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Having A Change of Hearts

Pop music: After ending long romances in London, the Belland sisters of O.C.-bound Voice of the Beehive returned to L.A. roots.

August 16, 1996|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After 10 years as two of London's more colorfully plumed pop-rock songbirds, Tracey Bryn Belland and Melissa Belland, the voices in Voice of the Beehive, have made like homing pigeons.

The sisters--who play tonight at the Coach House--carried on a lively, tag-team phone interview earlier this week from Tracey's new perch in an Encino apartment building they likened to a downscale Melrose Place--funky but with a youthful tenant mix that includes lots of fellow musicians.

Tracey's new place, noted younger sister Melissa, is only about two blocks from where they grew up.

Tracey--who has typically used her middle name, Bryn, as a stage surname but is known to Melissa as Ray for reasons that, like a lot of family pet names, are too involved and obscure to get into--paused to regard her apparent homing instinct. "I've gotten really far in life," she said, with dry, deadpan humor.

Actually, she said, the apartment's main attraction wasn't a nostalgic return to her old neighborhood, but ample closet space.

"This place had two closets, one for Beehive [outfits], one for normal. I couldn't say no to two closets."

Actually, the sisters say, the transplantation of Voice of the Beehive to their native Southern California soil five months ago was more a matter of the heart than of practicality. More precisely, it was a matter of two bruised hearts.

Voice of the Beehive's transglobal history began as a lark when Tracey went to England on vacation, decided she preferred London and its pop scene to the Valley and settled there in 1985. Melissa followed her in 1986, and Voice of the Beehive was soon launched.

The band, rounded out at the time by three Englishmen, incorporated lush pure-pop touches along with some of the sonic sting and sardonic humor of New Wave rock. A colorful fashion sense has always been part of Beehive's presentation. In England, they said, their concerts turned into dress-up affairs for the fans as well. The band enjoyed a run of hits on the English charts, and tracks--including "I Say Nothing," from the band's 1988 debut album, "Let It Bee"--turned up on KROQ playlists and gave the Beehive a bit of a buzz in the sisters' hometown.

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Over the past two years, though, the Bellands say, their personal lives in London took a turn that made it tough to keep ignoring the bad weather.

First Tracey, then Melissa, went through difficult breakups of long-term romances. Meanwhile, their three bandmates defected: Drummer Woody Woodgate signed on for a reunion of his old band, Madness, and bassist Martin Brett, with a family to support, turned to writing for commercials. Guitarist Mike Jones left because he objected to the elaborately orchestrated tack the Bellands were taking with producer Peter Vettese (chosen for his work on Annie Lennox's "Diva" album) as they recorded the Beehive's third album, the recently released "Sex & Misery."

With their closest English ties unwinding, the sisters began to think beach blanket instead of bumbershoot.

"Ten years of ceaseless drizzle and rain, being California girls, it really started to get to us," Melissa, 29, said.

"If it's all you know, [the rainy English weather] is not as difficult," said Tracey, 34. "But it's harder, having [grown up] here. We were foreigners for 10 years in the country we lived in. The moment you opened your mouth, you were cast aside as something different."

"Once the band was fizzling and we both broke up with our boyfriends, it was: 'What are we waiting for? You're miserable, I'm miserable. Let's go,' " Melissa said.

Tracey, the band's main songwriter, drew on the troubles in her life for much of the material on "Sex & Misery." Two songs, "Angel Come Down" and "Moonblind," are pretty, yearning-filled laments for friends who died young. Other songs sort through her feelings about what she wants or loathes in a relationship.

She craves romantic unpredictability and enlivening turbulence in "Scary Kisses," abhors a dull domestic routine in "Playing House" and confesses a paralyzing dependence on an abusive lover in "I'm Still in Love," in which she sings, "I'd rather watch him just destroy my home / Than try to make it on my own / I'm still in love."

"I've never been struck by a guy in my entire life," Tracey said. "That was about emotional abuse. But you can be just as hurt and floored by emotional abuse as by physical abuse."

She added that the abuse flowed in both directions during the end game of her relationship with Steve Mack, an American expatriate who sang with the Irish rock band That Petrol Emotion.

"At that point [when she wrote the song], I would rather have gone on with the emotional abuse than be on my own," Tracey said. "I thought, 'If that's how you feel, don't beat around the bush. Say it, admit it, because there are going to be people who will identify with you and will be glad somebody is saying it.'

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