Seven years after graduating from North Penn High School, Patrick Mencel of Bel Heir had a contract with RCA records. Bel Heir’s distinct sound,“The Police meets Red Hot Chili Peppers,” as Mencel describes it– a fusion of surf-rock elements with a gritty alternative feel–brings fresh perspective to the music world.
Mencel and his Philadelphia-based band first hit the world stage in 2014 when they independently released two singles a year for a full year. Their unique release plan gained them attention and national tour dates with bands such as Joywave, CRUISR, Neon Trees, and ASTR.
Mencel lives in Fishtown and the other two band members, one of which is Mencel’s brother, Paul, live in South Philadelphia.
Bel Heir is currently promoting their new record, “Philadelphia English,” an album that is “very East-Coast driven with a beachy feel.” It is expected to be released in early 2017.
Philly Happening caught up with Mencel on the phone earlier this week to talk with him about Bel Heir’s upcoming show in the city on Sunday 8/28 (two lucky PH readers have the chance to get on the guest list!), their residency at Ortlieb’s in Northern Liberties in September, and Mencel’s favorite things about Philadelphia.
P.H.: What has Bel Heir been up to this summer?
P.M.: We just finished recording our record for RCA in March, so all summer we’ve been working on ways to roll out the record.
We’ve also been doing a lot of shows for this company called Sofar Sound (Sofarsounds.com). They are a really cool company–they hold private live shows in every city at really interesting venues. After you get tickets for SoFar Sound shows, then they release the secret address and all the info you need to attend. These shows have been our first taste of testing out our new record in front of live audiences.
We’re doing a private-event show in Philadelphia on Sunday from 3-5 p.m. at Open Chair Studio, 1716 Sansom Street.
P.H.: Tell us more about your new record.
P.M.: We’ve been writing and recording the record for two years. We ended up working with Tim Pagnotta (an award-winning, multi-platinum songwriter, producer and musician, who also worked with the band Neon Trees). We spent three months recording with him last fall.
The record sounds like a band from Philadelphia making a record in Los Angeles. Every moment of downtime that we had, we spent it at the beach. The record is very East Coast-driven, but has a beachy feel. It features a lot of fight songs that represent fighting for something that you believe in. It has a lot of surf-rock elements. I listened to a lot of Beach Boys while making this. It is a really cool contrast for an alternative band.
P.H.: When does your first single come out?
P.M.: In the next two to three weeks. It will be on Spotify and other stations. It’s called “Light at the End of the Tunnel.” It’s a very up-tempo, beachy-type song.
P.H.: What is the name of your album and what inspired the name?
P.M.: Our album is called “Philadelphia English.” A lot of the songs on the record have to do with how tough the music industry is and the struggle to make it. We thought of our roots in Philadelphia and how its associated with Rocky and his ability to fight back. We were researching other Philadelphia connections when we came across the term “Philadelphia English,” which refers to the dialect spoken in Philadelphia, and we loved it!
P.H.: Speaking of names, what inspired the name of your band?
P.M.: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air! [In the theme song for the 90s show starring Will Smith, Smith sang about being from “West Philadelphia, born and raised.”] At the time we got together, we noticed that other bands were picking names with plays on words. We thought “heir” instead of “air,” looked really cool, so we went with it!
P.H.: When did you first get inspired to play music?
P.M.: My dad was a folk singer/songwriter, who grew up in New England. He always listened to James Taylor and Jim Croce. I picked up guitar when I was growing up and I never put it down!
P.H.: Last year, our sister publication, Montco Happening, interviewed your sister, Elizabeth Mencel (“Rozes”), about her musical inspirations. She stated that one of her musical inspirations was you, but also your grandmother. Would you also site your grandmother as an inspiration?
P.M.: Yes, my grandmother—and my grandfather—were inspirations. My grandfather was always playing Jazz. The two of them used to take me to music lessons when I was younger. On the way there, we would listen to Nat King Cole and my grandmother would be singing at the top of her lungs!
P.H.: Who would you compare your sound to?
P.M.: Our sound is kind of like The Police meets Red Hot Chili Peppers—very surf-oriented, alternative rock.
P.H.: What else is coming up for Bel Heir this fall?
P.M.: We’re doing residency at Ortlieb’s in Northern Liberties. We’re playing every Thursday in September and tickets will only be a dollar. We’re working with this company called United By Blue. For every dollar spent, United By Blue will remove a pound of waste from local waterways.
We’re also going to be on tour with a band called BABY BABY from Atlanta, GA, the second week in October through the second week in November.
P.H.: What are your favorite things about Philly?
P.M.: I love Penn Treaty Park in Fishtown. La Colombe has the best draft latte. I love Johnny Brenda’s. Philly has some of the best mid-sized music venues in the country. There’s also Boot & Saddle and MilkBoy.
And the food! The Stephen Starr and Jose Garces restaurants are insanely good! Fette Sau (a Starr Restaurant) has the absolute best barbeque!
The other great thing about Philly is that you’re only about 35-40 minutes from the Beach. You hop on the Atlantic City Expressway and you’re there!