“I noticed we’re doing pretty well on your charts,” says Jon Philpot, lead singer of Brooklyn psych-rock band Bear In Heaven, toward the end of our conversation. “Maybe you can give us a little internal bump on that? Maybe push that number a little higher on the sly, since we’re all buddies and stuff?”
I’m pretty sure Philpot is joking, but it can be hard to tell. This week Bear In Heaven released its newest full-length, the synth-heavy, space-disco monolith I Love You, It’s Cool, and the group recently embarked on a large U.S. tour, yet there’s still a mischievous quality to the band members that suggests they’re not taking any of this too seriously. In the months preceding the album’s release the band offered a stream of the record on its website, but instead of the typical Soundcloud, it was a 2,709-hour “slow stream” that turned the album into an ongoing ethereal mush. They even released a mockumentary chronicling the “making” of the stream. They also maintain one of the funniest musician Twitter accounts on the Internet. At the same time, the new album is dense, challenging art-pop with an aching, beating heart. To get to the bottom of these contradictions, I caught up with Philpot to discuss the new album, the band’s top tweet-dog and the soft-rock singer Philpot gets compared to the most.
I Love You, It’s Cool feels like more of a dance record than your previous work. Was that something you guys discussed going into the recording process?
That was definitely an objective. It’s not like, Rusko or anything, but we wanted to edge more in that direction with what we do. I think we got in that direction, but it’s not a full-on dance record. It was on purpose. I’m glad it was at least noticed. It would be crappy if we tried to make a dance record and no one noticed.
Have you noticed different responses from the crowd when you play the new songs live?
We just started yesterday with our first day on tour, and we played a handful of shows at SXSW, and there was kind of a difference in the audience participation. As our shows from the last record progressed, we sort of started angling songs more in that direction. There was definitely a lot of moving and swaying going on, and it was as if people were less hesitant about it. Now it’s more of an immediate reaction, in a way, which is good.
Bear In Heaven – Sinful Nature by Bear in Heaven
It’s been three years since the last record. What was the biggest challenge in making this one?
There was a little bit of a challenge trying to find money. That was thankfully figured out, because our label, Hometapes, sparked up with Dead Oceans, so that was a challenge. We were making a record on our own time for a while and not really knowing if we could actually afford recording it for real. And then the other challenge, really, was getting it from the studio to the live setting, and that’s been pretty crazy. But now that that’s over I’m really happy about that. I mean, the making of the record, in all honesty, was the best time of my life. It was like a long-term dream.
I love the title of the record. Where did it come from?
It’s very relevant to us. It’s sort of like a statement on the state of the world. It’s about this peace, where you can find love, you know? And the translation of it is whatever you want to make of it. The generation of it came from our ex-bandmate Sadek Bazarra. I don’t know if you know this, but he did the record cover. We’re really great buddies still. He didn’t, like, leave the band because he hated us or anything. He left the band because he couldn’t tour as much as he wanted to. But the album title came from him.
There was this one night where we were in the rehearsal room, getting drunk. And we were listening to the demos and getting excited. And then he wrote a little note, left for me and Joe. One of the notes said, “Dear Jon: I love you, it’s cool.” It was a good discovery. It was one of those days when you’re recording a record, and every fourth day is like a hard day, and you’re like “I can’t figure out what the hell this song is about and what it’s going to be.” And I saw this note, and I realized it was all fine.
You guys worked with David Wrench on this album, and it’s your first time working with an outside producer. What was that like?
It was the first time we had ever had anyone outside of ourselves. On the last record, we had friends help us record, but David really came up with great ideas. He helped us with the process of realizing this record in a way that was bigger than what we could do with demos or on our own. He’s got a lot of great musical ideas and a great knowledge of weird music, which is an essential element, to have someone that speaks the same language.
What weird stuff did he bring to the table?
I’ve never been into Julian Cope, and he brought Julian Cope into our world. We’d pretty much written the songs by the time we’d gotten to the studio, but it was a good thing to have. Cope made good music, and the way they made those records was different. It was different from the way that I would make a record.
Bear In Heaven – The Reflection of You by Bear in Heaven
With the “slow stream” did you intend to poke fun at the way records are promoted online?
I don’t know what it was. Some of our friends had these teasers on their website, clocks that said stuff like, “14 days until the record comes out!” with a clock ticking down. I mean, what the fuck are you doing? I guess you have to do something to announce your record. But musical content is its own thing, it’s kind of great. [The slow stream] is just a piece of art, for better or for worse. And it develops, like music for the soul, you know? It worked out in a lot of good ways. Every time I would turn it on, it was like an unexpected treat.
Your band has a very funny, underrated Twitter. Do you write the tweets?
That’s mostly Adam [Wills]. I guess you could called Adam a tweet-dog or a tweet-bird. He loooves to tweet. But we definitely are conscious of approaching Twitter with a sense of humor. I mean, that’s the best way to go about it, right? I guess it’s just the way we are as dudes. [Jon to Adam: “Dan from CMJ says our Twitter is underrated!” Jon to CMJ: “He says thanks.”]
You guys are right up there with the Tanlines Twitter. Really funny.
Funnier than Tanlines?! Adam says the Tanlines ones are pretty funny.
Your band has a pretty hard to define sound. I saw someone online compared you to Toto. What’s the oddest band you’ve ever been compared to?
I was going to say Pet Shop Boys. I think that’s a little weird, but I get it. Oh, REO Speedwagon, but that’s just because I do sing a lot like that guy. If we did an REO Speedwagon cover that’d be cool.