Swimming with Bears: A Candid Interview with the rising indie band

Swimming with Bears

Swimming with Bears is making a splash in the alternative pop scene.

Based out of Austin, Texas, Swimming with Bears is a rising band in indie music. The 4- piece band recently kicked off a national tour, has played gigs at Austin's famed SXSW, and has even opened for Panic! At the Disco and Weezer.

The "pop and roll" band has brought their vibrant sound outside of the rich local music scene of Austin, Texas. Swimming with Bears has toured across the country, known for the fun and catchy single "French Girls." Consisting of lead singer and bassist, Joe Perry, guitarist Alec Conte, rhythm guitarist John Kerr, and drummer Ryan Hannasch, Swimming with Bears have branched out from the local music scene and their colorful and soulful sound is soon to become a staple of indie music.

Read all about Swimming with Bears, the process of finding their sound, and what they have planned for the future here!

How did the band meet?

Alec: College. I met Joe Perry my freshman year, in the freshman dorm rooms. I was playing acoustic guitar and he came down and asked if he could play with me and I said "Hell yeah, dude!" Then he came downstairs with a bass guitar and I thought it was awesome. Then we just slowly finding the other puzzle pieces within a year, and we've stuck with each other since then.

How did you get the name "Swimming with Bears?"

Joe: We were watching a documentary on Animal Planet. Before that, we had our first song put out on YouTube, which had the lyrics "Swim out, with the bears on my own." In the documentary, the guy was swimming with a bear. He was a rich guy, who had a bear for a pet, and he'd go swimming with it. So Alec was like "Oh man, we should call our band Swimming with Bears." From then on, we just decided to keep it.

Describe your genre.

Alec: We're trying to go for this new one we discovered called "pop and roll." For a while, we were called alternative soul. Which made sense, because we were doing some soulful stuff. We were learning about ourselves as musicians. But, as of the past year and a half, it’s been more upbeat. It’s definitely rock 'n' roll, but there’s a lot of pop things in there.

Who are some major influences?

Ryan: We’re all different. I personally like David Bowie, The Doors, Rolling Stones, Amy Winehouse. My more-modern band of choice would be Twenty One Pilots. Hope to hear a new album from them soon. I’ve worn 'em out.

Alec: Joe P.’s are totally different as well. I think we share some common ones.

Joe: My influences are all like Motown kind of stuff. I like Rage Against the Machine. Audioslave. Those guys are always cool, like on the bass side. Then, Amy Winehouse, like he said. Adele is pretty good. Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James.

How was the experience opening for Panic! At The Disco and Weezer?

John: It was crazy. We hadn’t played a show that big before and I think they sold out at 11,000 people. So we got to open up for that. As people were filling in this huge venue, it was amazing. It’s one of those things where you get really nervous and you get the butterflies because you haven’t done that before. Then, as soon as you get up there, everything you’ve been practicing just comes back to you.

Ryan: And it happened in his hometown.

John: Corpus Christie, Texas.

Ryan: All his friends got to see him. A bunch of people from Austin were there and didn’t even know we were playing. They were like “What the F*ck?”

When you’re not opening, what kind of venues do you normally play?

Alec: 250-300 cat clubs. Like Stub’s in Austin. We’ve played The Curtain Club in Dallas. White Oak Music Hall in Houston. Venues like that. In Corpus Christie, there’s a place called House of Rock. Which is about 300 people, it’s like our staple. We play there almost every time we play Corpus Christie.

TCC: Wow. Knowing Texas, I think it’s interesting that you play Corpus Christie so much. That’s not the first place that comes to mind when it comes to the indie music scene.

Alec: I’m putting it on the map! It’s one city in Texas that doesn’t connect to a major interstate. It’s like the last one on I-37. So no one goes out of their way to go down there, but the bands that DO go down there in Corpus Christie are literally held onto by the city. They’re loyal as hell.

John: I think that’s why Weezer and Panic! sold out so quickly, too. They had to add an additional 1,000 tickets to the show.

Alec: Yeah, they actually expanded the gates into the street at the show because there were so many people. It had sold out in like 2 days.

John: We didn’t find out until 2 days before the show that it had sold out.

Alec: It was a big surprise.

What’s your writing process?

Joe: We all live together, so someone will come up with a tune or something on instruments. Usually, we’ll just put a melody over it. Then I’ll try to write lyrics for it. Pretty much it’s just us living together, jamming and writing it out. It’s a group process.

How has your music changed from when you first started together?

Ryan: Well, when we first started writing, it was kind of anything that sounded cool to us. We would come together with bass, then drums, then guitar. Joe would start a melody and then teach us the backup vocals. We still use the same process, but we’ve honed in on our own unique sound. So we always try and stick to that, while being creative outside of that. So like “Shiver and Crawl”? Much different from French Girls. Then the song we just released, “Take it Easy” is more closely tied to French Girls. It’s the same feel. Pop 'n' Roll.

Alec: There’s definitely been a learning curve, as we’ve grown up. A lot of people that we’ve met have influenced us in our writing process, teaching us things about ourselves. That’s been really helpful in expanding our abilities in music.

TCC: You make it sound like it’s constantly changing, you can hear that in your music. It’s all tied together. It’s really cool.

Alec: Yeah, we’re trying to make our own path. It’s trying something different each time you make a song. We’ll say “Oh, we don’t usually do this, let’s try it!”

John: We all find new bands as well and we show it to each other a lot. Alec is good about that, he’s always on Spotify, looking through playlists. He has his own playlist that he hosts called “distractions.” He works on that. He finds all these new bands and we’ll listen to it on long car rides, changing to each city. Joe and Ryan might hear a new track and study it a bit, try to find out cool new things that the band might have done. We try to stay in touch with what other bands are doing and sometimes think “Wow, that’s actually a really cool idea.” We try to find our own way, staying on our own path, while getting influences from other bands.

Alec: Kind of like- what’s the word? Digression...

John: Diarrhea. *laughs*

Alec: Digressing from their final product and thinking back like “How did they reach the final product of this song?” You can kind of run it in your own head what they did and try to emulate the process. I’m really good at listening to a song and figuring out how they transition and what rhythms and shapes they use. Not necessarily the chord progression and the melodies, but the things that tie everything together. Like figuring out all the factors. I try to emulate that every time we write.

TCC: What are some of the bands you’re listening to right now?

Alec: Right now? Oh, man. I’m listening to a ton of artists but I have no idea what their names are. My favorite bands right now are Palace, Coast Modern... Coin is good. That “preppy hipster” type area of music, I guess. We saw this quadrant today, a lot of the bands I love are in the preppy hipster area of the quadrant.

What do you believe is the most important part of being an artist right now?

Joe: Who can outwork who. And how you can cleverly take and spin what you learn from. Like there’s a lot of people in the music industry who are super talented but sometimes they don’t put in enough of the work to get to the place that they actually deserve to be. Then, you have people who put in a lot of work who might not be as talented, but they get better and better. With us, we’ve grown from just playing so much. Bands always ask us “How do you get tight like that? How do you get your voices to sound like that?” It’s just practicing every single day.

Of course, there’s other factors that go into it, like listening to music and being open to new stuff, but at the end of the day, it comes down to a hardcore work ethic. I was just reading an AC/DC book, their biography. They were talking about how Malcolm Young and Angus Young were always adamant about listening to new music and then trying to do it better than that person. I think that’s the rock 'n' roll mentality.

Why French Girls?

Alec: Why not? *laughs*

TCC: What’s the inspiration behind that song?

Alec: That was a fun one. There was a lot of evolution involving that song. It started by loading our gear into the studio. We wrote another song the day before, which happened in a day, so everyone came in the next day expecting the same results. We’ve done that every time we’ve written a song, we knock it out in a day and then we record it. We’re blown away by how fast we did it. So we came ready to play, but an hour and a half passed and nothing really happened. John walked off and played an instrument the dude never really plays: an old-school '60s organ. He started playing this riff, which is very similar to what you hear in the song. I heard it from the other room.

John: I was sitting, playing and drinking a beer and I just hear “Don’t f*cking forget that!” and I was like “What?” and he’s like “Keep playing! Whatdya stop for?” and I was like “Oh, okay.” So I started playing it again. Our producer came in and was like “Where are you at with it?” and I showed him and he was like “Alright, get out of here.” He knows how to play the organ so he played it and changed it up a bit and was like “Okay, we’ve got an idea.”

Alec: Then it turned into this dope bass line that sounded awesome. Joe came in and worked on it and it kind of evolved from there. We eventually had this who pallet, all the music was already done. From there, we just listened to it on repeat, jamming out to our music and one of the writers sung out “All the pretty girls are coming out to the party.” We were like “that’s fun! Let’s work around that.” It evolved into “All the girls,” then we thought that riff sounded very European indie rock so it was like: British girls? Maybe. Italian girls? Then there was the “Ooh la la” part, so it was French girls.

What’s your favorite show you’ve done so far and what’s the story behind it?

Alec: That Weezer show was ridiculous. It left us with a runner’s high that never died.

Ryan: We’ve all been chasing this since we got out of college. Of course, our parents were like “You’re gonna take your bachelors degree and start a rock band?” It’s kind of scary for someone who just invested a bunch of tuition into you. Then, we played in front of 11,000 people and all 11,000 people reacted to it. It was a verification, telling us “Okay, we can do this. Let’s keep it going.” Any shows we’ve played after that have been under that, capacity-wise, so we’re trying to get back to that point but headline it.

John: We have one story that was awesome. Anthony Green, from Circa Survive, was playing in Corpus. We had been building our fan base in Corpus Christie, Texas. All of the sudden, we got the opportunity to open for Anthony Green, acoustically. We played, and he actually sat on the side of the stage and watched us play. He was just so zoned into it, checking it out. Afterward, two of us went backstage and we were just talking to him in the back and he was saying, “Man, you guys are just doing exactly what everyone wants to do! Everyone needs to do that!”

Ryan: Very nice guy. He was amazing.

John: That was an experience I’ll never forget. I’m glad Ryan was there, too. Then we got to tell these guys about it and they were like “Wait, what? You guys were just hanging out with Anthony Green in the back room? That’s bullsh*t.”

Alec: That was before we did the Panic! show. At an amphitheater, outside. Anthony was like  “your sound belongs in a big arena or stadium.” Then, seven months later, we get the opportunity in the same city. It’s just giving us that confidence and hope.

John: You have a lot of those serendipitous moments.

Joe: Alec’s serendipity.

Alec: I have a lot of serendipitous actualizations. A lot of weird, little things happen that are all connected.

How do you balance life outside of the band with life inside of the band?

Ryan: It’s kind of rough at times. We’re out on the road right now and this is fun, it’s not work. Then we go back home, it’s kind of the same thing. We rehearse, we write new music and then we also have jobs. Joe and I are waiters and bartenders at a Mexican restaurant in Austin, Texas. And it’s tough. We’ll work doubles, then the next day we’ll have a show, then go back in for another shift. We’ve actually played a show after a shift before. You’re just tired, been talking to people all day, Joe is the lead singer and has been taking orders all day.

John: The time we played Corpus Christie, the two of them had to drive back in the middle of the night in a separate car.

Ryan: Oh, yeah. I was at a bar in Corpus Christie at like 2 a.m., drove home - this was after playing with Bob Marley’s The Whaler - stopped at my parent's house in Scottsdale, took a nap then drove the rest of the way to Austin to get ready for my shift from three to midnight. I’m blessed to have that job, it makes touring pretty easy.

What do you hope to come of the future?

Joe: Just to keep playing bigger and bigger shows and getting our music out there. Our main interest is to get our music out to as many people as possible. It’s been in Texas for a long time, just because we could only travel regionally. But now that we’re being able to expand nationally, we’re hoping we’ll spread on Spotify and hopefully internationally as well. Just getting our music out there.

John: Touring like this, which gets our music out there even more. We go to new cities we’ve never been to before. We meet fans that weren’t fans before. All of a sudden we’re getting recognition. All the people from Baltimore drove out to Charlottesville, we’re hoping to have more of that.

Ryan: Let’s not forget that we want to become rock stars, too, by definition. None of this Spotify fans or getting recognition, I’m talking arenas and stadiums after that. Not just being a cool band. Whatever it takes to get there.

Besides touring, what are you working on right now?

John: New music. We’re always working on new music.

Alec: We’re working on some stuff that we plan on releasing late this year, but besides that, playing more shows. We’re planning our next release and some new videos. We just did a new lyric video release that made it on Billboard. We have all these little plans and strategies for touring and for releasing new music so we can save up for a window to record new music. Just to keep the ball rolling, you know? If you let that ball stop, people are going to forget about you.

Listen to Swimming with Bears' newest single "Take It Easy" here:

Like the band on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Instagram, @SwimWithBears!

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Marina Hansen

Writing Intern

I listen to music, I write, and I don't do much else.

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