Catching Up With Bear In Heaven
Bear In Heaven’s third LP I Love You, It’s Cool is reflective of a career not particularly restricted by fads and phases. Following up 2009’s Forth Mouth, the album features a percussive, synth-heavy leap forward for the band.
We sat down with guitarist Adam Willis in his hometown of Atlanta, Ga., before Bear in Heaven’s show at The Earl. The bar, filled with an equal amount of fans, friends and family honed in on the energy swirling in the bar late that evening.
Wills took us through the Bear In Heaven mantra of I Love You, It’s Cool, continuing collaborations with ex-band members and what this tour has in store.
Paste: Your new record I Love You, It’s Cool sounds like a statement, maybe even a social comment. Where did the title come from?
Adam Wills It came from our ex-band mate Sadek Bazarra who left the band on good terms. We just got really busy and were surprised by it and couldn’t fulfill all the responsibilities, so he left on good terms. And it’s a bummer because we love him. Anyways, flash-forward—we’re writing the record. Sadek came over to our studio one night, it was just he and I, and I played him a bunch of demos. He left notes for Jon and Joe because they weren’t there and one of the notes said, “I love you, it’s cool” with a little funny drawing. The guys found it later that week when we were in that part of the creative process where it’s all self-doubt and anxiety. We found these notes as an uplifting thing that resonated really hard. We wound up saying it a bunch and when we were trying to find a name for the record that one just got tossed out and for some reason it just worked. It feels good to say, it’s from our ex-band mate, no matter what you can say to anybody, “I love you, it’s cool” and it works.
Paste: It seems that since it was there from the beginning, it was innate. Almost that it had to be there because of the story and the writing process.
Wills: It felt totally genuine and not this made up cool word.
Paste: It’s interesting because so many of the track titles and the album title could be read as ironic.
Wills: Yeah, I’m surprised more people haven’t reacted in an adverse way. Everyone really likes the title or just things it’s a normal title. Going from a record title that is admittedly pretentious Beast Rest Forth Mouth, and I say that because I came up with that title, coming from that which is weird and esoteric to something plain Jane: I Love You, It’s Cool, I was expecting people to be like, “What the hell. That’s stupid” but it’s worked.
Paste: Well even the way you say it. It’s very natural. It flows.
Wills: Yes, it feels good to say. You know, like now, doing an interview, you have to say your album title over and over again and that was another thing. I get to say, “I love you, it’s cool.”
Paste: Can you give me a little glimpse into the writing of it. How long did it take? What were the struggles along with it?
Wills: It took six months. It was the first time we were able to sit down and write a record. Before, we didn’t really have an audience so we could do things on our own time and the band was just a project not a full time passion. It was something we did outside of everything else we did so every other record we’ve put out was very piecemeal. We’d work on a song, put it to bed, play a few shows, work on another show and two years later have a record.
It was exciting and nerve wrecking to sit down and write a whole record. Everybody has always said of the last record, “oh it’s so cohesive” which I found very strange because they are anything but because all the songs span two years and our going through different things emotionally and financially. We thought all the records were pretty haphazard so it was nice to sit down and do something we were all in the same head state wise. We saved up some money and rented a studio we could go to everyday, which was nice because it was only two blocks from my apartment. I’d wake up every morning, grab a coffee and walk to the studio.
Paste: Was that in Brooklyn?
Wills: Yeah. Which also equals just getting up and going to lunch. You get to the point where you listen back to everything and it was a 12-hour day, really focused project. It was really exciting because not often do you get to do that – wake up in the morning and get to work on something you’re really passionate about. Usually that’s interrupted by a day job. For those months it was just music, music, music.
Paste: Do you feel the geographic location of Brooklyn has shaped the album?
Wills: That’s hard to say because I think because there are so many bands from Brooklyn, so people I think maybe assume there’s something in the water there – I wouldn’t deny it but I also couldn’t put it into words. It’s like a subconscious thing and there’s something to be said because there are thousands of creative people there. Being surrounded by creative people can create the right environment for art, also the fact that it’s insanely expensive to live there, so it makes you work harder.
Paste:Who’s hand was in the inspiration for the cover art? It’s super psychedelic.
Wills: Sadek, our former band mate so that’s what was really cool. I was insistent on him because he’s an incredibly talented artists and his mind is just wild too, he’s doing much cooler things than we are I feel like, so since he left the band on good terms and can’t contribute musically, it just made all the sense in the world for him to remain a member of the band creatively. I was like, “let’s give him carte blanche and he can do whatever he wants” and it is just like him writing keyboard parts except he’s making art. We drove him crazy with changes but it’s definitely something that’s controversial too and people say, “oh, that is ugly as hell” so it’s great. It’s not very exciting to make something that everybody likes, I think you’re doing it wrong if you’re not challenging someone’s aesthetic sense. That’s when you know you’ve made something truly good because a lot of people like it but you’re also turning off a lot of people too.
Paste: It creates conversation.
Wills: I agree. Yeah, and Sadek is another Atlanta native.
Paste: So how is it playing a show back in your hometown? Did you grow up coming here to The Earl?
Wills: It’s awesome. I love it. Yeah, I saw a bunch of shows. I went in college. There was a place in high school, in Little Five, where I would go called The Point. And then also The Echo, which was right down from here. Jon and I both grew up going to 80s dance night at The Masquerade.
Paste: That totally makes sense, listening to your music.
Wills: (laughs) It’s true.
Paste: How’s the tour moving along?
Wills: It’s been good. We were nervous about it because we haven’t toured in forever and peoples’ attention span these days are so short. We wanted to take a break from touring to write a record and keep it very segmented. We were nervous about who gave a shit essentially and the fact that we were touring right on top of a new record so going out on the road playing new songs when people haven’t even bought the record yet was nerve-wracking but it’s been good. It’s sold out here tonight and it’s sold out a handful of times so it’s been good.
Paste: A lot of people were turned away at the door.
Wills: I know. We were really proactive on social media with friends because we weren’t going to be able to get them all tickets. I was like, “I got to get my mom and dad a ticket so ya’ll get yours or you’re a shit out of luck.”
Paste: What new tracks do you feel the audience are really responding to?
Wills: The two singles go over really well which is nice but so does the song “Cool Light.” That’s been a nice surprise because we do it a little dancier live.
Paste: Thematically, “Kiss Me Crazy,” “World of Freakout” and “Lovesick Teenagers,” these track titles have a youthful aesthetic to them. There’s a naivety to them and pre-knowing the story behind the album title, all of the titles grouped together appeared to have a tone of irony.
Wills: Well, Jon writes 88% of the lyrics, but lyrically and song title wise, it’s hard to title a song period. It’s just like, “why?” and some people just title them numbers, “No. 2, No. 1.” But lovesick teenagers are universal – it’s something we understand. I remember “Lovesick Teenagers” being thrown out, it’s also in the lyrics, and originally thought the song title was really stupid.
Wills: Well, I mean yeah. We’re adults and really serious people. But then I realized it made sense, people will get it and then low and behold it’s the one that people grab onto. I think as a musician that’s the challenge – when you can tap into some sort of subconscious theme that everybody resonates with, it seems to be good. There’s no irony though. It’s not like, “let’s make inside jokes with the lyrics and song titles.”
Everything is very relationship based. Not boy-girl relationship but human to human, human to planet, human to stars so that’s where the tie-ins happen.
Paste: That makes sense for what you’re doing. You bring in your old band member, he’s still included.
Wills: That’s very important to us. This is all temporary. Who knows, it might go on for another 20 years but realistically it might go on for another five. Life goes on. For me personally, you want to look back on things. That the band created awesome relationships and that ranges from who we played with, who we go on tour with, what clubs we play, what people we book with, who we do interviews with—we want to do it right. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me I want to look back and know that we did that.
Paste: It goes back to that universality, it’s apparent that you’re striving for that.
Wills: Sure, because they’re in it too. It’s a joint vibe. We’re not pandering to our audience, it’s like, “let’s have fun.” We very much are like, “let’s have fun. Let’s break down that way.”
Paste: There’s three parts. The audience, the musician and the art itself and they have to be in cohesion to make the whole.
Wills: That’s what makes a good show. When everything is all in line. Hopefully that will happen tonight.
Paste: What’s next?
Wills: A ton of touring and a lot of touring. We have a little down time this summer so hopefully writing a new record. It’s not that we’d be done with the record completely but that’s something with the last record, we were so busy and had to work out butt of. Now we’ve paid our dues. We don’t have to tour excessively, we can take a couple of months and go back and write new music.
Paste: Back in Brooklyn?
Wills: I’ve lived there for 11 years, so it’s very much home. I’m looking forward to getting back there at some point.
Paste: I’ve had you for our time.
Wills: Yep, I just got to get back to my pops.