Some bands run away from being classified as pop music with the same fear and desperation usually reserved for an episode of "The Walking Dead." The Brooklyn-based band Bear Hands, however, has no problem being called pop music. According to them, the problem lies in people’s limited definition of pop music, not the actual genre itself.
Then again, attempting to define Bear Hands’ brand of music – a dash of rock, a dash of pop, a dash of a few other genres for good measure – in one simple word or classification is a fool’s errand. It’s working though. After touring as openers for bands like MGMT and Passion Pit, Bear Hands has started to nicely break out on its own, with the help of catchy singles like the recent "Giants."
Now they don’t have to open for anybody. Now, Bear Hands is a headliner, rocking the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage on Friday, July 4 at 10 p.m. Before the big gig at the Big Gig, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with guitarist Ted Feldman about the band’s origins, the state of punk music and why genres mean nothing.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did you guys come together as a band?
Ted Feldman: Well, I went to school with our singer Dylan (Rau), and he knew the other two guys, Val (Loper) and TJ (Orscher), from playing shows in punk bands in the Connecticut area. He sort of connected us one summer in Brooklyn, kind of just a casual thing but it went pretty well because we just kept doing it.
OMC: What were some of your early inspirations for the band when you started off?
TF: Well, Dylan had like two songs that he wanted to try and play, and they were kind of folky and poppy. We sort of followed that lead, but no one really mentioned any bands before we got together. It just kind of happened naturally.
OMC: On your Summerfest bio, it talks about contrasting personalities coming together. Is that referring to the four of you guys?
TF: Well, I think it might be talking about me and Dylan, but yeah, I’d say the four of us are pretty distinct in a lot of ways. We’re actual individuals. What we all share is kind of a punk childhood and some sort of admiration for pop music, but otherwise, I don’t know how this happened.
OMC: As guys who grew up on punk music, how do you feel about the state of punk in modern music?
TF: Oh, it’s nonexistent. I mean, stylistically, some people are drawing on old punk era sound, but the ethos is pretty dead.
OMC: Why do you think punk music died off?
TF: Well, I think there was this anarchistic punk sense or disruptive sense, and it never did anything big. That’s probably what happened. Capitalism reigns supreme, and I think people got pretty complacent.
OMC: It’s interesting because nowadays, there seems to be so much to be outraged about – the economy, jobs, the polarized state of society – you’d think this would be a time when punk music would be flourishing, but oddly enough, it’s not.
TF: I just feel like the idea – and this is pretty depressing – that a song can change the world has depressed in value. I feel like people don’t stand behind that idea as much. You have a ton of music being made and people are trying to affect change, but it doesn’t feel like people really believe that they’ll make the world change with their music.
OMC: In the same bio, you talk about pop music, about how it’s not really a paradigm shift for you guys in terms of genre, but a matter of quality getting better. Can you elaborate on that?
TF: I think that’s just talking about our evolution as a band, that we haven’t like reset our sights at any point. We write songs, and every time we try to do something different, but not in an explicit, genre-changing way. These are the elements we’re interested in, and it’s time to change and improve and hone our skills, but without having to do a 180.
OMC: You reference pop music a lot, which has a bad connotation among music snobs and the like. Why do you think that is?
TF: Well, I think some people just have the wrong definition. For me, pop music is a pretty broad term. So I think it’s not like the radio format / Billboard top charts, that’s not like pop music. I would put a lot of metal into pop music, anything that’s kind of popular that’s in the rock/pop genre. I think there’s an art to it; it’s not necessarily the kind of pop music that’s like Katy Perry and bubble gum.
OMC: Do you think the music industry will eventually do away with genre types? Because there’s so much overlap, and defining a band by a certain style – I mean, alternative seems to mean anything nowadays.
TF: Yeah, I think the number of subgenres that have been named and created that kind of doesn’t mean anything. But people need a way to talk about music, and I understand why the terms exist. But it can be misleading and things can change. Alternative used to mean a very different thing than it does now, and indie music – from 1993 to now – is a totally different definition. I don’t think they’re going to go away, but I just don’t think they mean a lot.
OMC: Your new album "Distraction" came out this year, and you talked about working on your sound. Was there something in particular that you really wanted to improve upon on this album from your last album, "Burning Bush Supper Club"?
TF: Yeah, I think we were trying to make cohesive, more classical pop songs. We spent a lot of time honing lyrics. The first time around, it was a little more abstract. I think we were just trying to focus.
OMC: Do you think you were able to pull that off?
TF: I hope we always keep changing, but I think it turned out pretty good.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.