Bearsnail
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Bearsnail

Denver, Colorado, United States | SELF

Denver, Colorado, United States | SELF
Band Folk Punk

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"Steal This Track: Bearsnail"

There are times when the embarrassment of riches that is Colorado’s fecund musical community truly astounds. If you keep your eyes peeled, your ears open and your brain permeable, you’ll discover tasty new musical nuggets on an almost weekly basis in our quadrilateral state. Today, that nugget is Bearsnail, the acoustic punk project that will release its debut CD, “Imperfect Goodbyes,” this weekend. Read on and steal a track from the album so your friends will know how cool you are.
Kyle Harris began playing guitar in a Southern Baptist church in Missouri when he was just 12 years old. Six years later, he lost his faith, discovered filmmaking and found his passion in railing against capitalism and advocating for queer rights and identity. With an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in his back pocket, Harris found his way to Denver in 2005, programming and producing documentaries for Free Speech TV.

Somewhere along the way — between growing disillusioned with nonprofit politics and teaching at Colorado Film School — Harris started writing and playing songs again just last year, under the name Bearsnail. Since then, he’s written over 100 songs, 12 of which appear on the artist’s surprising debut, “Imperfect Goodbyes.”

On first listen, Bearsnail sounds like ironic twee pop — Harris’s endearingly off-key vocals and brutish acoustic guitar suggest the unholy collision of Jonathan Richman and Billy Bragg — but a closer listen reveals disturbing depths. Harris’s preferred subject matter includes domestic abuse, failed love and a surfeit of suicides. Though his quirky vocal delivery hints at humor, there’s very little that’s funny about the pain out of which “Imperfect Goodbyes” arises.

“This song is a way for me to pray that I never have another lover try to kill themselves in my presence,” Harris sings on “Tribute Song.” And though lyrics like that might sound over the top, Bearsnail’s quirky, sincere and self-effacing delivery make it all very real and compelling. Steal “Guts” for a sample of Harris’s uniquely honest songwriting and performance style, then pop down to the Meadowlark Bar on Saturday, Oct 15, to see the man in action and pick up a copy of the CD. - Hey Reverb


"Catch Bearsnail on October 15 at the Meadowlark"

Kyle Harris has lived all over this country and seen the ups and downs of personal, professional and political life. But instead of cultivating a world-weary sound, Harris, who makes music under the name Bearsnail (due at the Meadowlark on Saturday, October 15), seems to have found a certain appreciation for the vitality of life and simple pleasures that you'll lose sight of if you're in too much of a hurry for the next big thing. With songs informed by folky pop, campfire sing-alongs and "acoustic punk" in the vein of Drinking Gourd and the Fainting Fansies, Harris's debut album, Imperfect Goodbyes, is full of kids' songs for adults. Even when they're about life's dark moments, Bearsnail's tunes bear an innocent, expansive spirit. - Westword


"Bearsnail: full of bare-naked sincerity"

Kyle Harris began writing songs at the age of twelve, but it was another two decades before he decided to play them publicly.

"I just never saw a reason to play any of it for people," he says. "I'd been writing songs regularly that whole time, but I never thought I'd enjoy playing them for people so much. I just thought, 'This is something I'm going to do on my own.' A kind of therapy."

Harris's two-man indie-folk band, Bearsnail, has been playing shows around Denver for the past year and a half. And in that relatively short time, the act has attracted the kind of dedicated and enthusiastic fan base that many bands would kill to have. Even before Harris released his album Imperfect Goodbyes, his audience would unironically sing along to every one of his madcap songs. "I want to open my guts to you/And I want you to do the same for me, too," he sings on the catchy "Guts." The song is about a former lover, but when sung live, it becomes a deal he makes with the audience: If you get weird, so will I.

"When it's possible to just let go of all the self-awareness and just start singing, I really get into it," Harris points out. "Then you can really fuse with an audience and build a connection, a relationship. Then people sing back to you! It's a live act of communication, which is a beautiful thing."

Bearsnail taps into the inherent need listeners have for sincerity, which is often lacking in today's music. There's a surrender of ego and a courageous vulnerability about Harris that is endlessly refreshing. What's more, he has a terrific sense of melody and song structure. At the same time, though, he makes no overt attempt to impress with his chops. Bearsnail's music lies in the tradition of Jonathan Richman or Daniel Johnston, yielding songs that put more emphasis on emotional inflection than complex instrumentation. He's self-loathing yet comical, a big heart with just the slightest touch of cerebral philosophy.

"I grew up listening to show tunes," reveals Harris, which explains the infectious, sing-along nature of his music, some of which you could easily imagine Kermit playing with a banjo in an early Muppets movie. Harris grew up in a Southern Baptist household, and his early musical selection comprised a strange hodgepodge of whatever he could get his hands on, from classic country to '60s rock. "When I was in the fifth grade, I heard the Violent Femmes for the first time," he recalls, "and I was like, 'What is this?! They suck! They're terrible! But it's so moving.'"

It was around this time that the young Harris began writing his own songs — but he always felt they were too revealing for anyone to ever hear. "People don't know that I'm kind of an introvert," he confesses. "Everyone thinks I'm this gregarious, friendly person. The side of me that's writing a song is that naked person in the basement."

The non-music side of Harris worked hard at an academic vocation throughout his twenties, majoring in film at Hamilton University in New York and then moving on to the Art Institute of Chicago, where he earned his master's degree. He eventually left the Windy City to work for Free Speech TV in Denver, where he formed Improbably Pictures and produced a documentary on needle exchange. Up until then, he had been immersed in the competitive, professional world of academia for most of his adult life.

While living among that group, Harris slowly warmed to the idea of performing for a live audience. The whole time he was in school, he'd continued to write songs, dozens of them each year, but never showed them to anybody. As he worked to establish himself in Denver, he made new friends all the time, artists without any agendas. It was through the strong encouragement of a roommate that Harris was finally inspired to break his nearly two-decade-long musical silence. She had overheard him playing music alone in his bedroom when Harris assumed no one was listening, and had ganged up on him with other friends one night while camping, insisting that he play a song. "I was terrified," he remembers, "but they liked the songs."

For all those years, Harris had used songwriting as a kind of creative confessional booth; he found it easy to pour his heart out because no one was listening. "As a writer and a filmmaker, I am very meticulous," Harris explains, "but as a musician, I can kind of let everything go." This outlet provided him with a means to endure the loss of two close friends who committed suicide, one of them a lover of four years.

These tragic events invariably led to a stream of songs on the subject of death and loss, particularly "Turn Up the Volume" and "Tribute Song," a pair of sentimental yet wise tunes in the vein of the Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize." Even when tackling the subject of suicide, Harris applies humor and playfulness to his songs, which allows him to delve into the darkness of the human experience while bringing back a funny line and a catchy melody for people to sing along to. In "Turn Up the Volume" he sings about Flavor Flav in one line, then cleaning up the mess of his friend's suicide in the next — and somehow, the song never seems ridiculous. As a songwriter, he manages to strike a delicate balance between embracing the beauty of life and commenting on its cruelty. "If they could see how much we hide/They could tell us what to show," he sings on "Guts," which opens the album. From start to finish, the CD is full of memorable gems, including the quixotic "Mixtape Dance" and the Dionysian "Me and My Friends."

Despite his initial discomfort, Harris continued playing his songs publicly, enlisting Riley Cockrel on bass and backup vocals. The pair named the group Bearsnail and recorded a twelve-song CD named Imperfect Goodbyes. Even now, however, the idea of performing is still a bit of a paradox that Harris has to tiptoe around, being that his favorite places to perform are small house shows and DIY venues, where the fourth wall, the one between entertainer and audience, is almost non-existent.

"I'm much more comfortable playing for people I don't know than people I do. If you play songs about messy emotions" for your friends, Harris concludes, "then they start to worry about you, and I can't be as vulnerable." - Westword


Discography

Imperfect Goodbyes (2011)

Photos

Bio

Bearsnail is an indie-folk act bringing a raucous, raw, sing-a-long style to often painful themes: depression, death, illness and failure. While the songs are about pain, they’re also about survival, friendship, love and community—getting up, moving forward and being okay with the awkward and the painful, the parts of ourselves most people do everything we can to hide.

At bare-minimum, Bearsnail consists of singer/guitarist Kyle Harris. He is often accompanied by the full band: Riley Cockrell on the bass and vocals and occasional drummers.

Many compare Bearsnail to the music The Mountain Goats, Jonathan Richman and Daniel Johnston and the poems of Allen Ginsberg. Kyle Harris, who writes and sings the songs, thinks of the songs as “songs of the closet”—tunes designed to help the audience get in touch with whatever vulnerable things they’re embarrassed by, hiding from or forced to repress by family and friends. He wants Bearsnail to inspire others to write music and to face the world more honestly—willing to boldly embrace the painful and awkward.

Fall 2011 Bearsnail recorded it’s first CD, Imperfect Goodbyes and Winter 2012 embarked on a tour of the midwest. The band played a mix of epic, Dionysian house shows, raucous bars and quiet coffee shops. The band is planning it’s yet-to-be titled second CD and preparing for future tours.