Ever Fallen in Love?
Gold-Bears Make a Tasty Batch of Ear Candy
You know how some musicians stubbornly attempt to deny their obvious influences, as if it makes them appear more unique?
Not Jeremy Underwood.
“Some of my favorite bands,” he begins, “are the Wedding Present, Boyracer, the Smiths, Summer Cats…”
All groups to which his own band, Gold-Bears, easily beg comparisons. Their impact on his own music is readily apparent. Nothing to hide here.
“Well, yeah,” he agrees. “I think it’s kind of silly for bands not to really show their influences on their sleeve. Because, obviously, music is derivative – it’s coming from somewhere, and we’re kinda silly not to say where our influences are coming from. I mean, I think I’m a distinctive songwriter, but still, it doesn’t just come out of your head.”
Perhaps a better way of considering it is that Gold-Bears are simply the latest and freshest practitioners of that broad brand of fast-paced, fuzzy, melodic, emotive, compact and occasionally shambolic post-punk music variously called fuzz-pop, crash-pop, twee-punk, C86, etc. But honestly, they’re far more solid and refined than such descriptions imply, or that Underwood will even take credit for. So forget the labels. All you really need to know is that this Atlanta band makes incredibly catchy, boisterous pop gems that will stick in your noggin for days, weeks, months. They are one of Atlanta’s most underrated current outfits, but it’s likely that will change this month when their debut full-length album, Are You Falling in Love? is unveiled by Slumberland Records, which is in all likelihood the perfect label for them. And in 31-year-old Underwood’s case, bizarro-ly serendipitous.
“I started seriously listening to music when I was 14 years old,” he recalls. “My brother was a music fan, and he got me into cool music. And one of the first memories I have is sitting down in front of his stereo listening to a Slumberland Records 7-inch. It was a Black Tambourine 7-inch. And so that sorta sparked my obsession with music, and mid ’90s indie-pop was really what I loved. There was a lot of very obscure stuff coming out then, and as this 14- or 16-year-old kid, I thought it was more punk than the punk kids because I was listening to more obscure stuff than they were!”
Underwood grew up in Fort Lauderdale, with lots of shitty punk bands populating what local music scene it had. He went to all the shows, even occasionally seeing a band he liked, such as a Superchunk show he finagled his way into when he was sixteen. But he never got to experience most of his favorite bands up close, as they rarely made it to south Florida if they even toured the States at all. Perhaps that’s one reason he dove into making his own version of it.
While attending college in Tallahassee, for several years on either side of the turn of the century, Underwood had a band called Plastic Mastery. Featuring Jeremy, his brother Nick, his future wife (and Gold-Bears bassist/violinist) Juliet Sy and three guys named Shawn Gallagher, Larry Bonk and Tic, their sound is traceable to Gold-Bears but was folkier, with horns and strummy acoustic guitars, maybe more at home with the Elephant 6 crowd; Jeremy split the songwriting chores with Larry. They released a 7-inch on Athens label Happy Happy Birthday to Me, a full-length album on Magic Marker, and an EP on 555 Recordings, run by Stewart Anderson of Boyracer, with whom Plastic Mastery toured. Post-college, however, the members of Plastic Mastery went their separate ways. Underwood and Sy spent a short stint with a Gainesville, Florida group called French Horns, and then for several years stopped playing music altogether.
“I was in grad school. Life got in the way. I wasn’t really writing any songs, so I didn’t really see the point of being in a band anymore,” Jeremy says. “And then I got the itch [again].”
After relocating with Sy to Atlanta, where he’s the curator at the Center for Puppetry Arts, Underwood found his other bandmates through the Plastic Mastery connection, oddly enough. A late-night Google search in mid ’09 turned up guitarist Erich Luedtke’s old band Paper Knives because they listed Plastic Mastery as an influence on their MySpace page. Underwood sent him a message asking if he could steal their drummer, Dave Fortner, for Gold-Bears. Luedtke’s reply? “Yeah – but I can also play guitar and bass and all these other instruments…” So he was in, too. And Luedtke was then helping run the on-campus all-ages venue Under the Couch with his fellow Georgia Tech student Santiago Archila, who was brought in as Gold-Bears’ bassist.
They wasted no time. Within two practices the band’s first single for Magic Marker was recorded, although only one of the three songs features the other guys (one track was recorded with Boyracer’s Anderson, another just Underwood). A second, four-song single followed early this year on Miami’s Cloudberry Records, and it’s even stronger. They also contributed a track to a Tullycraft tribute album last year. Amid all of that, Fortner said farewell and moved to Panama, Archila moved behind the drumkit (which he pummels with a thrilling ferocity), and Sy stepped into the bass slot before taking a leave of absence to give birth to her and Jeremy’s first child, Sophie, who they welcomed three months ago. So Nick Underwood’s back in the picture, working the bass guitar for current live gigs, including the eight-date east coast tour kicking off May 13th at 529.
While his bandmates are understandably eager to hit the road and perform, Jeremy isn’t quite so keyed up. Truthfully, he says, he doesn’t really enjoy playing live at all.
“I just don’t care for it. It’s not my thing,” he confesses.”You’ve seen us – I’m terrible live! I’m awkward. It’s not fun. It’s painful looking. I’m not comfortable up there. I think I’m the only band lead guy that hates playing live. I hate touring, I hate doing these live shows. I wish we could just record songs and that’s it. That’s the fun part for me. The whole creative process.”
“We’ve actually talked about this before,” Archila pipes in “Playing live is why I even like music. Jamming out, playing live – that’s what music’s all about. So we’re like, ‘Come on! Come on! We have to play!'”
Underwood confides that he mainly gives in to live performances because his bandmates enjoy it so much, and they put so much work into making his songs come together. And, no doubt, the folks at Slumberland would certainly prefer that the band gets out and promotes the album (out May 17th, two days before they play the New York City Pop Fest).
Like everything else, the Slumberland deal came together rather quickly in the band’s existence. Ever since he heard that Black Tambourine 7-inch and other records on the label, Jeremy had occasionally corresponded with owner Mike Schulman about favorite bands, records, etc. And during the Plastic Mastery days, Jeremy, Nick and their roommate briefly operated a vinyl distribution company, which worked with Slumberland. So when Gold-Bears were recording their Cloudberry 7-inch a year ago, Jeremy sent Schulman a stream of the songs. Schulman’s response: “I don’t know whether it’s the two beers that I had at lunch, or if I really like you guys, but what I think you’re doing is very awesome.”
Recorded at home, with Luedtke engineering, Are You Falling in Love? is indeed awesome, from the agitated drumbeat that knock-knock-knocks “Record Store” off to a bracing start, into the ba-ba-ba’s and push-and-pull punch of “All These Years,” through the hypnotic drone of the title track and beyond. The incessantly catchy “So Natural” and acoustic (first half, at least) yearner “Yeah, Tonight” are reprised from the Cloudberry 7-inch, as is “Tally” from the Magic Marker single. “East Station Attendant” has an all-too-brief, unexpected, wistful guitar passage amid its hopeful lyrics and frenzied feedback. “Besides You” holds the din at bay, revealing the heartfelt sentiments at Underwood’s core. Frankly, it’s a tremendously solid record start-to-finish, packing jangle, fuzz, noise, crashes and crushes, painful longing and pure love into one nifty gift that will surely prove inspiring to young, future musicians, much like Jeremy’s own personal experience.
“I love songs that are catchy and maybe even obnoxiously noisy,” he makes clear. “There’s this single by a band called the Nightblooms. It’s really over the top, and this female vocalist is really trying to cut through this total feedback buzzsaw guitar stuff. So, that mixed with really clean, Orange Juice sort of bouncy pop – I guess that’s where we’re coming from.”
And the songwriter says the name Gold-Bears – taken from a brand of gummi candy – fits the band perfectly, when you consider it.
“For the record, I really love the candy very much. It’s my favorite snack in the world,” he enthuses. “Two, I always thought it was a very sort of awkward name. Because there’s a hyphen in there – it feels like a weird translation. And it’s kind of fierce, it’s kind of awkward, and it’s twee.
“Twee is a bad name in indie pop,” he continues. “It’s a brand of pop that’s, like, sugary sweet, typically about boy-girl relationships. People used to call my old band twee, so that’s kind of what I latched onto, because I thought that was kind of funny. I just thought it would be interesting to introduce that word into the Atlanta lexicon.”