Bear in Heaven Tackles Time and Space

By
Photography Atisha Paulson

Published August 4, 2014

ABOVE: BEAR IN HEAVEN. PHOTO BY ATISHA PAULSON

Anniversaries are usually a time for reflection and nostalgia, but as Brooklyn’s Bear in Heaven turns the corner on its 10th birthday, founding members Jon Philpot and Adam Wills are firmly focused on the present. On Time is Over One Day Old (out tomorrow via Dead Oceans), the band makes a strong argument for living in the now through 10 tightly wound songs about soul-searching, space, time, and existence as we know it. Like the three albums that came before it, Time is Over One Day Old skillfully balances an armful of touchstones, from synth pop to post-rock to kraut, prog, and noise. But here Philpot’s deep, rich vocals and pulsing synths come off a little more ominous, swathed in Wills’ big echo-y guitars and newcomer Jason Nazary’s crackling, propulsive drum work. The result is a record that ambitiously splices its frenetic moments with its expansive ones, and then projects it all onto one vast cosmic backdrop. Time is the grand equalizer, says Bear in Heaven, and all we have is today. Below, we catch up with Philpot and Wills from their respective homes to discuss music, middle age, and how they’re slowly learning to take a compliment.

ALY COMINGORE: So I just ran my phone battery into the ground watching your little Instagram video project. Whose idea was that?

JON PHILPOT: That was Adam.

COMINGORE: It’s pretty impressive.

ADAM WILLS: It’s a pain in the ass. [laughs] We were thinking of a fun way to do stuff and as soon as I did the first couple I was like, “Oh, I really regret this.” Uploading a photo and making sure it looks good and that you don’t misspell something is one thing, but doing sequential videos and realizing four days in that, oh fuck, I uploaded number seven instead of number four, is something totally different.

COMINGORE: I can see that. In regards to the record, would I be remiss to call Time is Over One Day Old conceptual?

WILLS: We’re not going to be getting on stage and doing a play about Mother Time meeting Mother Nature or anything like that, but there are certainly concepts behind it. I think of concept records as us donning characters and writing from another perspective.

PHILPOT: Early Genesis, King Crimson, stuff like that.

WILLS: There is a lot about time in the lyrics, but it’s also really hard to not talk about time when you’re talking about anything.

COMINGORE: Backtracking a bit, how were things when you guys finished touring for I Love You, It’s Cool? Where were your heads at?

WILLS: I think that there was definitely a bit of, “Well, we don’t want to do that again.” Not that those shows were bad—those shows were awesome, actually. I think we played some fantastic, fun shows to some really great audiences. But I think we wanted to move towards making music that’s not really thought, but felt.

PHILPOT: I also think there were just a lot of paradigm shifts going on in our universe. We were faced with what we can do with the time we have available. Economy has always been a big factor in our world, as I guess it is in everybody’s, but I think it’s reflected in our music. We felt like, okay, we’re just going to make a record and that record is going to be whatever happens. It’s not going to be based on trying to be a certain way. Does that make sense?

COMINGORE: Definitely.

WILLS: Because you can do that. You can go in thinking, “I want to make a record that sounds like this particular genre and this particular genre,” and then make that type of record.

PHILPOT: I think a lot of people do that.

WILLS: We did not do that. There was no looking forward or looking backwards. It was basically, “This is what’s happening.”

COMINGORE: So then on a personal level, what was happening that kind of guided the process?

WILLS: Life as it comes, you know. Jon had a baby. We’re both broke. We’re both in our middle age. A lot of things start changing.

PHILPOT: The veil gets lifted.

WILLS: The veil is always being lifted. I tend to draw this analogy of pulling back the curtain to reveal another curtain.

PHILPOT: We lifted off our blue veil and now we have our pink veil on.

WILLS: But I don’t know. Jon had a child, our drummer quit, the political climate is still weird on planet Earth, spiritual awakenings, all kinds of stuff. I feel like I’ll be able to look back on it in five or 10 years and have a better view of what was going on. That’s the kind of stuff that’s never really part of the conversation. It’s never like, “I’m broke. Let’s write a song about it.”

COMINGORE: Do you want to talk about Joe’s departure?

PHILPOT: Joe left. We’d been in a band together for a long time, and now he’s in a band with his girlfriend. They were touring together and I think they had a lot of fun doing that, and now they’ve got their own solo project thing that they’re working on and I think it’s going to be good. I mean, if you have a chance to be in a band with your girlfriend—it’s like being on tour with your friends except you get to do it at night. [laughs]

WILLS: We’ve been in this band for a decade. It’s amazing that Jon and I still talk to each other. [laughs] Joe parted in a pretty unheard-of manner. He politely backed out while we had 20 or so shows blocked out for a summer tour. He fulfilled those dates and then helped our new drummer Jason [Nazary] go over parts. To me it’s like, when the hell does that ever happen? Usually you just burn bridges and you never talk again. I think we’re all really glad it happened the way it did.

PHILPOT: And now we’re just friends and it’s cool. He’s come to see us play live, which is super trippy for him. It’s trippy for us, too. But the upside is that we’ve been injected with a new vibe. And Jason is an astounding drummer.

COMINGORE: How do you compare Time is Over One Day Old to the other Bear in Heaven albums?

WILLS: I’ve been told by friends that it’s an eclectic record, which is a terrible thing. And I had a friend tell me it’s honest. I don’t know if that’s good, either.

PHILPOT: A friend of mine told me that he wanted to hug me after he listened to it. I had another buddy tell me that it’s like a breakup record, but he didn’t know what I was breaking up with. [laughs]

COMINGORE: What’s the best compliment someone’s ever paid you?

PHILPOT: This one time we played a college show and as we were packing up and getting ready to leave this one girl whispered in my ear, “I have sex to your music.” That will forever stick in my head. I don’t know if that’s a compliment, though.

WILLS: I always like the backhanded ones, like the classic things you say to a band when you didn’t really like the show but you feel like you need to make a comment. Like, “Man, you guys sounded really good.” Or the most famous one, which is, “Man, you guys were really movin’ up there.”

PHILPOT: The one I’ve been noticing is the “epic” thing.

COMINGORE: As in, “Dude, that show was epic”?

PHILPOT: Yeah. It’s like, man, that’s not really good or bad. It’s just long.

WILLS: Compliments are funny, though. You work really hard to leave an impression on somebody and then when they compliment you, it makes you feel weird and you don’t want to hear it and you become immediately self-effacing. But then if people don’t compliment you on it, you’re like, “What the fuck? They didn’t like it. They didn’t say anything.”

PHILPOT: You have to say “thank you” when someone compliments you.

COMINGORE: Well, I for one really like the new album.

WILLS: Thank you. [laughs] I think, and I think Jon will agree, I think we wrote our best record. I think this is the record that we were supposed to make, but also the one that could only have been made after being a band for 10 years. I’m really proud of it and I hope other people like it. I also hope we can play it. We tend to write songs with so many tracks that you need seven people to play them, so we’ll see.

PHILPOT: We’ve got to get all the limbs moving to keep everything going.

COMINGORE: So that people can tell you that you were really movin’.

WILLS: Exactly. [laughs] “Hey, you were really movin’ up there.”

TIME IS OVER ONE DAY OLD IS OUT AUGUST 5 VIA DEAD OCEANS. FOR MORE ON BEAR IN HEAVEN, VISIT ITS WEBSITE.