Bear in Heaven is living the dream in 2010. The band started as a solo project of John Philpot and over seven years grew into a four piece and released Best Rest Forth Mouth in 2009. Pitchfork gave Bear in Heaven their best new music award for Best Rest Forth Mouth and ever since then it’s been a wild ride for these four guys. We spoke to guitarist and bassist Adam Wills about the Pitchfork effect and growing into a band.
HEAVE: I know Bear in Heaven started as a solo project and slowly evolved into a full-fledged band. How does the writing process change from doing it solo to now as a group?
Adam Wills: It was a slow, organic process. John had put out this solo EP in 2003 and we were all playing music together at the time, just hanging out jamming and trying to write songs. And then we were like why don’t we just play John’s songs? So we did that for about a year and then slowly over six years that we’ve been a band it’s become more and more where it’s completely collaborative. It’s been cool because if you’ve heard the first EP it’s completely different than what we are now. It’s almost like we’re a different band under the same name.
HEAVE: I read in one of your interviews that one of John’s influences is Prince? Do you share that in common, or do you have any other influences?
AW: Absolutely. I mean John’s not like “Hm, what would Prince do?” (laughs).
HEAVE: Prince would do a lot of crazy stuff.
AW: Yeah. Prince is amazing, his entire back catalogue of music is super good. We make weirder music but we’re trying to start to make music that people can dance to. Which after you’ve played a couple hundred shows the shows people dance at are so much more fun than the ones with people just staring.
HEAVE: Is it more fun because there’s more energy?
AW: Yeah there’s more energy. So we’re trying to figure that out, how to keep things weird and danceable at the same time.
HEAVE: I’ve heard Brooklyn is a very hard scene to become a musician in because of all the bands that are there. Do you feel like that’s true, that’s a little more cut throat than say the Midwest or West coast?
AW: I don’t think we think about it like that. I think if you think music or any art form is a competition that you’re doing it wrong maybe. Living in Brooklyn is nice because there’s lots of bands come from there and not only that but as a musician there’s five shows a night you can go to. For music it’s one of the best places to live in the world. I go to shows like, almost on a research level. I’m like to see what other bands are doing. It’s really nice to live there.
HEAVE: A lot of people that I’ve read in your past interviews talk about the “Pitchfork effect,” where they name you as the best new bands and then everyone’s calling you and talking to you. Are there benefits and drawbacks from having that happen?
AW: Absolutely, there are benefits and drawbacks. I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. We feel very fortunate that Pitchfork put their stamp of approval on it because they obviously have the loudest voice in independent music critiques. As a band you want approval. I mean you don’t want it but you need it to reach the next level. We’re at a point now where we have to prove ourselves, like it’s an added level of pressure. Not really pressure, we have to work a lot harder now because the drawbacks are people saying “Oh this is bullshit, it’s just some new hype band.” But we’ve been a band for almost seven years. It’s not like we just wrote a record and got lucky, but we’ve been working really, really, really hard. Working past the whole Pitchfork best band thing is, I don’t know (laughs). We’re just trying to do it, we’re trying to get people thinking this is just a good band instead of this is just a new thing that happened in six months.
HEAVE: You played Pitchfork yesterday, then you played Lincoln Hall yesterday night. Performance wise, do you feel like you have to play out more at a festival than at a smaller venue like Lincoln Hall?
AW: No I felt more comfortable at Lincoln Hall yesterday just because we’ve got a lot of things going on as a band, there’s a lot of technology and things to set up. We’re a band that really benefits from a proper sound check. We’ve got a light show that we couldn’t use yesterday [at Pitchfork] and that adds so much to our live show too. But yesterday it was fun to play to a few thousand people, it was amazing. Last night at Lincoln Hall, at least for me personally, was more enjoyable.
HEAVE: It’s a beautiful venue too.
AW: It’s gorgeous! And the people that run it are the nicest. We’ve played at Schubas a couple of times and they own Lincoln Hall as well and going venue to venue to venue, you really appreciate venues that have a good staff and aren’t jaded into thinking that it’s just another show. If I worked at a venue and did seven shows a week I’d be like who cares. They are the nicest people, the sound there’s amazing, the food’s really good. I liked it.