Meet Bear Hands. They’re from Brooklyn, by way of Connecticut, and have been described as a number of genres, including post-punk, experimental, and indie rock –and they just added “dancy” to this list tonight. They’ve been on tour all year, and while they claim that is too long to be out on the road, they still played a show so energized it might as well have been the first they’ve played in months. While they’ve had a strong fan base at their home base in Brooklyn for years now, they’re now starting to catch the ears of listeners all across North America and Europe, just in time for their new album (coming sometime near the end of the year).
We were able to catch up with the band after their set for an intimate conversation with vocalist/guitarist Dylan Rau and bassist Val Roper, with a surprise appearance of tourmates Passion Pit for a question as well.
IYS: So, you guys played at SXSW just a couple of weeks ago -- did you hear what Gibson Guitars’ blog said about you?
Dylan: [laughter] No…what did they say?
IYS: They said you were 1 of 5 bands not to miss along with Spoon, Sharon Jones, The XX, and Andrew WK. Not too bad! Can you tell me about that experience?
Dylan: It was pretty crazy. We played too many shows. Like six or seven shows or something. It was pretty exhausting, but it was fun to see all your friends. Everyone I know already plays down there, so that was pretty cool.
IYS: I know you guys played SXSW the past two years, was the experience different than previous years now that you’ve signed with Cantora Records? Were your shows bigger?
Dylan: Well, we just signed with them to put out a single, so it wasn’t like we put out a full record with them or anything. But yeah, these shows were way bigger, definitely. We played this one really good show at this place call Maggie Mays -- it was so loud and it was really huge, so yeah, this time was definitely better than last year. A lot better.
IYS: I’ve noticed your sound has changed a lot over the past few years. What has effected this change? Would you say it was intentional or evolutionary?
Dylan: Yeah, I think it was intentional. I don’t know, I listen to different music now than I did three years ago. We’ve been together for a while now, and I’ve been listening to a lot more dance music and hip-hop and stuff, so I think that makes our records sound less rock and more “dancy.”
IYS: Who are you listening to right now then?
Dylan: I like to listen to Fever Ray, Daft Punk, Lil Wayne and Bob Dylan.
[Members of Passion Pit enter the room]
PP: Ask us a question!
IYS: [To Passion Pit] What was your favorite show that you have ever played?
Dylan: That’s a very good question because they’ve played a lot of really sweet shows.
PP: I have an answer to that: It was the last show of the UK tour we did.
PP: No, no way. This was good, but we were in Dublin and it was the night of the six nations Rugby Game with Ireland versus Wales, and Ireland won. Our drummer bought an Ireland rugby jersey, and when we came back out for the encore, he had this rugby shirt on and the entire place started pumping their arms in the air and going “Olay, olay, olay, olay!” for like five minutes before we could start playing, and it was awesome. Alright, I did my question.
IYS: [To Bear Hands] So, what makes Bear Hands stand apart from all other Brooklyn Bands?
Dylan: Oh, I don’t know. Let me think. I think every band in Brooklyn is pretty different, there’s just so many people that live there. You know, people make a big thing about the “new scene” or whatever is going on in Brooklyn, but the reality is there are just 10 million people that live in New York, so what the fuck do you expect, you know? Like, it’s not a surprise there are so many different bands.
Val: Nothing. Cause we’re actually from Connecticut. [laughs] I guess we play more punk-rock influenced music than the rest of those fuckers.
IYS: Right. Well, you guys have been on tour for a couple of months now, can you tell us what daily life is like on the road aside from doing music?
Dylan: Ah, it’s terrible. It’s not fun everyday. You’re in the van all day, you eat shitty gas station food, you sleep in the van. And I mean, there’s a lot of downtime where you hang out in empty clubs.
IYS: So what foods do you never want to see again?
Dylan: Any and all gas station food. And Subway, I don’t ever want to see that place again. Wendy’s. Burger King. Here’s the thing, you’re out on the road and in you’re in Wyoming or something and the only things there actually are, are McDonalds, Subway, and the gas stations. So, then you do that for twelve days in a row and its disgusting.
IYS: Is there any food you’ve grown especially fond of? Anything that will make you nostalgia for the road?
Dylan: Mexican food in California and we have a couple places that we like along the road, but mostly it’s like rest steps on the road.
IYS: How do you guys choose opening songs for sets? Do you want to set up a certain kind of mood for the show?
Val: When we’re opening, we sometimes start with a slower song like we did tonight because it kinda eases the crowd into it, and it also depends on how Dylan’s voice is. Because if he’s having trouble singing, sometimes we’ll do a set list that caters to him so he can warm up while we’re playing. But usually we like to kinda start slow and then build up as we go.
IYS: So, what kinds of lyrics from other bands do you cringe at?
Dylan: Emo, most modern music… Most music, actually. Most music sucks. Everything that’s on the radio except for rappers from the south and pretty much dirty hip-hop.
IYS: Speaking of lyrics, I have a question about one of your songs specifically. In your song, “Belongings,” which seems to be a fan favorite, you mention that "...satan built a wall dividing up a room / and I hope it falls." Is there a story behind that? Satan’s wall?
Dylan: Well, I lived in a loft that didn’t have rooms still, so we had to divide them ourselves and I spray-painted Satan on one of the walls that we built. And so, I wrote that song in that apartment, so yeah, that’s kind of where that came from.
Val: Really? That’s where that comes from? [laughter]
IYS: So is that how the music process generally works for you guys?
Dylan: Staring at things and then writing about them? [laughter] Well, I wrote a lot of songs in that room. Well, yeah, definitely. I look at things and then sing about them, I even used to watch TV and then write songs about it.
Val: That’s why a lot of our songs are about jeopardy! [laughter] Well, I’m kidding, but they’d be a lot cooler if they were.
IYS: So what does the future hold for you band?
Dylan: We’re probably going to be going to Europe in a couple of months and touring there for a little bit. We just recorded a full-length record in New York with this guy named Chuck Rogey, and, of course, we’ll tour a lot.
IYS: Any funny stories from this tour that you’ll always remember? Anything crazy?
Val: Nothing crazy happens. Well, we got bro-tats -- except for Dylan. We all got ships of sorts.