Guys just wanna have funk

Local trio Isaac Bear is seriously jammy, wacky

The Red Hot Chili Peppers used socks, Isaac Bear’s (left to right) Scotty Urquhart, Keith Filson and Steve Jenkins use camellias.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers used socks, Isaac Bear’s (left to right) Scotty Urquhart, Keith Filson and Steve Jenkins use camellias.

Photo by Shoka

Spastic, punk-driven and funky licks. Complex chops. Goofball antics. Sacramento trio Isaac Bear definitely brings to mind early Red Hot Chili Peppers. And, to a certain degree, even the Minutemen. Yet the band’s members rarely listened to either group. And, up until a few months ago, in fact, they’d never even heard of the Minutemen.

Isaac Bear says its distinct mixture of punk and funk—with a dash of psychedelic rock—is the natural outcome of getting together, jamming and just letting music be their happy spot.

For audiences, however, it can be tough: Are these guys serious about music, or what?

On one hand, bassist Scotty Urquhart, singer-guitarist Keith Filson and drummer Steve Jenkins possess a technical wizardry over their instruments. It’s impressive. But at the same time, their live shows are full of horsing around—sweaty energy, wacky facial expressions, joking around between songs. And the music video for their song “Flat Tire” looks like a hilarious faux public-access show, complete with plenty of potty humor.

“Some people think we’re just a little too over the top,” Urquhart told SN&R recently, “like the silliness is fake or something. But we’re trying to be as honest as possible.”

Creating an environment for fun can be a lot of hard work. When these confessed “musical adrenaline junkies” aren’t bouncing around onstage, they’re spending a lot of time practicing and working out material.

Isaac Bear’s songs come together through group jams—as opposed to one member writing something and asking the rest of the band to accompany—and countless hours are put into tweaking and refining music.

Still, the band says the arrangements are kept loose enough so that they can always be altered or even improvised upon during shows.

This makes its music what drummer Jenkins refers to as a “playground with enough structure in it to play around in.” And they hope this childlike spirit is infectious.

“We want to put on a show that people have fun at. I feel if we’re accepting of fun, then maybe the audience will be the same way,” Jenkins says.

But Filson says their music has “some steak and potatoes in there, too.” For instance, the song “Through Water” was written about being down on their luck and learning how to cope with some challenges in life. And “Robots” is an angry, venting song.

But when the band plays either of these songs live, it never stops being a fun band.

“Even if a song is sad, we play it happy,” Urquhart says.

“There’s always angst,” Filson says. “But sometimes the best way to fight back is to change your perspective and bring out the positive.”

At the same time, Isaac Bear’s music is clearly difficult to play. The band explains that most of their hard work goes into the more subtler aspects of the music—little hits, accents and synchronized fills, the arrangements of the songs.

“I’m not the traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus kind of guy,” Filson admits.

The guys try to have their songs tell a story and make sure that things are logical, that they feel right. That means jamming on sections a whole bunch of times at practice, until the next section presents itself—as opposed to just writing a bunch of cool riffs and piecing them together.

As Filson puts it, “That would become too riff-rocky, too structured and bland.”

Conveniently, spending hours working out jams is also their way to have fun.