Baby Bear goes into hibernation

Robert Checkal

Band plays farewell show Saturday

Baby Bear holds a band practice on a late Tuesday night. The current band will play bassist Brian Benson’s farewell show this Saturday at Musica in Akron. Daniel R. Doherty | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

When thinking about the pastiest, most pale person known to man, this band thinks back to the ’90s. But as the other three members of Baby Bear look over as they drive past their bandmate on the way to lunch last Saturday, they realize his skin pigment is astonishingly similar to that of Powder from the ’90s movie of the same name.

After four years, two demos and countless jokes made at bassist Brian Benson’s expense, the fun-loving band Baby Bear is set to play Benson’s going away show on Saturday. Benson is leaving for Seoul, South Korea where he’ll be teaching English to third-year students while studying abroad for the University of Akron’s School of International Business.

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at Musica in Akron

Starts at 8 p.m., $7

Over the course of Benson’s absence, the other three band members plan on one more show with sit-in bassist Andrew Adams, a Kent State student, in Columbus for VH1’s “Save the Music” charity.

“We’re not really going to plan shows unless something comes up,” said singer and guitarist Erik Nagel.

Yet, the band does intend to brush up on their biggest weakness: songwriting.

The process

Some practices are filled with hours entirely spent on alterations and modifications to the band’s current tunes, while others are spent with the members fine-tuning and familiarizing themselves with their songs through the use of repetition.

The band members blame YouTube as a main distraction during practice, but at their most recent practice their conversation had more to do with cake and pizza.

They started off practice with their latest untitled song. It was a high-energy rhythmic jam session with grunge, rock and dance infusions. Just when you thought the song was winding down, a steady clash of cymbals culminated into a drum-slamming, fast-paced, high-octane ending.

The song seems to be an evolution of the classic Baby Bear, which fuses angst-ridden, soulful and intelligent lyrics with grinding electric rock, pop and dance infusions.

Nagel’s lead vocals add to the mix as a welcome presence that isn’t overbearing or overused. Lead guitarist Darren D’Altorio creates intricate loops, accents and melodies to accompany Nagel’s voice, and Benson’s bass is essential to their sound. They say behind every good band is a good drummer, and Mike Robinson’s talent speaks volumes for the band. But the addition of one more song has taken months. After all, Baby Bear is known for taking its time to pen new tunes for their adoring fans.

The formation

“Me and Erik met through mutual friends while skating,” D’Altorio said. “I think I was 15 and Erik was 17, and we were both in bands at the time. We were all booking shows at Midway Lanes, and Erik booked Brian and Mike’s bands. All the bands fell apart and Erik started putting the (Baby Bear) band together.”

They all started jamming together in 2004 and their first song, “Love Well Spent,” developed quickly from their initial sessions. D’Altorio recycled two unused songs from his previous band, and the group began taking the stage.

The band played often, too often, as they soon recognized.

“We realized we were spreading our crowds thin by playing too many shows,” said Nagel. “We were playing every week.”

They slowed down and started playing sporadically and spent the summer of 2005 recording their first CD, “Tuxedo Park.” It was released in November, but supply and demand were two factors the group didn’t spend time coordinating. They hadn’t made enough copies of their new CD before playing their CD release show.

“I was literally burning copies on my laptop and handing them to kids,” D’Altorio recalled.

While they learned how to meet their demand at shows for the CDs in the coming months, they started developing new songs for a second self-made release.

“Mo Honey, Mo Problems” hit fans at shows in May 2007, but the band remembers how extensive and draining the process was.

“We set the release date before we’d actually written the majority of the songs,” Nagel said. “It felt really rushed, and I think some of the songs suffered because of it. I think that’s why we take our time writing songs now. We’d rather have quality over quantity.”

The end?

So is this the end of Baby Bear, or is this simply a hiatus stemming from Benson’s trip?

“We’re Baby Bear,” Benson said. “We hibernate! We don’t go on hiatus!”

Upon Benson’s return later this year, the band hopes to set out on tour in August. They would like to have finished a few new songs, and one bandmate said it might be easier during Benson’s absence.

“Everything is harder when you’ve got Powder in the room,” Robinson said with a laugh.

Contact all reporter Robert Checkal at [email protected].