Bears in their own right

Story by: Denise Wright

Charlie McArthur and Craig Ramsey, two-sixths of Bears, ordered iced drinks at the Phoenix Café in Cleveland Heights.

As they waited for their drinks, they looked over patrons’ crayon drawings that lined the counter. “They took down my mouse,” McArthur said, almost disappointed.

They got their drinks and walked over to a table by the window. McArthur took a bite of his blueberry muffin and indicated he was ready to talk.

There’s so much to talk about. Bears is releasing its new album, Simple Machinery, next month. The band will be starting its third tour in less than a week. With so much in store for the band, it only makes sense to start from the beginning.

“When we started out we weren’t even really a band,” Ramsey said. “We had some song ideas that we decided to record, and we just kept writing and recording.”

Even with featuring a number of instruments on their first album, Ramsey said he and McArthur produced the album on their own. It came out in 2006. After wrapping up their first CD, they were offered a show from a friend, McArthur said.

At that point, the two decided they would need to put together a live band.

“We needed a large band because of all the instruments we had used on the record,” Ramsey said.

Within a few months’ time, they had gathered enough members to play their first gig in June 2006.

“We got pretty lucky with finding four members in less than four months,” McArthur said. “They were all basically friends of friends or people we already knew.”

Since forming a live band in 2006, Bears has done two tours, not including its current one. The band spent last spring playing in the South, and last summer it toured the West Coast.

“This time we decided to go out to New England and the East Coast because we really haven’t been out there too much,” McArthur said. “We’re just trying to hit everywhere we can.”

And there’s even the occasional show that doesn’t necessarily involve much trying. For Bears, the American Music Union Festival on Aug. 9 is one of those shows.

The festival will feature big names such as Bob Dylan, Gnarls Barkley and The Raconteurs.

But McArthur said it was “pretty much the easiest show (I’ve) ever booked.”

They said a friend who runs a label in Portland, Ore., recommended them to a representative at a publicity company in California. The employee contacted Bears and informed them their company was looking for 15 of the country’s best college bands to submit for the festival, sponsored by American Eagle Outfitters.

McArthur and Ramsey said they will be representing Kent State at the festival. Even though Sean Sullivan, the band’s bassist and a Kent State student, is the only band member in college, the group was still qualified to participate.

“I sent (the representative) a CD and a few days later we were accepted,” McArthur said. “We’re looking forward to just being involved in it.”

With a new album under their belt, McArthur and Ramsey said they would like to go on tour with another bigger band to get more exposure and gain new listeners.

“We always do really well when we open up for touring acts in Cleveland,” Ramsey said. “It would be nice if we had that every night.

“Honestly, I’m just happy to be touring anywhere. We always have fun no matter where we go.”

But as far as exciting tour stories are concerned, McArthur said the band doesn’t have any.

“Maybe we should just make something up,” Ramsey said. “You remember when the van caught on fire, and we barely got out with our lives?”

“That was nuts,” McArthur chimed in.

Ramsey got serious again. “We’re really not that exciting,” he said. “Some bands go looking for the rock star lifestyle, but we just keep it simple and play a good show. We stop at rest stops and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Nobody wants to hear about that.”

Yet the story behind the band’s name is one of a kind. McArthur, now 25, said the name originated from a camping experience he had with his dad when he was 22.

“It was remote, and I could hear rustling in the brush around the campfire,” he said. “I kept saying I wished it was a baby bear that would come out and make s’mores with us by the fire and sit on my lap.”

He shared the story with Ramsey and the name stuck.

Although, they’re both in agreement on the band name, they said there’s another major area they tend to differ in – music tastes.

McArthur said he tends to listen to “a lot of newer stuff.” He cited Acid House Kings, a Swedish pop band, as one of his favorites. Ramsey, on the other hand, said he always come back to the Beatles and the Beach Boys. He mentioned that lately he’s been listening to The Republic Tigers.

“They use a lot of delays with their vocals, which I actually used on our new album,” he said. “So you should see that come through.”

They both agreed their musical tastes tend to complement each other, which has resulted in a more diverse album. They added that because of their musical influences, McArthur tends to write more of the fast-paced songs while Ramsey enjoys writing the slower ones.

Although Bears now has a live band, McArthur and Ramsey decided to continue recording albums on their own.

McArthur said their second full-length album “just got back from the pressing plant,” so they’re looking forward to the release show on Aug. 23. Ramsey said the new album differs from the first one, especially with the amount of bells they used.

“There are some bells on the new one, but it’s a lot more subtle and buried,” he said.

He added that he tried using more harmonies on the new album, though, so he hopes listeners notice the difference. Ramsey described the band’s sound as pleasant, poppy, and “catchy but not obnoxiously catchy.”

“Our music is very layered,” he said. “We get really (instrumentally) involved.”

Music aside, McArthur and Ramsey said they’re both going through a lot of changes right now, but they don’t see themselves straying from music.

“I would just like the opportunity to continue playing music,” McArthur said. “And if we could make money from that, even better.”

Contact general assignment reporter Denise Wright at [email protected].