Reached via phone as he was about to meet the rest of his bandmates and head to Pittsburgh, where he was playing the inaugural New American Music Union Festival, Bears singer-guitarist Charlie McArthur admits the group has hopes of doing more touring in support of its new album, Simple Machinery.
'We talk about [touring] a lot," he says. "We went out to the West Coast last summer, and it was great. But it just seemed too far, especially with gas prices. We hadn't really been to New England at all. And we wanted to go, especially since it's so close. We want to tour as much as possible. Ideally, once the album comes out, we might be able to get on tour with a bigger band."
That the band is even hoping to tour with bigger acts is quite remarkable. After all, the group started almost by accident in the summer of 2005, when McArthur and drummer Craig Ramsey tried to form a punk trio. When the band's third member didn't show up for practice, McArthur and Ramsey figured they'd "start writing pop songs together."
"We didn't have the intention of forming a band," says McArthur. "We recorded the first [self-titled] album in Craig's basement and ended up with 13 songs. We thought it seemed like a pretty good album. [The album] came out in April of 2006, and a friend asked us to play a show that was in June of 2006, so we got a band together. Here we are a few years later.
It's amazing, but it's great. It's so exciting. I'm still not used to it." The sunny, smart songs on Bears became an underground sensation, as glowing reviews appeared in mags like Skyscraper, Alternative Press and Amplifier. Last year, the song "How to Live" made its way onto a compilation issued by Urban Outfitters, placing the group side by side with Radiohead, Tegan & Sara, Sea Wolf and the Weakerthans.
Bears might have a rep for sunny pop songs (the band's bio describes Simple Machinery as "the perfect album for riding in the car with the windows down on a summer day"), but the new album's a more pensive (and musically layered) affair than its predecessor.
"We're excited about it," says McArthur about the disc, which features pastoral cover art, courtesy of his girlfriend, Kate Pugsley. "I think as we were writing it, I had an easier time picturing what the final result would sound like. With the first album, we hadn't done it before, and I'd come up with acoustic guitar and vocal parts, and didn't know what we would end up with. This time it was easier to picture that, and that helped me keep more focused. I think Craig had that experience too."
From the opening notes of the Farfisa-organ-driven "Please Don't" to melancholy pop numbers like "So Go" and "Letting It Go," the album features whisper-thin vocals and fragile melodies that look back to singer-songwriters like Nick Drake and Elliott Smith while mixing in summery Beach Boys-inspired good vibrations. And the music still has a contemporary feel, which usually goes over well when the band gets the chance to show off its sound to new audiences.
"Every time we open for a touring band in Cleveland that draws well, kids that normally wouldn't go to one of our shows come out and like it," says McArthur. "If we could do something like that every night, it would be amazing. Our music tends to appeal to lots of people. It's poppy and has a friendly sound. Getting in front of bigger audiences is the first goal. We just want the opportunity to keep playing. I don't think that's what I want, but I would want to continue touring and writing records. Some kind of placements in movies and TV shows, and everything would be cool and help get the name out there. At this point, we're still just trying to get our music heard." firstname.lastname@example.org