Music comes naturally to brothers Casey and Jesse Cooper. It’s in their blood.
Their mother, while not a musician per se, is a musical person with a gifted singing voice. Their aunt used to sing on cruise ships. And their dad — unbeknownst to them until a couple years ago — played the drums.
“We definitely know where Jesse gets his sense of rhythm,” Casey said.
Jesse plays drums and sings for The Receiver, the band the brothers formed in 2005. Casey plays keyboard and bass, and sings.
The band was formed as the brothers expanded on ideas Casey had composed for his senior thesis at Ohio State University. The band began performing live, and needed a name, Casey said.
The name had to be three syllables and easy to remember, Casey said. They read signs, looked through books and even flipped through dictionaries for inspiration.
Out of the blue, Jesse called Casey from his car; he had just looked down and saw the words “stereo receiver” on his car stereo.
“What about the name ‘Receiver’?” he asked his brother.
They liked it, but after discovering another band already used the moniker, they added a “the,” and The Receiver was born.
“I like the simplicity of ‘The Receiver,’” Casey said. “Calling it ‘Stereo Receiver’ would have been way to obvious.”
The band can be described as “dream pop” with a progressive influence. The boys grew up listening to classic rock and love Pink Floyd and Radiohead.
When crafting their own music, they try not to alienate listeners, and work to craft a good chorus, Casey said.
“What really influenced our sound was trying to write songs with a listenable melody, but also the music kind of takes a few twists and turns the listener might not be expecting,” he said. “It’s not your simplistic dream pop. A lot of dream pop focuses on just a few chords and a melody and a real hazy feel. We kind of have a hazy feel, but it’s not limited to a few chords.”
Prog Magazine called their sound “dream prog,” a description Casey said he “kind of” agrees with.
“I don’t think we’re a proggy band, but some people interpret it that way to a degree,” he said.
“We try to draw from our influences, but also not sound derivative,” Casey continued. “It does become difficult to describe yourself.”
The band usually gives one of two answers when asked to describe its sound: They tell older people they’re like Pink Floyd meets Radiohead; they tell younger people they have a dreamy, electronic sound.
The Receiver is signed to KScope Records, but Casey said the band is on the lower end of the totem pole as far as the record label’s hierarchy goes. In fact, The Receiver is the only U.S. band on the label, making them something of a Guinea Pig, Casey said.
While beginning bands would see being signed to a label as a sign of success, Casey said success is a relative term.
“For bands starting out, we might seem successful, but it has been truly a labor of love and one that has never really been easy for us,” he said.
While the band is making a living through their music, they still hold down day jobs, he said. On their current tour, the band takes breaks to head home, back to their regular jobs.
“I would say we are successful to the degree we’re able to do this right now; we do have fans in different cities and people are listening to us on a small scale, but if you were sitting in the van with us, you probably would have quit already and wanted to go home,” Casey said. “A lot of shows are disappointing. A lot of shows are suprisingly good. It’s up and down. It’s a roller coaster. It’s not for the soft-hearted or easily discouraged. … Our mindset is to play through regardless of the circumstances, to try to earn fans one at a time.”
If it’s not easy, what keeps the brothers going?
“Just the fact that we don’t want to do anything else,” Casey said. “We’re not passionate about anything else. We threw all our eggs in this one basket years ago and when we started to get discouraged, to question our commitment to music, we’re always reminded at the right time there are people out there that enjoy what we do.”
Just a couple nights ago, the brothers met a couple who said they’d been fans of the band since 2008 and played one of their songs during their wedding.
“To us, that was crazy,” Casey said. “It’s exactly what we needed to hear at that moment.”
The band’s current tour is the longest The Receiver has done. Although there have been breaks here and there, the brothers have been on the road since mid-February.
“Right before we released our first album in 2006, we toured for like two-and-a-half months,” Casey said. “It felt like an eternity. It is fun looking back on that tour, because you compare the two tours, this one is much more successful. … There’s still days where it does not seem like it’s going well at all, but when we take a step back, it’s going much better than when we first started out. It’s a very positive sign for us.”
The band has played all sorts of venues on the road. In February, the band played a “teeny, tiny” diner in Charlottesville Virginia. The band was relegated to a corner just small enough for people to walk by.
“There was no room to move,” Casey said. “It was really interesting. The crowd was really small, but we gained a couple new fans.”
Casey was hesitant to name the other most interesting venue the band’s played: A bowling alley.
The band was set up in a bowling lane on the far end, facing all the bowlers.
“We played, like, a two hour show, with people bowling. It was ridiculous.”
The Receiver is playing two shows in the area:
7:30 p.m. June 25 at Laurel B. Johnson Community Center, 923 Hazel Point Road, Coyle, WA.
8 p.m. June 28 at The Charleston Theater, 333 N. Callow Ave., Bremerton, WA. Cost is $5
Note: This is a transcript of the full interview with Kirk Nordby of Bear Market Riot. Click here for the much more concise story on the band’s show at the Treehouse Cafe this week.
We spoke with Kirk Nordby, one half of Americana duo Bear Market Riot. Nordby and bandmate Nick Motil are playing at Bainbridge Island’s Treehouse Cafe on Sunday. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Nordby, who grew up on Bainbridge Island, where he honed his musical prowess playing in Bainbridge band Gruff Mummies.
Nordby talked about the origins of Bear Market Riot, what it was like playing music on Bainbridge Island, and the impact of social media for local bands, from KitsapBands.com to Facebook.
KS: Where did you and bandmate Nick Motil meet?
KN: We actually met through a local songwriter showcase that this fellow Steve Key puts on. He has a production called Songwriters at Play. So he does shows at several different locations throughout San Luis Obispo County and then they syndicate sort of a best-of all those shows on one of the local radio stations, The Krush 92.5. So we both were working with him and doing songwriter nights.
The format would be like four songwriters show up, they’d do like three twenty-minute sets or whatever, and then a final set that’s probably like the headliner that does an hour or so. And so we both worked as supporting artists on that series and met each other and kind of gave each other props to each other’s music. And then he occasionally does tribute nights, so we were both on the same bill for a Paul Simon tribute. So over our mutual respect of Paul Simon, we formed a bond, and then I said, “Do you want to come with me to the Los Osos Farmers Market and play music?”
I’m sure that there’s a collector of vintage hatboxes that would freak out if they’d seen what we’d done to this old hatbox.
At the time, I was working as a line cook full time, so I was just constantly working and Monday was like my little musical escape. I would go play for three hours in a farmers market and just kind of do my thing. Each week I had various guests that would come out and play music. Nick ended up just kind of solidifying. It was like, wow, when we sing together, it goes really well. The songs we play, our catalogues complimented each other really well.
We decided, let’s give it a name and see if we can start playing gigs at spaces that aren’t just paying us in fruits and vegetables. … [Los Osos] means “the bears” in Spanish (which led to the band’s name) … We threw around a lot of different names and we had this kick on this little 100-year-old hatbox that we turned into a drum — which I’m sure that there’s a collector of vintage hatboxes that would freak out if they’d seen what we’d done to this old hatbox, but it’s a very cool drum and it works as our little kick drum and it gives you a nice kind of on-the-road, Americana look and everything. We almost called the band “Hatbox Gumbo” for a second, but Bear Market Riot was the one that rang true and sounded good, and that was that.
You grew up in Bainbridge Island. How did you end up in California?
I moved to California via Olympia, Washington. There were a couple stages of life in between. I moved to Olympia in 2007 and went to the Evergreen State College where I got my degree in performance and humanities, and I ended up in a band at the end of my time at school. I was playing in a rock band called Baker London — like a bread baker, like the city of London. Baker London. I was the drummer for that band and we booked a quick west coast tour — I think we did like a two-week west coast tour right after I graduated. We came through San Luis Obispo and played at the Frog and Peach Pub in San Luis and I ended up meeting a girl there who kind of became my siren to the central coast.
I developed a long-distance relationship with this girl and started visiting and eventually ended up with a job interview down here and decided I would buckle down and work. And I moved here as a line cook. I actually didn’t move here with any musical aspiration at all. Baker London was an incredible group but just not a lucrative group. When you have student loans on top of you, there wasn’t really any room for not working so that you could go play rock shows and drink beer. So I was like, well, I’ve got this great job. I ended up at an incredible farm-to-table restaurant here in Paso Robles called Artisan and worked with an excellent chef and mentor for three-and-a-half years.
And by the end of that time was when I had started playing more, because I ended up working daytime shifts, so at night I had my evenings free and I went well, I can start playing here and there and started playing some singer-songwriter sets, doing a solo gig at a wine bar, or a taproom here and there. And then once I met Nick it just started snowballing and gaining more traction and so I made the choice to leave cooking full time and start promoting music and putting shows together and booking Bear Market Riot. And since then it’s grown pretty exponentially. It’s been a pretty incredible ride so far just over these last two years, going from playing a farmers market where we just show up with a bucket, collect tips and sing with no amplification, to playing some of the biggest festivals in this area, a lot of incredible wineries. It’s been a very cool ride.
What are some of the biggest or most fun shows you’ve played?
The most fun certainly would be, like, the California mid-state fair was a lot of fun. It’s kind of one of those things that ranges from super-local groups to like this year, I think Alan Jackson’s playing. Fergie’s going to play, last year we played on the same night as Meghan Trainor. They set it up so that there’s regional touring, (with a) larger stage; there’s the big main stage, stadium stage, and then there’s a local winery-sponsored stage. We got in on the local stage that was sponsored by local wineries and radio and that was a really cool experience. There’s another local festival called Beaverstock that’s produced by my friends at Castoro Cellars and it’s a benefit for one of our local school districts, for the Templeton Education Foundation.
It’s that 10 years of playing, and playing as singer-songwriters, and playing in different groups that gives Bear Market Riot the texture that makes it interesting
They’ve been pulling some really cool artists, like Allen Stone, who I think is a Washingtonian as well and an incredible soul-singer. Last year it was California Honeydrops who are out of the Bay, and then War headlined the second night. It’s a pretty cool festival, so we were happy to be in on that. Here we’ll be doing Live Oak (Music) Festival which is just in a couple weeks and that’s sponsored by the local NPR affiliate. This year, there’s also a pretty awesome lineup. Saturday is also the California Honeydrops headlining, and then Wynonna and the Big Noise, which is … Wynonna Judd and her band, which is pretty cool. Good stuff, so we’re pretty excited about it.
We do a local day at Vina Robles Amphitheater which is another one of the larger amphitheaters in the region that’s putting on some cool classical music there. It’s been cool to get these offers and sort of regionally grow and that was something we definitely set out with.
It’s different starting a band when you’re 29 versus when you’re 19. When you’re 19 and you have very little to be accountable for, it’s easy to get in a band and just go wherever you want to go. And I think my bandmate Nick and I have both had this conversation of, if it was 10 years ago, we would have quit our day jobs and took the risk no problem. But also I think it’s that 10 years of playing, and playing as singer-songwriters, and playing in different groups that gives Bear Market Riot the texture that makes it interesting, because our covers come from a lot of different places.
Our writing style comes from a lot of different places and so it gets packaged as a folk-Americana sound, which is just by nature of being two guys with two acoustic guitars; it sort of comes out that way, but we don’t limit ourselves to playing bluegrass traditionals and Doc Watson and Johnny Cash or anything like that. Despite our love for both of those musicians, we venture far and away into a lot of different pop music, from 1950 to the present day. So it’s pretty cool.
How did the two of you decide on your musical style?
It’s sort of like I said before; it really comes out of two singer-songwriters playing acoustic guitars. Everyone’s familiar with that basic setup. I certainly have an affinity for roots Americana and bluegrass music. Nick’s certainly into more modern singer-songwriters. He comes from more of like a Dave Matthews Band, Ryan Adams. And then I came from somewhere where it’s like Johnny Cash, Iggy Pop and Paul Simon all sat down and made something together. We sort of came from these different sides that have cohesion, but good variables, so then you sort of package that into two guys with beards playing acoustic guitars and a kick drum and harmonica. And it sounds like Bear Market Riot, you know?
It’s not exactly avant-garde. I would not describe anything that we’re doing as way out of left field, or, “Oh my gosh, aren’t they so incredibly innovative?” But I think our innovation comes with just having a broad swath of influence, you know? So you can put something together that sounds new and familiar at the same time. Which is a lot of fun, and it makes a sound that appeals from kids to grandparents, which is really cool.
I don’t know if you looked up my musical past at all on Bainbridge Island, but as a teenager, I was involved in a glam-rock group called Gruff Mummies [You can listen to Gruff Mummies’ music on their MySpace profile. –Ed.] and we were riding around in our old used cars as 17-year-olds listening to Queen and David Bowie and T. Rex and Roxy Music and hanging out with musicians who were way older than us, drinking underage and just deciding to play rock music. We did well for ourselves. We sort of blew up and burnt out, I think, and probably played from 15 to 19 in that band, or I’m sorry, 16 years old to 19 years old. Ended up winning the EMP Sound-Off in 2005, the big under-21 Battle of the Bands at the EMP.
When you’re 17 and you’re all about punk rock and you want to be edgy, you want to do that and then I realized at some point in my young adulthood that there are things that are sort of classic, things that are just enjoyable that I like and you don’t necessarily have to be avant-garde to say something important, but you don’t have to be avant-garde to say something personal and that’s meaningful to people. And so as a project, Bear Market Riot has been really fun, because it is really accessible. It doesn’t take much for us to set up. It started with no sound equipment and now it has a reasonable setup, but it’s still really easy to put together. And like I said, it doesn’t have any pretension to it. It’s very come-as-you-are, which is a funny quote considering that it came from Kurt Cobain, who was indeed an avant-garde songwriter, but the spirit of that is to sort of just be yourself and comfortable. Your two-year-old baby that enjoys the beat and likes to dance, to your mom who remembers the Rolling Stone cover that we did and is like, “Oh yeah, cool. Right on. I recognize that Bob Dylan song, but you played it in a totally different and interesting way.” It’s kind of stuff like that.
Do people seem to respond more to your covers or your original songwriting?
I’m very pleased to say that people really enjoy our original music and I think that’s part of this sort of two-fold package. It’s like, we love the songs that we write and we feature friends of ours who have written songs and adapted, you know, songs we’ve written with other friends to fit what we’re doing and we’ve recreated songs from our past that sound really great. And then also, doing original takes on songs that people really know and love from all kinds of perspectives. We’ll do a Paul Simon cover, but then we’ll also do an MGMT cover or we do an R. Kelly cover as well. It’s fun to watch people sort of turn their ear and they have that face like, “I know what they’re singing, but why is it different?” And then you see the look of, “Oh, okay” wash over them and then they’re like, “Yeah!” That’s a cool transition. But it’s always wonderful when someone comes to see you after a show and says, “Hey, I love all your takes on covers, but your original songs are really strong and I really enjoyed them.” And I think with those original songs it’s easier to take them in all kinds of directions and it’s really fun.
Bear Market Riot is working on a new album, is that correct?
We’re currently working on a full-length album. We raised about $7,700 on Kickstarter last November to produce and record the record ourselves which was really cool. It was really wonderful to have a successful Kickstarter campaign. We used our funding to buy recording equipment so we could have more in-house control and be able to work on future projects as well. On a Mac and a good audio interface and a couple of great microphones that a friend of ours loaned to us, we’ve been steadily working on it but also keeping up with a very rigorous show schedule every weekend. It’s been sort of like our weekends end up being Monday through Wednesday, so whatever we can get done, we get done. But I think we’re looking at hopefully an August release and then we’re going to do a limited run of records, of LPs, that will be available hopefully in the fall, hopefully before Christmastime. The turnaround time for the LP manufacturer takes a bit longer than a CD does, or, you know, obviously a digital release is instant.
Do you visit Washington a lot, or is this show at the Treehouse Cafe a rare homecoming for you?
I come and visit probably twice a year — usually a summer trip and a winter trip. I usually come up and hang out mid-summer for a week. My birthday’s in July and my mom’s birthday is the beginning of August so I’m usually up there around that time. This time around, we actually were invited to play a festival in eastern Washington. We’re going to play in Prosser, Washington, on June 11. It’s called “Bottles, Brews and Barbecues.” It’s just a local wine, beer and barbecue event. We had a representative from I think they’re called the winemakers loft, but she was on vacation in San Luis Obispo and caught a show of ours and said, “We would love for you to come to Prosser and play this event.” And we said absolutely. And I put it together with a show on Bainbridge so I could go see my hometown and share our new music with people I haven’t been able to share music with in such a long time. So it’s pretty special. And it should be a good homecoming. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of friends at the Treehouse Cafe.
Is this the first time you’ve played in your hometown with Bear Market Riot?
That’s right, yeah. It’s the first time Bear Market Riot has come to the Northwest. And it will be the first time we’ve left California, which will be pretty cool. We usually get excited when we leave San Luis Obispo County, but this is the first time we’re really going on a good trip. Like I was saying before, Nick has a two-year-old son, so he’s got to put his son first and time with his family first. We decided very conservatively when we launched the band like OK, we’re going to stay regional and develop a regional following and fanbase and then start pushing the bubble bigger. So I’m can’t tell you how pleased I am to make that bubble grow and make the family better and spread the word. It’s pretty cool.
The Internet opens a lot of doors. Do you find people tend to find out about Bear Market Riot online, or by seeing you live, through word-of-mouth, etc.?
It (the Internet) has been helpful. I mean obviously, I think they work hand-in-hand. The internet and social media, it helps you reach a regional fanbase extremely well and just in ten years, your ability to create … you know, you’re your own advertising firm.
I remember though, even back in 2004 and 2005, the same ideas existed, they were just prototypes of those ideas. Way back when, I remember this website — and I wonder if it is still a thing, but there was this website called KitsapBands.com. [Unfortunately, it’s not still a thing, but you can get a peek of what the site was like here. –Ed.]. I definitely had a Gruff Mummies profile and we were able to reach the kids in Bremerton, you were able to reach the kids in north Kitsap and you were able to get outside of the kids that you saw at school.
Every day in school — there was Facebook back then but it didn’t do nearly as much as it does now — and you would make a flyer, put it up around school, get this done, you had a MySpace page, you had links and you had things like that, but being able to network within your region was really a powerful tool. Those tools are even more powerful now, and because of that, it links us to people who were international, people who are all across the country.
We have a ReverbNation press kit that they put together and it allows you to see the breakdown of how many fans you have via different outlets. So currently, Facebook is our biggest outlet. There’s 800 fans, but also we have a mailing list, there’s people who just access us through ReverbNation. Generally, people who we don’t know who find our music on ReverbNation, maybe just because they’ve searched Americana music or they searched folk music or something or they found a band and said, “Oh, that sounds cool.”
And the same goes for YouTube and Twitter. We’ve actually been able to use Twitter as a tool to sort of cold-call people or to sort of create a conversation about something. That was a big tool for us for Live Oak. We knew it was an important influential show to get on, so we reached out and Tweeted Live Oak and said, “Hey, we’d love to get on the bill. We’d love to be a part of the festival this year.” And they Tweeted us back and said, “We’re paying attention.” So it was really cool. We’ve also done that to reach out to other artists and things like that. So it’s pretty neat.
Looking at our stat breakdown, we’ve got fans all across the west out to Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, across the south and the midwest. Nick grew up in Ohio and toured around the eastern seaboard quite a bit and actually toured as a singer-songwriter through his twenties playing at liberal arts colleges. He’s played just a ton of colleges across the nation and so has an independent fan base as Nick Motil that then has brought us listenership across the country, which is very cool.
But again, we’re very much centralized in California. The bulk of our fans are concentrated in our region here in California, but it’s pretty cool and I hope that in the next couple of years we’ll be doing some tour loops, definitely back up the west coast and down, but I’d love to go across the country to the south. I’ve got some very good friends in Louisiana that I love to play music with.
It literally grows out of my face. I have very little control over it. It’s just a natural occurrence.
You could take the family with you and make it like a vacation.
Definitely. That was Nick’s life before his son. He and his wife would go on the road together and travel as he played shows. It was just my luck that they happened to settle in the same place that I did and then we took off on another adventure together. So it’s pretty neat.
Your beards seem to be a theme with the band; silhouettes of your beards appear on the cover of your EP. Is that an image you’re cultivating or is it a coincidence that you both have beards?
Part of our Kickstarter was that we matched 10 percent of our Kickstarter donation to Movember [a global charity focusing on projects related to prostate and testicular cancer, poor mental health, and physical inactivity. –Ed.] and that’s something that’s been important to me just as a dude with family members who have had prostate cancer; men’s health awareness stuff is important to me, so I got Nick in on it.
So last November, we cut our beards off and then said, the beards will come back if we raise these funds for Kickstarter. And sure enough we did and it was like everybody around here has been like, “How in the world did your beard come back so fast? It’s like it never left!” And I think I’ve proved beyond a reasonable doubt I’m a little more blessed in the beard department than Nick is, although I think Nick’s beard is quite handsome. He does well for himself. For me, I joke to people that ask me about it, it literally grows out of my face. I have very little control over it. It’s just a natural occurrence and I think also it has to do with when you’re just working and moving as much as we are, it’s so much easier to grow a beard than it is to cut it off every day.
Tell me more what it was like growing up on Bainbridge Island playing music.
Tons of great experiences in music and it certainly started something in me that’s greater than myself. It keyed me into something that was possible at that time. Especially, I think if you look at the way music works and independent artists work from say the year 2000 until now, the last couple decades, and the rise of social networking and being able to produce your own music and market it, it tells a tale of the death, in some ways, of Big Music.
Obviously we still have corporate music and massive record labels that have a lot of sway, especially in what gets played on the radio and what you see on TV. But your ability as an independent artist to own the means of production, it’s much greater than it ever has been at any time and I think, as a young guy, it was as little as just the empowerment of the senior in high school to the freshman in high school saying, Why don’t you start a band? We’ve got a show that we’re doing at the teen center or the grange, let’s put it together and have a show, or let’s do a house party. And you were able to create some music, and especially with your ability to digitally produce music, as soon as you had a laptop or access to a computer, you could record.
It wasn’t that you had to have a high-end studio. And your ability to make a recording sound good got easier and easier and more and more affordable, versus like way back when, when you had to use a 4-track recorder and dump four tracks onto one track, and you ended up with this very hissy, low-fi recording. The ability to make a digital recording sound great has opened a lot of doors for people. In a sense, it also takes value out of the recording itself.
I just read a really great article that was about Duff McKagan from Guns N’ Roses and he was talking about how he was just a total trainwreck, like any of those guys at their heyday with a massive alcohol problem and drug problems and all kinds of stuff, but he got sober and figured his shit out and was able to invest his money wisely and now he still produces a couple different bands. He’s got Velvet Revolver and I think, I can’t remember, he’s also got another project going on. But he talks about how way back, in 1990 or 1989, it was about how many albums you sold and now it’s about how many T-Shirts you sell. It’s about how much merch you sell at a show. You kind of take the loss in the album sales as promotion. I think ticket sales and touring have a lot to do with it, but it’s so much it’s just like being able to market and produce yourself.
Another incredible example was Macklemore as a local northwest artist. I saw him in 2009, probably, in Olympia playing at the Clipper Lounge for like half a dozen people or whatever, a dozen people. A really fun local hip-hop show and he was hilarious, an awesome performer, just really solid. I bought his CD; I have it still with his authorgraph, so I think that’s really cool. And I watched him grow, I watched him promote himself and work on his own network and then it was traveling to different places and promoting his own music and then you have an artist that owns Macklemore LLC and is able to produce their music and own their rights to that, which is vastly different from independent artists in the past to be able to have such an impact.
Growing up on Bainbridge Island, there was actually a really solid punk and hardcore scene, and punk and hardcore music was a lot of what our peers were making, some kids younger than us were making, and bands that were coming out of Seattle. But Bainbridge Island itself has always had a really strong scene. There was a really good, I think the The Stranger or maybe Seattle Weekly did a piece a few months ago [It was The Stranger. –Ed.] that was about specifically the Bainbridge Island punk and hardcore scene and grunge scene that sort of started in the late ’80s and early ’90s and continued on through. It’s absolutely right. It really fostered a lot of music and … it was like having a tight-knit group of people that you could collaborate with and promote shows with and have fun. It really solidified the idea of DIY and promoting your own music.
So it’s cool, but it’s changed so much. I remember in 2005 we were still putting together paper press kits. You still sent a big envelope to a potential venue, especially if it was a bigger venue, with press clippings and xerox copies, your fact sheet, your bio, your picture that you printed out, and now it’s a couple clicks and you can send all that information in a very professional, beautiful layout on the Internet. All that information is going to be used through bands in town and through ReverbNation and Facebook and all those things that just make everything so instant. But it’s very cool and it’s awesome to be an independent artist with some control over what you do.
There was recently a lot of press with Kesha as an artist who is trapped in this awful nightmare with this producer who sort of owns her and she’s like, “He’s using me,” but the judges are saying, well, you signed the contract so you’re still in it for 10 albums, even if you can’t work with this guy. And I looked at my bandmate and I said, how awesome is it that we control all of this? We’re not rich and famous with Top 40 radio hits, but that means at the end of the day, I pick where I’m going to play, what the terms are. I talk to them about my rate. We get our rate and we have jobs. We have work that we do steadily and we’re supporting ourselves promoting and producing our music and that’s very empowering and it’s very cool. If you are trying to be a professional musician and you believe your ship is just going to come in and all of a sudden you’ll be rich and famous and everything will be done for you, you’re probably out of luck. You’re most likely out of luck unless you already had some pretty stellar connections in the first place. From our perspective, it’s a lot of legwork and a lot of love that makes it work, that makes it successful. It’s very exciting.
Note: Click here to read the full transcript of our interview with Bear Market Riot’s Kirk Nordby.
Kirk Nordby moved to San Luis Obispo, California to be a line cook, never expecting to forge a career as a musician. Yet that’s exactly what happened.
But, as with so many stories, this one begins with a girl.
“I moved to California via Olympia, Washington,” Nordby, who grew up on Bainbridge Island, said in a phone interview this week.
Bainbridge Island native Kirk Nordby, left, and Nick Motil form the Americana duo Bear Market Riot. The band is performing Sunday at the Treehouse Cafe. (Photo courtesy of Bear Market Riot)
He moved to Olympia in 2007 to attend the Evergreen State College, where he earned a degree in performance and humanities. While in college, he played drums in a rock band called Baker London.
The band booked a West Coast tour after he graduated, which included a show at the Frog and Peach Pub in San Luis Obispo.
“I ended up meeting a girl there who kind of became my siren to the central coast,” Nordby said.
They began a long-distance relationship, with Nordby eventually landing a job as a line cook.
“I actually didn’t move here with any local aspiration at all,” Nordby said. “Baker London was an incredible group, but just not a lucrative group. When you have student loans on top of you, there wasn’t really any room for not working so that you can go play rock shows and drink beer.”
He ended up at a farm-to-table restaurant called Artisan, where he worked for three-and-a-half years.
By the end of that time, he had started playing more shows as a singer-songwriter. It’s through those performances that he met Nick Motil.
Nordby met Motil at a local songwriter showcase. They enjoyed each other’s music and, after bonding over their shared love of Paul Simon while performing a tribute concert for the musician, they decided to join forces.
It started small, with performances at the Los Osos Farmers Market, where the only payment they received was the crumbled dollar bills or coins spectators tossed their way. It’s the farmer’s market itself that inspired the duo’s eventual band name; “los osos” means “the bears” in Spanish, giving birth to the name Bear Market Riot.
Although, as an aside, the band was almost named after a hatbox, Nordby said.
“We had this kick on this little 100-year-old hatbox that we turned into a drum — which I’m sure there’s a collector of vintage hatboxes that would freak out if they’d seen what we’d done to this old hatbox,” Nordby said with a laugh. “But it’s a very cool drum and it works as our little kick drum and it gives you a nice kind of on-the-road, Americana look and everything. We almost called the band ‘Hatbox Gumbo’ for a second, but Bear Market Riot was the one that rang true and sounded good, and that was that.”
Bear Market Riot has enjoyed regional success, playing at some of the biggest musical festivals in the area, allowing Nordby to turn to music as his full-time career.
“It’s been a pretty incredible ride so far, just over these last two years, going from playing a farmers market where we just show up with a bucket, collect tips and sing with no amplification, to playing some of the biggest festivals in this area, (and) a lot of incredible wineries,” he said.
Nordby’s musicianship was forged during his Bainbridge Island years, where he sang for a successful glam-rock band called Gruff Mummies.
“We were riding around in our old used cars as 17-year-olds listening to Queen and David Bowie and T. Rex and Roxy Music, and hanging out with musicians who were way older than us, drinking underage and just deciding to play rock music,” Nordby said.
The band saw moderate success, winning 2005’s under-21 battle of the bands competition, Sound Off!
But as he’s gotten older, Nordby’s musical tastes have expanded, as reflected in the bluegrass-inspired Americana of Bear Market Riot.
“As a project, Bear Market Riot has been really fun, because it is really accessible,” he said. “It doesn’t take much for us to set up. It started with no sound equipment and now it has a reasonable setup, but it’s still really easy to put together.
“And like I said, it doesn’t have any pretension to it. It’s very come-as-you-are, which is a funny quote considering that it came from Kurt Cobain, who was indeed an avant-garde songwriter. But the spirit of that is to sort of just be yourself and comfortable. Your two-year-old baby that enjoys the beat and likes to dance, to your mom who remembers the Rolling Stone cover that we did and is like, ‘Oh yeah, cool. Right on. I recognize that Bob Dylan song, but you played it in a totally different and interesting way.’”
The band released a six-song, self-titled EP last year, and is currently working on a new album after raising $7,700 on Kickstarter last November. The band is looking at a possible August digital release, with a limited run of physical copies hopefully coming out before Christmas, Nordby said.
Sunday’s show at the Treehouse Cafe will not only be Bear Market Riot’s first show in Kitsap County, it will be one of the band’s first shows outside of California.
The band got invited to play a festival in Prosser, Washington, and Nordby saw it as a good opportunity for a homecoming.
“I put it together with a show on Bainbridge so I could go see my hometown and share our new music with people I haven’t been able to share music with in such a long time,” he said. “And it should be a good homecoming. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of friends at the Treehouse Cafe.”
Bear Market Riot performs 7 p.m. June 12 at The Treehouse Cafe, 2469 Lynwood Center Road, Bainbridge Island. Admittance is by donation. Must be 21 or older to attend.
If you’re nostalgic for the ‘90s, then you may well have been at Suquamish Clearwater Casino Thursday night to check out Eve 6, the band behind such late-’90s hits as “Inside Out” and “Here’s to the Night.”
If not, you’re probably hitting yourself for missing the show. (But don’t fret — there’s still time to catch another ‘90s band at the casino next week).
The band was great, and I’ll get to that in a minute. First, I want to say a couple words about the venue.
Clearwater Casino’s Beach Rock Lounge is a great place to order a burger and beer and listen to live music. The venue, which is billed as a music and sports lounge, opened last September, and holds 300 people, according to the casino’s website.
Thursday’s concert is one of several that are apparently the result of some kind of partnership (although maybe “partnership” isn’t quite the right word) between the casino and Seattle radio station 107.7 The End. The radio station brought Coleman Hell to the venue in April, and is presenting a performance by the band Lit on June 2.
Dozens of tables form a semicircle around the lounge’s stage, with ample standing room for particularly enthusiastic concertgoers — the kind who don’t mind if they’re close enough for the band members’ sweat to splash on them.
The venue features what appears to be a state-of-the-art sound system. It looks impressive, but in practice, it seemed to be a mixed bag on Thursday.
When Tony Fagenson, Eve 6’s drummer, kicked the bass drum, it felt like someone was kicking the back of the booth I was sitting at. The music is loud, which is what you want at a rock show, but you also want the sound to be relatively clear, and it wasn’t. It was difficult to make out song lyrics, and even difficult to understand bassist and lead vocalist Max Collins as he chatted with the audience between songs.
Despite this slight annoyance, the band was energetic and the lyrics didn’t have to be perfectly audible in order for fans to enjoy the music, which seemed familiar, to put it mildly, to everyone in attendance.
The band opened with “Promise,” off its sophomore 2000 album, Horrorscope. When I interviewed Fagenson last week, he mentioned that the band planned to play mostly fan favorites from its first three albums — a change from recent tours, where they’ve favored songs from their newest album, 2012’s Speak in Code.
They did play two standout tracks from Code: “Situation Infatuation,” a catchy song about the perils of lust-at-first-sight; and one of the band’s singles, “Victoria,” preceded by Collins telling the crowd to “imagine you’re at a discotheque in Mexico,” due to the song’s gritty, yet danceable vibe, as well as its subject matter, involving a woman partying in Mexico without her boyfriend.
Expectedly, the band also performed two of its biggest (aforementioned) hits: “Here’s to the Night,” no doubt reminding countless attendees of their high school proms; and the hit that propelled them to fame, “Inside Out.” Multiple people pulled out their smartphone cameras to capture the experience.
Everyone in the venue was, at the least, head-bobbing along throughout the band’s set; the fans standing smack-dab in front of the stage were more emphatic, dancing or waving their arms as they sang along. “We love you!” one man shouted.
As the band walked off stage about an hour after they started, the crowd cheered, demanding an encore. The band returned and performed the first song off its self-titled album, “How Much Longer,” followed by “Superhero Girl” off the same album.
With that, Collins and guitarist Jon Siebels walked off the stage. Fagenson lingered a moment to toss his drumsticks to a lucky member of the crowd before following his bandmates offstage.
An hour and ten minutes after they started, the band was done. It seemed way too short a set; even an extra twenty minutes would have felt more complete for a band with such an impressive catalog of music, one fans were clearly eager to hear as much of as possible.
The band hung out by its merch table after the show; the line stretched past several lines of slot machines on the casino floor. I decided not to wait in line (I had already met the band briefly before the show), but the people waiting in line to buy CDs and T-shirts — or who already had merch they wanted the band to sign — looked perfectly content to wait in line for the culmination of an awesome night.
This was a show for the band’s hardcore fans, who have remained loyal listeners through the years. Even as musical trends have changed, their love for the band hasn’t wavered. It’s clear they had a blast, and by that measure, the show was a great success.
Apparently the band thought so, too:
Damn Suquamish. You were all like uhh and we were like whoa. #amazing1stshow
When Eve 6 exploded onto the scene in the late 1990s, the band’s three members became bona fide rock stars before they were able to drink legally.
The band — made up of Max Collins on vocals and bass; Jon Siebels on guitar; and Tony Fagenson on drums — is known for hit singles such as “Inside Out,” “Here’s to the Night,” and “Victoria.” The band’s self-titled debut went platinum, and its follow-up, 2000’s Horrorscope, went gold.
“We are the original three, basically,” said Fagenson, speaking to the Kitsap Scene ahead of the band’s performance next week at the Suquamish Clearwater Casino. “A lot of times bands that have been around as long as we have, you end up seeing them play and it’s really one original guy and the rest are new people. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think we’re fortunate enough to say it is the original three guys that are behind all the records, so we’re still going strong.”
Fagenson spoke with us about the start of the band’s summer tour (its first headlining tour since 2012), how online streaming has affected the music business, and the debt the band owes to the powerhouse scifi TV series The X-Files.
KS: You guys started out really young. Not when [the band’s debut album] came out, but when you first formed, you were in high school, correct?
TF: Yeah, that’s correct. And even when the record did come out, we weren’t long out of high school. Max and John actually went to the same school together and so they started the band probably sophomore, junior year of high school … And luckily for us, things just went pretty quickly. Got signed to RCA while still in high school. I joined right around that time and pretty soon after that we were writing songs and rehearsing and then recording the first album. I had just gotten out of high school and I was just starting my first year — which turned out to be my only year — at USC in Southern California. It definitely was a wild ride and a dream come true. We’re very fortunate.
The music business can be tough, and bands struggle for years and never really get anywhere. You guys seemed to have so much success right out of the gate, and you were so young. What was that like?
It was the shooting star kind of scenario where you just catch onto a wave and roll with it. I don’t think any of us really even expected it to happen or predicted it. When that wave comes along and all the different factors that play into are all firing at the same time, you just try to ride it.
It’s kind of hard to say what it’s like, just because we didn’t know any different at the time. It was of course wonderful. It’s everything you want. It’s the dream. Maybe that’s a cliche, but we really were living the dream, and at a great time for us to do it, because when you get to our age now, and people have families and people have a lot more home responsibilities, the idea of hitting the road in a van or bus for like 18 months almost straight isn’t as appealing when you’ve been around for this long and have more of a home life. So it was kind of perfect for a bunch of 19-year-olds to have that opportunity and we kind of did it on our terms, which was great.
We still had this sort of fight in us, because even though we were signed to a major label, RCA, we weren’t really a priority there at all. In fact, I think we’d heard rumors that even while we were making the first album, they were probably just going to cut us just like not even put it (the album) out, they’re going to drop us. Nobody really knew who we were at the label, so … we had kind of a small budget, left to our own devices with our producer Don [Gilmore] at the time, and we kind of fostered this kind of left-of-center underdog mentality there.
And also at the same time, on the radio around that time — this was like ‘96, ‘97 when we were putting the record together — believe it or not, everyone was preaching how “rock was dead.” It was just past the sort of alternative revolution of Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Chili Peppers and all these bands getting on mainstream radio. That had sort of matured, and now there was this kind of grab-bag and electronica was the big thing, with The Prodigy and all this kind of stuff, and so we were coming at it as sort of a simple three-piece rock band that was trying to keep it … I mean, obviously, we had our punk leanings and everything, but it was sort of more straight-ahead like that, and that was being preached as, well that doesn’t work anymore.
Streaming obviously is the future and is an amazing technology, but we’re still kind of figuring out how that trickles down to the artists the best way, because right now it doesn’t very much.
We were coming at it from all those perspectives, so then when it happened, it just felt all the better because we were able to do it on our own terms and really made our own decisions throughout our whole career. It was fantastic, what can I say? Incredible ride, we had a great time with RCA, and we’re really fortunate to have the support we had and just the opportunities that we had and frankly we’re still able to live from them today, to go on tour. All that was formed in those early days. It’s fantastic.
You guys are still going and touring. How do you come at it from somebody who has been doing this for many years now, and as a band that has a lot of experience under its belt?
Things definitely change both in how you, the artist, perceive things and do things and create, and also how the world around you changes and technology and fans and the audience, how they listen to and learn about music and everything. Just in general, I think you’ve gotta be fairly coherent with all that and on top of it. We’ve always been sort of pro-technology, I guess you could say, and interested in the new delivery systems and everything. I think you’ve just got to stay kind of flexible with it.
It’s definitely, I would say, sort of a tougher climate now, on one hand, for musicians, because there’s a lot less money changing hands. Not to put too crass of a point on it, but when people buy music, it helps everything: it helps support the recording process and touring and all of that. And there’s a lot less buying of music.
I mean, it’s in the form of streaming now, which obviously is the future and is an amazing technology, but we’re still kind of figuring out how that trickles down to the artists the best way, because right now it doesn’t very much. It’s hard to live off of that, and we were very fortunate to come up in kind of the last phase, the last round of bands that had the fortune to really have a great support system in kind of the heyday of the major label era. It’s because of that, the combination of what we did and who we are and that support system, that allowed us to get the audience that we’ve gotten and connect with the great fans that we’ve had over the years, which we still get to see every year when we go on tour. I think it’s really hard for newer bands to get to that point where you have a long-lasting relationship with your fans the way I think Eve 6 does.
This is to tell you how nerdy I was: I had my bag of VHS tapes of labeled X-Files episodes that I had taped off of TV
Honestly, we’re not releasing a ton of new music right now. The last record we did was back in 2012, Speak in Code. That was actually on Fearless Records. Before that it had kind of been a long gap where we actually basically broke up for a couple years, then got back together to do a lot of touring and writing and put that record out. So, the new record release is very sporadic right now. I think if we were to do a record, say, next year — which I’m not saying we are, I’m just saying if we were to — then it would probably be a very different process, even from the one we did a couple of years ago. So you’ve just got to stay on top of that. We’re definitely getting past the era of the full album. I think that audiences want to have a constant flow of new things coming in so you can do different release schedules like shorter EPs and all sorts of stuff you can do to keep things vibrant and alive. But right now, our main thing is really just the touring and that’s kind of where the focus is for this year.
According to Wikipedia, you came up with the name of the band based on an X-Files character. Is that correct?
That is correct. There’s actually sort of a weird falsity that’s come out.
I was the big X-Files fan, so I do take credit for bringing that into the fold. When we were recording the first album — especially when we went up to Seattle and did some recording up there, because our producer Don was from there, so we did some of it in LA, some of it up there — we were staying with a relative of John’s and every day we’d come home from the studio and — this is to tell you how nerdy I was — I had my bag of VHS tapes of labeled X-Files episodes that I had taped off of TV. DVDs were around, but I don’t think that show was on DVD yet. I think it was just a show on the network, obviously way before Netflix or any kind of on-demand video, so I would tape them. I was a big fan of the show and I wanted the good ones. I had a bunch of them and we’d watch them every night. That’s where that started. It was kind of a nice little post-studio ritual for us to go watch X-Files.
In the midst of that, we were trying to think of a new band name. We had a bunch of different ideas and none of them were great. We were currently “Eleventeen.” That was actually the name of the band when the band got signed to RCA and when we were making that album. Max and I were watching an old episode and it was the “Eve” episode, a very early one from the first season. It was actually Max that said “Eve 6,” which is the name of a character. He said, “Huh. ‘Eve 6.’ What about that?” So he actually said it first and I said, “Dude, I think that’s it.” And we both were like, “Yeah, I think that’s the band name. That feels great.” It just felt right to us. So for some reason I’ve gotten total credit for naming the band, but it was sort of a joint thing.
Did you watch the new X-Files episodes that recently came out?
I didn’t. Obviously, everything I heard was very mixed. A friend of mine watched them and then he kind of verified what I expected would probably happen. To be honest with you — if any makers of the X-Files are … (reading this interview), Chris Carter or anything, I apologize — but I really lost interest in the show after like the first four seasons or so. I feel like it took a different tone. To me, the quality of the writing wasn’t what I fell in love with about the show. It was still great production value and everything, but I just went off of it.
I feel like the best seasons are basically the first three, with some good stuff in four as well, and then I just wasn’t into it. I kind of wasn’t really paying attention when these new ones came out. I’ll probably get around to watching them, but everything I’ve heard kind of verifies what I expected them to be. I’m not sorry, X-Files, but hey, we’re still carrying on the name! Still carrying on a piece of the X-Files in our band name.
Do you ever get X-Files fans at your shows who are into the band because of the name?
I’m sure that’s happened. I can’t really think of specific things. We definitely see online, like someone will say, “Well look what I just found,” and they take a screenshot of them watching the “Eve” episode, where the character’s name is actually on a plaque above her cell that says, “Eve 6.” And so they’ll take a picture of that and it’s like, “I’m betting this is where they got the name from.” We get a lot of that. People connect the dots and everything.
It would be kind of cool if someone says, I was watching the X-Files, saw your band name, and then it got me into the band. I mean, it’s possible. I’m sure that’s happened, but I don’t know any specific instances of that.
The Pacific Northwest in general has always just been a great area for us. It’s actually a great way to kind of kick off this tour this summer.
Have you ever spent any time in the Kitsap County area where you’re going to be playing?
I don’t actually know if we’ve ever been across (Puget Sound). I know we took a boat ride with our producer and his wife back in the ‘90s when we were recording back there and I think it was all through that area. I know we boated past some of the Microsoft guys’ houses and stuff. Definitely we haven’t been to that casino. We’ve definitely played lots of casinos in our day and some are nice and some are not so much, so it’s good to know that this will be a good one. The Pacific Northwest in general has always just been a great area for us and the band and me personally. I love it up there. So it’s actually a great way to kind of kick off this tour this summer.
And this is technically the first show of this summer’s tour. We just did one little one-off last week in Indiana, but that was kind of separate from this. But yeah, it will be a great kickoff show.
I don’t know how the tours differ from each other, but if this one’s over the whole summer, it must be pretty extensive?
It is. This is actually our first headlining tour since 2012, since spring/summer of 2012 when we released that album, Speak in Code. The last two summers we were on these package tours. In 2014 it was the Summerland Tour with Everclear and Soul Asylum, and then last year it was the Under The Sun Tour with Sugar Ray and Uncle Kracker. So we’ve been doing these package tours which are great fun, great hangs with the other bands, but our set is a lot shorter. We get like a half hour set. We’re playing, we’re in the middle of the bands and stuff. Other than that, we’re doing kind of one-offs, or fly dates, or maybe a weekend here or there, but this is really our first true tour on our own as the headliners, since 2012.
That’s actually really exciting. I think the audience is going to be stoked. We’re playing longer sets. We’re digging into the catalog a little more for some fan favorites and some songs we don’t usually play, especially in the last few years. We’re kind of stretching that out a bit and it’s turned out to be a lot of dates. We start out with you guys in late May and that runs pretty much into August. There’s a little bit of time off here and there in July, and then in August it gets a little more sporadic, but we’re out there and covering all four corners on this one. We’re pumped. It should be a great show. If you haven’t seen us, then you must. And if you have seen us, come see us again, because it will be a different show and different songs and stuff we haven’t played in awhile.
It’s always kind of fun to hear what musicians are listening to. Are there any bands out there right now you’ve been really into lately?
I’ll take this opportunity to plug a band that I just produced called Dead Posey.
They’re brand, brand-new. They literally just came out with one song. But I think they’re awesome. We’re getting some really good response from it. A couple of the blogs are starting to pick it up and all that kind of stuff, so check them out. It’s sort of bluesy, gritty, dirty kind of rock with some other undertones in there.
Eve 6 performs May 26 at Suquamish Clearwater Casino‘s Beach Rock Music and Sports Lounge Doors open at 6 p.m. Show starts at 8 p.m. Must be 21+ Cost is $25 for general admission, $50 reserved, $75 for VIP meet and greet.