SUNBEARS!
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SUNBEARS!

Jacksonville, Florida, United States | SELF

Jacksonville, Florida, United States | SELF
Band Alternative Pop

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"ALTERNATIVE PRESS UNSIGNED BANDS OF THE MONTH"

THE STORY SO FAR: A little less than three years ago, Jonathan Grant Berlin stopped taking himself so seriously. “Music has never been a means to earn a fortune or stand onstage and show how badass I am,” he says. “This band came to be after trying to do both those things with former bands.” The vocalist/multi-instrumentalist invited friend Jared Chase Bowser into the percussive mix and Sunbears! began playing with the Black Kids and Dredg—the latter of whom asked Sunbears! to finish out their fall 2008 tour with them immediately after catching their opening set.

WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW ‘EM: There’s just no way a sound this big comes from two guys—but apparently it does. Leaning heavily on Flaming Lips-style quirk mixed with pure playfulness, the pair even got to record a song for the third season of psychedelic kids show Yo Gabba Gabba!. “I just started music that puts a smile on my face,” he says. “I love to laugh and I’d lost that somewhere along the way. But I’ve got it back.” - ALTERNATIVE PRESS


"ALTERNATIVE PRESS UNSIGNED BANDS OF THE MONTH"

THE STORY SO FAR: A little less than three years ago, Jonathan Grant Berlin stopped taking himself so seriously. “Music has never been a means to earn a fortune or stand onstage and show how badass I am,” he says. “This band came to be after trying to do both those things with former bands.” The vocalist/multi-instrumentalist invited friend Jared Chase Bowser into the percussive mix and Sunbears! began playing with the Black Kids and Dredg—the latter of whom asked Sunbears! to finish out their fall 2008 tour with them immediately after catching their opening set.

WHY YOU SHOULD KNOW ‘EM: There’s just no way a sound this big comes from two guys—but apparently it does. Leaning heavily on Flaming Lips-style quirk mixed with pure playfulness, the pair even got to record a song for the third season of psychedelic kids show Yo Gabba Gabba!. “I just started music that puts a smile on my face,” he says. “I love to laugh and I’d lost that somewhere along the way. But I’ve got it back.” - ALTERNATIVE PRESS


"CREATIVE LOAFING REVIEWS SUNBEARS! IN YBOR!"

"The last time I saw Sunbears! in November 2008, I was impressed by their ability to deliver a complete visual experience to go along with their sugary pop, even outside at New World Brewery. Sunbears! has enhanced their candyland set to greater dayglo heights with a variety of props, including a giant red balloon, bubbles and confetti, oh my! Recorded last fall, the Sunbears! cover of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” now adds a bit of unintentional poignancy to their act … at least until the shock of Michael Jackson’s death wears off. The audience danced up a storm to the Sunbears!’ happy-go-lucky pop tunes while throwing confetti to the beat. Sunbears! is also fun to listen to on disc and their current EP, Dream Happy Dreams, is a perfect summer dance soundtrack. Really, who couldn’t use a little auditory uplifting given the state of the world? I look forward to hearing and seeing what is next for this talented duo!" - Creative Loafing


"SUNBEARS! INTERVIEWED BY CREATIVE LOAFING"

June 26th, 2009 by Eric Snider in Features

"Two years ago, Jonathan Berlin was in a bad place. He was the lead singer and songwriter for a band called Bernard that had a distribution deal through East/West, a division of Warner Bros. The trio, whose drummer was his longtime collaborator and best friend Jared Bowser, had played 300 shows on tour.

So what exactly was the problem, you might wonder?

“With Bernard, we worked our asses off to make it happen,” Berlin, 25 (at right in photo), says in a phone interview. “As it turned out, it just wasn’t fun. I always loved writing songs, but after we got hooked up with Warner Bros, I started writing and I couldn’t do it. It was like, ‘I’m writing a record for Warner Bros. This has to be good.’ The whole thing wasn’t really awesome.”

Given those circumstances, a lot of artists would’ve continued to flog it, but Berlin decided to walk away. The Bernard split led in part to a four-month rift between him and Bowser, 23. Berlin decided to rethink this whole music career thing. And he came up with something of a novel solution: He had to basically stop trying. So Berlin retreated to his loft in downtown Jacksonville and started making music for himself. “I started writing, but had no particular ambition,” he says. “I was in a place where I wanted to write something that made me feel good, something that I might listen to.”

Next thing he knew he had six songs and decided to record an EP under the name Sunbears! During a Bernard tour, Berlin and Bowser had visited the Smithsonian in D.C. “There was this little replica sunbear standing upright,” he recalls fondly. “It was like, ‘Look at this little guy. It’s a sunbear.’ I think they’re indigenous to Malaysia. They might be endangered. The name just stuck in my head.”

Berlin released the first Sunbears! EP, For Everyone — which he recorded entirely on his own — independently in a download-only format. He layered gauzy, slow-moving keyboards into a lush backdrop for melancholy hooks sung in his fervent, at times pleading, tenor. All told, not bad, but the new stuff retained vestiges of Bernard’s Radiohead fetish.

Then Berlin and Bowser patched things up. He hesitated to ask the drummer to work with him again, but finally summoned the resolve and Bowser readily accepted. They jumped right into recording a new EP, and the collaborative environment — “to have Jared be there with me and excited, it was such a fun thing” — had a profound impact on Berlin. It was if he’d taken his music and shaken out all the mope.

The second EP, Dream Happy Dreams, opens with a burping synth-drum beat and the sound of little children laughing. The song, “A Lovely Tuesday Afternoon,” then launches into an uptempo rock groove, tinkling pianos and the kind of soaring synth line that would be right at home on a Flaming Lips record. The melody soars even higher when Berlin sings, “We’ll make it/ We’re tired but we still have faith/ We’ll make it.”

Dream Happy Dreams continues in this uplifting vein, adding influences from Berlin’s youth like the Beatles and Beach Boys. Berlin, who lived in small-town Texas before moving to Jacksonville at 16, was reared on ’60s music. His father was a DJ at an oldies station. “I’d go with him to the station, get a Mountain Dew and a bag of Skittles and we’d play this game: who can name the song the fastest?” he remembers. “My dad was a Beatles head. I got all of that ’60s stuff in volumes, and didn’t give any resistance.”

Because he was home-schooled, Berlin didn’t have a big peer group to hip him to the latest new sounds. It wasn’t until his mid-teens that he developed his own, more modern, tastes. “It was never about the need to check out the latest Bush record,” he says. “In the ’90s, I started getting into the Flaming Lips, Ben Folds, quirky, nerdier stuff. Weezer, I loved Weezer. Still do.”

That sense of whimsy finally found its way into Berlin’s music with Dream Happy Dreams. “As we were working on it, Jared and I looked at each other and said, ‘I think this is good. This feels like our own sound,’” he says.

Despite the artistic success of the music, Sunbears! were determined not to jump back into the music-biz rat race. They didn’t shop the EPs to labels, didn’t rustle up a booking agent, didn’t even press CDs.

But a funny thing happened. Sunbears! started to take off anyway. One of their favorite bands, Dredg out of San Francisco, played Jacksonville on a Halloween, and Sunbears! wrangled an opening slot — strictly for the fun of it. The duo performed a loopy set dressed as zombies.

“Dredg was more serious, darker, but they came up to us afterward and said, ‘We have 20 dates all through the Midwest. If you guys wanna play, it starts next week. We can toss you 150 a night,’” Berlin recounts. “We thought, ‘Yeah, we can jump in a car and drive across the country for a couple weeks. It was amazing. We played for like 1,200 people a night. And it was weird, because the whole time it was happening, we never had any intention of making anything happen. We played 300 shows with Bernard and never came close to what Sunbears! has done, and Sunbears! is on its 48th show.”

They include a month-long tour with Black Kids and Mates of State.

How long will this serendipitous tour arc last for Sunbears!? Will they have to, at some point, knuckle down and try?

“I guess it’s something we’ll have to deal with soon,” Berlin says with a chuckle. “I really don’t want to start looking at things like, ‘What can we do to push this thing forward?’ I’ve been through that a couple times before. I’d rather it grow organically.

“And I’m weird about promoting myself. I feel like a tool saying, ‘Check out my record.’ I think the music’s been getting better and better and I’m happy with it. We’re not trying to impress anyone.”

Pretty impressive." - Creative Loafing


"SUNBEARS! ON "LIFE HAS NEW MEANING""

"Dream Happy Dreams by SUNBEARS! is easily one of the best albums of 2009, and yet, it doesn’t even get half the recognition it deserves. This skillful duo masterfully pulls off a combination of an experimental and psychedelic sound with bubbly, electric indie pop. The melding of these two sounds results in an album that is very accessible, and delightful to listen to. Throughout the album, there are moments reminiscent of Of Montreal, Beirut, Animal Collective, and other such bands (to name a few).

The album begins and ends with two pleasant instrumental tracks, “Le Penné Pageant” and “Sunshine At 9 P.M.”, and in between those two are five epic, happy yet melancholy, unique, beautiful songs. The lyrical content is cute and poetic, and invokes the urge to smile and cry—AT THE SAME TIME. There is not a single dead spot in all thirty-one minutes of this gem of an album. Their sound is unique and interesting, and yet, it’s not difficult to listen to, as some bands of this ilk can be. It’s an album to listen to when you’re happy or sad, alone or with friends, etc. I can’t say anything else except for: LISTEN TO IT!" - Life Has New Meaning


"LISTEN UP SUCKA'S HAVE MORE ON SUNBEARS!"

"I'm admittedly sycophantic about the Sunbears and listen to "Lovely Little Anecdotes" repeatedly. The first time I heard it, I thought it was Muse due to the huge sound, vocal sound and anthemic chorus. This is another successful blend of the organic and electronic . . . they do it so well.

Song Breakdown

Best Place and Time to Listen: Whenever it's time to have a little church . . . it just does that for me . . . don't judge me.

If This Song Was a Celebrity It Would Be: Clive Owen as Theo Faron from Children of Men" - Listen Up Sucka's


"SUNBEARS! REVIEW BY THEY WILL ROCK YOU"

"Sunbears! opened up for Mates of State and Black Kids, creating an open atmosphere of cheery joy. Seriously, their name includes exciting punctuation, they have to be cheerful! These Jacksonville rockers have a fun sound that’s somewhere between indie pop and moody electro-atmospheric rock. Incidentally, sunbears also are a species of bear found in the tropical rainforests of Southern Asia. Rainforests=fun. Asia most likely also=fun. Therefore: Sunbears!=FUN. Case in point, about midway through their set, they maneuvered a giant transparent balloon out into the crowd as we all stared at the orb and the bright lights, transported to a happy non-Tuesday-I-have-to-work-tomorrow kind of mood. For your first listen, I’d suggest listening to “Little Baby Pines” to get an idea of what kind of music they create. Crowd participation is always encouraged and these guys did a great job to prep the crowd for Mates of State." - They Will Rock You


"DALLAS OBSERVER ON SUNBEARS!"

"Jacksonville duo Sunbears! got the night started off right, appearing onstage wearing western shirts and waving a giant yellow flag. Like headliners Mates of State, the instrumentation consisted of keyboards and drums, only the Floridians relied on a backing track to bolster their sound. The real appeal of their set, however, were stunning visuals, from the perfectly-synched psychedelic videos being projected behind them to the lighting effects that the drummer controlled with foot pedals to the enormous balloon they unleashed into the crowd." - The Dallas Observer


"RICHMOND.COM REVIEWS SUNBEARS!"

Richmond.com
Friday, April 03, 2009

While I was getting ready for the show I thought to myself (when am I NOT working these days?) that the best gift an audience can give a band is to go into a performance with no expectations. This is not to say I didn't think the show would be great, entertaining, [insert pleasant adjective here] ... I'm merely saying I wasn’t really emotionally invested in any of the bands I was about to see.

With that said ... Bands, you're welcome.

And with THAT said ... Bands, thank you.

The greatest gift you can give your audience is a sincere love for the music you create and perform. All three bands hit one out of the park last night.

As soon as I walked in to the National, the Sunbears! were poised and ready to play. They launched into “All You Need Is Sleep” and I knew right away I was going to enjoy this set.

The band: Two guys; one on vocals, keys and a MacBook (Jonathan) and the other behind the drums (Jared).

The stage: Jonathan’s keyboard was encased in a candy-striped box, Jared was donning rainbow-colored headphones and behind them and in the middle of the stage was a projection screen displaying images synchronized with the music. Apparently, that MacBook was working double-duty since it was also providing background tunes.

The screen showed neon images of swirling spirals and colorwheels, smiley-faces, disco balls, rainbows, star mints and even fireworks. These images were in perfect partnership with the music, which was saccharine-filled, peppy and uplifting. I didn’t sit down once.

By the end of the first song, I totally understood where the exclamation point in the name came from. Everything, from the lyrics to the props to their energy and, of course, their handclapping was, like candy, simply sweet. The Sunbears! were going to be my guilty pleasure for the week.

Before they launched into “Little Baby Pines,” a giant balloon in between them and the screen began to inflate. As Jonathan’s eerie yet intriguing oohs morphed into the lyrics “and it’s more than I can take … it’s almost like I may bend and break” I wondered if, in fact, that balloon wasn’t going to burst in a dramatic climax right there onstage.

It didn’t. It would take some guy in the crowd and another song for that to happen.

With a sound reminiscent of MGMT (giggly kids) and a guy named Bleu most of you have probably never heard of, this Jacksonville, Fla band really won me over.

Jonathan, Jared, that MacBook and those visuals created an atmosphere that delighted each one of my greedy senses. The fact that they closed the set with a song that included hand-clapping, well, that may have helped their cause a tad, too. - Richmond.com


Discography

FOR EVERYONE (EP) - 2008 - Independent
DREAM HAPPY DREAMS (EP) - 2009 - Independent
CEREMONY: A New Order Tribute (2CD) - 2010 - 24 Hour Service Station (Song: Thieves Like Us!)
SUNBEARS / MRENC (SPLIT 7") - 2010 - New Granada Records

Photos

Bio

SUNBEARS! is an indie / psychedelic / electronic pop duo hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, USA. After forming in January of 2008, SUNBEARS!, Jonathan Grant Berlin (vocals, keyboards, bass guitar, guitar, programming) and Jared Chase Bowser (drums), recorded their first EP, FOR EVERYONE! and began performing locally. SUNBEARS! is known for their high energy and colorfully eccentric live performances in which bright, colorful videos and images are projected onto a screen. There is also use of smoke, lights, confetti, giant balloons and more! After receiving local acclaim, SUNBEARS! was personally invited to join San Francisco-based band, DREDG on the tail end of their FALL 2008 tour. The band found themselves playing in front of packed-out audiences around the country. Shortly after returning home, SUNBEARS! put the final touches on what would be their next EP entitled, DREAM HAPPY DREAMS. It was recorded in Florida, Georgia, and California, and was also performed and recorded entirely by the band, with some aid of producer, Jeremy S.H. Griffith. A week after the release of DREAM HAPPY DREAMS, SUNBEARS! set out on a national tour with Barsuk recording artists, MATES OF STATE and Columbia recording artists, BLACK KIDS in the spring of 2009. The tour proved to be very beneficial for the band, putting them in front of sold-out crowds at the likes of the 9:30 CLUB in Washington DC, WEBSTER HALL in New York City, and THE METRO in Chicago, among many others. SUNBEARS! were also selected as one of the best unsigned bands in the MAY 2010 issue of Alternative Press, and were tapped to record a song for the hit children's television show, Yo Gabba Gabba. Spring 2010 also found the band supporting Gil Mantera's Party Dream on their east coast tour, as well as releasing a limited edition split 7" with florida-based, MRENC, and being featured on Ceremony, a New Order Tribute Album. SUNBEARS! have begun writing a third album set to be released by the end of 2010.