Bear Ghost was going on tour with Okilly Dokilly ! Many of us within the music community here in Phoenix saw that bon voyage as the potential end of an era: the boys were all grown up. Then, the unthinkable happened. The band returned from tour, there was a dramatic departure, and Bear Ghost took some time to think about their options.
Touring is rough. Work relationships are rough. Marriages are rough. Bands are kind of like a little microcosm of all three. Any group of humans in close proximity over prolonged time is an interesting dynamic to negotiate, but add the stresses of tour life and the creative process on top of that?! It is no surprise that touring can be a deal breaker for bands that are ready to make that leap. But the Bear Ghost break was deeper, intensely personal, and flamboyantly public.
Without going into great amounts of depth (after all, that is not what this article is about) the Bear Ghost split fueled a local debate on the nature of our woke culture, and how much good or potential bad, that can do. It brought to mind huge debates in our society, such as the resignation of Senator Al Franken, and looking back on it now, in light of the current United States of Disaster – I am forced to wonder, as do many, if perhaps it has gone too far. The departure was certainly on a smaller scale, but it forced our local community into an interesting conversation.
One of the comments I made very early on in the Bear Ghost Fangroup on Facebook, as the band was deliberating between adding members or regrouping was, “Let’s not forget that Ryan Abel can sing.” I am not going to claim the win here, but… it tickles me to think perhaps it helped nudge his confidence.
At last, the end of the summer arrived, and Last Exit Live was pulsing with anticipation at the highly attended show announcing the band’s return. I was there, with my magical cellphone to capture all I could (video is great, but monitors were close. Consider them bootlegs.) After the show, Andrew, Ryan and Mattx took some time to discuss the Road to their Return.
An Interview with Bear Ghost
Ryan B. Clark (Ghost Writer) : Matt (MattX has managed Bear Ghost for 4 years) I am curious as to some of the obstacles the band faced in coming back after tour.
MattX : We are not so much “back” as we are full steam ahead. The fan base that Bear Ghost‘s music has collected over the years is engaged and they want more.
They are much larger. We had fans at every show and some that drove from 8-10 hours away just to see us. It was really awe inspiring. The departure made us refocus and retool, but as anyone that was at the show can see, we are rolling along. The vinyl single for “Haunt, The Cartoon Heart” has dropped and the band has already wrapped up recording another single which should be out in the next month or so.
Ghost Writer : I understand Andrew may have to be candid, but the white elephant, and larger issue here, is that this summer was intensely personal for you. Did the degree of this scrutiny scare you on fame, for your safety, or that of your family? We live in a very interesting age.
Andrew : No. It didn’t scare me of fame. Of course it’s incredibly invasive and humiliating when someone uses their own untrue narrative to harm you on as large a scale as they can manage, and I do sometimes worry for my safety with how extremist our society has become, but I have to fall back on the fact that I know what’s real and I know what’s true. I won’t be deterred from living my life by bruised egos or malicious intent.
Ghost Writer : Thank the Maker! So Apache Lake Music Festival 10 is right around the corner, and we all have our fingers crossed.
We should have definite word from ALMF Staff this week.
Andrew : We are super excited for the upcoming album we’re writing. There’s a lot of factors in play and production might take a while to iron out, but we’re hoping for an early 2020 release. That’s our main focus right now.
Ghost Writer : Ryan, Bear Ghost is a complicated band with a whole lot of moving parts. What were some of the specific obstacles in re thinking song arrangements and the Bear Ghost Show?
Ryan : Even without all of the drama unfolding, trying to shape Bear Ghost after Thomas left has been all at once terrifying and freeing. The most work intensive part has been trying to figure out how to tackle the live show. There’s no way to deny that he was a giant on stage, and I’m used to having half the set free to spin around, play more complicated riffs, goof off, catch my breath, or whatever I need to do.
We’ve had to go back and completely re-learn nearly a decade of muscle memory.
With me taking all of the lead vocal parts, and Andrew taking the harmonies I used to sing, we needed at least another live member of the band. There needed to be someone to fill out the harmonies that Andrew used to sing, as well as play some of the more intricate guitar parts I used to play and could no longer do while singing.
Then there’s the matter of taking all of our vocal ranges into consideration, and re-harmonizing nearly every song so everyone is singing comfortably in their range.
In the past, we intentionally wrote guitar parts as extensions of one another, and because of that, our music can be obnoxious to decipher by ear, so I had to learn those parts to teach to our live guitarist, and I think he nailed it. We only had like 3 parts of the live show where keys were played, and we could have done those parts ourselves, but we decided that not only would we like to rely less on samples in the future (GREAT MOVE, in this writer’s opinion), but we no longer wanted to sacrifice one guitar to have keys. So our live keys player is underutilized at the moment, but his role will greatly expand in the upcoming months.
It’s all to be expected, but it was grueling. And while taxing, trying to finish writing a full Bear Ghost album at the same time has given us a chance to revisit our sound from an analytical standpoint and give us a fresh perspective on the intricacies of what make our songs work. We’ve been able to dissect and understand where it’s a good idea to show more restraint, and where to let our creative excesses flourish.
Ghost Writer : Well, the Last Exit Live show was off-the-rails fantastic! What is the next phase for Bear Ghost?
Ryan : In regards to writing the next phase of Bear Ghost, this was horrifying at first. Luckily, I came back from the tour having written the outlines of about 7 songs. Having lost an integral writing partner of nearly a decade, we decided adding another writing member would be impossible for the new record.
We want it to sound as much like a Bear Ghost record as possible, and while we hear bands much more talented and eclectic in the local scene, we don’t hear anyone doing the precise mixture of whatever the fuck we’re doing!
So, we needed to rethink the way we were writing together, and this has probably been the most surprising part for me. It’s just so much less toxic, more collaborative now than it has ever been, and so much more fun. No one is afraid their suggestions are going to be torn down, and we try everything we can think of, even if we’ve already landed a take of something we like. I’m so excited for people to hear what we’ve got moving forward, and the new single is almost wrapped so hopefully people will enjoy the direction we’re taking. It’s much more Necro, Steven Bradley, 12 Years, and Starkiller but we’ll have a ton of surprises, I think.
Bear Ghost also just took part in the 80/20 Records music showcase in Los Angeles. I took a moment to ask Michael Zimmerlich about the experience. “We just finished hosting a showcase in Los Angeles featuring artists on 80/20 Records as well as special guests to present what amazing talent Arizona has to offer. It was an incredible success and greatly appreciative of all the artists that performed, the venue, and our partners for making this happen.”
Ghost Writer : I do not think that I stand alone, proclaiming, Boys…. We are so glad you are back, and we cannot wait for more!