“We don’t write songs in a day, or even a week,” says Bear In Heaven bassist/guitarist Adam Wills. “Most of them take months.”
Well that explains a couple things, starting with the simple fact that Bear In Heaven’s breakthrough moments—Grizzly Bear’s blog-baiting endorsement of “Lovesick Teenagers,” the “Best New Music” stamp Pitchfork plastered across the Brooklyn band’s second album, Beast Rest Forth Mouth—didn’t happen overnight. Believe it or not, frontman Jon Philpot founded Bear In Heaven way back in 2003, using the sweeping soundscapes of his previous project (Presocratics) as a starting point for the Tunes Nextdoor to Songs EP.
Four years and several lineup changes later, Bear In Heaven the band (rounded out by Wills, drummer Joe Stickney and multi-instrumentalist Sadek Bazaraa) emerged with their first fully-realized release, Red Bloom of the Boom. A celebration of wide open spaces and not-quite-sounding-like-anyone-in-particular, it’s the closest Bear In Heaven have come to cutting a prog rock album, although Philpot insists, “We’re bigger fans of Krautrock. We’re suckers for that continual pulse and things that just hum. You should be able to feel music, not just hear it.”
That’s certainly the case on Beast Rest Forth Mouth cuts like “You Do You” and “Wholehearted Mess”—songs that reach for the stars with Cluster-like synth lines, Faustian effects, and steely motorik beats. And then there are the sneaky moments that emphasize what a widescreen affair Beast is, including the massive, life-affirming choruses of “Beast In Peace”; the queasy build and thundercloud climax of “Dust Cloud”; and the frayed electronics and death march drums of “Deafening Love.” That fan favorite went through 23 mix changes before settling into its final Apocalypse Now-groove.
“We know when a song is done,” explains Philpot, “but that doesn’t stop us from tweaking it over time. We’re actually still messing with our current ones!”
The group’s restlessness is understandable when you consider their background, from Philpot and Wills’ film/TV work—something that’s taught them to tell stories through songs—to such side projects and one-off performances as the scale-climbing metal of Dark Vibe and the pure minimalism of Rhys Chatham’s Guitar Trio. As Wills puts it, “We’ve all been really lucky. To have spent time discussing music on a peer level with the likes of Tony Conrad and Rhys Chatham, it’s been an education.”
One bit of bad luck that’s followed Bear In Heaven since the start has been the amicable loss of members, right down to Bazaraa’s recent split. While the band’s left the door open for him, they’ve soldiered on as a synth-driven trio, including a triumphant string of shows overseas.
“As the lineup changes, we have to find new ways to keep the sound full,” explains Stickney. “Our solution has been more synths and samplers. We haven’t been kicking people out or anything, though. It’s been a drag every time one of our friends has decided to stop playing because we miss them and it’s a pain in the ass to learn how to play the music differently all over again.”
“Trust me, there are lots of panic attacks,” adds Wills. “We aren’t 21—we have lives, wives, apartments to pay for…It’s crazy at this point to drop everything and just run with the band, but there’s no other option. We are living this, and we’re gonna see it through.”