Controlled Experiment

Mostly Bears prove their mettle with their first full-length album

Mostly Bears--among the few Tucson bands that might convincingly vie for the title "most likely to succeed"--play engaging, inventive alternative rock in which quirky melodies and a brisk pop sensibility don't neuter the music's visceral kick.

"It's experimental, sure, but a controlled experiment," lead singer and guitarist Brian Lopez said of his band's offbeat approach to making music.

Some have likened the band's sound to the progressive hard rock of the 1970s through the '90s, and there are iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove elements that might recall the heydays of Led Zeppelin and Queen. But some listeners also will hear echoes of avant-pop from XTC to Radiohead, with a little primal-scream therapy thrown in for good measure. The band has been compared to the Mars Volta and Wolfmother, but that's more because of Lopez's limber falsetto than musical connections.

One testament to Mostly Bears' potential came last summer, when the band was named Best New Band by critics polled for the 2007 Tucson Area Music Awards, aka the TAMMIES.

With the release this week of its debut full-length album, The Ed Mitchell Clinic, Mostly Bears could become the next local act to have an impact on a national level. The stars must align for such magic to occur, but recent appearances at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, an upcoming summer tour and the gathered forces of local label Funzalo Records won't hurt.

Mostly Bears will celebrate the new CD's release Friday night, April 25, with a gala gig at Club Congress. Also on the bill will be the San Francisco-based duo Leopold and His Fiction and Tempe band What Laura Says Thinks and Feels.

The trio gathered recently on the patio at Funzalo's midtown offices to discuss the new album, getting their feet wet in the music industry and the history of Mostly Bears so far.

Lopez, bassist and vocalist Geoff Hidalgo and drummer Nick Wantland all attended Tucson High School. They range in age from 25 to 19, respectively, and all are natives of the Old Pueblo. Prior to Mostly Bears, Hidalgo and Lopez played in a band, Gorilla Behind Bars, which folded about three years ago.

After spending six months living in Barcelona, Lopez returned to Tucson to form a new band with Hidalgo. They discovered Wantland at a drumming competition at the Guitar Center, and Mostly Bears was born in October 2005.

Wantland was the missing link that made Mostly Bears coalesce, Lopez said.

"We had tried playing with other drummers, but there was never that spark. With Nick, it was more a personality thing. We just got along with him better. If you can take care of that, the music will just follow and come together. I mean, you need to play with someone who's competent, of course. But would you marry a woman you didn't like?"

"Someone you couldn't laugh with?" Wantland added.

From the beginning, Mostly Bears didn't limit themselves to being simply a power trio. Early Mostly Bears rehearsals took place at the home of Wantland's parents. "They had all this crazy music equipment lying around. We just started using it," Lopez said.

The band continues to experiment. Recording The Ed Mitchell Clinic with producers Fred Huang and Nick Luca at the Upstairs Studio allowed the players access to all sorts of instruments. In the mix were organs and a glockenspiel, eccentric old guitars, the Chinese gu zheng, various percussion instruments and the electronic Omnichord, which is played by pressing buttons on a touch plate. A cellist also appears on a couple of songs.

Although most of the tracks were recorded live, the recording sessions' secret ingredient was the bathroom, the band members agreed.

"We loved to run a cord down the hall and record in that bathroom because of the natural reverb," Lopez said. "We'd do yells and handclaps in there, and we recorded the cello in there. I played an old Danelectro guitar in there."

"We'd be like, 'You think that sounds good? Let's try it in the bathroom!'" Hidalgo said.

"For (the song) 'Airports,' the percussion is mostly the three of us hitting the bathroom sink," Wantland said.

The Ed Mitchell Clinic is a light-years leap from the band's four-song EP, Only Child, which was released last summer by Funzalo.

"The EP wasn't intended to be released; it was just something we recorded mostly on Pro Tools in a friend's bedroom," Lopez said.

The new album is a "more accurate representation of what we are capable of doing," he said.

After 2 1/2 years of paying dues in Tucson nightclubs, Mostly Bears have become a reliable and busy entity around town, opening shows for national acts and headlining their own gigs, and getting the occasional out-of-town booking.

"On a local level, finding a gig has gotten a lot easier," Lopez said. "Playing out of town has given us more of a global perspective. In Tucson, some people know who we are and like us. But in Austin, for instance, we're nobodies."

And the experience of opening for some bands they respect have left the Mostly Bears boys feeling let down more often than not. "Most of the bands you open for end up being jerks," Wantland said.

"But that has been a good learning experience, too," Lopez said. "It's like: When we get to that level, let's not be that band."

Still young, hungry and creative, the members of Mostly Bears even now are writing songs for the follow-up to The Ed Mitchell Clinic.

"As soon as the last day in the studio of recording the new album was over, we already had ideas for the next album," Hidalgo said.

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