Quit Your Day Job: Bear In Heaven
A couple of months ago, we posted Bear In Heaven’s “Lovesick Teenagers” in the midst of the deaths of John Hughes and Patrick Swayze. It colored the song then and has provided me a framework that still affects me when I hear it. The Jon Philpot-fronted Brooklyn (via Georgia and Alabama) quartet offer a number of darkly triumphant dispatches on their ambitious second proper full-length Beast Rest Forth Mouth. Philbot says it was “a ton of work,” obviously, which is why he’s currently between jobs and trying to get his life back together. (He usually does freelance editing, shootings, special FX and music for television.) The other guys, though, are back behind their respective “desks”: Joe Stickney’s a bartender at the video game-stocked bar Barcade, Adam Wills does freelance video editing (for Vice, Tokion, The New York Times, Comedy Central, etc.), and Sadek Bazaraa does art direction and graphic design “of all sorts” for his company GHAVA. After our discussion take a listen to “Wholehearted Mess“, “Dust Cloud,” and the aforementioned “Lovesick Teenagers” if you don’t already know what we like about BIH.
STEREOGUM: When did you form GHAVA? How did the people involved get to know each other? How’d you come up with the name?
SADEK BAZARAA: Actually I joined GHAVA in 1998. It was initially formed by Derek Lerner and Randall Lane in 1994 when they were still in school together. Derek, Randall and David Merten all went to the Atlanta College of Art and got to know each other through skateboarding, graffiti, art and design which led them to Peter Rentz which in turn led to me. Peter and I met at Georgia Tech and he brought me into the fold as things got busier at GH. We eventually all came on board full time and decided to move the company to New York in 2000. It has been the five of us ever since. The original name of the company was Graphic Havoc which originated from an article on graffiti from Derek’s home town of Jacksonville, Florida. GHAVA is an acronym for Graphic Havoc avisualagency which has been a running tag line for years.
STEREOGUM: What’s your background in design/art direction?
SB: After 3.5 years of engineering at Georgia Tech I made a big switch to the Industrial Design program where I ended up focusing more on soaking up art history and began exploring painting, photography and everything else I could get my hands on. I played guitar in bands leading up to that and approached everything that I was doing visually through the context of music, my first creative obsession. I started learning the ropes of print doing album designs and various other projects for Jeff Hunt (Table of the Elements) after being introduced by my good friend / music extraordinaire David Daniell. In the meantime, Peter introduced me to the rest of the GH crew and it just grew steadily from there. Projects evolved in complexity over the years as did our experience. It’s crazy looking back over almost 12 years of work now.
STEREOGUM: Judging from your recent projects, you have a diverse clientele. How do you decide which jobs to take? Is there an ‘ideal’ client? Anything you try to avoid?
SB: It’s always been an organic process. When we’re really busy, we have the flexibility of being more selective but that is not always the case. A lot of it depends on our workload and cash flow at the time. Diversity is definitely something that we’ve always strived for. We never wanted to be a motion graphics company, or a web shop, or a production house or a branding consultancy. Sometimes that is confusing for people but we’ve always prided ourselves on doing a bit of everything. Ultimately, we think of ourselves as creative problem solvers and visual thinkers. As long as a job is interesting and we our able to exercise a lot of freedom and creative control we are pretty excited. We definitely try to avoid clients with narrow vision and tend to shy away from projects that are exclusively web-based.
STEREOGUM: I’m curious to know some specifics. Can you walk us through your duties for a specific project or two? How about the Buddhist magazine Tricycle and the documentary Downtown Calling? I realize it’s likely different each time, but…
SB: We recently took over the art direction and design of Tricycle Magazine which has been a really interesting process. They’ve had some pretty big shifts internally and were ready for a long overdue update to the look and feel of things. That process has involved lots of meetings to learn the ropes of a magazine that has been around for almost 20 years. We pretty much touch every page and are involved in a lot of the back and forths with the editorial team, art editor and original creative director. We do most of the design from our office sending PDFs back and forth on the regular. When the final crunch comes around things get pretty hectic and we spend a day over the setting all of the final copy and getting everything wrapped up for print. Then a week later we’re back in to look at proofs and make any adjustments. It’s really nice to have a full scale print project in house. I’d have to say that print is still my favorite medium in the design realm.
Downtown Calling is a labor of love for one of our closest friends that we’ve done a lot of business with over the years, Ben Velez. The subject matter is close to home and it’s an awesome project in general. It actually just got a special mention in the feature length documentary category at the Austin Film Festival. We developed the identity for the film at large including everything from credits and opening title sequence to dvd packaging, web site, posters, announcements, etc.
STEREOGUM: How does working for a Buddhist magazine differ from working for Nokia?
SB: Ha, well…. Obviously that is a world of difference. One is a multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporation and the other is a non-profit magazine, although they do have international distribution. Aside from that, the work we do is in totally different mediums. We’re developing conceptual ideas in the realm of short films and videos for public spaces with Nokia and for Tricycle, well, it’s magazine design.
STEREOGUM: You also take care of Bear In Heaven’s design?
SB: Essentially, GHAVA has dealt with all of BIH’s print design so far. The first EP was done by Peter when he was running Eastern Developments with Scott Herren. I jumped in with Red Bloom of the Boom and most recently with Beast Rest Forth Mouth. My other business partner David directed two music videos from our last album and is potentially going to be directing another one from the latest. There is definitely some melding between the worlds of GH and BIH.
STEREOGUM: Do you do artwork outside of GHAVA?
SB: I feel like I always have my hands in a little something, constantly experimenting with geometry, photography, abstract video, etc. I think the most successful and notable projects have been the Archegram series of videos that have been done in collaboration with the audio of Ateleia (James Elliott). We have plans to release the third Iteration as a DVD in the future. If only I could clone myself to work on all the different projects at hand. Finding time for everything is becoming an extreme issue for me these days.
STEREOGUM: How has the economy affected high-end design work?
SB: Poorly. The work is still out there for sure but it’s a lot slimmer and the budgets have dwindled considerably. It feels like we’re working twice as much for half the money a lot of days. It’s been a struggle for sure but things are looking up a bit and we have some really good things on the horizon. Most notable is a new collaborative consortium of sorts spearheaded by L&K Creative out of the UK, involving them, us and Ian Anderson from the Designer’s Republic. Look out 2010, big things happening!
STEREOGUM: What’s your background in video editing? Have you always worked for yourself?
ADAM WILLS: I’ve been freelancing for about a year. After finishing film school 8+ years ago, I found myself here in New York. Finding work here as a 23 year old in the midst of 9/11 was impossible. I got myself a job working in the shipping department of a big post production house. 7 years later, I was still there. Character flaw, I’ll stay anywhere that’s comfortable, especially when it pays well and let’s me leave at 6PM in time for band practice. But 2009, as a freelancer has been beautiful. I’m as busy as I’ve ever been and my time is managed, by me, which sure comes in handy when you play in three bands.
STEREOGUM: About how many projects do you take on at once?
AW: Usually as many as possible. I am awful at turning down work. There are definite moments where I find myself working on three projects at once and trying to balance multiple band practices as well. As soon as I find myself stressed I’ll back off, but I really really really like being busy.
STEREOGUM: How do you go about finding work?
AW: Friends. I’ve been blessed with some amazing friends who constantly throw me work. I try really hard to give back as much as I can.
STEREOGUM: What did you do for Comedy Central?
AW: Edit. I edit a lot of promos for Comedy Central, which honestly has been super fun. Really nice people there and the work is pretty stress free and rewarding.
STEREOGUM: I’m curious about some of your favorite past projects. Any disasters?
AW: I’d say my job of 7 years at the previously mentioned post production house was in all, a total disaster. I was miserable there. I found myself doing motion graphics and really painted myself into a corner. If it weren’t for music, being my main creative outlet, I would have completely lost my mind. This year has been the best year of my life, without question. I’ve always viewed work, as, work … I don’t demand a lot of creative satisfaction from it, I want to do a good job and make people happy. Anything beyond that is cake. As long as I can pay bills, travel, and dress myself, I’m stoked. Music is where I get really passionate, which is bizarre because before Bear In Heaven, I was never in a band. As far as favorite projects go?… hmmm … I sure had a hell of a good time working with Jon on a shoot in LA for Everybody Hates Chris … working on a big soundstage all day and drinking at night in the Hollywood Hills made for a totally surreal experience.
STEREOGUM: Have you noticed any editing trends over the years? I’m thinking of that MTV-sorta approach with quick cuts from various angles, etc.
AW: Trends come and go. I do my damnedest to avoid them, which usually equals, totally ignoring them. I still find it funny that I’ve worked in television for this long and haven’t had cable in well over a decade.
STEREOGUM: Do you do any video work outside of your clients? I mean, do you shoot video at all, or are you strictly into editing?
AW: I do shoot. I love to shoot. I wish I did it more. Maybe 2010 will bring about more behind the camera work, because sitting in front of a computer can be tiresome. I focused mostly on shooting in film school, but being the practical guy I am, I wanted to work in post, because being on set, to me, is 1000 times more exhausting than in edit (though it has its moments) … I wanted to make sure I had time and energy after I clocked out to work on my own things. At the time I thought that would be making short films, but instead it manifested into playing music, and I’m pretty happy about that little surprise.
STEREOGUM: Can we expect a well-edited Bear In Heaven video?
AW: Seeing that Jon and I are both editors by trade … It’s not impossible, though we’ve been trying to focus 100% of our energy into the music and our live shows. We’ve made videos for BIH in the past, and while fun as hell, it’s pretty taxing. Trying to separate yourself from the music you make in order to create something visual is beyond difficult. We’d love to work with others like we have doing art work, it’s much more rewarding in away to collaborate with others rather than keep every single aspect under our control.
STEREOGUM: I’ve been to Barcade. Used to live a block away from it. Good beer selection, but sometimes the guys playing the games can get a bit too aggro. Have you ever had to intervene with a drunken Dig Dug fan and a battered arcade game?
Joe Stickney: Eh, every now and then someone will, in a 12% alcohol-beer fueled rage, start banging on Ms. Pacman or Outrun or something, but there’s always a manager on board to take care of that. In general the crowd’s pretty passive. I used to manage there for a few months and one of my first nights there someone threw up all over Tetris. I think that might have been some belated Iron Curtain protest though.
STEREOGUM: Which games to drunken people seem to enjoy playing most?
JS: Beer Pong? No, I know what you’re really asking. And my legitimate answer is: Ms. Pacman. But you’d think it’d be Tapper. That’s the one where you sling pints of Budweiser at frat parties and alien conventions and whatnot.
STEREOGUM: Notice anyone whose skills increase as they get wasted?
JS: Just me.
STEREOGUM: Has anyone invented any fun drinking games to play with video games?
JS: Damn, I’ve never heard of any. I’m going to start one where every time Donkey Kong throws a barrel you have to drink a shot.
STEREOGUM: Are people mostly drinking beer at Barcade? Do you have a specialty drink?
JS: I make a mean Manhattan. My margaritas are pretty damned good too when I go through the trouble of squeezing the limes. No, though. It’s probably 80% beer and 19% Stoli Raz and Sprite with a splash of Cranberry or some shit like that.
STEREOGUM: Have any alcohol or liquor glasses caused any damages to the machines?
JS: Well, not directly. Beer gets spilled on the games pretty regularly, but usually just across the sides. It’s the nauseous Tetris player you gotta watch out for. I was in there one night, late, there were about six of us in there. Two at the bar, plus the manager; me behind the bar, two guys at Ms. Pacman. All the sudden the guy watching his buddy play Ms. Pacman turns around and throws his pint glass 20 feet across the room, smashing it against the brick wall opposite. Total weirdo. He wasn’t worked up about the game or anything. I think he might have been on acid. He tried to act like he didn’t do it, but I watched the whole thing. When we went to escort him out he said he felt like Miss America.
STEREOGUM: Is it required that the bartenders be good at making drinks and playing the games?
JS: Most of us don’t ever play the games. It’s required that you’re at least able to tolerate prog rock though. There’s a lot of Rush getting played in there.
STEREOGUM: Do you have any official bartender training? Or more an on-the-job training background?
JS: I started off as a barback right after I moved to New York. I worked for some shithead at some bar that’s gone now, but the other employees were cool and taught me how to pour drinks while I barbacked.
STEREOGUM: Have any smart-asses tried tipping in quarters?
JS: Many many.
STEREOGUM: What would be in a drink called Bear In Heaven?
JS: Tequila. That’s it. You wanted me to say Barenjager didn’t you? I’m not biting…
STEREOGUM: Ha. The Pac Man?
JS: Bourbon infused with marlboro red tobacco.
STEREOGUM: The Ms Pac Man?
JS: Bourbon infused with Virginia Slims.
[L to R: Adam Wills, Sadek Bazaraa, Jon Philpot, Joe Stickney]