Four years ago, Kay Gillette jumped off the opera bus and landed in the world of indie-folk music. Now she’s modeling a new last name, touring in a veggie van as part of a musical husband-wife duo and releasing independently produced albums, all thanks to a typewriter, a kazoo and a Minneapolis musician, Joseph Barker.
Kay Barker, formerly Gillette, attended Hope College in Holland, Mich., as a vocal performance major with a minor in piano. After graduating in 2008 with a belt full of opera awards, she headed to the twin cities to try her hand, or rather voice, at a new genre in collaboration with future husband Joseph.
“I met Joseph in college, and he asked me if I would sing in his folk band. I wanted a change, so I said I would,” Kay said.
Although the gap between opera and folk is large, Kay had little difficulty adjusting to her new style and sound.
“The jump from opera to folk music was a pretty easy decision to make,” Kay said. “I wanted to do something completely different with my voice. And basically, I just did everything my teachers in college taught me not to do.”
Thus, the folk band Bella Ruse was born.
When on the road, Bella Ruse is the Barker duo; however, it typically has four members: Kay on vocals, Joseph on the guitar, Alex Young on the drums and Nathan Elliot on the bass. Add to that mix a toy piano, a Melodica, a suitcase organ, a typewriter and a kazoo, and the wide rage of unique sounds so characteristic of Bella Ruse is hard to forget.
On two full-length albums — one of which just come out Tuesday — and three EPs, Bella Ruse uses these distinctive instruments in a variety of ways.
The band’s first self-titled EP was the result of the RPM Challenge, an annual contest that encourages artists nationwide to write and record an entire ten-song album within the 28 days of February.
In 2011, Bella Ruse released its first full-length album, “Kuhzoo.” An upbeat blend of bouncy melodies and energetic rhythms is intermixed with more serious musical stylings to create an album that is balanced and ready for every mood.
When performing the song “Complicated Rhythm,” Kay said she feels the most like herself. However, Bella Ruse’s newest album of French tunes, “Golden Baby,” debuts the song she is most proud of.
“It’s a song about holding on to who you are,” Kay said.
This message of staying true to yourself resonates deeply with the Barkers. They are involved in every aspect of the musical process, including recording the albums and designing the website.
Although Kay admitted the added responsibilities can distract from the music, she said they wouldn’t want it any other way.
“When a small band signs a contract with a producer, they have to give up a lot. By doing everything on our own, we get to make all the decisions,” Kay said.
And those decisions just might mean driving a vegetable oil-fueled van across the country.
“Joseph got really excited about the veggie fuel,” Kay said. “He did all the research about how to make normal engines run on veggie oil, and now we’ve hit almost all 50 states in that van.”
On Monday, February 25, Bella Ruse will perform at the Black Box Theatre in the DeWitt Theatre Arts Center. Attendees can expect to hear some songs for the first time.
The show starts at 8:30 p.m., but show up early. Maybe if you’re really lucky, you’ll get the chance to see them pull up in their veggie van.