Take, for instance, their latest record, I Love You, It’s Cool. Its ridiculous title was taken in jest from a break-up letter written by the band’s former fourth member, Sadek Bazarra. They also marketed the album with an ingenious tactic that involved stretching their entire record into an ambient drone track lasting a duration of three months, and their music video for “The Reflection Of You”, directed by the force behind Wonder Showzen, John Lee of the PFFR art collective, can be unbearably nauseating with its incessant zooms. To sum it up: reactions to Bear In Heaven’s sense of humor are polarized, and Stickney jokes that one person’s comment on last.fm (“Fuck your ultra slowed-down hipster stream”) summarizes many of the reactions to their experiments.
It seems easy for some to write off Bear In Heaven’s conceptually-minded artistic approach as pretentious and disingenuous, but I’d argue that would be misunderstanding the band members themselves. Their approach to music is hard to understand because they take themselves very seriously when they need to, but swing to the other extreme when they don’t. In the interviews below, we’re talking ideas; some good, some bad, many completely unrelated to the original intentions. But the point remains that you will either like Bear In Heaven’s ideas, or you won’t. If only it mattered, though.
Interview by Vivian Hua
Last time I saw you guys [in 2010], you said you were already starting to work on this record. Were you working on this same for that long?
Adam: No… we said that?
I think you guys said you were brainstorming about new stuff already.
Adam: We might have said that, but we weren’t.
Jon: I don’t know, there was stuff that was happening. There was definitely bubbles. “Noon Moon” was started by then, for sure. What else? Something else was started by then.
Did the record change trajectory during its creation at all?
Jon: Oh yeah. Hell yeah. It’s totally changed; I mean, everything changed. But that’s the way it goes; you’re just kind of… when you’re making a record or you’re writing a record, you’re just kind of grabbing everything and hopefully getting it.
How long did you work on it? How did it change through the years?Joe: It was like six months of writing and then –
Jon: Well, five months of writing because I took a month off.
Adam: About nine months from its inception to its final master point.
Joe: Um… how did it change while we were writing it?
Adam: It got better.
Jon: Yeah, it did get better. It was sort of the quickest record we’ve ever written; that was the fastest we’ve ever done it. Cause there’s always been like a lag, you know? Write a song, don’t write a song. Write a song, don’t write a song. We kind of went into it with the little loops and stuff like that and just started building, layering, building all these things and then pulling away and trying to keep all the cool stuff. Hopefully we kept all of the cool stuff.
INTERVIEW CONTINUED BELOW
Bear In Heaven – “Sinful Nature” Music Video directed by Yoonha Park
In all the layers of the music, are there layers that are… pretty funny things disguised?
Adam: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Jon: Yeah, the whispers in “Reflection Of You” are pretty ridiculous. Haha. What else.
Adam: The source material for that “eeee” in “Idle Heart” is pretty whacky.
What is it?
Jon: Can’t tell you.
Jon: Nope. Sorry.
Jon: Secrets. Industry secrets.
Adam: Yeah, there’s all kinds of stuff; field recordings and little layers, mistakes.
Jon: Yeah, it’s kinda hard to think about it all right now. There’s a lot of stuff that did make me laugh at some point.
Adam: You can isolate anything and it would be like, “Wow, you put that on a record?” Like every element. It’s pretty magnificent… layering is forgiving.
Jon: It works.
Adam: Solo guitar or bass or vocal, it’s like, “Woo! Ugh! Bring back everything else!” Nice shoes.
Jon: Thanks buddy.
I want to talk a little bit about the lyrics and how they are mega romantic. Yet musically, the record is not one that others would describe as traditionally romantic at all. Are there sounds in the music you create that aligns directly with the emotions that are being presented?
Jon: Yeah… the music is, I think it’s kind of romantic in this sort of lush way, you know?
Jon: Yeah, it is a little bit, I think. It’s full-on, it’s like the record is always touching you, holding onto you and not letting you breathe.
Sounds like an intense friend.
Jon: Yeah, but there is a lot of love on the record. Sometimes not necessarily like a classic love love song, and it’s not really, you know, classic love song would be a heartbreak song. These are more dealing with love and situations that happen in love, I guess.
Is there some humor in parts of it? In the song “Cold Light”, I think you sing, “Im watching you” over and over again,
Jon: It’s true.
Does that stem from humor?
Jon: That actually was a slight plan that I had and it’s kind of working out to the way I wanted it to work out. The plan was I just wanted to sing that to people over and over again and just watch everyone over and over again while we’re playing, and it’s really fun to be singing while everyone’s watching us, we’re watching them, and it’s really fun; it’s good to flip it on them. It makes the uh, makes the show fun.
The Electronic Divide
Have you noticed that there is a divide between electronic music and indie electronic?
Jon: I think they’re actually coming together.
It’s true, but why do you think it exists?
Jon: There’s kind of… not like a bias; I don’t know what it is. It’s almost a necessary segregation, weirdly enough. I kind of think that there needs to be that, because there’s a difference between the big, big electronic shit and the indie electronic shit. And there’s almost another underbelly – it’s not minimal techno, but sort of electronic stuff that I feel like – they don’t want to be associated with indie rock. And then there’s bands like us that are sort of cross-over, and I think they kind of look at us like we’re chumps. Like, we’re more like cavemen.
I was thinking you guys are in a pretty cool position to be one of those bridging acts, which is awesome.
Jon: Yeah, I would love it if we could kind of do that. We listen to kind of equal amounts of rock and country and electronic stuff – equal parts of all that. I probably definitely listen to more techno than I should.
Adam: I listen to a lot of stuff like Ragtime.
Jon: I got shut down by the sound guy because we were listening to techno when we set up.
Listening Station: ‘The Reflection Of You” Remixes
Visual Live Show
You guys have a light show with your current live show. Do you have any future long-term ambitions for a video component to your show?
Adam: Woo. I’d like for somebody to do it for us. Maybe the long-term plan is to stop doing it ourselves.
Programming lights does seem like a bitch.
Adam: Yeah, it’s… it’s intense.
Jon: It’s a lot of work to build them.
Adam: Long-term plan is to keep expanding upon whether… keep adding elements. Joe was just saying he wants to build more stuff when we get…
Like installation stuff?
Joe: Like panels. What we’ve got right now are just single LED strips; we’ve got these strobes and hot lights for the floor, too, but the most recent additions are these single LED strips. We know ways already of expanding on what we’ve done. Everybody… these guys and our friend Jonny got the programming sorted out for this stuff. We can start manufacturing sort of more complex pieces and know how to program them. It will be much easier of a process, hopefully.
Jon: Yeah, hopefully.
Adam: Knock on wood.
Would a complex piece be three-dimensional?
Jon: Could be.
Adam: Could be four-dimensional.
Oh my god, space-time sort of thing?
I feel like your videos are weirdly high-concept; do you guys ever think about working that kind of angle into a live show? Do you think, first of all, that that is possible without it being kitschy and weird?
Joe: Conceptual live show? I think it’s totally possible; we just haven’t had time to really put our energy into something like that at some point. I can see us doing something like that in the future, though, with every element being a piece of an overall whole. We kinda are going toward that now, but we’re coming at it from the side, because we’re kind of always running out of time.
Jon: Always. Running out of time.
Yeah, I read that in some interview. Why? You guys are just trying to do a lot in a short amount of time?
Adam: We’re just, you know, all of the components, minus money. That equals twice as long cause you have to do everything yourself.
Jon: We’re psyched cause we have some good people working with us, like Johnny and Will and our manager like, they help out as much as they can and do a lot of cool stuff, so, we’ve got good people behind us; we just end up having to do a lot. And I think we’re maybe aiming a little bit higher.
March 2010 Interview by Tim Vordtriede; Video by Koury Angelo & Vivian Hua; Editing by Vivian Hua
To say the crowd was “into the show” would have been a gross understatement. With songs like “Deafening Love” and “You Do You,” Bear In Heaven are downright anthemic. They really drive home their sonic concepts with the success of pop music, but without the kitschy annoyance of pop music. Their songs get drilled into your brain because you want them to. It’s like going to the dentist and begging for more! Remember Bill Murray in Little Shop Of Horrors?
Later, at dinner with the band, we bantered and bandied about and had a grand ol’ Southern time eating grits and fried fish. But then a calming silence came around the table when all three band members (Sadek Bazarra, the bassist, did not make SxSW) at the table agreed, “We want to make dance music.” I found that to be a strange and simple goal compared to the density and complexity of their sound. It was also funny to me because their music doesn’t sound like it wants to be all that dancey. It sounds like it wants to be HUGE, and the involuntary dancing is just icing on the cake. This may be what one might call a “great success!”
The next Bear In Heaven show we attended was at one in the morning on Friday/Saturday. We were beat and napping on the house speakers as guitarist Adam Wills greeted us mid sound-testing his shit. He looked like he just had his morning cup of coffee and was ready to take on the world. By this time, the fans were growing in number immensely. Throughout SxSW, I did not see another 1am show as energetic as Bear In Heaven’s. Drummer Joe Stickney hits hard and sure like an Alabama boy should, and the crowd was aware and ecstatic by the second opening cymbal crash that Bear In Heaven would be closing their set with (again, the anthemic) “You Do You.”
The trifecta I saw at SxSW showcased pure nonchalant musicianry. It’s as if they are so immersed in being purveyors of their own music and curators of quality music from the days of yore that they have no idea how talented they are. Lead singer Jon Philpot proclaimed that they all just played music in his Brooklyn apartment, while messing around. They just did it. This is a free-flowing and relaxed attitude, considering their powerful and entrancing sound.
Regardless of their work patterns, Bear In Heaven seem poised for a comfortable ride to electro-indie stardom. And I hope they’ll look back one day and say, “Remember when we had dinner with those Redefine Magazine people? They were… interesting.”
Interview conducted at the East Side Show Room in Austin, Texas.