Salt Lake City pop punk act WICKED BEARS released their debut record in late April 2016 and it’s been almost 8 months since we started our little chit-chat that turned out to be a slightly prolonged interview of back-and-forth email questions about a series of stuff.
“Wicked Bears” EP was released in March 2016 via Boise, Idaho based Hidden Home Records and it has a lot of sincerity to offer. While some of their offerings may not be up to the task of beating the best of the genre, it’s clear these guys manage to toe the line between smart expression and vigor, having a lot of fun in the process.
WICKED BEARS are: Casey Keele, Nick Fleming, and Ken Vallejos. The following interview was conducted over the course of last year’s late Summer days, chilly Autumn afternoons and freakin’ cold Winter evenings.
Hey there guys! I’m so glad you’re here and we can serve you a proper feature. What’s up? How is it hangin’ in Salt Lake this summer?
Salt Lake has been crazy! Pioneer Day is coming up soon and everyone is stocking up on fireworks in preparation for the big day. It’s basically a second Fourth of July, except it’s just for Utah, and it celebrates the Mormon pioneers finally finding a place where they could practice polygamy in peace. That didn’t pan out for the Mormons, but it ended up being a really fun place for punk rock. We’ve been playing lots of shows, seeing tons of cool bands, and writing music.
How is Poland? You’re in Poland, right?
Yup :) I’ve just come back from my vacation in Croatia, so I’m kind of swamped-with-my-dayjob-and-sick-pleasures-like-this-DIY-webzine-and-ready-to-get-back-on-tracks ;) Currently I’m trying to take adventage of every weekend and nice weather and leave Warsaw as often as I can.
Ok, so drop us a couple of lines about yourself. Have you been involved with any other band before this project? What’s your background?
Warsaw! Croatia! that sounds so exotic, we live in Salt Lake City and vacation in Denver. What’s in Croatia? I just looked it up on Google Maps and that’s a twelve hour drive! That’s how far it is from Salt Lake City to San Diego. Is Croatia like, Eastern Europe’s San Diego?
I’m Casey, I play bass and sing for WICKED BEARS. Previously I played in a band called ELI WHITNEY, and I’ve done some pop stuff too. Ken and Nick actually still play in a really great ska band called SHOW ME ISLAND, they are releasing a new record in August.
Ken and Nick are Utah natives. I’ve been here for about ten years, before that I lived in California. The three of us have been bumping in to each other for years, watching each other’s bands and being friends. When we thought of WICKED BEARS, it was really easy to get things going since we were already homies at that point.
Haha, great! Croatia is one hell of a country, actually. I did a nice car trip with my wife and 2,5 year old daughter and we’ve been to many amazing places including Pag island (see here, here, here), Nin, Zadar and Dugi Otok island (+ here). It was a blast, but now we’re back at work, struggling with our day jobs again, haha. Dalmatia, that part of Croatia, and the whole shoreline of their country possesses one of Europe’s most dramatic and at the same time beautiful landscapes. Just look at some of these: here, here, and here.
Back to the back, where did the band’s name come from? :)
Wow, that water is beautiful! How fascinating. I’ll have to put Croatia on my list of places super far away that I’d like to get to before I die.
Ken, our drummer, is a student of drumming. He likes to learn different styles and techniques in his spare time, he’s really an impressive guy. He was talking to Nick on Facebook about a video he had watched recently from a series called WICKED BEATS. He typed WICKED BEARS instead. Our band name is a beautiful typo.
Ok, so how has this year been for you? What feedback have you received and how many shows have you played?
Man, this year has been so fun. We got the record out in February; we just stuck it online and sent it to all our friends. Then, our friend Rob over at Hidden Home Records, heard it and contacted us about working together. That made us so happy, because we all knew that Rob is a true bad ass. So we did a physical release with Hidden Home Records in April, and the reception has been great. We’ve opened for bands like RED CITY RADIO, PROBLEM DAUGHTER, MARIANA’S TRENCH, and WESTERN SETTINGS. We’re actually going in to record another song next week for a Utah Punk compilation, the summer isn’t over yet! We’re super grateful to everybody who has given us a chance so far. I think we’re up to, 20 shows? We started in February, around two shows a month makes sense.
Personally, how do you feel about the record now as it’s about to be released?
We put a really strict budget on the record. We said we were going to spend $600. We ended up spending a little more than that, but we wanted to get the record out quickly, and we were worried about songwriting a lot more than production quality. But what came out of that was something we’re really proud of. We’ve been able to meet some really cool people and play with some really cool bands thanks to people hearing our record. We want to get another EP out by the end of the year, and we’ll probably do the same thing.
Ok guys, so how do you feel modern pop punk rock is different from the one that you obviously pay tribute to? Is the classic, more nostalgic and natural pop punk scene still alive in your area?
When we say modern pop punk, I’m assuming we’re talking about stuff like THE WONDER YEARS, KNUCKLE PUCK, or NECK DEEP. Nick loves THE WONDER YEARS. Modern pop punk, with its soaring guitar riffs, tenor vocal lines, sick breakdowns, and super tight production, has a lot about it that we like. But stuff like THE DESCENDENTS, early GREEN DAY, or even BLINK 182 before the self titled record, were much closer, as far as song structure and attitude goes, to the music we wanted to play. Fast, uncomplicated, concise, aggressive, and not very serious. THE COPYRIGHTS and MASKED INTRUDER are two bands we really love, that buck those modern trends and still write really great pop punk.
As far as Salt Lake City goes, there are some really great punk bands coming up, but not a lot of consistent trends. PROBLEM DAUGHTER, a really great Salt Lake City band we play with sometimes that just signed with Dead Scene. They sound almost midwestern, a la THE MENZINGERS or AGAINST ME! Utah, believe it or not, is kind of an immigrant state, meaning a lot of our generations’ parents came from different places around the country. So, everyone brings with that their own influences, and a pretty eclectic scene has formed. That can have its own advantages and challenges.
What artists, in all history of the genre, do you most admire?
We just did a Halloween OPERATION IVY cover set and we picked them because of how important they are to each of us. They wrote music that is more relevant and insightful today than ever, and I think that’s a powerful thing to accomplish. And on the other hand, BLINK 182 (before they grew up) were really, really good at writing really, really fun and catchy skate punk, and that’s pretty much our mission statement.
Have you enjoyed their new work with Matt Skiba?
I’m glad you asked! I love Matt Skiba, and I love BLINK 182, and I think they got together, and made something just boring. There are a few good tracks, and I can sing the whole record because I just can’t resist it (it’s like taking two things I really love and presenting them in the worst way possible, like ice cream topped with nacho cheese), but most of it just feels like BLINK 182 by numbers.
Photo by Gilbert
Speaking of differences between old and new, how do you perceive the current digital revolution, blooms of sophisticated online technologies and its impact on good old DIY music?
It’s been fun to be able to get a record recorded and put out in a quick amount of time, at a reasonable cost, and with instant distribution through bandcamp and spotify and stuff. There’s so much great music right now because everyone who wants to make music can just do it, there’s no barriers anymore. It’s a great time to be in a band if your material is good and you work hard. There are drawbacks, like having to fight against social media algorithms when you just want to tell people who like your band about a show, but the DIY community has always found a way to get around the machinations of the rich and powerful and take advantage of progress.
By the way, how important do you think it is for a band to connect to its online fan base, stay active on various social platforms, etc.? How much do you care about such things and how does it relate to your goals with this band?
Social media is a great tool for keeping people that like your band informed on what’s going on with your band. Social media also provides great opportunities to find people who will like your band, or who would come to a punk show. It’s a ton of fun interacting with people who like your music. But the idea that we need to create a certain amount of content per x amount of time and get y amount of interactions in order to maximize our online presence with z demographic is not appealing at all. Playing mind games and cracking algorithms so you can have enough facebook likes for a venue downtown to book you is a bullshit way to express yourself and have a good time, so we don’t do it. Not that it’s not a totally reasonable thing to do, but it doesn’t really jive with why we play music together. Our facebook page works great for keeping in touch with people that care about our band, and for showing new people our band, so that’s all we really worry about. But we also have twitter because the internet is god and we must all bow down to it’s whims and fancies.
Haha, correct! :)
Ok, so lastly, were do you go from here? What are the next steps of WICKED BEARS?
We are almost done writing another EP right now, we’re doing another West Coast U.S. tour in the summer, and we’re planning on doing a split at the end of the year as well. So the next step is to record our new songs and get the EP out, hopefully in May or June. Also, gearing up for the inevitable collapse of our government. A lot has happened since this interview started hahaha
Cool. Thanks so much for your time and good luck for the shows and everything else this year and beyond! The last words are yours!
Thank you for being patient with us, this has been a turbulent six months but we’re happy to have been able to discuss these things with you. If your readers like pop punk, we’d love if they checked out our record (wickedbears.bandcamp.com) and found us on facebook (facebook.com/wickedbearsSLC), we have a lot of cool things happening this year that we’re excited to share.
Also, be good to each other, life’s not so bad.