Feeling their way

Local rock trio Bear Hunter hones its craft in different mediums

SOUND HUNTING <br>The members of Chico indie band Bear Hunter—left to right, drummer Clint Bear, singer-bassist Maurice Spencer and guitarist Chris Hunter—look beyond “emo” toward more expansive and melodious sounds.

The members of Chico indie band Bear Hunter—left to right, drummer Clint Bear, singer-bassist Maurice Spencer and guitarist Chris Hunter—look beyond “emo” toward more expansive and melodious sounds.

Courtesy Of A.J. Fulton

No stranger to the local club scene, Clint Bear has played drums for just about every kind of rock band over the last 10 years—from the classic rockabilly of the Incredible Diamonds to the country-'n'-blues honky-tonk of Danny West’s Lonesome Cowboys. This makes it all the more noteworthy when Bear says that his latest project, indie-rock trio Bear Hunter (named after himself and fellow founder/guitarist Chris Hunter) is his proudest achievement so far.

“Definitely I’m most proud of the original music this band has made,” says Bear, who works as a car mechanic by day and looks the part of a working-class drummer, with slicked-back hair and thrift store threads. “The other guys [Hunter on hollow body electric guitar and Maurice Spencer on vocals/baritone guitar/bass] are confident and great to play with. … We’re our own worst critics, but we take the criticism really well.”

Bear Hunter began as a jam project between friends of friends. Hunter and Bear (now housemates) began working out moody, soundtrack-like instrumentals as a rhythm section—with Hunter doing most of the composing utilizing samples and deconstructed guitar parts. Soon the group added Spencer, a music writer at the Synthesis and former member of what he calls a “Pixies rip-off band"—Lil Suicide Bunny. Spencer had similar tastes (expansive and melodious rock such as old Pink Floyd, The Cure and Pavement) and added improvisational lyrics, lead vocals and much needed bottom-line frequency to the project.

All three guys had played together before in various incarnations, and their evolution into a group is characteristic of the incestuous nature of a small-town, closely knit scene where “everybody knows everybody.”

One might be tempted to label their still-developing sound “emo"—for an emotional brand of shoe-gazing, heartfelt mood rock—but Spencer says that doesn’t apply.

“Emo has gotten pretty aggressive these days … plus we don’t have the right haircuts.”

Rather unusually, Bear Hunter got its first whiff of live performance working as the house band for a Blue Room rock musical, Hollywood Outsider by Aaron Lyon. Not long afterward, the band released a five-song EP (aptly titled Five Song EP) that sold out locally, though you can still get copies from the band. One track from that EP, titled “Jim O’Rourke,” was made into a video by Chico State student Ben Kerney, which eventually won a top award at the Chico State SMASH (Student Media Arts Showcase). The song was a poignant one, as Spencer wrote the lyrics after being inspired by the efforts of a friend who rode his bike across the country to raise funds for his cancer-stricken father. There is talk about including the video on an upcoming full-length CD that the band is scheduled to complete work on in July.

“So far we’ve utilized a lot of different mediums, and our music seems to lend itself really well to imagery,” says Spencer. Local to the core, the band uses artwork from Tower Records artist Aye Jay Morano, live and studio mixing from local sound engineer Marc Woodruff, and hopes to continue experimenting in the arts with a possible future project with the Axis Dream Dance Company.

Hunter says the band wants to continue playing bigger (and longer) gigs as well as incorporating new instruments such as sequencers, a vibraphone and even a glockenspiel into the act. But for right now the three friends are just having fun playing together, and it shows.

After listening to a couple of new, untitled songs in their basement practice studio, I could see (and feel) the talent and potential should Bear Hunter beat the cyclical "Chico odds" and remain together for years to come.