Ursa Major
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Ursa Major

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Band Americana Soul


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The best kept secret in music


"Local Scene: 08/24/10"

Ursa Major see the 'Light'

• Pittsburgh band Ursa Major will release its second album, "Great Big Light," with a show at the Brillobox in Bloomfield Friday with Secret Tombs, Nik Westman and the Central Plains, and Junkfood.

The band started in 2008, as it states in its bio, "with nothing but a mandolin, a 6-string picker and a bloody banjo, with lonesome hearts set on bluegrass music and the sound of the common folk." Ursa Major has since gone semi-electric and added drums, but "Great Big Light" reveals that the ragged folk vibe is still very much with it.

Admission for the 10 p.m. show is $8 and includes a copy of the album. Go to www.myspace.com/weareursamajor.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10238/1082574-388.stm#ixzz14M3NeZNM - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

"Concert Review- Elf Power w/ Ursa Major and a showing of "Major Organ and the Adding Machine""

Elf Power, Ursa Major and a showing of "Major Organ and the Adding Machine"
Friday September 24, 2010
Venue: Brillobox

Once again I'm at Brillobox going to a show for the opener and not the closer. The announcer framed the movie Major Organ and the Adding Machine as a "children’s movie". Bottom line, the movie was, well- to put it nicely- strange and confusing and by no means meant for kids. The whole time I couldn’t help but think at how unhappy a kid would be if he was to see this movie, due to the opening statements. [Ed note- this short film is about the mysterious Elephant 6 musical collective of the same name. it includes members of Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power, of Montreal, and Olivia Tremor Control.]

After the movie was over, Ursa Major took the stage. Ursa Major is a local band, several members of which had worked with 92.1 WPTS in the past. Also it is an interesting band to me because I have seen them early in their career and now presently, and the band has evolved in what I see as a positive manner. Back now from a road tour, Ursa was ready to play for the city where it all started and I feel they really delivered. The band has, in my opinion, moved from being a primarily folky band to more of an indie rock band that has folk influences. The music was catchy and fun and still had substance, and in addition to this the band had a good stage presence and energy. I found myself once again dancing with my friend as the music propelled us on.
After a strong set Ursa Major exited stage to make room for the headliner, Elf Power. I have never listened to Elf Power and the show did not really make me want to buy a CD; in fact, I found myself bored and waiting for the show to finish. Now, I should say that this is not normally the music I listen to- I don’t doubt that Elf Power makes good music, but what they played did not excite me or for that matter leave a real memorable mark. I feel guilty even commenting on their set, because I found myself not fully listening. Simply put the music didn’t do anything for me. I should also say though there was a decent sized crowd and there were people moving and an encore was requested and obliged. So, while it might not have been my cup of tea it was working for someone. All in all, I was happy with the night, especially when my bus came on time.

-Matthew James Anderson - 92.1 WPTS

"Spotlight - Pittsburgh Local Artist - Ursa Major - Edition 4"

This month's local spotlight falls on Ursa Major. Below are a few streaming tunes with an interview we conducted with lead man Steve. You can find more information about the band on their site at http://ursamajorblog.wordpress.com/.

How did the band come together? Were you all friends that went to school? or?

This is a long and complicated story and not as exciting as I wish it was. Essentially Ben (guitar/keys/vocals) and Jimmy (banjo/keys/guitar/vocals) were playing music together back in eastern PA , where they’re from, during the summer. I was going to school with Ben in PGH, so we were doing our own thing. We put it together as a threesome for a tour in Summer ’08. I actually met Jimmy for the first time like two days before we played our first show. Tim (bass) went to school and lived with us here in Pittsburgh and joined on last year. It took some convincing to come along for all our grifting, but he’s the best damn bass player I know. We actually met Kyle, our drummer, on that Summer ’08 tour, when he was touring as a solo folk-punk act.

Please Dear by Ursa Major

How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?

Our sound has evolved so much since we began playing two years ago. The three-piece of Jimmy, Ben and I was pretty much straight bluegrass, cow punk, train-ridin’ stuff. Since we got our funky rhythm section I’ve traded my mandolin in for a guitar and we’ve added keys to nearly every song. While we still have our folky roots in our blood, we’ve definitely moved towards a real doo-wop sound, which we like to call New-Wop or Blue-Wop or Doo-Grass. I just made all those up, but I think that’s how I would put it. It’s a bitch to classify your sound. You is what you is. Everyone likes to tag a band as “indie” or whatever, but that holds very little real significance...that’s more about a classification of who is playing in the band more than the music.

Are you all originally from the Pittsburgh area? Families here as well?

Actually...none of us are from Pittsburgh originally. We’re all done with school n’at, but we love it here so we stayed. Ben, Jimmy and Tim are all from far-east PA, I’m from an undisclosed location in the Midwest and Kyle was reared in the depths of Hell.

Do you all create music full time or is this more of a part time venture? Do you have day jobs?

Well some of us work more than others, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in PGH who is a full-time musician. Jimmy is training to be a taxidermist, Ben is a farmer, Tim is an aristocrat, Kyle is a full-time grifter and I write commercials.

How do you create your music? What is the song writing process?

Jim, Ben and I all write songs. They all sound completely different, too (which is why it’s so hard to classify our sound). Sometimes we write a song together, but mostly it’s an individual thing where someone says, “Hey, turkeys, I got a new tune.” We’ll play it out, but it’s not really one person’s song because we all add our own styles to it, our own touches. It’s a pretty organic process of development and it works really well for us because a song rarely ends up how it sounded when whoever first wrote it.

Cabin Fever by Ursa Major

What are your goals for the band? What would you like to accomplish? Are you trying to get signed to a label?

Time to plug! We actually just got signed to a local label who is new on the scene, ULJA FACTORY RECORDS (pronounced yooliya, it was Warhol’s mama’s name). We ain’t delusional about getting far on music, we just have a helluva time doing it and we enjoy putting on shows for folks, and we hope they get the same feeling from us. But yeah, baby, we recorded an album in March and it sat on the shelf because Jimmy’s taxidermist training sucked up all of our money, so we were rather broke after paying the bills for recording and then Darrell Workmen, owner of Ulja Factory and an outstanding fellow, came along and wanted to work with us on getting it out. It’s called “Great Big Light” and it’ll be out around August 1st. After all this time, we’re excited to finally put it out there for all to hear.

Have you all toured nationally? Or do you usually stay more regionally?

As a three-piece in Summer 2008, we did a short spell out east in NYC and Boston, etc., before heading through the Midwest—basically Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Chicago, St. Louis, and finally back to PA. Then last summer (2009) we did a little New England ramble for a little over a week. It was a damn good time. Since then we tour what we call our “One-sylvannia” home. Basically just a back’n’forth between Pittsburgh and Philly for weekends. We actually run a house venue here in town called The Doo-Wop Mansion. We have a lot of awesome bands from Philly come and play (great bands like Da Comrade, Hezekiah Jones, Motorcycle Maus and This Frontier Needs Heroes---they’re Brooklyn, though), and then we will go do shows with them in Philly. Philly has a lot of good music coming out of there right now and we admittedly love playing and hanging out with them.

Two Eyes by Ursa Major

Being in the Pgh area, do you find it more difficult to try and succeed? What are some of the obstacles you face trying to create some 'success' in Pgh?

Pittsburgh has a funny music scene. There’s a lot of talent around, but no real “sound.” Most of the “larger” groups in the area do a lot of folk-rock stuff, which we tread on a bit, too, but the problem is that often times bands rarely work together. To be honest we don’t meet many of those acts because we don’t play constantly in Pittsburgh. There isn’t that regular music-going crowd in PGH that there is in Philly, NYC, Austin, etc. A lot of times it’s only people you know. We don’t want to make our friends come out for shows over and over again. These days we’re starting to get some recognition outside of that and get our own draw, which is a nice thing and something we want to keep pushing. But it’s awfully rare to get a big draw of people you don’t know in Pittsburgh. I think any local band will attest to that.

Is there a venue you have enjoyed playing more than others in the area?

We played at the Brillobox last week for the first time with Toy Soldiers, The Armchairs (both AWESOME Philly bands, check ‘em out!) and our good friends from NYC, Ball of Flame Shoot Fire. They are originally PGHers but moved out about a year ago (they’re perfectly in-sync with each other as a band now, the sound is just so good at this point, definitely look them up, too). It was, as far as the bill goes, the best show we’ve been a part of—every band was absolutely incredible—and we had a lot of fun. We also dig Sonny’s Tavern on Millvale, it’s right around the corner from where we live and the owner enjoys having us bring some heads in; that’s really our more intimate stuff where we gather a bunch of crazies in a dive bar and go nuts. Good times had there. We have to be partial to the Doo-Wop Mansion, though. Yes, it’s our house, but, man, when we get a whole lot of music-friendly folks to cram into our basement and hear some great bands...that’s as good as it gets. - Pittsburgh Music Reports

"Ursa Major/Heart Shaped Box Social"

A great way to end Valentine’s day with a bunch of local bands gathering at 39th and Haverford. Twenty bands to be exact and with genres that still put you in that type of mood to still come out and move. Acts such as:

- Ursa Major
- Ryan Elias Benner
- The Skin Cells
- Chewing Gum Tree
- Evan Bernard
- Sarahjane
- Butter Pecan (Candice)
- Gregory Mendez
- Trench Mouth
- Kaytee Della Monica
- Chris Baglivo
- Kill me.The King
- Little Black Rainclouds
- Mike and Tanc
- Nicole Snyder
- Drew Henkels (Drew and the Medicinal Pen)
- Diana Zadlo
- (((Taco)))

Although at Drexel’s campus, people still came out to see these bands. Sunday night? Who cares! Thank you President’s Day (if you got class, damn. Work in the early morning, damn) A good amount of people still came out. There were talented sets giving a vibe where everyone can come out and show a little love. Based at a house where they call “The Hot Pocket” they became festive for the holiday by having heart shaped balloons hovering across the celling, christmas lights above the performers, and great cheap beer called “Silver Thunder.”

Some acts were acoustic, some were through amps/microphones but the songs the bands sang were fantastic folk love songs.

To focus on one of the bands, you should check out the 17th act of the night: Ursa Major.

Pittsburg based band with a hint of Philadelphia, Ursa Major came out with a set list that made people get into their music, turn to your neighbor and say “Who’s this band?” and why can’t I stop feeling their music. Too good.

Ben (voice, guitar) and Jim (voice, banjo) threw down vocals simultaneously while they both had their instruments sway in a matter where they just play their songs to show their love while Steve (banjolin, voice) and Tim (bass) threw in some backup vocals when needed. Kyle (drums) added some great beats with the brush patterns he used for majority of the songs.

For fans of Dr. Dog, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Violent Femmes.

Check them out:

www.myspace.com/weareursamajor - McJawn - Philly Arts & Culture

"Ursa Major - Great Big Light"

Ursa Major is a band from Pennsylvania, mostly based in Pittsburgh. They've recently completed their new full-length, Great Big Light and are getting ready for a summer tour. Unlike Cuddlefish, Ursa Major is a real band. They're real people. They eat and sleep and shit. Sometimes they get drunk.

Their members are as follows:

Ben- guitar/vocals/piano/drums
Jimmy- banjo/vocals/guitar/occasional sax
Steve- guitar/vocals/mandolin/electric piano
Tim- bass, backing vocals
Kyle- drums

Jimmy and Kyle

Ursa Major's sound has evolved from their early days, when they were mostly acoustic folk, to a soul/folk/rock combo. They certainly have a 60's feel. Each of the three singers has their own unique style. Ben brings to the table a kind of psychedelic folk-pop, like Dr. Dog or Paul MacCartney. Jimmy writes the ballads, his songs are a sort of heartbroken baroque-folk. Steve is the soul man of the group, if Otis Redding was a white Jewish kid who also plays a mean guitar solo.

I've heard an advance copy of their forthcoming album, Great Big Light, recorded by Eli Wenger of Los Halos in Phoenixville, PA. It's only about 33 minutes long, but not a second is wasted. The record runs the gamut from Creedence/Stones-inspired chooglin' ("Free To Roam") to doo-wop/soul revival ("Cabin Fever") to lovesick folk ballads ("Fox and Mole"). The album's highlights include the aforementioned tracks, as well as "Radio", an intense rock n' roll rave-up that really shines live, and "Jimmy Swim", perhaps the best damn song on the whole album, a near-indescribable folk/rock masterpiece which wouldn't sound out of place on Let It Be or Songs From Big Pink.

Ursa Major is opening for Langhorne Slim on April 12 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. Tickets are $5, free with a CMU student ID. Look for their album, to be released tentatively in June, on iTunes.

Recommended If You Like: The Band, Flying Burrito Brothers, The Kinks, Loaded-era Velvet Underground - A Floor Lamp

"Ursa Major solidifies local ties with new release and DIY space"

You might think that a band that runs a concert space out of its house in Pittsburgh, and which will release its new album on a Pittsburgh-based record label, would have strong ties to the region. Not always: "Some of us have lived here for a few years, but we just recently got the whole band to relocate to Pittsburgh," says Ben Collier, singer and guitarist for the sort-of-new Pittsburgh band Ursa Major. "And it's about time."

Since forming in 2008, Ursa Major has evolved from a loose, two-man folk act touring the Northeast with the help of $3 Megabus fares into a tight-knit five-piece band. This fall, the band will tour the country in support of its latest record, Great Big Light, out this month on Ulja Factory Records.

The project began when Collier, a drummer from the Philadelphia area with a background in hardcore, began collaborating on folk- and bluegrass-influenced songs with his high school classmate, multi-instrumentalist Jim Price, while they were attending the University of Pittsburgh and IUP, respectively. After touring New England as a two-piece, they added Steve Whisler, a friend of Collier's from Pitt, on mandolin and guitar, and began bringing their brand of "drunken bluegrass" to the Midwest.

"We were touring as much as we could because we thought that's what a band should do," Collier says. "It was a great way to make connections and new friends. There are people that we met touring two years ago that we are still playing shows with. We even met our drummer while on tour."

At that time, Kyle Lambert was running a venue out of his house in Philadelphia and playing as a solo folk-punk act. In 2009, Ursa Major invited him to join as drummer for a summer tour -- even though he still lived in Philadelphia. "I would basically come up one week a month, and just play constantly with the guys," Lambert says. "It worked surprisingly well."

Before the group had a chance to establish a regional reputation, it released its first album, Songs for Haney, and began touring as a four-piece. Left behind due to the space constraints of using Whisler's car was new bass player Tim Haney. "The car was so packed, you could barely move, and you definitely couldn't see anybody else," Price says.

Last fall, the band moved into a seven-bedroom house on Morewood Avenue, which the members named the Doo-Wop Mansion. Inspired by their experiences in Philadelphia, they decided to make Doo-Wop an alternative venue for touring bands stopping in Pittsburgh, as well as Ursa Major's practice space.

"Philly has tons of house shows every day of the week," Haney says, "which really seems to strengthen the bond between bands in that city." Collier adds, "We feel Pittsburgh has the potential to support a similar scene, whether it's a network of poetry readings or DIY spaces." Despite growing interest, the band remains modest about the success of the Doo-Wop: "It's no 222 Ormsby, but it's a really fun place to play," Haney says.

Doo-Wop, in fact, was where Ursa Major was playing when the group was spotted by Darrell Workman of Ulja Factory Records, a local label known mostly for experimental releases. "We are definitely the straightest band on the label," Whisler admits, "but Darrell has a lot of faith in us, and has given us the chance to get Great Big Light pressed and released. I don't know how we could have done it otherwise."

Great Big Light is a difficult record to pigeonhole. If you mix Robbie Robertson's concept of Americana with the pop sensibility of the Magnetic Fields, you might be close. The album moves effortlessly from soulful country sway ("Pack It Up") to baroque pop progressions ("Deep End"), with some surprisingly well-executed moments of '50s-style harmony and hypnotic krautrock scattered throughout.

This Fri., Aug. 27, Ursa Major kicks off its two-week tour with a CD-release show at Brillobox. After touring, the band plans to release Great Big Light on vinyl and begin recording its follow-up album.

Collier admits, "Most bands start regionally, and then tour -- we did the opposite. But I'm excited the whole band is finally living here, and we have one place to call our home." - Pittsburgh City Paper



to be released in 2011

a yet untitled LP



Currently at a loss for words...