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Interview: Adam Wills of Bear in Heaven

Interview: Adam Wills of Bear in Heaven

It’s not every year a band this hard working and this creative comes out. We caught up with Adam Wills of Bear in Heaven the night they kicked off their North American tour at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. The group’s new album I Love You, It’s Cool twists the emotionalism of Tears for Fears into the soundscapes of Tangerine Dream and Boards of Canada. We discuss the upward spiraling saga that is I Love You, It’s Cool, the cover of which is so good, you could eat it. Below Wills also details the band’s love for Grimes, Chick-fil-A and clever vinyl packaging.

Bear in Heaven has gone through line-up changes and you’re also in a band that exchanges instruments on stage. Can you tell us what your responsibilities are in the band?

Haha, my responsibilities? They’re limitless! I’m here to play guitar and I play bass and then god, I don’t know. Responsibilities. We’re like ah, I’m trying to figure out a way to word this. We’re a band. We make music together. I play guitar and bass but I have an opinion on every single thing that happens underneath the umbrella that is Bear in Heaven, be it from merch design to where we play shows, to who comes on tour with us to, you know, every little thing there is. I’m worried about it. It keeps me up at night.

It’s about to change, but leading up to its official release, your new album I Love You, It’s Cool has been streaming on your website at about 400,000% slower than the recorded speed. It feels like this innocuous jab at the hype-laden bands that are buoyed by very creative promo but perhaps, and this might be too strong of a word but, what you guys have been doing is an antagonistic comment on Internet culture and the integrity of musical projects that kind of live digitally and fester online.

I think that you’re not too far off base except I wouldn’t say that it’s antagonistic. We’re not attacking anybody or… I mean, we’re not trying to be jerks. What you said, that’s definitely one side of the coin, for sure. It’s a frustrating reality that you have, you know, it’s become a very popular thing to maintain a certain level of whatever it is, success or exposure or whatever. Especially with a band at our level, I personally feel the pressure to stay in everyone’s… I mean, you want people to know who you are because it’s what you’re doing with your life. Like, you gotta play all these shows and hopefully people like it, it knocks the meaning out of it, out of just writing good music and playing good shows. So anyway, with the 400,000% stream, you know, we were going to make an ambient companion piece to I Love You, It’s Cool. We winded up not having the time to do so. We instead came up with the idea of slowing down the record and therefore kind of generating like an automatic ambient record. It was a multi-level idea.

What about the title of the new record I Love You, It’s Cool. It’s so strange. I just wasn’t really expecting that from you guys.

I wasn’t either. Haha. Naming a record is hard. Our old bandmate left a note in our rehearsal space and literally all it said was, “I love you, it’s cool.” And that just kind of summarized everything that was going on in our heads. We went with it and I think people get it. Compared to the last record Beast Rest Forth Mouth, it’s like a totally different name or theme. But I mean also in the context of having to repeat the title of the record once it’s out there and you do hundreds and hundreds of interviews it’s a nice thing to have to repeat. That’s something I learned with Beast Rest Forth Mouth which is something I had to say a thousand times. “I love you.” “It’s cool.” It just feels good to say.

Contrasting the production and the cohesion of Beast Rest Forth Mouth to I Love You, It’s Cool, Beast Rest is so kind of conceptual and everything with that record aesthetically and stylistically was in line with that image of the winged eyes and the title’s connection to directions East, West, North, South. It could have almost just been like one band, one album – it was that contained. I just felt that it was so tight and there was so much going on, so much to explore there. The new album brings on something entirely different, like you said, a new theme. Could you describe that a bit?

It’s the kind of thing where I don’t think we’ve removed ourselves from it enough to really do that. We’re still very much in the thick of it. But I think maybe lyrically, maybe the most conceptual differences like Jon wrote a bunch of quote unquote “relationship songs” which are not necessarily boy-girl romantic relationships. They’re directed at people Jon knows or people in general. I Love You, It’s Cool is a little bit more personal, it’s a little bit more romantic. In a lot of ways Beast Rest had a lot of angry songs on it. You definitely have certain ideas in your head when you’re making a record but you don’t really realize which ones are going to be important until it all settles. That’s kind of where my head is at as far as trying to describe the difference between the two records. I do feel that the new one is much more mature than the last one. I think that the musicianship is better. It sounds better.

What about just aesthetically and artistically? It’s very apparent that Bear in Heaven is not just friends making music. Everything from the new typeface that you guys are using to the new image for I Love You, It’s Cool and all the energy that goes into visually representing your guys’ sound is so creative. It’s like it gets just as much effort as the songs themselves. It was like that for Beast Rest with the vinyl pull out and you guys are working just as hard with your ideas this time around if not more so.

You noticed that. Thank you, I’m glad that’s not lost on people. There is a tremendous amount of effort that goes into that kind of stuff. Maybe too much effort. Maybe we need to relax a little bit. Just from a visual standpoint, I mean for me personally, if you are working very hard on your art and in this case on music, you just feel like it’s worth the extra effort to care about every other element that goes along with it. There are so many sad physical copies of records and crappy jewel cases that people put out that just have the title of their stuff printed on it. There’s nothing better to me than like a really gorgeous record with great package design and art that makes sense with the music. We’ve spent a lot of time laboring and making really mundane seemingly minute decisions. That’s what’s cool about the album art for I Love You, It’s Cool it’s that Sadek, our old bandmate who wound up naming the record, he did all of the album art. So in a way he stayed as a member of the band but on a visual level.

I have a really dark listening experience when I listen to Bear in Heaven. It’s cathartic and what I hear is very dark. I feel like on your albums, especially Beast Rest Forth Mouth I have a very dark experience and then uncannily, somehow when you guys are playing live that heaviness is not there. There is this upbeat, uplifting realness that takes its place or something. The energy seems completely different and I wondered if you were aware of that. What do you think about that?

We’re people, you know, as complex as anybody. On record we’re trying to make something that is profound or something that intellectually impresses us or stylistically or artistically impresses us. As creators of the records we are flexing or getting it out, you know. Jon’s getting things out lyrically, Joe is pounding away on drums, you know, yeah it’s a cathartic thing – the record. Then live there’s a similar cathartic thing, getting it out and sharing it with people. We enjoy that but I think that sometimes, because of the last record, people expected us to be these like broody, moody weirdos.

Ha ha.

Know what I mean?

Sure.

We kind of cop a persona, you know? I mean, I think we’re weirdos. For sure. But for the most part we’re all happy individuals and I think it’s off-putting, you know – like Jon smiles like crazy on stage. He’s got like this big toothy grin. Like when he smiles you can really see it across the room. You know when people see us smilin’ on stage they’re like, “What! What’s up with this band I thought they were all dark.” That’s our personalities, we’re not putting on a show. We’re just being ourselves. It represents both sides of us. It’s good that there is a felt, good uplifting vibe. If that’s what you feel then that’s good.

Did you guys retire the cover of Lindstrom’s “Lovesick” for this tour?

No! We’re still playin’ it!

Shit. God that is awesome.

That’s good to hear because Jon and Joe were like, you know at practice discussing what we’re trying to keep everything in rotation. Anyway, they were like, “Let’s work on the Lovesick cover.” And I was like, “Whaaaaa? We’re going to keep playing a cover?” I thought it was weird and then we rehearsed it and we’ve played a couple warm up shows a couple weeks ago and played it and it’s undeniable, it’s such a jam live. I’m glad we’re going to play it.

“Sinful Nature” and “Reflection of You,” I feel that they boast these kind of like bigger, massive synth sounds and bigger synths or electronic elements than the last record. Can you talk about that refocusing of the danceable element and the new direction?

There’s a shift with every record that we make. We’re experimenting with new toys and new pallets and beats and stuff. For I Love You, It’s Cool, it’s all very much based in that we played the last record 200 times, 200 and something shows and when we came off tour we found that the most fun that we had as musicians was when we were either dancing on stage or people were dancing in the crowd. Not that we were going to sit down and make a Hot Chip album or something, we’re not going to sit down and make a totally danceable record but we wanted something that was… like sometimes people look at us and they’ll be like, “Oh they probably don’t want us to dance, they’d rather us just stare at them.” We wanted to make something more upbeat, not something you can dance your face off to but something with a little bit more motion and sway to it. All three of us listen to a lot of dance music. It’s a major influence.

You’re on the road. What are you guys listening to in the van and where are you guys going to eat?

We look forward to certain food in certain regions for sure. In San Diego there’s this place called South Beach Grill where the tacos are really incredible. In South Carolina there is a place called Pool’s Diner that is really incredible. Sushi in general in Vancouver, British Columbia is incredible and then as far as fast food goes, we’re all from the South so, Chick-fil-A is a must for us. We’ll all go to Chick-fil-A as soon as we cross the Mason Dixon line.

In the van I just have four friends get together a bunch of records and get a bunch of stuff to sift through. Right now we’re listening to the new Here We Go Magic. The new Lower Dens record is really great. Then we also are all really hooked on Grimes.

Ohhhhhh. Awesome.

We listen to her all the time. When you called I was watching a YouTube video of her playing live on KEXP. I think it was “Genesis” or something. I can’t remember the names of the songs but yeah, definitely we’re all infatuated with her.

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