For a band that draws its inspiration from Nintendo games and Disney musicals, that whiles away the hours conjuring recurring jokes about a bandmate’s choice of body spray or opining on what, medically, yellow mucus could mean, Orlando five-piece Baron Von Bear spends an inordinate amount of time pulling out their hair.
At just over a year and a half old, the band makes lighthearted jangle-pop that drips with restlessness, smiling through gritted teeth as it crowds itself into a corner of regret and world-weariness. Their songs bounce relentlessly from genre to genre, and although they’re played with abandon in the hope that the affliction – what singer/keyboardist John Paul Ramos calls “musical ADD” – will be misconstrued as youthful excess of ambition, the styles themselves tell a different story. This isn’t a group of frat rejects playing around with nerdcore then switching it up to post-funk to throw you off and shroud sonic insecurity; Baron Von Bear prefer to interrupt a front-porch Southern Gothic ballad (“Dark Nights,” from their self-titled debut EP) for a congas-and-Spanish-guitar waltz interlude, then close with a horn-fueled fanfare that would better accompany a movie studio’s logo than a love song. You know Baron Von Bear is serious because the source of their good-time romps requires a great deal of homework.
“One thing leads to another,” says Ramos. “Eventually you get something and wonder, ‘How does it fit into this?’”
“The emotions of the song dictate what goes in,” says Joey Bordenga, who shares songwriting, singing and instrumental duties with Ramos. “We start with something and we just modify it constantly, always changing.”
Bordenga founded the band a few years ago in South Jersey with drummer Robert Muir III and guitarist Dan Burton. The three of them moved to Orlando to attend Full Sail University as recording arts students and met Ramos through a MySpace classified ad. (Bassist Craig Muir, Robert’s brother, was convinced to join up later.) The group originally angled themselves as a “nice and pretty emo” band along the lines of Lakeland’s own Copeland – “I was against Copeland from the beginning,” laughs Ramos – but they didn’t want to be saddled with one particular sound. The choice was made not only to allow the story behind a particular song to drive the musical narrative, but to encourage a democratic songwriting process.
BARON VON BEAR CD RELEASE PARTY
with Thomas Wynn and the Believers, Sugar Oaks, Dark Romantics, Show of the Universe
7 p.m. Saturday, May 10, 2008
Back Booth, 407-999-2570
$10 (includes CD)
“J.P. and Joey, one of them will come up with something that’s sort of put together, then we’ll jam on it,” says Robert Muir. They maintain that the lyric and music for each song was contributed by a different combination of members.
What comes later is, by all accounts, a grueling process of trial and error. Baron Von Bear records every rehearsal and every jam, then spends hours reviewing the tapes. When something clicks, they build a song from the part that works.
“We’ll write something and just throw it out and try to come up with something entirely different from that,” says Ramos. “And then, maybe even that thing will be inspired by the original thing.”
When a set of songs is finally ready to mix, the band goes over the mixes and adds more elements after it’s laid out. Their six-song EP, Baron Von Bear, took a long three months
“Me and J.P. were probably the most involved in the mixing,” says Bordenga. “A lot of it was learning how to compromise. We realized that my way isn’t right and neither is `his`.”
The result of their dedication is an extraordinarily focused outing that lands them squarely in the camp of long-established local indie giants like the Heathens, Mumpsy or BVB’s musical cousins, Band Marino (with whom they will be touring later this month). It’s an assured album and the guys’ sense of excitement permeates every overdramatic moment. On “Drifter of the High Seas,” an old sailor, haunted by nightmares, longs for home. He plainly states, “I’ve seen men who kill for what they want” while in the distance a Luhrmann-style operatic fill emphasizes the horror. Melodies drift into every available opening on “The Hours,” a swinging roots-pop jaunt with a retro giddiness reminiscent of the Chili Peppers’ By the Way.
The band-defining moment, though, is on the happy-go-lucky “Live Off the Land,” an unimposing wanderlust rant in which a city boy wants to throw in the hustle-bustle towel. Until the last minute, it’s a perfectly catchy bubblegum escapade, but then the song shuts down. Bordenga’s high-pitched register comes back softly for a piano refrain. Hints of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” are heard, but it’s not yet a full-on homage. Then some familiarly toned guitar scales stomp their way in and it’s unmistakably Brian May.
The entire band laughs when it’s brought to their attention. “That was such a last-minute change,” says Craig Muir. “We were like ‘Where did that come from?’”
“I started cracking up,” remembers Ramos. “But we have to do it. A lot of times, things that are corny are the biggest struggle.”
Again and again with Baron Von Bear, the idea of a struggle to do something silly comes up. It’s a dominant trait for 20-somethings – the quarterlife-crisis man-child phenomenon – but, judging from their debut, the group is comfortable with the practiced immaturity they offer.
Says Ramos, “Corny is a fine line.”
Experience the construction of a new Baron Von Bear song, from demo to album, on the BEATdown blog.[email protected]