Catherine Merrick joked that the band was "thinking about becoming a stripper band."

The album is sultry, and tracks like "Here Come the Death Traps" effortlessly jump between downtempo lounge and early rock and roll. Deep, dyspeptic brass sections cut to crisp guitar licks and upright bass. But the album's dark themes—"Cottonwood Canyon" is a song about a Foothills serial killer—give it variety and nuance. - Boise Weekly

"The Devil and H.G. Wells"

Sam and Catherine Merrick met in the early '80s at Boise High School. At the time, Catherine Crooks was singing in a punk band called The B-Sides (her bandmates included a young Curtis Stigers). Sam hadn't played guitar anywhere other than his bedroom.

"I'm still listening to Hendrix and Yes," Sam remembered, "and people like her are walking through the halls and I'm like, 'What the hell? She's so cool.'"

"Yeah, but that look, to me, was like, 'She's so weird,'" Catherine said.

In spite of the misinterpretation, a relationship began that would lead to marriage and music, which has most recently culminated in The Devil Loves You, the second album by the Merricks' band, a.k.a. Belle. (Full disclosure: The author of this article wrote the liner notes for the album--unpaid--and works with Catherine at The Record Exchange). The band--which combines folk-country melodies with raw, Neil Young-esque guitar and swinging, jazzy rhythms--celebrated the release of Devil during a double CD release show Feb. 22 with local roots group The Country Club, which released An Idaho Dozen. The show, hosted by Bill Coffey, featured performances by a.k.a. Belle, The Country Club, Stigers, Hillfolk Noir's Ali Ward and burlesque troupe The Red Light Variety Show.

"Catherine Merrick--she'll always be Cathe to me--has been one of my favorite singers since we met back in high school in the early '80s. ... What a voice," Stigers wrote in an email. "I'm a big fan of her co-conspirator and hubby, Sam Merrick, as well. Sam's one of the most inventive and original guitarists around, and he's a ton of fun to watch onstage as well."

Though Sam and Catherine would eventually connect both romantically and musically, it didn't happen right away.

Around 1985, Sam and a friend were living in Los Angeles, and Catherine decided to join them. The relationship was strictly platonic, though Catherine remembered trying to take Sam on a date to see Neil Young. Sam didn't realize it was a date, but he did note that "it was so much more fun living with Catherine. ... Our personalities just go together really well."

In 1987, a love of bands like The Smiths and The Fall drew Catherine to Manchester, England, where she performed as Belle of Les Bois. Sam stayed in L.A., playing with The Leaving Trains and then with The Nymphs, which signed to Geffen Records in 1989.

"If they weren't trying to make us into Dokken or Guns N' Roses so much, we might've been able to do it," Sam said of The Nymphs. Instead, the band's debut album wasn't released until 1991 and The Nymphs broke up the next year. Eventually, Sam returned to Boise and went back to school.

Meanwhile, Catherine gave birth to a son, Gus, and watched drug abuse and violence seep into the Manchester scene. She recalled people holding street raves outside her council estate.

"They'd be screaming and fighting [outside]. We're looking out of Gus' bedroom window and there's a knife fight going on," Catherine said.

Through their various travels and travails, Sam and Catherine kept in touch. And when Catherine moved back to Boise with her son in 2008, Sam realized that their separate paths had been leading to the same destination.

"As soon as I saw her [in February of 2008], I was really surprised. It was this whole rush of, like, 'My God--you are one of the most important people in my life. Maybe the most important,'" Sam said.

They formed a.k.a. Belle soon after and were married the following year. While the songs on a.k.a. Belle's 2012 debut album, Disappearing Night, tell the story of Catherine falling in love and coming home, songs on Devil like "H.G. Wells is Alive and Well" draw inspiration from hardships the Merricks endured beforehand. But they don't do it alone. The couple credits bassist Chris Galli and drummer Louis McFarland with making the music swing both on Devil and at a.k.a. Belle's live performances.

"They have so much to do with it [and] it's not recognized," Sam said. "If your foot's tapping, there's a reason it is, but no one says, 'Wow, it's those two guys in the back.'"

The band plays Treefort Music Fest in March and after that, the Merricks hope to tour Seattle, Portland and England. They'd also like to record another album as soon as possible.

"We can't guarantee that [the four of us] will be together, and I'd be so bummed out if we couldn't get another record out," Sam said. "Hopefully, it's five more records, but if this is just a one-record thing, it would be really unfortunate." - The Boise WEekly

"My Top 5 Idaho Bands"

"I'm tempted to call Sam and Catherine Merrick Idaho's answer to Richard and Linda Thompson, but I don't want to jinx their marriage. Besides, the analogy doesn't quite work. Sure, a.k.a. Belle's lead instruments are Sam Merrick's tactfully raw guitar and Catherine Merrick's lovely voice. They probably wouldn't sound quite as good, though, without the support of Mike Rundle's drums, Chris Galli's stand-up bass and Kayleigh Jack's fiddle and harmonies. Also, as songwriters, the Merricks sound friendlier and more well-adjusted than Richard Thompson does typically (granted, it doesn't take much to pull that off, but let me go on). Songs like the goofy "At Least I'm Stupid," the straight-shooting "For A Fool" and the go-to live-show closer "Painted, Faded & Tainted" make me think of a much warmer and homier duo: John Prine and Iris DeMent. Toss in some old-school honky tonk and some Neil Young for good measure, and you've got a band that I'm almost genetically predisposed to love." - Here Comes the Dumptruck

"a.k.a. Belle, A Seasonal disguise and Danielle Galucki (Neurolux 11/20/12)"

This show was something of an indulgence for me. When I'm planning out my calendar, I usually give special attention to shows featuring groups I've never seen before. A Seasonal Disguise seems to improve each time I see them, however, and I never get tired of seeing a.k.a. Belle. So, it being so close to Thanksgiving, I decided to treat myself a little.
a.k.a. Belle set a record with this performnace (as far as I can recall): they didn't even play one song before they started bantering with each other. It all began with Catherine Merrick warning Sam Merrick not to cuss, since they were being broadcast live on Radio Boise. Sam Merrick proceeded to tell the audience a little story that led up to the show, bleeping out the curse words with a few guitar chords. It went on pretty much like that for the rest of the set. I hope that the folks out in radioland found this as amusing as I did. Too bad that they couldn't see Catherine Merrick's classic I'm-gonna-kill-this-f*cking-idiot glare (I see it a lot when I'm hanging out with married/dating friends).

Oh, and I should probably mention that the music sounded great too. This set featured the return of Mike Rundle, whose smooth and steady work behind the drumkit kept the songs swinging. Bass player Jason Griesa greased the groove nicely in spite of his reportedly having to play on painkillers (Sam Merrick mentioned that the man had to undergo back surgery soon). Catherine Merrick had apparently been sounding hoarse over the past couple of weeks, but you sure couldn't hear it as her voice rang out across the bar. Meanwhile, Kayleigh Jack's serene fiddle and harmonies complemented Sam Merrick's jagged, searing guitar. While their older songs sounded as gorgeous and rowdy as ever, their newer material makes me look forward to their second album, which they're apparently working on now. - Here comes the Dumptruck

"aka Belle - The Sporx & Kif Bender at Boise Rock School"

Sam and Catherine Merrick from a.k.a. Belle provided a fine and mellow ending to the show. Their cover of Jody Reynolds/The Gun Club's "Fire of Love" helped justify some of those John-and-Exene comparisons, and the warmth, playfulness and thoughtfulness of the rest of their set made me think, "Yeah, these are the kind of parents that kids oughtta have." Highlights included Sam Merrick's running gag on touring with the Sporx, Catherine Merrick's reminiscence of meeting Pete Seeger as a little girl and (cuz I can be a softie like that) Barrett Coyle helping them sing the chorus to "Painted, Faded and Tainted." - Here Comes the Dumptruck

"Lindsey O'Brien Band, New Transit & a.k.a. Belle @Neurolux"

a.k.a. Belle kicked off the show. If this group ever puts out a live album, they oughtta leave space for some on-stage banter--it's always a hoot hearing them crack jokes and talk smack about each other (the bandmates with the same last name do most of the latter). Not that they didn't cut it music-wise: Chris Galli's jazzy basswork made "Flyin' Song" glide, Sam Merrick's guitar injected some ragged glory into "At Least I'm Stupid" and their new drummer swung and swaggered throughout. Meanwhile, Catherine Merrick and Kayleigh Jack sounded as warm, thoughtful and lovely as ever, and special guest Thomas Paul pitched in with some tasteful banjo and mandolin. - Here Comes the Dumptruck

"Local CD: "Idaho Ho Ho with Moxie Java," various artists"

Charismatic vocalist Catherine Merrick injects holiday spice into AKA Belle's “I’m Giving Mice Elf (To You),” a smoldering alt-rocker for lovers on Christmas Eve.

Read more here: http://voices.idahostatesman.com/2010/12/06/mdeeds/local_cd_idahohoho_with_moxie_java_various_artists#storylink=cpy - Idaho Statesman

"The Hand, a.k.a. Belle at The Red Room"

"The Hand, a.k.a. Belle, Holograms and Meth House Party Band @ the Red Room (5/1/12) A $1 cover charge, 2 for 1 drink specials, three Idaho bands that I hadn't seen before and one of my favorite local bands? How could I not go see this? a.k.a. Belle: The band was clearly in a good mood as they sipped whiskey and traded banter between flawlessly performed songs. Their casually confident set went a long way toward confirming two suspicions that I've held for a while: 1) that this is one of the best bands in town and 2) that Catherine Merrick is the greatest singer in town."
- Here Comes the Dumptruck

"Local CD Review, a.k.a. Belle, 'Disappearing Night'"

"Whether they like it or not, most bands are defined by their singers. So when you’re blessed with a vocalist like Catherine Merrick, you’re light years ahead of the game. The singer and multi-instrumentalist for a.k.a. Belle has an alluring, lovely voice — the kind that stands out in nearly any genre. Fans of country-tinged, alt-rock crossover music (think Neko Case or Jenny Lewis) will appreciate her most. Merrick lived and performed in England before returning to Boise and forming this group in 2008. While a.k.a. Belle benefits from the life and recording experience of Merrick and her husband, guitarist Sam Merrick, this album also feels inspired and fresh. Several guest musicians help Americana songs swell into layered, big-sounding rock listens. But Merrick’s convincing, confessional lyrics always keep everything personal. Read more here: http://voices.idahostatesman.com/2012/02/29/mdeeds/local_cd_review_aka_belle_disappearing_night#storylink=cpy" - Michael Deeds, The Idaho Statesman

"CIMS Weekly Chart"

"From the Boise music scene comes one of my favorite albums of late last year. a.k.a. Belle is led by Catherine and Sam Merrick and although it will likely be tagged Alt Country, there is much more happening here. Hints of 60's pop and a definite feel of 50's rockabilly also reside beneath the surface. Catherine has a fantastic voice and I'm reminded of Neko Case, or even Wanda Jackson. Sam is a veteran of LA punk bands Leaving Trains and the Nymphs but here has found his influence in American Roots Music. This debut album is a real treat and deserves some attention. I recommend the second track, "Austin Calling," for an introduction. Good stuff from a vital and thriving local music scene." - Michael Bunnell

"Disappearing Night/akaBelle/Music Monday"

"Boise has a growing music scene. Most people know Built to Spill and latest up-comer Youth Lagoon. But there are plenty of other great bands in town and many of them will be featured at SXSW. Today we are letting you know about a great album from one of these Boise bands: aka belle. Disappearing Night is a great album for those that dig an indie folk-rock type feel. With excellent female vocals and lyrical stylings, I’ve been listening the heck out of this album since buying it at the tail end of last year. The band has a good time with their music and doesn’t take themselves too seriously. we submit “(i’m) give mice elf to you” as evidence. Go buy this album and enjoy it."
- The Next Barstool (Jan 09, 2012) - The Next Barstool

"Alive After Five"

A.k.a. Belle started the show off with lively, fun music they call “unhinged Americana,” incorporating elements of rock and jazz into their sound. Then Lindi Ortega, a country music artist from Nashville, Tennessee, began her set with a haunting song called “Murder of Crows.” -- The Arbitor, Boise State University - The Arbitor


Sagebrush Athenians, 10 song album  released May 2019
I Hear It Now, 4 song EP released 2016
The Devil Loves You, released 2014
Disappearing Night, released 2012



Aka Belle are genre-crossing mavericks from Boise, Idaho; spotlighting sultry, intimate vocals over unhinged guitar solos, backed by a beatnik jazz/rock rhythm section featuring stand up bass. 


Aka Belle are known for their DIY shows, mixing their quirky, glittery onstage performances, and catchy songwriting with haunting, passionate calls for love, resistance, and equality for all - they make you want to dance, hug, cry, sing along, and raise your fists to fight - often simultaneously! 


Their influences cover a wide range - a near enough description might be Catherine Merrick (who has been compared to Neko Case and Jenny Lewis) singing to a mix of Crazy Horse (thanks to Aka Belle’s wild guitarist Sam Merrick), Arthur Lee (Love) and Os Mutantes, then throw some influences from definitive jazz artists like Charles Mingus (Aka Belle bassist Michael P. Waite and drummer John “Bongos” Townsend can swing, baby), with  a hint of natural, smoky voiced torch singer Julie London... and you’re getting somewhat close to the Aka Belle sound. They are a rock band unafraid to experiment, speak their minds and make full use of their individual talents.


Aka Belle are making plans to go into the studio to record new material in spring of 2020, hot on the back of their 2019 release, “Sagebrush Athenians,” which made the Top 50 Best Sellers of 2019 at the iconic Record Exchange, as well as making the Best of 2019 local albums list compiled by Boise Weekly.


They are also gearing up for their showcase set at Treefort Music Festival in March 2020 (the band proudly have been invited to play every Treefort event since its beginning).


2019 saw the release of two videos from the “Sagebrush Athenians” album - “War On Love,” the bands wondrous, anthemic often show closer; and “Wonders of the World,” a call to everyone in the world fighting for equality in these chaotic times. 


They have headlined Hyde Park Street Fair; shared the stage with both Portland’s Roselit Bone and Federale; international stars Ken Stringfellow and Jon Aur/The Posies (Catherine has consistently been their go-to backing vocalist when they perform in Boise); Sera Cahoone, Brett Netson (Caustic Resin, Built to Spill); Eilen Jewell; Jesse Dayton; John Doe & Exene Cervenka (X); Holly Golightly, Lydia Loveless, Lindi Ortega, and collaborated with some big names in music including Iggy Pop, Doug Martsch (Built to Spill), and even Curtis Stigers.


Band Members