Bear In Heaven: These Cats Don’t Hibernate

Gray Hurlburt :: Friday, April 9th, 2010 5:00 pm

Just what is a bear in heaven? Could it be the ghost of a long-dead beast, enjoying a fat salmon way up in the clouds? Or perhaps it’s some furry guy, who happens to wear only a leather cap and is in passionate pitches and throes with Anderson Cooper? Well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that in this case the bear is a band—a group of four hailing from Georgia and Alabama—with an expansive, racing sound that evades being catalogued by a simple tag. That is, at least, unless one were to employ panoply of bands and genres, from Jane’s Addiction to krautrock, to triangulate on a conveyance for Beast Rest Forth Mouth, their second proper iteration as a group.

Bear in Heaven unveiled their new album, BRFM, midway through October at Union Pool in Brooklyn. Inside, a row of chrome balloons read out their moniker from the backdrop. When the crowd merged forward, drummer Joe Stickney, guitarists Adam Wills and Sadek Bazaraa, and singer Jon Philpot veered into their crepuscular single “Lovesick Teenagers,” an angst driven saga of outcast lovers escaping to nowhere down the freeway. Philpot’s airy voice and the cloud-breaking synth-textures pulled audience through the album with an enthralling, cinematic kind of velocity, until the veritable climax of the last track on the album, “Casual Goodbye.”

The night following their release party, the members of Bear in Heaven joined me for burgers and beer at a bar on the corner of McCarren Park. Once settled, we delved into the subject of their history and the craftwork of their music.

You have worked together as Bear in Heaven for six years now, is that about right?

Adam Wills: Together, yeah, pretty much.

Jon Philpot: I started writing songs for the first EP, Tunes Nextdoor to Songs, in, like, 98’. Those songs came out in 2003.

Then you, the four of you, came together and created two full-length records. There was Red Bloom of the Boom in 2007, and now you have Beast Rest Forth Mouth. This latest is a significantly different animal from the last. Is this a fair judgment?

AW: It is. I think it’s the first wholly collaborative album. The last one freaked us out, because it was half John, half us. What wound up being the critics’ favorite points of it, of which we were really afraid of, was that it wouldn’t be cohesive at all. But a lot of people thought it was super-cohesive.

Sadek Bazaraa: The last one [Red Bloom of the Boom].

AW: Which was really weird. I mean the review that comes to mind is Pitchfork. There was a line in the Pitchfork review, which was like, “A really cohesive album in an age when album-as-art form is slowly dying.” Which is so weird, because it was seriously the most haphazard record, because there are songs on there that are two years old, there are songs on there that were recorded in a bedroom, or were recorded in a studio—well, it was just all over the place. It’s a snap shot of a time, a long time.

But when I think of “cohesive,” I think about what I want to do with the next album, which is just to set aside two months and all we do is write and record. Because, what we’ve always done, all the songs that are on the new album have existed for a couple of years, and have just been rewritten, rewritten and then played out live.

What I picked up on in Beast Rest Forth Mouth is that these songs are quite modular. The chorus from “Lovesick Teenagers” reappears towards the end of the last song “Casual Goodbye.”

Joe Stickney: It started off in the last song. That was one of the first songs of the record, right? That was the one song we started writing when we finished up the last record. And that one changed over and over again.

JP: And that last part, when it came to fruition, it was kind of just me and Joe. We were just talking about, and not as a joke, but just doing something where we rehash something and…kind of make a theme of it, is that right?

JS: Yeah.

JP: And now “Lovesick Teenagers” seems like the beginning, but it’s not. We also did another thing that was similar with “Fake Out” and “Wholehearted Mess.” The drums, those are rather soft, and that’s another thing. It’s kind of like taking these pieces and building a bridge in between them all.

All of the ten songs never dip below three minutes in length. Why create longer songs, rather than songs with a quick two-minute punch?

AW: I don’t think that there’s ever been any discussion around that. I think that’s just what happens. I like loosing myself in music, if you can do it in a three-minute song, then great, if it takes seven minutes to do it, that’s fine.

2 Responses to “Bear In Heaven: These Cats Don’t Hibernate”
  1. [...] on the other side of the country, the audience included some of the dudes from the lovely band Bear in Heaven, a dude in a bunny suit, Pitchfork founder Ryan Schrieber, and MTV ex-pat John Norris, who now [...]

    Posted by: Death and Taxes » Northside Festival, Day One: Of Wavves And Wonderment June 25th, 2010 at 4:32 pm
  2. [...] this remix album, Bear in Heaven met with me at Alligator Lounge in Brooklyn for a drink. Since our last interview, they appear more confident in their musical careers and full of gusto for what lies ahead for the [...]

    Posted by: Death and Taxes » Checking In On Bear In Heaven: Beast Rest Forth Mouth Remixed July 21st, 2010 at 3:07 pm