First Impressions: Sunbear
Andrew Gundran is a modest guy. When Shuffle reached out to the leader of Sunbear — an experimental outfit out of Clemson testing the boundaries between electronic music and funk — he asked, “Why Sunbear?” and pointed out that there were several other Clemson bands that he thought demanded Shuffle‘s attention. But Sunbear is a unique case. The band attacks its songs with a jam-band sense of wonder, melody building and building to sometimes massive catharses. But for a young group — the band has two Bandcamp EPs to their credit, the simply titled 1and 2 — their ability to focus is surprising. Their songs deviate and shift, but typically over the course of three to five minutes, cramming jazzy polyrhythm, funky bass lines and electronic haze into tight, neatly arranged packages. Shuffle’s Jordan Lawrence conducted an e-mail interview with Gundran to figure out where Sunbear came from and where it is headed.
Shuffle: How did Sunbear get started?
Andrew Gundran: Sunbear got started essentially as a group of friends that got together to make music because it is what we love to do. Eventually we wanted to name what we were doing because it was starting to sound pretty unique to the group that we were playing with. We clicked together really well, especially Mike (Resler), our drummer, and myself essentially because we had been playing together since high school. It was originally myself on guitar, Mike Resler on drums, Brent Phelan on synth/drums/percussion and James Murphy killin’ it on bass. Ben Hines later came on and played keys with us, which added another dimension to our sound which we were really digging. We hope to highlight this further in the future. Brent moved to a more percussive role with congas, tamborines, etc. after our friend Cory Free lent us his congas. Its been gravy since. Harrison DeMint was also a huge part of this as well, and he’s been a part of the Sunbear/Brohan family, helping us produce and record a massive amount of material.
Shuffle: It’s an interesting name. How did you guys come up with it?
AG: This is a funny story actually. Originally we wanted to use SolarBear. I think we came up with it drunkenly at a party or something. I actually misheard it and thought it was Sunbear (probably because I was intoxicated). So the entire time we were toying with that name, I actually thought it was Sunbear.When we found out that Solarbear was taken, I came out and said I had thought it was Sunbear. Evidently, everyone was cool with that. Personally, I like Sunbear more. Not to be confused with Sunbears! from Florida.
Shuffle: In February, you guys released two free digital EPs of funky, futuristic jams. What spurred the creative burst?
AG: As a group that was the sound we had been creating that was essentially unique to us, and we really wanted to hear it played back to us. We’re not big on covers and not really into “traditional.” We stress original music. And that futuristic, funky sound is different and, well, essentially original. I like to call it “space funk.” So we did a “dry run” of that idea with just myself and Mike and our other friend Andrew Harris on bass. You can hear a lot of the same ideas on 2 that are on 1 but with a more full sound on 2 — naturally, since we were a full band. 1 was essentially an outline of where we wanted to go, but far more experimental. “Three of Anything” off 1 is so on-point with that concept I wish we had full band on it. We cover like nine genres in nine minutes.
There is something really raw about loose jams/recordings that you can’t really replace. That feeling that you wont ever hear it or play it again — that sense of uniqueness I find intriguing. So in terms of structure I would say we are extremely loose, but at the same time we have a general idea as to where we want to go because we understood the general sound we wanted. It keeps it unpredictable, which we also really like. It sounds convoluted but it’s really not– you gotta feel it out. That kind of methodology takes time to develop because it depends not only on one person, but everyone else to be on that same level, or our sound would be compromised. We’re dependent on each other — no glorified leader/singer or rockstar guitarist. We really don’t operate like a typical band. And we really like that and try to highlight it.
We’re unique. We embrace it. We make it work. We should probably try to promote ourselves more too . . .
Shuffle: I’m intrigued by your strung-out tones and how you apply them to a range of styles from drone to straight-up funk. What draws to you that kind of sound?
Andrew Gundran: Love this question. I’m a huge gear nerd, so it’s awesome that you recognized the tones that I do utilize because, believe it or not, I did develop it from experimenting and listening to other artists with distinct tones. I love the voicings you can create from electronics and technology: primarily delays, wah, and pitch benders. Some bands like to keep it traditional with traditional instrumentation. That’s cool, but that’s not really us. We like to push the envelope and embrace technology to the fullest from MIDI to effects. It can only add to our sound, so we take complete advantage of it, which allows us to experiment even more. It’ll be more reflective in our newer stuff. Society progresses, why not our music?
From a band stand point, James Murphy can get funky when he slaps the bass, providing a solid backbone to our sound. Mike and Brent are also solid percussionists with two unique styles, so when they switch on drums we essentially get to add yet another new dimension to the fold. Once we hit that “pocket” groove, we don’t want to get out because that’s when it really gets fun. Adding Ben made the funky/jazzy side come out and develop more. It’s a meshing of all of our musical backgrounds into a genre-tossed medley that somehow works. Our ability to mold several genres into something cohesive is a strong point for sure and something unique that we hope people can recognize and appreciate. It’s by no means “normal” and a bit of a drawn out process to piece together.
Shuffle: Speaking of your stylistic range, how did you guys end up spanning so much ground? What inspires you to reach so far as opposed to focusing one genre?
AG: Reaching out into different genre goes hand in hand with the whole “lets do something different” mindset that I think we were going for. We never labeled ourselves outright to a certain genre. I couldn’t imagine myself or anyone in the band adhering to anything “typical.” I personally feel that it speaks to our musicianship and adaptability to each other when we are playing. It’s all about adaptability — knowing what key, when to transition, when to come in and out, tempo, the overall feel — and we figured each other out pretty well.
We all have extensive musical backgrounds. It was a matter of picking and choosing what we wanted to do at the moment. From post-rock (“No More Than Four and Two Blue”) to electronic jam (“One Note Blue Note”) to funk (“Seven Bear Cubs Roaming”) to jazz (“Three Counts Flat”) to straight baby-making music to shit that I can’t even describe (“Four Sharps Make the World Go Round”), whenever we all hit the same level when we’re playing, it’s magical (corny, I know) and a “genre” becomes a moot point. It’s all music when it comes down to it. We were creating the music we were making because it felt right, and we stuck with it. If anything, focusing on one genre was more of a limiting factor, so we never made a point to focus on anything. When we did it wasn’t our best or didn’t feel or sound right. Not having a vocalist probably played a huge role in this too, but we play in a format that doesn’t cater well to a vocalist.
Shuffle: What’s in the works? Can we anticipate a 3 anytime soon?
AG: Great question. We have 3 being mastered now! Unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts there will be no keys with Ben Hines aka DJ Rho. However, the other four of us do delve further into that same futuristic sound. I’d say we push it even further by utilizing a lot more synth/MircroKorg and running a lot more through Ableton. In all honesty, we haven’t heard them since we recorded them so when we do release it will be just as new to us as any of our friends or listeners, so we’re pretty stoked on it! And spot on, It will be named 3!
Also we’ll be working on 4 after the release of 3. Personally, I would like to progress more on keys along with experimenting more with analog synthesis. We’re a huge mixed bag. Hopefully some people dig it. I know we do.