Bear Hands first made waves in 2007 with the release of its first record Golden EP, bolstered by a nervy energy and politically pointed lyrics on songs like "Vietnam." On the Brooklyn band's latest release, Burning Bush Supper Club, Dylan Rau's incisive lyrics are very much intact, but the band has honed its dynamism in a way that flows with more ease than just the thrillingly angular attack heard on Golden.
Rau says he isn't very familiar with Mercury Rev, and it seems unlikely he'd cite Supertramp as an influence, but much of Burning Bush Supper Club will appeal to fans of either. We recently had a chance to speak with Rau about the new record and why he considers it important to talk about politics in an era when most bands avoid such subjects or simply don't deal with them with any sort of creative.
Westword: Burning Bush Supper Club is an interesting name for an album. Why did you call your record that?
Dylan Rau: We came up with that name when we were driving through Utah. We were talking about Mormons, prophets, golden plates and things like that. All of that we found very relevant to the content of the album.
Is "Julien" inspired by the Harmony Korine movie Julien Donkey Boy? If so, what was it about that movie you found so compelling, and what about Korine's style as a filmmaker do you appreciate the most?
That's not actually one of my favorite movies of his. I wrote that song on Halloween. I was in a pretty weird state. It was very late. I was in my dorm room in college, and I'd seen a couple of his movies recently at that time, but I'm a bigger fan of Gummo. He's pretty raw. A lot of the things he puts on the screen a pretty emotionally rough, and I appreciate his surrealistic tendencies as well.
The cover art for the new record is interesting. Who did the artwork, and what kind of thing were you trying to communicate with that image?
Ted Feldman was surfing the Internet and found an artist who goes by the name of Vrno. Our record label gave him a couple of hundred dollars, and we bought a couple of his pieces. When I saw the picture, I liked the colors and there was the dinner connection with the image.
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The new album covers a lot of sonic territory. "Blood and Treasure" sounds like a sonic departure from the rest of the record almost completely. What inspired that song, and is it an older or a newer song for you?
I wrote that song a couple of years ago and it was inspired a little bit by film. I was taking this class on combat cinema -- World War II pictures and stuff like that. I wrote it in the computer lab after watching a John Wayne movie from that era.
For "Tablasaurus" it sounds like someone is playing a real Tabla. Is that something you sampled, and do you use it live? Why did you bring that kind of sound into that song?
I stole that and chopped it from a computer software program, and we built the song around it. I've been listening other kinds of music recently and not listening to so many rap records and music with less guitars. Hearing those exotic instruments make them want to you use them yourself.
What can you tell me about that, for lack of a better word, trailer for Burning Bush Supper Club? It doesn't look like it was filmed in New York.
That was filmed in Pittsburgh. Ted shot that footage when we were in a traffic jam outside Pittsburgh. He shoots a lot of stuff out the window, and he just put it together for an album teaser.
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On those Uncensored Interview segments, you have a lot to say about politics, at a time when a lot of musicians don't have much to say about that or shy away from those subjects. Why did you and why do you think it's important to talk about those kinds of things as a clearly intelligent and creative person?
It's difficult for me to ignore, I guess. I overheard this conversation in a bar last night about not voting. "Oh my god, politicians don't know what's best for me. Why would I vote for any of them? They don't know my life." Obviously, I agree with that. Politics in general is removed from how the average human being experiences and engages with it.
But to be completely inactive and withdraw like that is totally ineffective. It's not pragmatic. It's impossible to be politically inactive. By not voting, you're voting for whoever everyone else voted for. That makes me feel like it's okay to say what I think. We're all into leftist politics in this band.