Swimming With Bears

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By Ky Kasselman

Swimming With Bears are 4-piece consisting of Joe Perry (Bass and Vocals), Jon Kerr (Rhythm guitar), Alec Conte (Guitar and backing vocals), and Ryan Hannasch (Drums and backing vocals). Ky had the chance to sit down and chat with them before their show in Dallas, Texas about the origin of their name, their new single "French Girls," and their musical inspirations.  

HEM: How did you guys meet?

Joe: I met Alec in college, downstairs in our dormitory. He was playing acoustic guitar with three girls around him. Being at Texas Lutheran university, the pickings are slim with the population being small and everything. So he had three girls around, and I was like, “man this guy has got it going on.” Then we started meeting the rest of the guys. Ryan went to Texas State, we met him through a mutual friend of ours.

Jon: Joe and I were never in bands before, but Ryan was. They were called Untitled, the greatest band from Scottsville, Texas.

HEM: So I’ve got to ask, How did you guys come up with the name, Swimming with Bears?

Alec: We wrote a song called “Swimming with Bears”, and it was before we were anything. We were still playing around with other people and jamming.  We eventually stopped playing with the other guy that was singing. We found out that Joe could sing, so we made him our singer.

Alec: It [the song] did really well on YouTube so then we were like, “Let's do it again!”  so we recorded another song While we were uploading that one to YouTube, a documentary about people with exotic pets came on the TV, and a guy was swimming with bears, and I was really drunk and was like, ‘this is it! This is the name! We're calling ourselves swimming with bears. We did a song called Swimming with Bears and now this guy is swimming with bears.”  The name just stuck. From then on, everyone was always asking ‘where the hell did you come up with your name?’ and I was like ‘man I wish I knew,’ but I just pulled it out of my butt.

Jon: Our friends just call us The Bears, but sometimes people get a weird vibe from that.

HEM: You released your debut EP 2 years ago.  How is this journey been the past couple of years?

Jon: Crazy.

Jon: The EP was a lot of fun but that was really a learning experience for us. Then we met our manager, Will Hoffman, who we love dearly, and he helped us become better performers, and also just learn how to write music together better. hen he sent us out on a mission to find all these people to co-write with, just learn how to like, come up with songs. We didn’t use a lot of them, but it was just a learning experience on how different people write in all the different styles. And then we  found a group of guys in Nashville. There were three different sessions that we did with three different people in one group, with Gabe Simon and audio engineer, Conrad Snyder, who we just clicked with. It was amazing though, we got in there and those guys just vibed with us so well. Especially with Joe and working with the main melodies and vocals, all that stuff. When it came into doing guitars and drums it just worked. With the drums they could just get on the microphone and be like, ‘you know how you're doing this whatever part, do you mind switching up to 16th notes and do  a kick every 4th?’ And Ryan would just be like ‘hold on, got it,’ and it just worked. hat's kind of been the mode now. Every time we get the chance, we go to Nashville and try to write new music with them. It's really been working well for us, and we're excited about it. That's where “French Girls” came from.

Alec: Just building, and learning from what we used to do wrong, you would think that you're doing everything right, and then you find out that you're missing a lot of points. e helped do that stuff, like we used to look like idiots on stage. We all had our own style, now we all merged our styles into one cohesive look which  was an important thing that he helped us with. Another important thing was, performance-wise, he made us better performers, but it was like, including everyone in singing roles, and seeing your plan, formulating your laissez-faire attitude on the set list and taking that and turning it into a structured setlist. The last two years were  turning a band into a performing, business band. We’re more focused, especially after seeing how the EP was doing. We've been meeting new people and building business, as well as the foundation and story behind what we're doing.

HEM: Let's talk about your new single, French Girls. How is this single different from the EP?

Joe: It's a culmination of, when you do go into the studio and the people you work with are great, but the reason it’s different is that we have matured as musicians. We've put in hours trying to formulate a sound. Even when you're jamming you're not making anything that's significant, all that talent that we've been working on, trying to have an end, but once we go to the studio, it clicks. You can tell the  difference between our older stuff and newer. hat's really neat, you know? Every time I listen to a new Muse album, I'm like, “are they going to do something better than last time?” Then Matt Bellamy ends up playing something even crazier than last time. I think it's just as maturing as musicians.

Ryan: I think it's the vibe of the studio too. In Austin, we recorded at this one place that was like a million dollar studio. In the studio in Nashville, the drums are in a loft, so you have to climb a ladder to get to them. You're isolated but you can still hear the control room. So there's a different feel. It's more comfortable, it's a studio in a backyard space.

Alec: It's funny you mentioned maturing as artists, but these songs have a lot more youth in them than the other ones did. I think we have just found ourselves a little bit more in the past couple years, than when we did that first one. We are more fun, but I think we just understand ourselves more. We mature as people, but you can look at maturity and be more youthful,  and not take things so seriously. That's the way we worked with Gabe and Conrad, they are nothing but youth.

HEM: So is this leading up to another EP or full length album?

Alec: For right now we're going to keep replicating the pattern with what we did for “French Girls”, which would be do a song, release it,  do a bunch of PR, do a bunch of shows right after it, do a tour, make a music video, maybe a lyric video something like that. We’ll build promo around it and then do another song. So it'll be a bunch of singles, and then everything else comes shotgunning behind it. Hopefully we will do a full length feature album soon. For now, just songs.

HEM: Who are some of your musical inspirations as a band?

Alec: We actually have 16 records that influenced us. I chose Kings of Leon, Come Around Sundown elf-titled, This Will Destroy You; Toro y Moi Anything in Return; and my last one was Metallica, The Black Album.

Jon: Mine was Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News; Muse, Absolution; Audioslave Self-titled album; The Eagles, Hell Freezes Over; and I also put Swimming with Bears-EP.  Most of mine were from when I was a kid to when I was like 14.  Those really inspired me to be a musician.

Joe: For bass guitar influences, I like anything from Rage Against the Machine,  Fear Follow or Kings of Leon. When it comes to singing though, I have to give it to Amy Winehouse, or Sam Cooke because the soul in their voices is  awesome. Chris Cornell had a lot of soul in his voice as well.

Ryan: I did the 2010 Album by Gorillaz, Plastic Beach, I loved the beats in that album. Two of my favorite songs are on there, “Rhinestone Eyes” and “Melancholy Hill”, which are complete opposites  from each other, in terms of the feeling you get. I also did Jim Morrison Absolutely Live, which was pretty cool because it was The Doors live were incredible.  David Bowie's Blackstar album from 2016 and  Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black.

HEM: What is your favorite part of the live shows?

Joe: Mine is when you get into the zone, it’s like a feeling when you get on stage and everything is clicking. I know where my fingers are going to land on the bass, I know when I tried to go for that note, it's going to click. The fans and  having people yell and love your music is always awesome, but as an artist when everything clicks and you're just getting self satisfaction in your own art, I love the feeling.

Ryan: We've had, lately, (as we've been getting more notoriety) people start to sing our songs, which is something else that I've never seen. Fans singing “Shiver and Crawl”,  and our new song “French Girls.”

Jon: It's just fun to me. I love doing it. The whole live show thing is always fun, and I just like doing it with these guys and getting up there and interacting with people. Afterwards, people are stoked and you're stoked and everyone has a bunch of fun and that makes it fun for me.

Alec: I like two things. The first, is kind of what he's talking about,  it's like a runner's high. You almost get tunnel vision, and you don't think about anything. You don't even hear sound, it's like a buzz in your head. Another thing is when me and Joe do our little high five. It's a click moment. Sometimes you start a show so fast you don't realize what you're doing, you don't realize you're already two songs in, and I’m like, “I really need that high five.” After that it's like yeah, we're in the zone.

HEM: I have just a quick, few, fun questions for you all now, what is your dream venue to play at?

Ryan: Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Alec: The O2 in England.

Jon: Reliant Center in Houston.

Jon: What would Joe say? He would probably say the Apollo or some shit.

Alec: He doesn't talk about the Apollo!  I bet you money he picks the Olympian. In Rome.

Joe: Outside in front of a million people.

Alec: But what venue?

Ryan: A large field in Russia?

Joe: The White House.

HEM: If you had a superpower what would it be?

Alec: To manipulate matter. Like atoms, separate them and bring them together.  You can make money up here, you can make a swimming pool up here, you can make a mansion up here, you can make spaghetti with meatballs right in front of you.

Jon: I honestly just think flying would be really cool.

Joe: Absorbing people's powers.

Ryan: I would want to be super intelligent. I would probably be a villain.
 

HEM: Last question,  What is your favorite current album?

Alec: So Long Forever by Palace

Ryan: Blackstar by David Bowie

Joe: Sound and Color by Alabama Shakes.
Jon: Mine is the new Foals album, What Went Down.