Just before playing with Les Savy Fav & heading off to England on their biggest tour ever, half of Brooklyn’s Bear Hands sat down with QRO. In the interview, singer/guitarist Dylan Rau and bassist Val Loper discussed their upcoming tour of the U.K. with The Holloways, their upcoming full-length, why they turned demos into the self-released Golden EP, CMJ, playing outdoors, press coverage, fighting over the set list, working day jobs, not working day jobs, haircuts, eyebrows, twenty-five hour straight-shot from Austin to Brooklyn, and much more…
QRO: Why this one-off date with Les Savy Fav (QRO photos)?
Dylan Rau: Syd [Butler], who plays bass with them, asked us. That’s pretty much it…
QRO: What are you guys doing for CMJ?
DR: We’re actually only going to be around for the first two days, ‘cause we’re flying to the U.K., so we’re only going to play one show. But we’re playing Mercury Lounge with Sebastien [Grainger] from Death From Above 1979, Fujiya & Miyagi, and Tigercity (QRO event listing).
QRO: What do you think about ‘industry showcases’ like that, or South-by-Southwest (QRO Festival Guide)?
DR: Totally hit or miss. Sometimes awesome and everybody gets along really great, and sometimes it’s really awkward, ‘cause there’s a million different bands that normally wouldn’t play together. It’s really a crapshoot.
Val Loper: You can have a lot of fun, though. SXSW is a lot of fun. You can get free shit sometimes, and alcohol flows pretty freely. It’s definitely a good time to be in a band – one of the few perks left.
QRO: What’s it like, being a New York band at the New York-based CMJ? Do you think that makes it less special?
DR: I think it makes it easier. At SXSW, for example, you’re living out of your van or your hotel room. This, after you do shows, you can just go home.
VL: I think it’s really cool, actually. I love all these college kids with their maps of NYC. [funny voice] ‘I don’t understand how it’s Bowery Ballroom but it’s on Delancey Street…’
I was working in SoHo last year, and I would just go to shows on my lunch break. People are like, “What did you do for lunch?” “Oh, I saw Vampire Weekend and Meat Puppets…” Totally amazing…
QRO: Have you ever had to play venues at CMJ that you knew, as New Yorkers, that you didn’t want to/wouldn’t play otherwise?
DR: We’ve been pretty lucky with shows at CMJ. Although it’s definitely strange to see bands at venues New York bands wouldn’t touch. All of a sudden there’s hit bands playing Crash Mansion (QRO venue review)…
VL: Crash Mansion!
DR: Anywhere there’s a stage, people will play.
VL: But I do think that’s kind of cool, too – it’s kind of a free-for-all. Especially unofficial parties, ones that carry over to Brooklyn a little bit, Todd P ‘anti-CMJ shows: they’re always at weird loft spaces and stuff. I think it’s exciting to just walk down the street, just hear music coming from different places. ‘Oh, I think I’ll pop in here… I’ll pop in here…’
QRO: During the summer, you appeared as part of Celebrate Brooklyn! at Prospect Park Bandshell (QRO venue review). What was that like?
VL: Really fun.
DR: That’s probably the biggest show we ever did.
VL: Got really wasted – it was awesome.
DR: God, I don’t even have memories of that show… We played to a lot seats, so that was kind of weird.
VL: It was daytime, which was strange. It was cool in one regard, but it would have been nice if it was dark. When Jealous Girlfriends played after us (QRO live review), they got the transition from day to night. By the end of their set, I was standing on the side of the stage, and it was amazing, all the lights. ‘Oh, that would have been way cooler…’
QRO: In their interview (QRO interview), they called it the ‘magic hour’…
VL: Yeah they definitely got the ‘magic hour’.
QRO: Do you do anything differently, when you play outdoors?
DR: I don’t think we’ve played that many shows outdoors. Playing outdoors is really hard. You can’t hear well, at all.
VL: The sound travels very odd. And we have a really reverb-based sound. So outdoors, we have to, at least guitar-wise, compensate by that by turning your reverb up even more, just because the sound doesn’t carry as well. If you’re trying to get atmospheric stuff, it doesn’t cut across as easily.
QRO: What about when you bring out the drum?
VL: I don’t know – I’ve never been in the crowd.
I think percussion does okay. We’ve played shows, like that Matt & Kim (QRO photos) show – it wasn’t even miked…
QRO: The crowd was so close…
VL: I couldn’t believe people were crowd-surfing during their set, where the ceiling was so low. They have crazy crowds…
QRO: During & after CMJ, you’re going to be touring the U.K. with The Holloways. How did that come about?
DR: Our manager is Welsh, so she knows a lot of people in the U.K.
QRO: Will this be your first foreign show?
DR: This will be our first abroad show – for any of us, in any band. Val’s never been out of the country before.
VL: Well, I’ve been to Canada – never out of North America…
QRO: Do you think it will be particularly special playing “Long Lean Queen” [whose lyrics include “Long live the Queen”] in Her Majesty’s realm?
DR: Yeah, I’ve totally thought about that.
VL: I didn’t even think about that! Wow – fuck!
DR: It’s going to be dope… I’m really excited.
VL: That actually made me really excited, when you just said that!
Bear Hands playing “Long Lean Queen” live @ Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ on April 4th, 2008:
QRO: Golden EP is about to come out in the U.K. How does that feel?
VL: Good, but we’re pretty much over the EP, ‘cause it’s been out for like a year here. We’re going to start recording a full-length late November, early December. That’s really what we’re looking forward too.
QRO: After the tour?
So, I mean, it’s cool, it’s great. Hopefully it will spread the word over there. We’ve been hearing some good press coming in, so hopefully it will push for the album to be released, help with the buzz over there. But we’re basically looking towards the future.
QRO: Where are you on making the follow-up?
DR: We have the full-length written. We’re sitting on it. We’re waiting on someone to give us the money.
VL: We’re just basically trying to work our label shit right now. We’ve had some offers, but nothing that we’re really turned on by any means. We’re trying to play the waiting game, which is an extremely frustrating game.
QRO: Will Golden songs make it onto the LP?
DR: Maybe a couple…
VL: Maybe one or two, but we have enough songs where we don’t need it.
DR: I think we’ll put in an improved version.
VL: Maybe one song…
QRO: What was making Golden like?
DR: Those were demos, man.
VL: They weren’t supposed to be released, at all.
QRO: Oh – then why did you put them out?
VL: ‘Cause people thought they sounded good. Our manager said put it out. We were gonna put it out on a label, and then we thought, ‘We can probably put it out ourselves…’ She kind of helped pay for it to get a pressing.
DR: I’m still a bit surprised, to this day, that that’s our music. ‘Cause when we recorded it–
VL: We’d been a band for three months…
DR: And we were definitely not thinking that she’d show it to anyone.
VL: We were trying to show it to labels to make an EP. But, as it turned out, the labels liked it and wanted to release it. ‘If you guys wanna release it, we can just release it ourselves…’
QRO: Do you feel extra pressure, with this being your first full-length?
DR: Absolutely. I’ve always said that – I like really half-ass everything; I can’t take anything seriously. But if I ever had the opportunity to record a full-length album…
QRO: Were you all disappointed that you didn’t get a chance to ‘studio record’ Golden?
DR: Well, that meant a little bit less to me, since it’s an EP.
VL: Honestly, there’s kind of a vibe and an energy on that that’s not easily replicated. We’ve done a bunch of demos since then, and I still feel like it’s some of our best recordings caught on tape.
DR: One of our better recordings…
VL: Has like a real ‘warmth’ to it. I think that’s because we were just really into writing songs together. I think that actually came across, on the recording, so yeah, I’m proud of that.
QRO: You’ve been getting some great press this year – Entertainment Weekly, Alternative Press’ ‘Top 100 Bands of 2008’, L Magazine’s ‘Great NYC Band You Need To Check Out’, etc. How has that felt?
VL: It feels great…
DR: Those first couple of times you get in a magazine, you’re like really psyched. We used to think that getting in magazines meant that you had it really fucking going on and were about to break – and that’s really not the case…
And there’s a lot of magazines and a lot of space to fill.
VL: Like, when we got our first article in NME, I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ I’ve always wanted to be in NME.
And then I looked at just the one issue that we were in, and they covered like five hundred bands in one issue!
DR: That’s the thing – when you realize there’s so many bands in magazines…
VL: It’s just, you expect, ‘Maybe we’ll break in the U.K. after that one article…’ Probably thirty people read that shit.
DR: But obviously, it’s still a total honor.
VL: Yeah – my parents still buy every copy. When we were in Billboard Magazine, my dad like brought it to work to show it to co-workers, “Everybody had heard of this magazine – and you’re in it!” “Dad, don’t show it…”
QRO: How did the band all meet?
DR: I went to Wesleyan University with Ted [Feldman, guitar]. And TJ [Orscher, drums] & Val, I knew from the Connecticut punk scene.
VL: He actually enticed us with the promise of weed and beer – and we didn’t receive either…
DR: I actually offered TJ money to record, because drummers are so much in demand – and he still hasn’t gotten around to it…
QRO: When you’re not rocking, do you guys have day jobs?
VL: I work at a French clothing company called ‘APC’. TJ manages a bar called ‘Chloe’ in the Lower East Side. Ted’s actually still in school, at least part-time, in Connecticut – he’s only here half the time.
Dylan doesn’t do much…
DR: I don’t work very often. I work some of the time, freelance, music and videos. But I try to not work – thus not having any money…
QRO: Dylan, what’s up with the hair?
DR: Um… I like looking different; I like surprising people. When I was in high school, I used to dye my hair all the time – I used to dye my eyebrows…
QRO: Just your eyebrows?…
VL: Yeah – so freaked people out…
DR: One day, I showed up – this was back when Bear Hands was really young, and I was at school…
VL: At our second show…
DR: I had shaved all my hair off, and dyed my eyebrows black. It was weird.
VL: Looked like a psychotic weirdo. And I was like, ‘Great…’
DR: It’s always different.
VL: At least for your hair, it’s laziness. You just like, let it grow…
DR: Yeah – and my hair’s dreading, too.
VL: I think it looks good long.
QRO: Have you ever been burned out on a tour?
DR: We’ve almost never toured. We did one five-day tour.
VL: Usually just a bunch of three-, four-day things. Actually, this U.K. tour is going to be our longest tour, like sixteen days. Between school and work…
DR: I can’t wait to get burned out on tour…
VL: I’ve been burned out on tour with other bands before, sure – six weeks in, you just want to kill yourself and go home. But I’m anxious to get burned out as well.
QRO: Are there any songs that you particularly like playing live?
DR: I like the song “Blood and Treasure”, a new song; that’s a really good one.
VL: Whatever new song, I’m always most excited to play.
QRO: Are there any songs that you don’t like playing live?
DR: Some of the EP songs get pretty boring…
VL: I don’t like practicing the EP songs; when it actually comes to playing them on-stage, I like every song, honestly. They’re all so much fun.
Even if I don’t particularly like playing the EP songs in practice, when we play a show, those are the songs the kids know, so the energy’s always great.
QRO: Is it tough, putting together a set list?
VL: That’s why I’m writing a set list, and it has only one song on it… (final set list)
QRO: And it’s “Buried Treasure”…
DR: We fight over the set list more than anything else.
VL: It usually ends up relatively the same.
DR: I have more a word on the set list.
VL: Fuck that, dude!
DR: Really – I have the final say…
VL: You think you do…
Bear Hands playing “Sickly Brunette” live @ Hugs in Brooklyn, NY on July 5th, 2008:
VL: Since they went to Wesleyan University, there’s a house there called ‘Eclectic’, and every show that we’ve ever played there has been absolute mayhem. We just [recently] played there, and it was just like three hundred kids, four hundred kids, freaking out, stage diving, trying to crowd-surf and so forth. Plus, huge dance parties. So that’s always a blast.
DR: There was this place in Philadelphia, The Barbary.
VL: Barbary was great – did a show for Spank Rock.
DR: Rock & Roll Hotel in D.C. is great.
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
DR: When we were at SXSW, Val & TJ flew back, but Ted & I had to drive the van home with all the stuff – in twenty-five hours, with no stops. We took five-hour shifts, back and forth – five hours on, five hours off; didn’t stop until we got back to Brooklyn. With smoking every fifteen minutes, on the fifteen minute mark. A long trip…