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Feature: The Permanence of She Bears

By Xavier Veccia

In front of this cookie-cutter house on Indianola Ave. in Columbus, Ohio, just blocks away from the Ohio State University campus, is a rickety porch swing, still swinging. There’s an ashtray and a heavy door. Drummer Alex Eiler is the one who opens the contraption.

Wearing a beanie, he points to a room just around the corner, where his friends and bandmates are waiting. From left to right sit bassist Ryan Franz, frontman Stephen Pence and guitarist Alex Douglas as Eiler goes to the kitchen to get a drink.

A conversation about the board game on the table, Settlers of Catan, arises as they wait for Eiler. The group of guys, who’ve been too busy to play the game recently, talks about their one friend who owns an expansion pack.

Eiler sits to the left of Franz with a glass decorated with 3D flames in hand. But it’s only the second coolest cup in the room, as Franz drinks from a mug sporting the now-famous Ron Swanson hair-mustache combo.

All sporting beanies, the four men laugh like a gaggle of old friends, which is exactly what they are. They’re the picture of indie rock perfection. It’s no wonder Pence compares the forming of their band, She Bears, to a “really cute British rom-com.”

“We all had mutual friends,” says Pence, “it was just a matter of meeting each other.”

While the foursome is indeed cute, the actual story of their conception probably doesn’t require Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan acting it out.

She Bears started playing over six years ago in Athens, Ohio when Pence came to town looking to play music.

“I started the band,” explains Pence. “I moved to Athens from Texas and was looking to start the band, and, one-by-one, I ended up picking these guys up.”

Douglas was the first one to join, just about a week before their first show at The Union. Franz was the next to join a few months later and then finally came Eiler, replacing their old drummer.

But that’s just the current members. She Bears went through multiple iterations in their six-year career. Early on they had members from bands all throughout Athens, including Tim Race and Zack Inscho from Russenorsk and Teddy Humpert from Kaslo. And of course there was Caitlin McGlade, the keyboardist for most of their Athens run. The group missed McGlade so much they even decided to name their house cat, who is jumping off of furniture for most of the interview, after her when they moved to Columbus in fall of 2010.

“Our ex-members could probably start a bigger band of their own,” jokes Douglas.

However, the band has mostly remained a steady foursome since it left Athens in 2010.

“Basically when we moved to Columbus, it primarily became the four of us,” says Douglas. “Caitlin hung on for a little bit, but her having to commute just didn’t make sense and she wanted to focus on being a journalist. Pretty much, I feel like the real start of our band was really when we moved to Columbus. That’s when we started being the band that we are now.”

The members aren’t the only changes She Bears have gone through in their six-year career. Somewhere in the midst of constant member replacements and their two homes, the quartet have found a sound that they feel best showcases their talent.

“In the beginning we were definitely going for a folkier sound,” says Douglas, before listing off instruments used in the past by the band--piano, violin, accordion (“It was a concertina,” says Pence). “Now we’re a lot louder and guitar-driven. There’s a lot of differences between our first and our latest albums we put out,” continues Douglas, referring to I Found Myself Asleep and We Will Be Fossils, respectively.

“I think we have a more focused sound and direction,” chimes in Franz. Douglas also mentions how the songwriting has progressed over time as well.

“Both albums definitely have different conceptual stuff, but overlapping things as well,” says Pence. “I think a lot of it’s more like the way we put a song together, the way we arrange a song. It’s just musical growth, I guess.”

“I think something that really changed,” adds Douglas, “is that we stopped going with the first thing we came up with. We kind of hunkered down until all of our parts and the structure of the song were as perfect as they could be.”

The foursome has a large variety of influences, as they have all experienced different styles first-hand. Franz was in “a couple of Metalcore bands in high school,” Eiler in a “dub-reggae-punk band on the East coast” and Douglas in a hard-rock blues band (“I’m from Akron so I was, like, super into the Black Keys”).

Ultimately, the group found common ground and from there, evolved into the band they are now.

“The bands we got compared to often in the beginning--and those are bands that we all like--are, like, Modest Mouse and Built to Spill and Arcade Fire,” says Douglas.

“We’ve been compared to, like, every band,” adds Pence, as the group collectively mentions being compared to Third Eye Blind. Twice.

“I have a hard time describing our sound to people,” continues Douglas. “It’s not like we’re experimental or crazy or out of this world in any way. It’s just, like, slightly different.”

“No one has ever said, ‘You guys sound exactly like Pink Floyd’ or ‘exactly like blank, anything,’” adds Eiler. “It’s 2014. Lots of music has happened over the course of history. Bits and pieces of everything make their way into our music.”

This “slightly different,” more guitar-oriented sound was a result of the band’s growth, which was no fluke, as the members started to treat the band as a serious part of their life.

“We have a bank account,” cites Pence as Franz quickly mentions that he’s the treasurer.

It’s not just the bank account that’s proof of the members’ dedication to the band. Before She Bears moved to Columbus, they released their first album and went on a six-week tour. It was at this point when they graduated. “It would’ve been an easy point to quit,” says Eiler.

“We had to get more serious when we moved to Columbus because the music scene’s different and there’s so many good bands here,” adds Franz. “We didn’t want to just move up here and get lost in the crowd.”

The whole band chimes in now, listing how they’ve been smarter with their decisions when it comes to She Bears: doing an appropriate amount of shows, playing the right shows, making connections, networking, promoting and just about anything else a successful band must go through.

For a group of friends who love to goof around as much as She Bears do, the transition from college drunkenness to adults working toward a common goal wasn’t always an easy one.

“It’s not easy [balancing fun and dedication],” says Douglas. “It hits us financially.”

“And emotionally,” adds Pence, half-joking.

“The balance between the two--between working and playing--comes down to us all being dedicated to something,” says Eiler. “We all work to support ourselves enough that we can continue to do this.”

“I would say all of us have given up at least the opportunity to get laid once,” adds Pence. “Yeah, a few times,” responds Douglas.

“But we’ve also, at the same time, given up some career moves,” says Eiler, “that would have maybe benefited one of us, but we’re a team.”

“Every time we get somewhere, it makes us want to push it further,” says Douglas. “The milestones we reach as a band definitely give you the incentive to stick with it because, you know, there are a lot of external difficulties with pursuing [success], but the end result when you keep achieving more makes you want to do it more.”

“I think it helps that we’re all friends,” adds Franz. “We’ve been doing this for over six years. A lot of bands come and go in that time frame, just because some people aren’t dedicated, some people choose jobs. We’ve all made sacrifices.”

“Not had babies,” says Pence, who quickly knocks on wood furniture.

It’s this camaraderie that has clearly carried She Bears through all the “external difficulties” they’ve faced over the past six years.

“We can hang out together, we can make fun of each other and nobody gets offended,” says Eiler. “I mean, when we go out on tour, it’s four of us plus all of our equipment in a Honda Odyssey.”

“On a blind smelling test, I could probably pick out all of these guys’ BO,” jokes Pence.

The quartet has faced a lot in its six-year history, from multiple Nelsonville Music Festival appearances (“It’s a whole lot of day-drinking”) to touring mishaps including a Memphis strip club and an Oklahoman cougar. But there’s still even more to accomplish.

Up next is a tour that should include a PR campaign to promote it and hopes for wider distribution. “We’re going to hit some cities we’ve hit a couple times in the past, we’re going to play some new ones, just try to reach out to more people,” states Eiler.

“It would definitely be cool if we could make money doing this,” says Pence.

“We’re not trying to headline Bonnaroo right away,” continues Eiler.

“But maybe we’ll be one of those bands at the bottom of the poster,” adds Douglas. “That’s an accomplishment.”

One of the major keys to She Bears’ music is “the bigger theme of permanence,” as Pence puts it. This is especially prevalent in their song “Fossils,” where Pence belts “We’ll all be fossils in the end,” in the powerful chorus. And it’s clear that this is also a heavy theme in their daily life surrounding the band.

Eiler mentions a documentary film titled A Band Called Death, which is about the 1970s punk band Death, who failed to have much success in their era but recently obtained newfound popularity. “You just never know [who you might reach],” says Eiler.

In a video with ACRN from four years ago, Pence stated the question that was in the forefront of their minds at that time, “Do we wanna get out there?” Two members lighter and four years later, they’ve gotten out there. Now it’s up to them to see just how far they can get and just how permanent they can be. At least they’ve got each other for the ride.

[Editor’s Note: Check out She Bears with Indigo Wild and Orson Frontier this Saturday at 10 p.m. It’s all happening at Casa Nueva, $5 cover.]

#featurearticle #xavierveccia #shebears

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