We set the timer and snuggle in with our favorite new bands in the Impound’s version of speed dating with a killer-diller soundtrack.
Papa Bear and the Easy Love headline at San Francisco’s fabulous Great American Music Hall on Saturday, June 15th, sharing the stage with Big Tree, Song Preservation Society and City Tribe. Pick up tickets here.
There’s a crucial difference between being emotionally open & celestially switched on and being a patchouli scented hippy dip. The distinction can be subtle to casual observers, but in the modern era one is usually a bohemian seeming consumer with dreadlocks and a patron/trust fund and the other is a pilgrim on a path less taken in an increasingly capitalist world, waving a divining rod in search of things more meaningful than a dollar or fancy title. San Francisco’s Papa Bear and the Easy Love are music makers of the latter variety, explorers of how love and compassion can be puzzled over and communicated in song. But just based on their name and the tie-dye ready cover art for their sweetly swaying debut album, For The Wild, one might confuse Aaron Glass (Papa Bear) and his collaborative cubs for the former sort, and that’s a mistake.
What’s stirring in this shifting, vibrant band/collective is closer to the communal happening surrounding Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (though the songwriting and playing is stronger and more seductive with Papa Bear) or perhaps a more pastoral, long-haired cousin to the Akron/Family experience. A spirit flies from this music that curls around one, embracing and uplifting, a positive shiver that reminds us we are made from love, and thus, able to give love if we’ll only surrender to this notion. None of this is easily accomplished with the tool of music but Papa Bear and the Easy Love are so sincere, so utterly joyous in their pursuit of this idea that one needs to be a serious grump to resist the warm, friendly hand they extend.
Musically, there’s pinches of vintage Greenwich Village folk, 60s pop craftsmanship, California canyon People’s Rock, and all stitched together by a delicate balance of instruments that move so smoothly one may miss how well arranged and neatly embellished they are. All in all, a fine first step into the world for a bunch of kind-hearted travelers dedicated to wrapping their arms around a love starved planet.
Papa Bear emerged from his winter slumbers to chat with DI about the band’s evolution and underlying philosophy.
Why do you think you’re a musician?
I’ve tried a lot of different things in my life, especially as a kid. I went through a ton of phases experimenting with different things, and music was always the thing that drew me back in. It’s been the one constant thread since I was 13 or 14, and it’s only expanded and grown and brought me an incredible amount of joy.
How did you come up with the Papa Bear…I don’t want to say persona because there’s something more inhabited than that.
It started at Burning Man a couple of years ago. People started calling me Papa Bear and it really resonated with me. I got named that but I’ve grown into it more and more, at least in what I bring to the table in my way of being. I’m big on hugging, so I’m kinda known as a big teddy bear. I’m also pretty responsible, so I get looked at as a papa figure.
As a musical persona, how do you think this name filters into the music, at least subliminally?
Ever since I was a kid, nature has been really important to me and something I draw a lot of inspiration from. Having a name that relates to that is important to me. Also, I’ve been doing some Native American ceremonies lately, and I’m hearing about Bear Medicine and I have this outlet to bring that to people. I’m still figuring what that means to me, but I believe that music has a really healing element to it, and that informs what comes out when I play music.
There’s something reaching out from your debut album, where it’s fairly apparent that this isn’t just background sounds to enjoy. There’s a deeper intent behind it.
Definitely, but it’s tricky. When I first started writing the songs that ended up on this record it was just happening. My intentions were to do what I love doing and to create something that people can feel. I’ve been a big believer in the power of love for awhile. Now, it’s gotten to the point where I had writer’s block for a period because I was putting that on myself. Now, it’s starting to shift back to being inspired by what’s around me, and from that comes the healing and the love in the music – just remembering to come back to that and not try to put anything on the music.
Carrying out the metaphor of your name, bears can also have anger, strength and ferocity. So, there’s perhaps a wider range of emotions and states of being you can get into as you explore in the future.
Yeah, definitely, definitely. I played bass in a band called Our Satori for 4-5 years before starting this band. The whole intention behind the music in that band was to share love, but it bothered me that we never really touched on the darker aspects of the world. It’s really important to have that contrast and explore it. I’m looking forward to going deeper in this direction because it’s important.
It creates a weight to music when you touch on that darker stuff. Love and happiness can be equally challenging to communicate but they’re more instantly well received. There’s not too many people who will speak out against love [both of us laugh], but when you probe into the blacker places in the human psyche it’s less welcome for many. Before I listened to a note of your debut, I looked at the band name and thought, “Oh lord, I hope this isn’t some hippie crap.”
I get pigeonholed as a hippie a lot. I relate to hippie ideals, which to me is just being true to yourself. We wear vibrant, colorful clothing and people look at me and assume I’m just a stoner guy. Well, there’s so much more to every single person but the tendency is to put people in a box. It’s fun having a name like Papa Bear and the Easy Love, where you wonder if people will be curious or it will just turn them off.
You’re making fairly serious music that’s in keeping with a time when pop music was an art form, something both broadly appealing and intelligently crafted in the spirit of Jeff Lynne and Brian Wilson.
It’s been a really interesting trip through life to figure out what kind of music I want to put out there. I listen to this record almost daily, which is maybe egotistical, but it feels so good to me and feels like what I need to listen to live a good life. Playing the music live also feels amazing. I’m surrounded by such a good community that I’ve discovered and been a part of creating over the past 2-3 years. It’s been a really magical ride.
Just listening to the music, one gets the sense that this is a community waiting to happen, a sonic campfire people will readily gather around and warm themselves.
The last song on the record is called “I’m For Today,” and I’d never sung harmony with other people until I wrote that song. I have a group of friends called The Mowgli’s down in L.A., and I went down and brought the song to them to sing harmonies on. From that point on, every time I play that song I invite everybody up onstage to sing along. I grew up around campfires at Jewish summer camps. That’s a huge part of my thing with music – community – and it’s pretty much there for all forms of music, that gathering inclination, and [in the case of Papa Bear and The Easy Love] I’m seeing it grow and grow. I’m really searching for ways to get this out there.
So, what’s usually going through your head right before you go onstage?
I think it’s pretty blank. That moment right before going on is when everything just melts away and I feel full immersed in the moment. It usually kicks in right before we walk on. I’m surrounded by my friends and people I love and I feel a great sense of gratitude.