When Chris Beland picks up the phone to do an interview for this bio, a friend is having a baby in the living room of his Arroyo Grande home as a chorus of roosters crow in the background. It’s an apt thing to happen to Beland — not only because his life has been anything but traditional, but also because his forty-plus years on this Earth have been replete with beginnings and endings, a constant cycle of rebirth.
A musician in the style of troubadours like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Andrew Bird, Beland first fell in love with music at age five when his grandmother played him a Willie Nelson record. “I remember the needle hitting the record and hearing that scratch, sitting next to the speaker, mesmerized. It was magic,” he recalls. After his grandfather bought him a guitar when he was six, the Santa Maria native careened through the genres; the first song he wrote was a rap for his school’s D.A.R.E. program, and then he moved on to playing drums in a junior high band, and, finally, guitar in a hardcore band in high school.
Beland’s life took a turn, however, when he got his girlfriend pregnant at age 15 and got married. The two dabbled in drugs and, after they broke up, Beland was homeless for a time — before he met a woman in front of 7-11, where he was playing guitar, who offered to get him help at a rehab in San Diego. After being forced to throw away all his grunge CDs, he entered rehab at age 17, where he fell in love with religious music.
Beland only began writing music in earnest when he was 20 — after a stint as a single father to his son and his ex-wife’s other children — when he met his second wife. The two moved to Oregon, where he wrote his first album, Outer Space, in 2005. Replete with love songs for his wife and tracks about his son, Jude Hezekiah, and friends he’d lost, Song for Kim, the album was a self-released effort that he created using just his guitar and GarageBand. “Some of the songs on this first record were describing my struggle, my identity of being a dad, and not wanting to be my dad,” he says, sharing a fraught relationship with his father that would only become more complicated as the years wore on.
His next record, The Weather Man, dropped in 2010. At the time, Beland was going to school to be a nurse and working as a dialysis technician, while finally coming to terms with the fact that music was truly what he wanted to do. “This dream was growing in my heart to do music — and there was a struggle I had accepting that,” he says. Right after he finished recording the record, he learned a key fact about his background: The man he believed to be his father was not, in fact, blood. As it turned out, his real father was a guitar player named John Beland — a surname Chris adopted after meeting the man. The Elder Beland attended the release party for The Weather Man, and the two decided to make music together at long last.
After raising more than $11,000 on Kickstarter, the newly reunited father and son released Danger of Love in 2012. “I started questioning what I believe spiritually at that point,” Beland says. “I had been told something my whole entire life and I just believed it. So I was just kind of setting everything on fire — clearing the table.” His belief in God waned and he started to smoke weed again. “My wife says it’s our almost-divorce album,” he adds.
Resilient in their love, however, the couple worked things out, deciding to move back to California, where Beland’s life changed, once more, in a drastic way. After playing a festival back in Oregon, he ran into an old dialysis patient of his who needed a new kidney. He decided right then and there to give her his. But first, he would record a barn-burner of a live album, 2015’s Live in Tumalo. That record was recorded two days before his surgery with a cadre of friends at an Oregon barn. When he woke up after the kidney extraction, he was flooded with music.
His next album, 2018’s Eclipse, marks Beland’s return to spirituality; he penned the collection of songs after his sister gave him an old 1800s hymnal. In particular, there was a song about being raised by wolves that he related to deeply: “I always felt like I had been raised by wolves in a way,” he says. “I had to figure out how to be a human.”
When the pandemic hit, Beland became even more introspective — especially since musicians were no longer able to tour or play shows. “I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to play music again,” Beland says, explaining that it was then he decided to undertake the most ambitious record of his career thus far, What I Believe, out . “If this was the last thing you were going to hear from me, it was going to be really good,” he adds.
The result is a collection of songs that touch on the world today, as well as Beland’s evolution as a man. The album features Ryan Allshouse on drums, Phil Siems and Kirk Mac Lane on bass, Adam Nash playing electric guitar and steel guitar, Mark Pruett and Aaron Abitia on keys. There’s “Family Tree,” a swinging track about how despite how polarized our country is at the moment, we’re all still the same. “We’re all part of this together,” Beland says. “Even if you don’t like the person on the other side of the aisle, you’re still connected.” Then there’s “Stare at the Walls,” a honeyed, crooning song about, well, just that, and “World,” a blazing rocker about unity. Album-opener “What Is Georgia?”, an almost Springsteenian folly jammer, brings in current events, weaving the story of the historic election in that state.
“It felt like I had something to speak into this generation,” Beland says of the upcoming album as another generation comes into the world in his living room. “I want to bring people together instead of divide.”