Sometimes a rotten turn of luck can lead you to your spirit family. That’s more or less the story of Cleveland, Ohio-based folk rockers Maura Rogers and the Bellows.
The band — made up of Maura Rogers (vocals, guitar), Meredith Pangrace (accordion, vocals), Quinn Hyland (bass, vocals), Jeff Babinski (drums, vocals), and Al Moses (lead guitar) — got its start when front-person Maura Rogers needed a distraction from a life-threatening ailment. That distraction ended up helping to save her life. Some years have passed, and Maura Rogers and the Bellows released their third album, Always, in April of 2019. They’re stopping at Black Lodge Saturday, October 19th, with a concert to promote it. I spoke with Rogers over the phone about organ transplants, accordions, new babies, and the Stax Museum.
Memphis Flyer: I read that the band has something of a unique origin story. There’s an organ transplant that was involved?
Maura Rogers: Yeah, definitely. Meredith Pangrace — she plays accordion — joined the band in 2011. She joined in a time when I was actually really kind of sick. For me, the music was something that was a distraction from being ill. I was in kidney failure. (The music) something that I’d always wanted to do. … I knew I wanted an accordion because I love the sound of the instrument and the emotion of it. I put an ad on Craigslist, and Meredith was the only person who responded. She joined the band, and we became friends. We connected right from the beginning, and I felt a very intrinsic connection to her, both as a person and as a musician. Then the kidney failure got progressively worse. In 2012, I was in need of a transplant, and she had gotten tested and it turned out she was as close a match as my own sibling, which is actually really rare. … So August of 2012, she gave me a kidney, and she’s still in the band and will always be in the band. I mean, we are Maura Rogers and the Bellows, and the “Bellows” are the accordion.
Is there anything she could do that would make you want to kick her out?
[laughs] Well, I’m definitely certain there are some things, but she’s a good person. And everybody in the band — it’s really a great group of people. It’s the first time that I’ve felt so comfortable and confident in each one of the members and what they’re bringing to the table. We just work through things when they arise and really enjoy each other. It’s like family, and you can’t quite kick anybody out of your family. They might drive you crazy at times, but they’re still always going to be your family.
Had you done many musical collaborations before forming the band?
No, I had just been a singer/songwriter. I started writing songs in 2006 or 2007 and then released my first solo album as a singer/songwriter in 2010. Some local musicians reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in forming a band, and I thought, “You know, why not? Let’s give it a shot.” And it’s just more complex. There are different contributions that everyone makes to the songs that really bring them to life. As a singer/songwriter, I yearned for that but just couldn’t do it on my own.
And Always is the most recent album?
Yeah, and we worked with an amazing producer, Jim Wirt. Both as a producer and a musician, he’s just full of wonderful ideas. And he just has a very special way about him when he works.
I really enjoyed the music video for “92 Days” from the new album. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Noelle Richard directed it. My wife teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and Noelle was a recent graduate. I was looking for something to give somebody that with an art background that could really bring a unique perspective to the video, and I met with Noelle and they just had a wonderful idea and full of just a lot of compassion and a lot of humanity and that was kind of the focus. I really thought that connected with, for me, what inspired the song originally. It came from a place of feeling trapped, and I thought that Noelle really kind of captured a sense of how I personally felt it was trapped, but Noelle was able to say, “This is song about overcoming something and really finding the beauty in a situation that is difficult.”
You mentioned that you just had twins. Are they your first children?
Yes, our first children! We have Benjamin and Mera, and they are just blowing me away. You think you know love, and then you meet these new little beings and you’re just really shaken at the core about how how deeply you can feel for something. It’s brand new, and it’s been amazing. It’s exhausting, for sure, but nothing compares for me.
With new kids at home, are you nervous about going on tour?
I am petrified of going on tour. That’s so funny so funny that you ask because when Jeff [Babinski] brought up the idea, it was back in the spring and I was just like I don’t know. And my wife was like, “Do it, do it! Go! It’s going to be so good for you.” Okay, yep. let’s do it. So, Jeff took over the planning, and after they came and just, you know, building this relationship with them, I thought, “Oh, my gosh, I will be gone for days!” But I also know that it’s important for me also as a parent that both these kids grow up and they see us doing things that we love and things fulfill us because I think, more than anything, kids need to see those examples so that they find the things that, in their own life, can really enrich their existence. I know a lot people who don’t have that, and it breaks my heart. Having the example, I think, improves the odds.
Is this performance at Black Lodge going to be your first time in Memphis?
Yes, it is. I’m really excited. It’s not everybody’s first time, but I would say that [it is] for the majority of the band.
Does Memphis hold any special significance for you as a music town?
Oh, for sure! I think that there are roots to the history of music — American music — in Memphis. It holds a lot of meaning, and I think that if we have some time, we have some things on our agenda to check out. Hopefully we make it to those things. A friend of the family if one of the directors of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, so we’re definitely thinking of checking that out.
Stax is one of my favorite museums. I’m a soul music junkie, though, so I acknowledge my bias. But anyway, why Black Lodge?
My drummer, Jeff Babinski, runs a film community in Cleveland. It’s called Emerge Cinema. They connected with Piano Man Pictures, who came up to Cleveland to play one of their films. So Jeff reached out to them when we were looking into booking. … I’m really curious because it’s a unique space from what I’ve been told. Have you been there?
Oh, yes. It just relocated, but Black Lodge is one of the last movie rental places in America. They’re just a center for weirdness in the community.
Oh, that’s awesome! I love it. That sounds perfect.
Maura Rogers and the Bellows at Black Lodge, Saturday, October 19th, 8-10 p.m. $5