Bear Hands recently stopped by Chicago, opening a sold-out show for Scotland's We Were Promised Jetpacks. The Brooklyn band melds maracas, African samples, and percussion with early Ted Leo and Tapes 'n Tapes rhythms that reinforces the indie rock revival in that concrete New York jungle. RFC was thrilled to speak with bassist and percussionist, Val Loper, on the SXSW experience, what's bubbling in Brooklyn, and festival atmospheres.
Why not start with that you just finished your debut album?
We technically finished it. We're getting a few songs remixed right now. So that's the hold up for us getting it mastered and released. But yeah the tracking is done. 11 new songs. The single "What a Drag" and the b-side from that are going to be on the record. So those two new ones and nine others. But nothing from the [Golden] EP.
What differences have come up between recording the debut and the EP?
A lot. We started using more keyboards, drum machines, just newer layers and alternative instrumentation. We used to be primarily a four-piece rock band out of necessity because that's all the instruments we had. But we've been trying to challenge ourselves musically using different rhythms and trying to make new sounds.
Did that need or desire to challenge yourselves come from the scene around you or from yourselves?
I would say both. We're definitely influenced by our friends and we go to shows all the time in New York. And you definitely see stuff you find to be cool or interesting. I would say we're equally influenced by friends and new bands around us. Old classic bands as well. It's a big mix but seeing something right in front of your face, brand new for the first time has a sort of special charm to it.
What are some of the things you've seen go on in concerts lately that have just blown your mind?
I think there's a new kind of underground dance movement going on in Brooklyn right now. It's really exciting. I feel like there's a similar thing to what had happened in the late 80s, early 90s in house music with lots of punk rock and kids who got into dance music and techno. It was an amalgamate of these different influences that came together to create a new form of electronic music. I think the same thing is happening in Brooklyn right now. There's these punk kids who grew up playing live instruments and started tinkering with keyboards and pedals as opposed to growing up solely on dance music. They're just influenced by different things. The finished product is maybe still dance music, but I feel it's got this whole new flare. There's a druggy-ness, an experimental aspect that I haven't heard before in dance music.
I'm surprised to hear that it was coming out of Brooklyn. You don't typically associate that sound with Brooklyn, or even New York.
It's gone through phases like with The Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and TV On The Radio seven or ten years ago. But I feel like there's been a new scene brewing since 2005 or 2006. We moved there around 2005. There's a lot of new blood in town using some of those influences as a reference point. There's been this bubbling up for a year or two. There wasn't a definitive Brooklyn scene, I don't think there is. But I feel like all of a sudden all these bands started to come up and everyone started to become friends-a whole new jam got on. That's when it started becoming exciting. We wanted all our friends and bands we were friends with to do well in Brooklyn. Everyone started to do really exciting things. You go to shows where "What will so & so do next?" It's more like camaraderie than competition. That's always healthy.
Going back to the new album, how is the process of releasing your debut album going to be different than your EP?
Hopefully a much bigger push. We're going to be touring much heavier on it. We're going to be putting more publicity into it, to make a real go at it. I feel like a lot of the stuff we've been doing with the EP and the single has been building up momentum and laying the groundwork tour-wise. This is our mission statement. It's putting our money where our mouth is and saying, "It's been a couple years coming and here's what we have." We're going to be doing absolutely as much with it as we possibly can.
We're currently on tour for the next three months, then we're going to SXSW. We're coming back and to do a tour with Passion Pit where we'll come through Chicago again. Right after that, we're going to do some headlining shows in L.A., hang out at Coachella, and then go back on tour again with As Tall As Lions. Then get home in mid-May and try to release the record. After we don't have any specific tour plans, but what's in the works for the next year would be to go to Europe once or twice and tour the US as many times as possible. We plan on being on the road forever.
You were in Europe before with the Leeds Festival, right? How is the festival atmosphere over there compared to here?
We toured the UK four times last year and did a couple mainland shows. We did all those festivals. They're crazy, fucking nuts, so wild. Biggest party I've been to. I mean so many kids, so many drugs, just out of hand. I feel like people don't party over here like they do over there. They're just like a different breed, they just keep going and going and going. It'll be like 45° out and there's kids with no shirts on, just painting themselves and screaming for days on end. "Do you ever sleep, you know?"
So you're playing SXSW…
Yeah we're doing six shows down there. We're playing a Vice party, Cantora Records, Baeble Music, a show at Beauty Bar for Spaceland (the club in L.A. which we'll be playing) which should be a lot of fun. A bunch of random ones, some of which are free, some with badges. It's fun to play free shows and have lots of random people come in to watch your band. That's the fun of SXSW-you never know who you're going to see. You can make a list of bands you'd want to go see, and you'll maybe see one of them because you'll just get dragged something else.
You said that you moved to New York about five years ago. What brought the entire band together? How did the sound develop?
TJ (the drummer) and I have played in a hardcore band for 6-7 years before this. Dylan, TJ and I had all grown up in Connecticut. Dylan, the singer, played in another hardcore band. He used to come see our old band back in the day, and we started to play together. So we knew him through that before we got disconnected. After our old band broke up, TJ and I moved to New York while Dylan was at school in Connecticut with Ted, our guitar player, at Wesleyan University. After they graduated, they moved down to New York, where Ted's originally from. TJ and I were already living there. TJ and Dylan met randomly, we reconnected. So he grabbed the three of us and said, "I got this guitar player, Ted, from school. He can play too. We got together, and that's it.
We wrote two songs our first night as a band and recorded them the next day. We thought, "This sounds kind've interesting." We had no idea. Dylan had just two demos. It naturally happened and there was absolutely no talk about it. I played guitar in me and TJ's old band, and so this is my first time playing bass with him. Since I knew how he played, we just happened to do this whole rhythmic thing. Ted naturally plays spacey stuff. Dylan naturally writes the skeleton of the sounds, and he just plays his basic stuff. The songs just happened from there. There's not a lot of thought or planning, or direction that goes on. Talking earlier about the influences, I feel like we don't directly try to have a certain vibe. It just naturally what goes in your ears 24/7.
Speaking of playing bass, how'd you get into it?
I have always played guitar since I was 12. It was out of necessity and curiosity as well. My two favorite bass players are Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr. and Paul Simonon from The Clash. I started playing bass because I really liked the bass parts on the records. I used to sit in my basement, learning songs on guitar so after a while I wanted to learn their music on bass. So I went out and bought a cheap bass and found out I liked it as well. I ended up playing guitar and bass, guitar and bass, alternating on every band I was in. So now I'm playing bass in this band.
To wrap up, what's your favorite place for music in general in New York? A record store or venue…
I would say Glasslands in Williamsburg. I work right around the corner and live about a ten minute walk away. It's a bar where they do art openings, but they predominately do shows. It's the hub in Williamsburg where our friends end up inevitably on a Friday or Saturday night. Somebody you know is always playing. It's a group of really smart and cool people. Always a really welcoming environment, always really nice people there. So it's a place you can feel at home, get good drinks and listen to good music. It's pretty much perfect.