Bear vs. Shark: An Interview with John Gaviglio

Bear vs. Shark hails from Highland, MI, a suburb nestled between Detroit and Flint, a part of the rust belt, a part of a community that like most suburbs across the country harbor the talent that make up the indie rock and punk geography of America. BVS is comprised of Marc Paffi (vocals, guitar), Derek Kiesgen (guitar and bass), John Gaviglio (guitar and bass), Brandon Moss (drums), and Mike Muldoon (guitar, bass, keyboards). Seems like everyone plays bass in BVS, except the drummer and one would assume that so many bass players would ultimately mean the sweetest party machine dance music ever, but its not, its some of the most interesting and creative music to come out of Equal Vision Records for a long time.

John G. (not the Memento mystery man), guitarist/bassist for Bear Vs. Shark, recently spoke with about his band and how he got started as a musician.

All the members of Bear Vs. Shark have recently graduated college. John double majored in German and Economics. John started playing the trombone in the 6th grade, continued with it until he was in 8th grade and received his first guitar. It was in school band that John learned about time signatures, beats per measure and had some basic understanding of music theory and how to read music, which helped when he picked up his first guitar at 13.

He states; “Everybody who is starting to play music should have some basic elements of music instruction.”

Mike, Derek and Brandon have grown up together and played in some early incarnations of BVS before forming the full version several years ago, although the entire band has lived within bike riding distance from each other since childhood.

His early memories of music aside form six months of guitar lessons, are fondly remembered and influenced by his mom, which John cites as, “My mom used to play guitar so she gave me a little bit of instruction herself. My mom has really exposed me to a lot of music, especially when I was younger. I remember sitting in her old Buick Riviera listening to Led Zeppelin and she would show me some bass lines. I remember the first time she showed me what a bass guitar was, and she pointed out the bass lines in the songs. When I first started getting into music it was classic rock, like Jethro Tull, Zeppelin, The Doors and stuff like that, but as I got older I got into bands like Metallica and Guns & Roses, Smashing Pumpkins and Black Sabbath too. And Nirvana.”

Some of the bands that inspire John now are bands like Hot Water Music, Mars Volta, Bjork, Les Savy Fav. He says that, “I think Les Savy Fav is amazing, they really inspire me.”

BVS’s influences are apparent in the sound of their debut record, Right Now You’re in the Best of Hands…, which jumps from style to style seamlessly and effortlessly without sticking to any one sound; it encapsulates all of the influences of BVS. Though each member of BVS works fulltime jobs outside of playing in BVS, being grounded in the “real world” not only makes their music more accessible to a broader range of people but also makes it difficult for them to tour. Some of the members get fired from their jobs at places like Home Depot or various restaurants, but they tour in spite of the job security. “I’m really lucky, I’m a waiter at a restaurant and their really happy for me for the band thing so they let me go whenever I want.” John plays out of a Marshall cab with a, “crappy valve state head, but I didn’t record with that, I recorded with a Fender Bass Man amp head and used a TC Booster which boosts the signal. It boosts the signal and adds some distortion but cuts out a lot of the noise. What we do as a band is upgrade our equipment as a band. We save up our money and sort of all go in and trade our equipment out around the same time. We really want that warm tube amp sound.”

Right Now, was mixed and engineered by Arun Venkatesh at Big Blue Meanie studios in Detroit. John says Arun really helped BVS with the recording process, which they did in analog and for the most part, live. “We really are a live band, so we wanted to capture that sound and analog is warm and the best way to do that.”

Some words of advice that John left us with was, “Try and always wear clean underwear. Always make music for the love of music, don’t do it for any superficial reasons.”
____________________________________________________________________ I really think Equal Vision Records got back some of that glory of their humble beginnings with this amazing band. They came through San Diego a few times, one most notably about a year after this interview and after their swan song, Terrorhawk, was released to critical acclaim. They played with Planes Mistaken for Stars (RIP) at the now fully operational Black Box Studio in San Diego, which is run by a couple of pretty awesome dudes from a local band called Hialeah. This interview wasn’t my best, and the writing was starting to show some of the burn out and fatigue I had gotten from doing 3 features a week and sometimes up to 5 interviews a week. I actually had an interview with Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy that I never ended up using right when they got signed to Island – that was a weird experience. Something similar happened with Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance. I’ll have to go back and see if I can drudge those stories up.

BVS was amazing. Tons of heart. Lots of charisma. I wish I had done the second interview with them at the show a year later but another writer did it, while I was getting drunk with Gared and Mikey from PMFS. Priorities right? I almost had my eye torn out of my head in the drunken swaying crowd as I tripped and got cut on a stray nail from the half finished wood floor of the main tracking room at Black Box. I was really bummed out when they turned in their punk rock cards but sometimes its better to just hang it up before that inevitably bleak ending that great bands often succumb to. I sincerely hope that you’ll at least try and find Terrorhawk in a some used bin at one of the rapidly dwindling independent record stores near you. Heres a sweet video by them. Dig It!

There is No Band: a Rant

There is no band. It’s just hair and attitude. There is no band, just a pending record deal with a major label and a video budget of 50K. It’s true what Hunter S Thompson says (though he is referring to the television business): “The [business] is a shallow money trench. A long plastic hallway where pimps and thieves run free and men die like dogs. There is also a negative side.” And there is no scene. Just being Seen. Along with “Seen” politics. Aesthetic that dictates a degree of coolness. It’s like LA but without the diamond in the rough and all the free uncut coke one could consume, which to say is probably similar to every other locale with the exception of small town scenes, where the only escape from the monotony is music.

Whats up in your local scene?

Here’s what a typical bar band with delusions of grandeur go through in a typical 12 month or more cycle.

You have spent the last 12 months rehearsing a handful of songs that are super fun to play in the practice space. You have played a few really fun shows with bands in your scene, who through sheer goodwill gave you an opening slot on a few occasions. The kicker is tenacity…And that insatiable lust to perform loud music for little or no pay. “Living the Dream” as they say. Your ‘friends’ only show up after you send an email notice 12 hours before while IM’ing with one of your ex-girlfriends about the new Joy Division movie that’s coming out. (cause no one fliers anymore, laziness and the ubiquitous myspace generation engender apathy in the most ambitious of bands)

Load in sucks. The promoter isn’t there and you are informed that the promoter doesn’t usually show up until sometime after ten. Course all the work friends that won’t show up anyway would have been bummed as they could’ve spent their time and money at a bar closer to more white people.

You’ve got that one sound guy from that one club who used to do doors at that dive. You know he will undoubtedly fuck up your mix and then give you attitude when you ask him how the balance is. No one is coming to the show. There is no band. No one cares if your mix is bad cause they’re too busy blubbering drunken nonsense at the bar, drinking over over-priced beam and cokes, bleary eyed and 5 bucks short of another drink cause of the cover charge for a band(s) they have no desire to watch.

Reminds me of that one guy who wanted to save the entire scene single-handedly. The hope of stupidity wielded like a light saber against a much younger and more agile sith lord. I think it all came to light watching Patrick Stumpf from venerable shit rock act, Fall Out Boy, sweat his way through a set at Live Earth NYC. Aside from looking like a mutton chopped Chris Farley sans mustache in ‘Da Bears’ SNL skit, his voice sounded like total shit for a song he’s probably sung a billion times. People don’t make any assumptions as to the value they can get because music, as a product has succumbed to being a commodity, as all products do.

They (read: Al Gore) used music to sell the ‘moral’ pledge of us humans need to save the world from global warming. It’s great! I can get behind the cause, ride my street bike everywhere I go, use canvas bags when I shop at trader joes so I can be entered to ‘Win Money to Shop’ at Trader Joes. I’ll turn off the lights of a room when I’m not in it, unplug the fans and iPod charger when they’re not in use so as not to draw power from the grid. I’ll watch all these fucking assholes on Sundance channel, Robert Redford included, when they talk about On The Green and how great it is to be part of the ‘green’ movement. Like some wine stained turd down the toilet of a failed generation of people who turned in their ire for 401k plans and mini-vans.

Its good that conservation is tres chic now. It’s good that people can make money from it and its good that bands, those soapbox standing carnival barkers, can affect some modicum of change in their mindless audience.

There is no band. And the scene is just a diluted body of stagnant piss water, pop shit bubbles to the surface and the pure, raw, charcoal rock of creativity from folks like Planes Mistaken For Stars, sink to the bottom, to soak in obscurity, watching ten years of ‘trying’ puff out like a match in a head wind.

There is an upside to all of it though. Some folks are lucky enough to make it to that great gig in the sky and will find themselves underwhelmed by the vacuity of sharing a stage with a half dozen other contenders of the dwindling attention span.