I first met Ricky Terrell in the basement of a coffee house in Xenia, Ohio in 2009, just after the conception of Starving in the Belly of the Whale. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the evolution and expansion of Starving over the past ten years, and have established close friendships, not just with Ricky, but with fellow members, Scott Loy and Lacey Terrell as well. Starving in the Belly of the Whale is about to celebrate its ten year mark with the release of A Memory, an album looking back over the past, but rooted in the present.
Starving in the Belly of the Whale began as the writing project of Ricky Terrell, and for its first several years, existed with a rotating cast of supporting musicians. About six years ago, the project expanded to include Scott and Lacey as permanent members, supplying not just stunning vocal harmonies and weird instruments, but also altering the writing and arranging process and allowing Starving in the Belly of the Whale to flesh out and define its sound as a haunting and experimental folk outfit. Ricky’s cerebral lyrics still feature prominently, layered with vocal harmonies, cello, acoustic guitar, the whine of theremin and saw, and sometimes accompanied by the sparse percussion of long time collaborator Shane Pergrem.
I was invited to spend the weekend with Ricky, Lacey, and Scott to talk about the album, their anniversary, and the importance of remembering and forgetting.
Friday evening, I sat in on practice in the intimate and dimly lit rehearsal space on the third floor of Ricky and Lacey’s home while their three year old son slept peacefully one story down, and spent Saturday traveling with the band to a cozy and eclectic show at a coffeehouse north of Columbus. The following interview has been edited for concision.
KD: Previous Starving in the Belly of the Whale albums often have overarching themes, touching in the past on the complexities of human relationships or one’s connection to God. Tell me about any themes present on A Memory.
Scott: So the album is split into two distinct parts, five songs at the beginning and five songs at the end. We called it A Memory Preserved and Forgotten because...there isn’t enough room for everything. Even in your head, you can’t remember everything or you might go crazy. Or insane. Or you just might need therapy. So it’s important to forget some things, but it’s also important to remember others. It’s important to do that consciously, to do that deliberately. If you think about the cycle of life and death, and all of us only have a finite time, even our species only has a finite time. There’s only enough space for a certain number of organisms for an unspecified amount of time. You can kind of think of your memory as a life of its own; it has a cycle. It’s created. It lives. And eventually it’s forgotten and it dies. That’s kind of what I was thinking when this stuff was written. And I think Ricky pulled a lot of the titles from C S Lewis books.
Ricky: Almost every song on this album has been influenced by C S Lewis.
Lacey: And all the other albums.
Ricky: Yeah, at least a couple songs on every other album, but I was reading a lot of C S Lewis stuff, more than usual, while I was writing these things.
KD: Starving has been writing and performing for 10 years now. Is this album particularly meaningful as you reach this milestone? Tell me more about the writing process on this one.
Ricky: Anything you’ve done for ten years is kind of exciting. To me, it’s the most important because I feel like it’s the first album where we’ve captured on a recording what we always try to accomplish during a live show. On Missionaries and Impostors, we had tons of production, but it’s nothing we’ve pulled off live. With Conversations, we tried to take it the exact opposite. There are no songs where anyone plays more than one instrument, but that didn’t really translate to what we did live, either. So we started thinking, what can we do on an album to achieve a live feel? One of the things we deliberately did was make sure everything was in a minor key. We probably have four or five songs on the other albums that we never touch, because they’re not in minor keys, and all of our sets, we try to keep very dark or eerie sounding. So on A Memory, we deliberately made a point to keep all the songs able to fit on any setlist we want to throw them into. To me, that’s the most important part about this album, that it’s taken about six years to accomplish what we do live in the studio.
Scott: It doesn’t have, at all, anything to do with how well Lacey, Scott, and Ricky work together.
Ricky: (laughter) Yeah, that too. I mean, I think all of that works together. We’re playing better.
KD: Shane, how long have you been playing drums with Starving? I’ve heard your name mentioned a lot through the years, so how have you been involved in the past?
Shane: I’ve been playing with them for about ten weeks. And yeah, since the beginning, I do probably 90% of the video work behind the band, and a lot of the projects I work on through my video production company, Starving gives me access to the music they write and record.
Ricky: We always talk about Shane, and Micah Carli, who we record with, and Micah Sedmak, who has done our design since the beginning, as being the three behind the curtain members of the band through the years. So it was a really easy fit when Shane started doing percussion at some shows.
KD: A few of the tracks on A Memory will be familiar to your audience from past projects. Why did you choose to revisit these songs here?
Scott: Because we love playing them so much! So, Ricky, back in the dark ages, that’s what I call the time before me and Lacey, had all these songs, and over time, we would have just a random setlist that Ricky would come up with, and I would listen to how it was recorded in the dark ages, and I don’t like to play verbatim what someone else made, so I would try to put my own spin on it. And overtime, as I became more of a fixture in the group and Ricky started trusting me more with his art, it kind of became something else. And after Lacey started playing, we started working together to make these old songs our own.
Ricky: This is the band now, and we all kind of know what to do in songs to make them sound like Starving in the Belly of the Whale. It was really easy, the more we played these songs, we just fell into them. And since, as of about two months ago, none of the songs off the first few albums are available anywhere on the internet, we wanted to make sure they were available to people when we play them at shows.
KD: We’ve already touched on this a little, but I wondered if Ricky composes most of the arrangements, as principal songwriter, or if you guys approach it together as a band?
Scott: So Ricky tends to write the guts, or the backbone of the song, the rough draft of the lyrics, the basic structure, and he will come to Lacey and me, and I’ll stab away at all the words he wrote and think about the rhythm structure and try to make all the syllables fit where they need to fit. All the syllables, it’s just a fun puzzle, because Ricky likes to get really wordy. There was this one song, he was so adamant about using the word “dayspring” instead of “dawn” and the thing about that spot in that song is that it really just needed one syllable, but he liked the word dayspring.
Lacey: I don’t really know any of the words because there’s so many of them. I only know them as a song. I can sing them, somehow, but I don’t know them.
Scott: I can’t remember any of the lyrics until the song is playing. But back to your question, yeah, so if there are any dead spots, where something doesn’t exist, like in Ghost Story, Ricky did one of those things where he had how he wanted it to end with the chords, and he made weird noises with his mouth that weren’t necessarily words. Ricky and I would sit up here for way too long, way too late into the evening just kind of writing that out and making it words.
Ricky: We definitely spent the most time on lyrical content on this album compared to any of the other albums.
KD: Which is interesting, because so many of the songs here have been repurposed.
Ricky: Some of the songs, like Pilgrims, we changed the words quite a bit, as well as the structure.
Scott: And as we kind of play with the songs, Lacey will come up with the melody, and I’ll come up with, kind of, the space in between. And oddly enough, I’ll write the cello lines in the studio, because I’ll be so focused on other things, I forget to take care of myself. It’s a pretty interesting experience, because the cool thing about Ricky and Lacey and the relationship they have with me, is they’re very honest and they don’t hold back, and it’s always from a direction of respect. Lacey will scrunch up her face and cock her head to the side and say “no I don’t like that one” and it’s fine because it just means I need to work on it a little more, and I probably do the same.
Ricky: I think it’s good to have that accountability and trust with people when you have the same common vision. It’s not personal; it’s what’s best for the song.
Scott: We all work together to make sure the idea is sound. That’s kind of the process, where we all come together, and we’re all from very different backgrounds, and we respect the hell out of each other, and we make it work.
A Memory: Preserved and A Memory: Forgotten is a concept album in two distinct parts, slated to drop on May 4, 2019 at Blind Bob’s, located at 430 E Fifth St, Dayton Oh. Special guests Moira and Brother Hill and the Healers will also be playing. Doors are $5 and open at 9 pm. The pre-order campaign for the new album will be running until April 29. Order yours at