Small Mountain Bear
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Small Mountain Bear

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Band Americana Rock


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On this chilly January night, inside Sullivan Hall, the atmosphere already feels like a friendly reunion: Small Mountian Bear is about to play in Greenwich Village's legendary venue with a band of old friends to celebrate their debut studio release, Mathematical Hands. Will Read, the Small Mountain Bear himself, and leader of the Vermont group backing him tonight, is making his rounds with a beer in hand, greeting and laughing with peers and fans. Although he doesn't exactly resemble a bear perse, he does have a jolly, rugged look that could indeed be conducive to life in the woods.

It's 9pm and Will pushes up his glasses with a beaming smile: "It's nice to see y’all, fo’ real!" And with that, he begins an ode to pop-folk, with shakers and southern-sounding guitar, as well as an unexpected funk feel with organ to back up the melody. By the end of the song, we're already hooked on the chorus' "Wo-ho"-ing and "Ooh-oh"-ing.

In between songs, Will and his companions exchange high fives, giddy laughter, and inside jokes flow between the musicians. The music melds sunny folk with unexpected funk and passionate jams. During the third song, a trumpeter friend, Jon lijoi, joins the crew to add brass to the mix while the keyboardist, Jamie Bright, proves he can serve as an animated tambourine player as well, adding jingle-jangle to a yodely tune. "Sh-Bop, my Ba-aby"s are chanted in a song to add some good ole American rock to the jumble while the next tune cradles the audience with a subtle and slow lullaby.

But soon: "This is the Ballad of Jimmy Beans... and it's about just another guy with a beard and a flannel shirt."

Will sings, eyes squinting, head cocked towards his shoulder, knees bending with each beat. This song is living proof that the true solo still exists; I'm talking about the eyes closed, mouth open, twinkling-and-twitching-with-each-perfectly-executed-note-solo. Small Mountain Bear's got it.

During the last half of the show, the stage becomes a total plaid party as another musical friend, James Reilly, guests to sing and play guitar. The group plays "Feather" and "Down on Sunday," mixing in a Grateful Dead song in the middle. And to no surprise, the solos reign once again. However, the solos in Small Mountain Bear never approach self-indulgent egoism, but rather a celebratory toast to the band and reunion of friends and fans. The organ adds gospel tinge to the final epic, as fingers slide on the keys from left to right with professional speed and agility. The song ends on a memorable conglomeration of quintissential rock-outs; each player immersed in their art while the lights flash red, yellow, and blue.

After the finale, Will asks jokingly, "Are you having fun, or do we totally suck?" There's no question; just hear the hollers and yelps of glee from the audience; the claps galore show admiration for the cheerful Small Mountain Bear. And although the name represents Will himself and his own music, the show would not, undoubtedly, have been the same without his old band members and friends backing him for a show that even a Big Manhattan Bear would enjoy.

Will Read can’t help but write songs. He tried
to stop, burnt out from touring with Vermont
rock group, The Casual Fiasco. He couldn’t.
“I can’t help it. It’s a habit,” he said, paraphrasing
Paul McCartney’s response to, “How do you
write songs?”
After putting years and states of distance between
himself and his music, Read picked up the guitar –
and pen – again in New York City. Recording on his
laptop, he shared them with family and friends. Now,
he is honing his new songs as Small Mountain Bear,
and shares them freely on his Web site, www.smallmountainbear.
com, and at select gigs – like his Cutty’s
concert Saturday night. Tickets cost $5 at the door.
If you like Wilco, Band of Horses or Bon Iver,
you’ll like Small Mountain Bear.
“It’s pop, in the most boiled down sense: something
that people remember when you stop playing
the song,” he said.
At a young age, Read’s much older brother introduced
him to bands like the Grateful Dead. He started
playing guitar at 6 and wrote his first song at 12.
After graduating from St. Lawrence University
in upstate New York, he met the musicians who
would become The Casual Fiasco. The band built a
wide following and national touring schedule, sharing
bills with Toots & the Maytals, the North Mississippi
Allstars, The Slip and Moe, among others.
Jack Gauthier produced the band’s EP, as he had
done for Dispatch and David Grisman.
“I was surrounded by all of these crazy musicians.
They showed me the way of the world, I suppose,”
Read said. “It was definitely enlightening. I
grew as a musician. It’s kind of hard not to when
you play 200 nights a year.”
Ultimately, The Casual Fiasco’s rocket run was
exhausting. After five years on the road, Read felt
disenchanted, so he left his beloved Burlington for
Manhattan. He thought he had given up the guitar
for good.
He worked at a record label marketing Scandinavian
rock bands and then became a booking agent.
When the recession slowed work, he saw a silver
lining: he could use the downtime to focus on being
creative again. “I burned myself out not playing the
guitar,” he said.
Read’s return to music has required relearning
and reinvention. “I relearned songwriting,” he said,
“what it means to write a song that has more of
a connection to myself, whereas with the band, I
would write a song that would work for the group.”
Now, introspection inspires his songwriting.
“They are based around a story I would like to tell,”
he said.
He hopes to shop around his “bedroom demos” –
so dubbed because he recorded them all on his laptop
– and recruit other musicians to play with him.
The second time around, he is focusing less on
shows, more on the songs, “making them sound as
good as I can with the tools that I have.”
“I’m taking it slow because of my experience in the
past,” he said. “I’m not trying to force it out there.”
He feels lucky to be making music during the current
indie explosion, and values being close to new
music in New York City. Real Estate, a band out of
Brooklyn, currently captivates him; Phish and The
Grateful Dead always will.
A vacation brings Read to Jackson. Having
busked in Colorado, he has a soft spot for playing
music in the Rocky Mountain West. The lifestyle reminds
him of Vermont. St. Lawrence friends living
here connected him with Cutty’s.
Read wears himself out during his energetic
live shows. “It’s a workout for me,” he said. “I try
to leave it all on the stage. I want people to have a
good time.”
On Saturday, he will weave in some effects like
vocal processing, but ultimately, “it’s just me and a
guitar,” he said. “Hopefully, I will melt your heart.”
Read’s musical road has been a winding one, and
the route remains unknown. “My main goal in life
is to play music. Wherever that brings me, I have
no choice but to be thankful,” he said. “I am just
happy that people want to listen to it.” - Jackson Hole News & Guide


Small Mountain Bear - Mathematical Hands



Small Mountain Bear aka William Read will be releasing his solo debut “Mathematical Hands” on November 29, 2011. This album is the collection of songs written after Read, and his former group the Casual Fiasco, decided to put the touring life on hold. Recorded in Burlington, VT by Kyle Rose at KTR Studios and mixed in NYC by Sam Bradford at Bonfyre Productions, this album is a mix of psychedelic country and stoner indie pop with songs about drug smuggling cowboys, washed up rock stars, and love sick vampires.

“Mathematical Hands” was made possible through a Kickstarter campaign that successfully raised upwards for $4,000 in order to see this album pressed to vinyl. Music will still be made available for free download, as has always been the case with SMB, but will also be for sale in physical format through an online store and on iTunes.