Interview: Jon Philpot (of Bear in Heaven)

on April 03, 2012, 12:01am
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bear in heaven thumb Interview: Jon Philpot (of Bear in Heaven)Brooklyn psych-rockers Bear in Heaven hardly hibernated this winter. Instead, they spent most of their time prepping for their latest LP, I Love You, It’s Cool. What’s more, they shifted from a four-piece to a three-piece overnight, actually worked with a producer, and just flat out created cool tunes. A few weeks back, founding multi-instrumentalist Jon Philpot sat down with us to talk about all this and more.

How do you find Brooklyn compares to the South, where you’re from? Does it inform your songwriting totally differently?

Yeah, I would have to say that if I had stayed in Atlanta, I think I’d still be doing some other something. Probably making, like, jazz music or something. [chuckles]

Really? Why do you say that?

I mean, like, jazz or probably just, like, super ambient music. I don’t know why. Or it would be, like, heavy rock. But that’s just kinda like what’s goin’ on in Atlanta. There’s this weird Atlanta thing. It’s, like, loud and powerful or bassy-trippy. And there’s a lot of jazz there, too.

So, the new album is called I Love You, It’s Cool. That came from a note that you found from your former band member Sadek [Bazarra, keyboards and bass] after he left the band, correct?

Sadek slipped it under my mixer [chuckles]. Joe [ Stickney, drums] found it. Joe got one, too. It said, “I Love You, It’s Great,” and then mine said, “Jon I love you, it’s cool” and had this cool little drawing. It was kind of a funny thing… we were kicking around a lot of ideas for record titles for a while, and for some reason that just kinda…

So, you had already been working on the album by the time you found that note?

Yeah, yeah. Actually, we had a writing room. We rented a room where we could set up all our stuff and record whenever we wanted and write and all that. Basically, people would come by and hang out, and one of the nights neither Joe or I was there, but Adam [Wills, guitar and bass] and Sadek were hanging out, and that’s what happened. It’s not like that big of a deal. It’s just kind of a funny thing to write. I think it’s a funny thing to write to somebody. I like it. It’s very sweet.

It’s good to see that his departure was amicable. Was there a dynamic shift in the band when you became a three-piece?

Yeah. Now that we’re a three-piece, there’s a lot more that each of us has to do with all of our limbs and stuff. I feel like with every record I’ve had to switch what I’m playing. I think I pretty much switched with every record. Like, I either play a little bit of guitar and a little bit of synthesizer, or all synthesizer, and now I’m playing samplers on this record. Mostly that all developed out of Sadek leaving the band right before we went on tour for our last record. We were just like, “Holy crap, what do we do?” We don’t have money to hire anybody, so we just figured it out as a three-piece, learned some tricks, and it’s kind of informed what we do now in a lot of ways.

bear in heaven i love you its cool Interview: Jon Philpot (of Bear in Heaven)So you weren’t already in the process of writing a new album with him when he left?

No. Everything happened so fast. Before we knew it, we were on the road. Our main struggle was just trying to figure out how to play the songs we had, you know, because that record was written as a four-piece, and it was like, “Alright, how can we do this?” And we figured it out. We worked at it, and it worked out okay. It was cool.

So, the deal with Dead Oceans, was that a result of the success of the last album, or was that already in the works? How did that relationship come about with Hometapes and Dead Oceans?

I think it has something to do definitely with us having made a little wave with our last record. And then there’s a strange connection, actually, between Dead Oceans and myself. Phil Waldorf and I went to college together. He’s the guy that runs Dead Oceans. But that didn’t necessarily influence, I don’t think, his desire to collaborate with Hometapes or anything like that. I mean, I think he’s genuinely a fan. He and Sara [Sara Padgett Heathcott] and Adam, who run Hometapes, are buddies, and they just kind of came up with the idea, because they know on this record in particular we wanted to take a step forward with our production, and we needed some money to kinda make it happen. So, Phil really was a champ and stepped in, and the two of them came together, so it’s like the best of both worlds. We get to have our old awesome label… we get to keep working with them. We love them; they’re great people.  And we also get Phil, too, which is like an old college friend. So, it’s kinda great.

Was there any influence by the label on the album, or did they give you total freedom outside of helping you get studio access?

They really are pretty open to what we’re doing. We were a little scared, too, because we kinda felt like we were making a… not necessarily a weird record, but it was like, “I don’t know if we’re making the record people are expecting us to make.” We had no idea what people wanted us to do. I think there was definitely… when we were writing and recording, there was a certain amount of pressure, because we had made some kind of wave in the world, and I feared that everybody wanted us to write a 10-song record that sounded like “Lovesick Teenagers” and “You Do You” from our last record… which we didn’t do. We wrote some other stuff, and they were into it.

With us, we’re always pushing forward as much as possible, and maybe sometimes to our own detriment we’re doing that, but there’s not really any kind of standing still with us.

That can be good for the artist and the fans. No one’s gonna get too tired or too bored.

Yeah, none of that.

Since you mentioned “Lovesick Teenagers”… the last album definitely had a lot of attention focused on that song. Was there a conscious desire this time to avoid a singular force on the album like that, or are you guys of the mindset that if a song becomes a hit, so be it, yay for us? Are you trying to avoid any specific singles to avoid distraction from the entire album?

No. We’re not actively avoiding trying to make a single. That song happened by accident… not by accident. It just sort of happened. We wrote the last song on the record first and then “Lovesick Teenagers”. I just thought it’d be really cool to make a song out of it, because I liked the ending of that song so much. We made a song out of it, and it just happened to be well received, which is very cool.

But this record, I don’t know if there is necessarily going to be a singular force kind of song on this record or not. I don’t think you know until it hits the world and people respond to it. It’s weird with us. We definitely try and ruin our songs.

I read that one of your methods of composition is subtractive, where you pile a ton of crap on and start picking away the stuff that doesn’t need to be there.

Yeah, we definitely do work subtractively. It’s pretty fun to work that way. It definitely is fun to weed out the bullshit or leave the bullshit. If a song on this record is universal, then it’ll be great. If not, we’ll still make music. With us, it’s just kind of like a part of the big package of making music for the rest of our lives.

Working with expensive microphones instead of your bedroom recording setup would have to affect the sound of the album, but did it affect how you approached the songwriting? Do you have a method to writing your music, or is it more like the three of you come in and organically see what happens?

It was really just kind of see what happens. Each song was written differently. Some songs started as drumbeats; some songs started as vocals or piano or guitars or bass. Each one started off differently, and then we just let them shape-shift into what they were. For me, that’s kind of like my favorite thing about writing music, especially collaboratively, where somebody can kinda say almost something that’s like they don’t understand what they’re saying. They make a suggestion, and then you do something, and it’s interpreted to the best of your ability or understanding what they are trying to say, and these songs just evolve on their own. They grow like these strange bacteria.

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