As strictly as a fan of music, it is always exciting to watch a young, new band perform and grow. Then there are moments when you see a band for the first time in an intimate venue and immediately know they will hit stardom soon. That was the case when I saw Vancouver’s Bear Mountain in late October, as part of a fantastic twin-bill with The Belle Game (in case you missed it, here’s the conversation with The Belle Game).
Bear Mountain was created by Ian Bevis (bass, guitar, synthesizer) and Kyle Statham (guitar, keyboards), who met while studying at the University of Victoria. After playing together in a few bands, the two went their separate ways before reconnecting in Vancouver. At that time, the two were in bands who had just dissolved, creating an opportunity for the two to form Bear Mountain. Shortly thereafter, they produced a few demos, and Ian’s twin brother, Greg, would join the two on drums. Kenji Rodriguez was added to provide lighting and visual direction, adding another component to their already intense live shows. In 2012, the band posted music on SoundCloud and Bandcamp, which caught the attention of listeners. Earlier this year, they re-issued their music on their first album, XO, and they have been touring since February in support of the album.
Bear Mountain has been labeled an electro-dance band, although such a label is unfitting for this diverse band. Their music is a combination of pop, electronic, and dance, plus other influences, including Middle Eastern sounds, most notably “Congo”. In other words, think Joy Division/New Order and Depeche Mode in their early days with a touch of Vampire Weekend.
In our hour-long conversation following their performance at The Black Sheep Inn, the band openly discussed how it all started, what’s it like to be guys on the road, the accidental influence of Don Henley, and the strain of playing night after night after night.
BEN: When you, Ian and Kyle, first met in university, what kind of music did you start off making?
KYLE: I was playing in a band with my buddy, and we were called Danger with a Dagger Now. It was just the two of us – guitar and drums. We were looking for a bassist, and my friend was like, “Hey, how about Ian? He can slay some bass.” That’s how we hooked up and that’s how we started playing together.
IAN: We use to practice in their garage. It was cold, shitty. I think I was 20 and they were 23. They were playing this music, just pure raw energy. I had played bass before, so when I first joined them I just got a pick and cranked my amp ad let it wail. I found this whole style of playing bass that built on the pure energy of that band.
KYLE: It was all about the energy, and we were throwing everything that we had. We would play live, and we would play so hard that we would work people into a frenzy and the college kids would be thrashing and moshing. It was literally just raw energy.
IAN: So that was our first band, and we formed a bond from there. Kyle and I just had this idea that we were going to play music no matter.
B: So you were a garage rock band when you first started out?
KYLE: Yeah, pretty much. That was kind of what we were doing then. It ended, though, and then we took different paths.
B: So what happened after the band broke up?
IAN: I graduated from university. Kyle was working then. I had two bands going at that time as well, but they broke up around the same time. It was super depressing when they both bands broke up because I had always been in bands and it was like two relationships ending at the same time. So I moved back to Vancouver and had a job, but I hated everything. I then came to the realization that why do I need to be in bands that always break up and decided to make music by myself. I had this idea that I don’t need other people to make music, and I just started fucking around on the laptop and putting together beats.
KYLE: I finished school and I just continued to play music as well. The direction I went was kind of a continuation of what I started off, but it wasn’t quite like garage rock. It was a little bit more like tech-punk, progressive. I played in that band for a while. It was doing really good, but then the same thing it came to an end. I ended up moving to Vancouver to pursue audio engineering. I took some courses there and that’s when I ended up reuniting with Ian. I was just checking out what he was doing, and I was fucking stoked.
B: Greg and Kenji, what were you doing in the meantime?
GREG: I was in Toronto in school, just doing a traditional music degree. I wasn’t playing drums that much anymore. I had played drums for a long time. I was in a bunch of bands, and I just got really sick of it. I started hating to play drums, so i said, “Fuck it”, and I got into cartoons and doing that kind of shit – doing music for cartoons. That’s kind of all I did for two years. And then Ian was doing this record with Kyle, and he sent me the recordings they had. They had someone else doing the drums on it, and I was like, “Dude, let me do it”. (everyone laughing).
IAN: I think we played him the drums, and he was like, honestly, “I’ll get them done in two weeks.” Sure enough, two weeks later, he sent us something.
GREG: I was fortunate to be at a school that had a wicked studio, and I was an assistant engineer there. The head engineer became a really good buddy, and he still is and we still work on a lot of stuff. He had this cabin, actually this studio somewhere north of Toronto. It was a studio with no gear, so basically an empty barn with a control room and a live room. He, another buddy, and I went up there for a few days, and we brought all our own gear and mikes. I set up in the live room and we recorded the drums for the Bear Mountain record that way. I then just edited them in my apartment in Toronto and sent them back to Vancouver, and those are the drums for the record.
KENJI: You guys are young! I was probably getting married. (laughter)
KYLE: Tell your marriage story.
IAN: Yeah, tell how you proposed to your wife.
KENJI: Actually, probably when the guys were doing all that, I was moving in to Vancouver dressed in a white mariachi suit, proposing to my wife.
IAN: You would have to see the pictures to believe it. It’s unbelievable.
KYLE: No lie.
KENJI: It was really funny. CTV and other TV stations were there. It was something really special. Anyway, I was into psychedelic, electronic music, and I was probably finishing my studies. It took me six years to finish my degree in design. I was also doing a lot of graphic design for flyers and at the same time I was getting involved in doing production and decoration for sets, like psychedelic sets for the very underground scene.
B: So how did you connect with the other three?
KENJI: We got together maybe a year, year-and-a-half ago.
IAN: I worked with Kenji’s wife in Vancouver, and he came to one of our shows. And then I think Kenji came to the office one day and we talked.
KENJI: No, we actually first met at a bar, and we kind of knew each other.
IAN: Right, I think I thought you were Jo’s brother at first. (laughing). I did because they are both really nice, and I thought he was Jo’s brother for the longest time. So I worked for his wife.
KENJI: Yeah, so Jo, my wife, was the link between me and Ian, and suddenly I was immersed in this project.
IAN: I was in another band in Vancouver at the time called Top Less Gay Love Teckno Party, and we wanted Kenji to do visuals and lights for that band. So we met up with someone else and had a beer. We were talking about Kenji doing something for that and figuring out a plan, and I didn’t know if it was kind of working or not. Then the other person went to the bathroom or something, and Kenji said, “I want to do something with Bear Mountain, too.” I was like, “Awesome.” We talked about it quickly, and then we met again a week later. That’s when Kenji told me, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to be a full member of the band, and everything has to be equal.” My reaction was, “Holy cow! You don’t write music or anything.”
KYLE: But at the same time, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with being in a band.
IAN: Absolutely. But honestly in my head, I was like, “There’s no way. This doesn’t make any sense.” But then he made us a music video for “Two Step”, and he turned it around in a week. He made a video. He got his friends to film it and he did all of the effects. We were all like, “Holy shit!” And then after that, I was like, “You are in”. He then told us what we could do, and he explained to us all the things he had done.
KENJI: Yeah. Probably years before I had met them, I was working for a company called Tangible Interaction. They do tons of art, lighting, and tracking installations. We did stuff for Arcade Fire, Purity Ring, and other Canadian bands. But what got me really interested in Bear Mountain more than the music was Kyle’s geeky guitar. (laughing)
KYLE: Ok, let me explain the geeky guitar. I like to use a Kaossilator to generate different sounds and rises and falls. But what I created was something that gave me the ability to play my Kaossilator and my guitar at the same time, kind of draw between the two. So I took the Kaossilator and I checked out some blogs online to figure out the electronics and how it all worked. I took a Guitar Hero guitar, and I chopped off the neck and re-wired the buttons to control the Kaossilator. Then I designed a little aluminum-like frame and basically built a little guitar that can attach on to my guitar. It’s like a double-neck guitar – I can play my guitar and then I could drop down and play the Kaossilator guitar. I control the functions with the buttons and do some weird synth sounds and shit.
IAN: It’s like this weird, mutant sound.
KYLE: I still have it, the geeky, mutant guitar. I haven’t been rocking it lately, but Kenji keeps telling me that I should continue to develop it.
IAN: I’m sure people who dig electronics and music would just freak out if they saw it. They would like, “What the fuck is that?”
B: Given your diverse backgrounds, how did you decide to produce the music you’re doing now?
GREG: Well, nothing was pre-conceived, I don’t think.
KYLE: I think it all just came together naturally. I remember seeing Ian and reconnecting with him, and I was really fascinated by what he was doing. I was creating a project studio at the time, and I was like, “Let’s get you down there”. I remember tracking him, even some of his acoustic stuff. We were hanging out one day, and he was like, “Why don’t you try playing on this?” Of course, I was like “Heck ya! I’m definitely down with this”. It was such a natural step to everything and how it came together. We both had the energy and interest to do something.
IAN: Even now, people say we’re an electro-dance band or dance band. Yeah, o.k., we’ve been influenced by electro-dance music right now, but who is to say we won’t write a hip-hop record a few years from now or whatever? I say that because I don’t want to be limited. As soon as someone pigeon-holes you, it limits you and you’re not anything at the end of the day. We have all these diverse backgrounds, and that’s why this band works. We don’t say we’re going to make this kind of music or focus on that genre. We’re just going to make music, try different things, and throw things against the wall and see what sticks.
B: I’m not sure it’s fair to call you an EDM band. There are definitely synth sounds, but your album isn’t entirely beat driven. I think of The Naked and Famous and Mother Mother when listening to your stuff.
GREG: Mother Mother is such a great example. They’ve evolved so much over time. They started off with this weird, acoustic, vocal, harmonic band like The Dirty Projectors and evolved into this top-40 band with hit-after-hit. They’ve had this really cool progression. However, it’s always been about the songs for them. Hopefully, that is what pokes its head with this band – it’s the songs. No matter how we dress them up and whether it’s reggae, hip hop, funk, R&B, it’s always a melody, chords, and lyrics.
IAN: If you start thinking in genres, you just end up really limiting yourself to what you can do.
B: When you look back over this lengthy tour of nearly 9 months and when you first started, how much has changed as individuals and as a band?
IAN: I think as a band, the whole thing has just blended. We were like this weird colours of wax that got thrown into a pot and set on high, and all of sudden we amalgamated into this cohesive entity.
KYLE: I think we’ve learned how to handle each other in any situation, whether in extremely close quarters or apart and how to handle the different emotions and creative statuses. All these experiences we’ve gone through over the past year have allowed us to learn how to work together and how to deal with new situations. I think we’ve grown so much in that way because it’s been such an exploration from the beginning.
KENJI: It’s been kind of a like a science experiment in a lot of ways.
KYLE: It’s like the exploding volcano! (laughter)
GREG: You’re in such close quarters and high-pressured situations where you not only have to make art but you have to get along. There have been times where there has been a lot of high friction, but we’ve constantly risen to the challenge and I think we’re better people for it.
IAN: It definitely does test you as a human, and you learn a lot about yourself, where you realize that maybe you don’t want to be like that.
B: So how do you guys keep a positive outlook each day and keep smiling?
IAN, KYLE, GREG: Kenji! (laughter)
IAN: And Dawson (our sound guy).
KYLE: And the people we’ve met along the way.
GREG: Honestly, we need a fifth member, whether it’s a tour manager or organizer.
IAN: There are fifth members of the band, whether they are club managers or concert organizers. Plus, we’ve also been really lucky to have a lot of people who have supported us. We have a lot of good friends who really believe in us and support us, and we just really hang on to those people.
B: Any plans on writing another album and have you started writing an album?
IAN: Absolutely we plan on writing another album, and we’re constantly writing. I would say all day, every day, that’s on our collective minds – writing new songs.
KYLE: Definitely. Ian is able to do a lot of stuff on the laptop, and it’s always an ongoing process whether it’s developing an idea on your own or if Ian is playing around on the laptop. We’ll then take the ideas to our soundchecks and test them out there. You have to remember that you can never choose to be creative, so wherever you are and that creative moment hits you, you have to go with it.
KENJI: It’s really cool to see their ideas come together and everything clicks. So watching from the outside in terms of writing the music, those moments where they just nail a song are just magic.
IAN: Kenji is a really good barometer of testing our music because he doesn’t play or write music but he knows what works. He’ll be like, “That’s it” or “That’s not quite it.” He’s purely going off feeling or gut, but he really knows when we nail it.
KYLE: It’s really nice to have someone with you all the time to test ideas, and Kenji has helped us grow and develop in his own way.
KENJI: There’s a great example, actually. The other day, we were in New York. Greg and Kyle were exploring tons of ways to fix this song they were working on, but I didn’t like it. It was ok but it wasn’t working.
KYLE: We needed a fucking bridge. We were working on a number of bridges for a while.
KENJI: It was just before we left New York, and suddenly they figured out what needed to be done. It was, “Boom”, just magic.
IAN: We ripped off Don Henley! (laughter)
GREG: It was after the Eagles, actually between the two versions of The Eagles in the ’80s, and we were listening to it. And then later, I was sitting in the van and humming this song, and I was like, “What is that fucking song?” I was just humming the pre-chorus and it was fucking so good. There is a second part of the song that is even better, and we couldn’t stop listening to it.
KYLE: Put it on.
IAN: I’m just going to get emotional here. (laughter)
GREG: There’s a technical reason why we stole it, too. We knew it was the clincher when we were packing up in New York after our second gig, and Kyle was like, “The pre-chorus is better than the chorus”, and I was like, “Yes! You get it!”
B: So this was a real bonding moment for the band?
EVERYONE (singing): “I’ve been to get down… To the heart of the matter… Because the flesh will get weak… And the ashes will scatter…So I’m thinkin’ about forgiveness… Forgiveness!… Even if, even if, you don’t love me anymore!”
B: You’ve toured through a lot of the US and some of Canada. How are the two audiences different?
GREG: We actually haven’t toured too much of Canada. Not yet anyway.
KYLE, IAN: USA! USA!
GREG: Oh yeah. We just played in Connecticut last week, and there were a bunch of frat boys there. After we finished, they were chanting, “USA! USA!”
KYLE: There were like 2000 people ready to storm the stage.
IAN: Dawson has the best video of it, and we’ll have to show it some time.
B: You said you were writing some new songs and that you didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a band. For the next album, what’s the direction?
IAN: We’re just trying to write good pop songs. We know what we want to write and what we want to do.
KYLE: A lot of it is by feeling. We’re doing what feels good, what feels natural, and whatever creative idea we have. We’re going with the flow, with that feeling I guess. Our path hasn’t been planned or carved out.
IAN: We’re living off nerves and feelings, man. (laughter)
B: How have your live shows progressed?
KENJI: Oh my god. We are so much better than we first got together almost a year ago. I was freaking out that day.
IAN: There comes a point where you play your set enough times that it comes second nature unlike when we first started out and we would just rehearse a couple of times.
KYLE: That’s kind of the best, where now we can just feed off the crowd and get into in a different way. We don’t have to think about what we’re doing, but we can just have fun.
GREG: It’s kind of a blessing and a curse because you can get too comfortable with what you are playing but you can get complacent.
B: How do you get motivated each night?
IAN, GREG, AND KYLE: Kenji! (laughter)
KENJI: We do this salute – kind of like a moment – before the show. Kind of like a pre-show ritual.
IAN: It’s a time where we just put everything aside and just focus on putting on the best show that we can. It doesn’t matter it is in front of a bunch of people or six people, we’re going to put on the best possible show.
GREG: One thing about our show, at least to me, is that it is the same. We don’t really change up what we do. We kind of do the same thing, whether it’s a huge festival or a bar. We just do our thing.
KENJI: I don’t know if you want to see the salute right now.
IAN: Well it’s a pre-show ritual.
B: Let’s make a deal. The next time I’m at one of your shows, I get to see the salute.
B: When the tour is finished, what’s the one thing you guys are most looking forward to when you get home?
IAN: Writing a new record.
KYLE: There are a couple of things. Band-related, it’s obvious to get creative again. Personally, we all have girlfriends or wives, and it’s been six weeks. It will be nice to see our loved ones again.
KENJI: I definitely want to see my wife again.
IAN: Having the space and time to write. It’s something that I really want to do when we get back.
GREG: It’s really hard to be productive on the road. You’re always moving, and there’s not much time to sit and think.
IAN: Well, I can be a bit productive because I can work on the laptop while in the van. However, I can’t hear that well since there’s a lot of noise. There’s also a lot of distractions. We’ll stop somewhere or there will be something happening or a show to play. There’s no substitute for being in a studio and having the time to write.
GREG: Being healthy consistently is another challenge. You don’t sleep much, and you don’t eat well. On this tour, we’ve eaten a lot of fast food. Actually, we have a Taco Bell problem.
KENJI: We had $500 in Taco Bell gift cards, so that was the restaurant of choice.
KYLE: And they’re all gone. And tacos are like 29 cents, so that’s a lot of tacos. Besides food, I’m looking forward to sleep and a bed!
GREG: I’m looking forward to practicing. I genuinely love practising the drums. It’s so meditative. Get a coffee in the morning, work on something new, and just play the drums as well as the piano in the morning.
KENJI: On the visual sides, I want to develop the show more. I want to have the music and the lighting components be in better sync. It’s basically getting all the drums to trigger the lights. I’m not sure how much time that will take, but it’s where we should take the show.
B: You did a cover of Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. Who’s idea was it?
IAN: We knew we wanted to do a Tears for Fears song, so it was our idea.
KYLE: Greg, it was your idea though to do that song.
GREG: It was suggested we do a Tears for Fears song, and I was like, “We have to do this song.” And everyone agreed. I think we all came to that conclusion, but I was just the first one to say it.
B: What’s on your rider?
IAN: Our rider is super basic.
KYLE: It’s alcohol driven!
KENJI: Coconut water. Chips and salsa. Veggies. Humus.
KYLE: Two-six of Jameson’s.
GREG: We don’t have red wine on the rider, and there was a bottle here tonight and it was the best.
IAN: Yeah, that’s something to add. Other things… towels obviously.
GREG: And water, just water. It’s amazing how you go to places and there’s no water.
B: Any pet peeves when on the road?
IAN: We’re all pretty chill about things. We all share one hotel room every night, so you get to know each other pretty well. You set some rules, but honestly, at the end of the day, who gives a shit?
KLYE: Yeah, we’ve gotten know to each other and just learn to live with one another.
GREG: And what’s great is that when you have a stressful day, you can tell the band members and it’s all good afterwards. When you’re having a shitty day, it’s important to let it out, and everyone is like, “Hey, it’s all good.” That really helps.
B: Who’s your favourite Muppet or Sesame Street character?
GREG: There are so many to choose from. The Swedish chef was pretty awesome. Also those two old critics were really funny. Animal is pretty awesome. The Muppets are so fucking rad.
KENJI: There are Gonzo and Beeker.
KYLE: There’s like a threshold that because they’re Muppets they have to pass it. So, they’re so animated and over the top.
IAN: There’s levels of humour with the Muppets that adults and kids can enjoy.
KENJI: Sesame Street, I liked Oscar and Elmo. I thought they were pretty cool.
GREG: Honestly, I wasn’t stoked about Sesame Street. I was kind of freaked out about it.
KYLE: Big Bird got to you, eh? (laughter)
GREG: I just didn’t get into it. Every time he came on, I just had to get through it.
KYLE: You were a Polka Dot Door kind of guy. (laughter)
GREG: Actually, Mr. Dressup. That show was awesome.
B: Each of you get to bring an album to bring on the road with the band, what is it?
KENJI: We talked about this before, and for me it would be Bob Marley.
IAN: That’s the logical choice. Great one.
KYLE: I don’t know if people know Chuck Ragan, but I would bring his “Covering Ground”. That’s a big one for me. Yeah, one day I’ll meet you.
GREG: This is tough because you’ll want to bring something uplifting and something you find interesting every time. I think I would probably bring, and it might be a little pretentious, “Kind of Blue” because you can listen to it a million times and it’s always and it’s got fucking great groove.
IAN: I’m just looking through my iPhone to see what I’ve been listening to. The top-25 songs most played, and the first song on it is… “Wait Up for You” by The Belle Game! (laughter) I fucking love that song. And there’s a bunch of Bon Iver, Bonobo, Miike Snow.
KYLE: We went through a bit Miike Snow phase early on. We played Haim hard, too.
B: One venue you would like to play?
GREG: Filimore in San Francisco would be fucking cool. One of my favourite albums was recorded live there.
IAN: I still want to sellout The Commodore in Vancouver. For me, that’s a bucket list.
KENJI: Madison Square Garden.
KYLE: Hells yeah!
IAN: That’s like our goal, our ultimate goal.
B: Speaking of bucket lists, what’s on your personal bucket lists?
GREG: I know this may sound pretentious, but I would love to organize a symphony one day. I have to do that in my lifetime. It would have to be something dark and atmospheric, maybe operatic.
KYLE: That’s not pretentious at all.
B: That’s actually really cool.
IAN: I probably would want to do some sort of epic thing, maybe a trip, with my friends. Maybe build something. Four years ago, three of my friends and I rode a four-person tandem bike from Victoria to Halifax. That was like a fucking peak, life moment, and I would like to do something like that.
KYLE: I want to go play in Japan and tour around.
KENJI: This may sound boring, but I want to have a kid. I want to have a family. I’m feeling like I’m getting to that point.
B: Do you have any guilty pleasures?
GREG: I smoke a lot of weed. (laughter)
IAN: The first two concerts that I ever went to were Britney Spears. I fucking love Britney Spears.
KYLE: I admit to a lot of things, so you’re just asking me a pleasures question. So, I don’t feel guilty about anything. I mean, why should you be guilty about something you like?
KENJI: I don’t know. I think I have to pass because I don’t want to be offensive.
B: There’s a movie being made about you, the band. Who would play you?
GREG: Jake Gyllenhaal! He’s so cool. He’s good looking and awesome.
IAN: Jeff Bridges.
KYLE: Courtney Love. (laughter)
KENJI: Who is the guy from Peter Pan?
B: Dustin Hoffman?
KYLE: Robin Williams?
KENJI: No…ummm… Rufi…
EVERYONE: Rufio!!!! (laughter) Rufio! Rufio! (laughter)
GREG: That was such a good answer. Everyone wanted to be Rufio at the end of the day. He was the man back in the day.
IAN: He was the archetype of cool.
B: When it’s all said and done, what would your epitaph say?
GREG: That he just loved and gave love back. I just want to be remember for enjoying life.
KYLE: I’m going to pass. I don’t want to think about that.
KENJI: I don’t know. I think I would have my shape on my tombstone, this shape that I carry with me wherever I go.
IAN: I know that this sounds a bit cheesy, but the Nike slogan, “Just do it”, I would have that on my epitaph. It’s so simple, but it’s so effective. It’s probably the most successful marketing campaign of all-time. You know, I want to be remembered for doing it.
B: If you weren’t in the band, what would you be doing?
KYLE: In all likelihood, I would be entomologist, studying insects in South America. I studied it. I have a B.Sc. in entomology, and I was really close to doing it. But then I discovered it would be a lot of work.
KENJI: I probably be doing what I am doing now. I would be doing graphic design. I’m a workaholic.
IAN: There’s a part of that just wants to be a tugboat captain. You know, grow a beard and smoke a pipe, living on the west coast. I would be pretty down with that.
GREG: I use to want to be a high school music teacher until I realized it’s the worst fucking job in the world. For some people, it’s great, but for me it wasn’t. I was a counsellor for a little while, so yeah I would probably be a guidance counsellor in high school or something.
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