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An Interview with Bear Lake

Bear Lake of Rochester-Hills, MI is one of the great bands Noize is looking forward to checking out at MI fest ’11 on September 17th. The band is made up of of Hines (acoustic guitar, vocals), Jon Rice (electric guitar, vocals), Keith May (bass and vocals), Brian Kwasnik (keyboards, vocals), Erik Pederson (percussion, keyboards) and Stephen Stetson (drums). These six guys have been making music together in various projects since middle school which may explain why they work so well together. Their website describes the group as “a gutsy, new wave sound that mirrors the magic of Band of Horses and the pop sensibility of Guster and Snow Patrol.” Their track “Fading Lines” off their new album If You Were Me reminds us a bit of Maroon 5. Whatever the comparison, Bear Lake is a group that is making their presence known. Their songs have been featured in the shows Melrose Place, One Tree Hill, Bones and The Gates. succinctly describes the themes in their music as “Relationships, love, death, addictions, complications and hate all encompass the basic structures of life. All of these factors mesh together somewhat chaotically at times…” Noize wanted to get to know Bear Lake a little bit better and help spread the word about their greatness. Check out Dave’s interview of Bear Lake!

When is your new album expected to drop? How will the album be available?

Our latest album, If You Were Me, released locally September 1st, and it will be released internationally by September 17th.  The album is available in all major media outlets (I-Tunes, Bandcamp, CDBaby, Amazon, etc.) as well as on our website ( and at our live shows. And it is available by request at many physical distributor outlets. Just type “Bear Lake Music” into Google and you’ll find us.

How would you describe the appeal of your music?

Our music covers a lot of ground and emotions which people respond to well. This newest album plays/reads almost like a personal journal of the band, and I think many people enjoy getting to look deeply into what a band was thinking/going through when they created a work of art. We flirt enough with the pop genre to create hooks that people can understand and readily identify with, while maintaining enough of a rock feel to keep it fun, energetic, and edgy. I think a lot of music lovers out there are looking for something that feels new and fresh. That classic rock sound will always be around, and people will always enjoy it to some degree, but I believe there are many of us out there that want music to embrace the technology and tonal capabilities that are available to us currently. We want music to sound different; like the next logical progression. Personally, when I hear a young band that is stuck in some hopelessly retro soundscape, I tend to tune them out pretty quickly.

How did your music get to be featured on Melrose Place, One Tree Hill, and Bones?

Our lawyer, Howard Hertz (Eminem, George Clinton, Brad Paisley), was able to set us up with these opportunities through different publishing companies. It has been great exposure for the band, and there are many more of these opportunities on the forefront for this upcoming season of programming. We’ll let you know when the next placements hit.

What advice would you give to up and coming bands trying to make their way?

Our advice would have to be to set up your team early. The quicker you set up your manager, lawyer, publicist, accountant, booking agent, etc. the better off you will be, and the more you will be able to focus on just making music. This can be difficult, and it will cost a lot of money, but believe it or not, you will have more money/credit in the early days of your band than you will later on, so spend it wisely. Which brings me to my next point: you will never make as much money as you would like by playing music, so make sure everyone in the band is in it purely for the love of the music. If you have members that are constantly focused on the financial end of the spectrum, it takes their focus away from the music, and this can be damaging to the progress of the band. All of us would be doing this if we were dead broke or if we were millionaires, and I think that’s what makes the hard times more endurable and the good times that much better. Your band becomes your family, but it is a family you can choose, so make sure to make the right choices early on to save yourself the anger and frustration later on.

 What effect do you believe writing your music at a cabin in Bear Lake has on the final musical product?

I think writing at Bear Lake has really solidified the communal nature of this band. Their is no one in charge up there; everyone can just throw ideas out freely and equally, and this mindset has stuck with us every time we have written since. It is freeing to be up there away from all the noise and commotion of our daily lives, and it gives us a sense of peace and relaxation that allows us to focus solely on what we love: Music. It was a double-edged sword though because we ended up with the name “Bear Lake.” Don’t get me wrong, we love the name and the meaning behind it, but since we took it, tons of bands have popped up with either Bear or Lake in the title. It has made it difficult to separate ourselves from the Indie Animal Pack, but we liked the meaning it had to us too much to change it.

Where do you see the band in five years?

In five years, I see our band with at least 5-6 more albums under our belt. We will still be touring (Internationally at that time), and we will have been picked up by a major label. We will have been in many more film and television placements, and our name will be one that people know and have heard of from coast to coast. By then, I also see us each branching off a bit and doing some songwriting and collaboration with other acts we have met along the way. That is what we love about songwriting: every time you write with a new person, you encounter new ideas and possibilities that were not previously accessible. We will continue to engage in that with as many new people as possible. Bear Lake will always be our number one priority, but all of us enjoy hearing our songs performed by many different people and in many different mediums, so I am sure we will have delved even more into that by then. Oh yeah, and we will each own a small Lear jet (something modest) and a couple tiny islands in the caribbean. You know, just for when we need to get away from all the fame and glory:)

HAHA! If you could play with any band in the world, who would it be and why?

I would have to say The Flaming Lips. It would be great to have all of us on one stage together: confetti cannons blazing, huge furry animals jumping around, and 100,000 people screaming in the audience, as all of us bust out the most incredible cover of Sade’s Smooth Operator that anyone has ever heard…EVER…It would be epic. Wayne Coyne, if you are reading this…consider it, and give us a call. It could be fun.

In what way is Bear Lake different than other bands?

Our songwriting is something that sets us apart. With so many songwriters in one band, we always have an influx of songs at our fingertips, and we never run out of material (quite the opposite really; we always have way more material than we can realistically deal with at one time). Because of this, every album that we put out explores different places and feelings, and each album takes the listeners through diverse and varied musical landscapes. Also, I think so many bands out there today are extremely guitar-centric. We like the guitar, and Rice does a great job on it, but it is just one instrument, and there are many others we like to experiment with. The music is what’s important, and the guitar is just one way to express ideas. That ideas goes for songs as well; many bands get so caught up in shredding solos and crazy-complex changes, that they forget what’s important: The Hook. You can be the craziest, most talented player in the world, but if you can’t convey your music to people in a way they can understand and remember, you’re lost. We always try to have a more balanced approach to our melody structures. Because we all play lots of different instruments, it allows us to explore more tonal possibilities rather than just guitar riff, guitar solo, guitar outro like many other bands.

Do you have an artistic vision?

The band’s artistic vision has always been to experiment with the possibilities of songwriting, and to create the greatest possible hooks and melodies that we can fathom. We live for that “AH-HA” moment that comes in music; when a song takes a random turn that you never would have planned for or expected; it ends up sounding like something you have never heard, and it makes everyone in the room jump up, bounce their heads, and laugh, knowing that you have just created something great.

How was it shared with Al Sutton and Eric Hoegemeyer?

Eric and Al understood and respected what we were trying to do immediately. When we are in the studio, sometimes it is like mental telepathy. Most times we don’t even have to explain an idea in words; Eric will just automatically pick up on it and add to it in a way that astounds all of us. It’s really amazing to experience; getting in with Rustbelt was probably the best thing that ever happened for our band.

Have current economic conditions have any effect on the band? 

I think it has helped in ways, and hurt in others. It allowed us to get our used band van for an insanely great price, but it has also forced us to spend tremendous amounts of money keeping it gassed up. I think the lack of available jobs out there has made people look at us as being a little less crazy when we tell them we are devoting our lives solely to the pursuit of music; even though if there were millions of jobs out there we still would be doing what we are doing now. All in all though I believe that we are welcoming this economic armageddon, and hoping that it will bring America back to some sense of balance; where people will have the opportunity to pursue what they love because they can no longer get that miserable 9-5 job that they would have otherwise wasted away their lives with. It is exciting, but I think it has also given a more cynical edge to our music. Seeing these Republicans in power that don’t care for anything or anyone outside of their own checkbooks, and would rather see people starving on the street than to give any money to government support programs is so sad in so many ways, and it would be hard for any American citizen to not let that affect their art.

Well said! What do you guys do for fun? Favorite hangout spots?
As much as we all love being together writing songs, outside of “band duties” we all kind of have our own passions. Rice is aspiring to be the next Lance Armstrong; Keith is always figuring out a way to book a west coast snowboard trip; Stets is training to be the world’s fastest man at beating the latest Mario Bros games; EP also enjoys a ride on a bike, however will often stop and draw a replica of his surroundings; Brian finds enjoyment in always being the smallest guy on the basketball court.

 The Bear Lake cabin is for sure the favorite hangout spot. We got it all up there. Nothing better than relaxing on the lake, golfing at Grandview, slalom skiing, jet-skiing, barbecuing, writing and singing songs to ridiculously large bonfires.

What are you currently listening to? What local bands do you like?

National bands we are currently listening to are Foster the People, Radical Face, Bon Iver, Ra Ra Riot, Broken Bells, Portugal The Man, Phoenix, Arcade Fire and tons of others. We are obsessed with new music, so we could go on for days about great bands to check out (and we will if you ever want a list).

As for local bands, there are some great things happening musically in the Detroit area, and it has left us with tons of great bands we love including Brae, Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr, Jessica Hernandez, The American Secrets, Doop and the Inside Outlaws, The Juliets and many others.

Thanks Bear Lake for your great answers! See you at MI Fest.


One Comment

  • Dr. Chance

    Interesting interview! I think that this point–“You can be the craziest, most talented player in the world, but if you can’t convey your music to people in a way they can understand and remember, you’re lost”–is often forgotten in music today. It seems that bands are _either_ totally packaged for a consumer _or_ the “musician’s musician”–it’s important to remember that working in-between these extremes takes talent, precision, and a commitment to an uncompromising audience.

    Good luck, Bear Lake!

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