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.
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.
Photos Courtesy of Bear Market Riot