Four years ago I met Ian Bevis at a charity event. He was raising money and I was throwing out my best moves in a dance circle. When I shake hands with him again he seems to recognize me and I shudder to think it’s because of my trademark Round-the-World move that I’ve been perfecting since high school. Since that night Bear Mountain has gone from relatively obscure musical peanut to being deemed Canada’s indie prodigies. It’s surreal. Perhaps it’s because I met him outside the context of his music that I’m having a hard time believing the person in front of me is human. Together with the rest of the band we are sitting on leather couches in the foyer of their record label and I scarcely believe what I’m experiencing. I am overcome with the feeling that I am interviewing a future version of him, an apparition. Like the entire band is the physical manifestation of the letter your tenth grade teacher asked you to write to yourself five years down the line; like I’m getting a privileged glimpse into Bear Mountain’s certain future. I have an eerie feeling that when I’m done they will disappear as puffs of smoke into triangular windows, and I will wonder if it was all just a dream; for me and for them.
Bear Mountain does not have a collective idea of how they met. When I asked after the band’s history I received muddled responses and even some alarm as to when Ian and Greg truly met Kenji. What did come through loud and clear was what Kenji remembered of meeting Kyle. “I fell in love with his guitar,” he says, and everyone turns their heads in mock amusement. “Seriously. He had this really awesome double sided guitar.”
Kyle nods as he remembers. “I built this little attachment to my guitar,” he says. “It’s like a kaossilator, like a chord synth unit. I hacked into the electronics and rewired it to a Guitar Hero neck. Then I built this thing, and got a metal plate, and all this; rewired it. I made it into a mini guitar that I could attached to my real guitar so I could drop down and do all these weird sound effects with it. Like a double neck guitar.” He raises his hands up and gives me a few spectacular seconds of air guitar. The piece itself, which I will boldly name The Kylossilator, is not on tour with them at the moment, but we can expect a 2.0 version to come out soon.
The band is experiencing what you might perceive to be a sling shot ride into the limelight. If you were to place their rise to fame on a life graph it would look like a vertical line; as proven by transitioning from the underground Vancouver scene to playing Governor’s Ball inside of a year. Talking with them you hardly notice that notoriety has touched them at all. They still sound amazed that this is happening to them, and talk humbly about the changes in their trajectory. “It’s been less than a year,” says Ian. “Playing NXNE last year, no one knew who we were. It was a fluke we got to play at all.”
So what was the spark? Bear Mountain’s story is of a contemporary design, one seen more and more nowadays. No one can deny that the industry experienced massive shifts with the invention of GarageBand and its equivalents. Expectations of both the artist and the label have undergone complete overhauls culminating in a discernable power shift; relationships are changing and what each needs the other for is no longer universal.
“It used to be that people thought that [labels] were the gatekeepers to the industry. A lot of bands still try to go through that gate; traditional ways, traditional press, traditional labels…getting a manager. So many bands are struggling by playing that game,” says Greg. “I think we saw a different opportunity, a different road. We produced, recorded, and released. We did everything ourselves. We put it on the internet and let people decide if it was any good or not, as opposed to whatever industry was there. The music speaks for itself, it got itself to that platform, without any help from industry.” He thinks for a moment then says plainly, “whatever tools you need to make your music, use them.”
“We uploaded some tracks onto Soundcloud, and it was nuts,” says Ian. “Some of them got 40 000 hits the first day. The record got a lot of blog love too.” And then the inevitable happened. “An A & R guy at a major label heard Congo on an underground radio station and started a relationship with us, flew us down to LA, hooked us up with managers, booked shows for us.” And just like that, Bear Mountain went from taxiing down the runway to liftoff.
I asked them how much bootleg stuff was still out there. “There’s a version of Two Step out there on the internet, like an original version. Some of the original Garage Band stuff too,” says Ian. “I bet if you looked on our MySpace there’s still some tracks on there, or LastFM. There’s song called River of the Goods, a song called A Song For the Kids. I was just making this stuff and posting it the same day.”
I asked them if it was true for everyone, if their path was available to the entire Canadian music landscape, that if you have the will you can find a way. Was Garage Band opening up the industry to kids in the prairies and Peggy’s Cove? “It’s free software,” says Kyle. “It’s giving everyone the chance to create. If you have a laptop, you’re good to go.”
“The recording thing is a little more tricky,” says Kenji. “What people don’t acquire is the skill to capture sound and then properly process that sound; cause that’s a totally different technique. People [using Garage Band] get packages of already made nice sounds. The art of capturing sound takes a lot more time and resources.”
Greg agrees. “A full studio is completely different. You see this more though, people make do with what they have, get a buzz from it, then get some money together, then go make a record in the studio and when they start playing with the sound engineering they do it in a really creative way because they’ve had to do it creatively the hole time because they had no resources. Daft Punk started that way.”
What do you think of Daft Punk’s new album? “Amazing,” says Ian, “I don’t even think we’re going to know how amazing it will be for a couple more years; see what comes from it.”
“You know they’re not touring with it,” I say.
“I didn’t expect them to,” he replies.
“Here’s the thing,” says Kenji. “They’re going to remix it.”
We are in the midst of NXNE 2013, and the scope of the festival doesn’t escape me. All week I’ve been wondering about the differences between concrete festivals, namely those in cities, and field festivals, which are self explanatory. Bear Mountain is one of few bands that played both NXNE and SXSW, and Sasquatch, and Governor’s Ball. I asked them if they had a preference between one or the other.
“The Gorge is amazing,” says Ian, and when asked about it compared to concrete festivals, “Sasquatch; there’s nowhere else to go when you’re there. There’s no going into a bar down the street for one, or over to a friend’s house for a nap. You’re just locked in this beautiful space and you’re all together.”
“Governor’s ball was muddy,” says Kyle. “But when you’re locked on a field and nobody cares, that kicks ass.”
“When were in Austin we saw so many bands, though,” Ian says.
Greg, “Every band was there. It was mayhem.”
“It was crazy to walk down the street; a parking lot, show going on; a little café, show going on. Show. Show. Rooftop show.” Said Kenji. “Across the street, rooftop show. It was pretty wild, actually.”
Many are torn, myself included. Each space brings with it its own set of good and bad, reasons to sit back in amazement, and hurdles you’d rather give to the next guy. When you’re out in the city with a wristband there’s this sense that anything could happen. It’s the expanse. Lots of stuff happens in field festivals, but the number will always be limited to what can be contained within the fairgrounds. In the city, avenues are infinite. With so many choices there is no paradigm with which to make any. Your night will be determined by the unpredictability of a red light. You’ll stumble into a bar with decent line and ask the bartender what you’re in store for. “You’re in luck,” she’ll say, and Bear Mountain will be the band powering up on stage. That band you discovered because of a random event, the perfection of which begs no explanation. They are chance, the belief that all things have purpose, if not for a road map.
Ian sings just as we want him to, calling to us from an early nineties iridescent dreamscape. Greg’s drums are hands inviting you onto the dance floor; Kyle your feeling of adventure, and Kenji is the assurance that everything is going to work out the way it’s supposed to. This is the epitome of what youth feels like; visions through triangles hanging in the sky. Bear Mountain’s music pulls us places that we had forgotten could exist, places where deep relaxation and invigoration live in harmony. To places where every day is spent atop fresh cut grass, luscious yellow light moving in beams through the branches above; where every night culminates in a slow motion dance party with your best friends, heat from your skin vibrating against the cool summer breeze.