Q&A: Christopher Mintz-Plasse On His New Band Bear On Fire
Christopher Mintz-Plasse is a guy known, obviously, as McLovin, an iconic high school character for the ’00s given to us by 2007’s Superbad and, potentially, an iconic high school figure out of any of the iconic high school figures from high school comedies of any era. And then he was Red Mist in Kick-Ass, rechristened the Motherfucker in Kick-Ass 2; he was Fishlegs in How To Train Your Dragon. But all along the path of acquiring a series of cartoonish monikers, he was also always Chris, the dude in a band with his old friends, hanging back in roles like drummer and bassist — the kind that offer considerably less limelight than being a well-known comedic actor. It started with the Young Rapscallions, a harder, riff-oriented rock outfit with the occasional Chili Peppers-esque jam thrown in. Around the time that band started to stall out, Mintz-Plasse and his friend Adam Aseraf had been jamming and writing in his backyard as Bear On Fire. After recruiting Young Rapscallions guitarist Nick Chamian, as well as friends Ben Bayouth, Patrick Alan Davis, and Morgan Demeter — for keyboards, drums, and acoustic guitar respectively — Bear On Fire became their collective main focus, resulting in their debut album Velicata Back, which just came out. When I talked with Mintz-Plasse last week, chances are we could’ve spent the whole time discussing our mutual obsession with My Morning Jacket, but we got past that and also dug into what it’s like to be an actor in a band who’s as passionate about this project as any film-oriented one, and what it’s like to make peace with the fact that people might come to your show just because you’re McLovin.
STEREOGUM: I think we actually met last year on a day trip to Tulum, during My Morning Jacket’s One Big Holiday thing.
CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE: [laughs] That sounds correct. I don’t know how much I remember of that trip, but I was definitely there. My body was definitely there.
STEREOGUM: Did you wind up going again this year?
MINTZ-PLASSE: Yeah, I went again this year, it was great. They had Dr. Dog on the lineup, which is one of my favorites. Hopefully they do it again next year.
STEREOGUM: Is that generally the kind of thing you like listening to?
MINTZ-PLASSE: I’d say so. Right now, My Morning Jacket’s new album The Waterfall is on repeat, along with the Alabama Shakes’ new record and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. I’m not a huge hip-hop guy, but my friend showed me that record and I can’t stop listening to it.
STEREOGUM: I’ve definitely been stuck on Kendrick and The Waterfall myself.
MINTZ-PLASSE: It’s probably my favorite record of theirs. It’s the most cohesive idea in one record. Every song feels like the same kind of tropical vibe. I got into them, I’d say, about six months after Circuital came out. And then I got hugely into their catalog, and this is the first record that’s come out since I’ve been a fan.
STEREOGUM: I know you were in the Young Rapscallions in the past, but how did Bear On Fire get started?
MINTZ-PLASSE: I was in the Young Rapscallions, where I played drums. We were a band for about eight years, and then, weirdly enough, on my birthday last year, our bass player quit the band over text message. A huge cowardly move on his part. We didn’t really know what to do. At the time, I was starting to learn bass, and the lead singer, Adam, he and I would just sit in my backyard and write tunes, and we named it Bear On Fire. I guess when the Young Raps ended, I didn’t have anywhere to go musically, so we started hitting that full force. Recruited the guitar player of the Young Raps, another buddy plays keys, another friend plays drums, and we just kind of organically got this band together. I’d say the first six months of writing music, we were just kinda figuring out what we were, smoking weed and jamming, and then we started recording this album and it started to sound pretty decent and things have been moving from there.
STEREOGUM: Did you start acting or playing music first?
MINTZ-PLASSE: I was acting in theater from a young age, but professionally, Superbad was my first movie, and then, because of the first paycheck I got, I bought a drumkit. So they kind of coincided with each other. Yeah, Superbad was about eight years ago, that’s when I started playing drums and jamming.
STEREOGUM: Do you ever feel pulled toward acting or music more than the other? Do you ever say, “I just want to be in a band?”
MINTZ-PLASSE: I would love to keep balancing the two. I think I’m very lucky and grateful for where I am right now, that I can do both. Acting, you can work for three months and not work for six months. So in that time, I love the momentum of music and everything that’s going on. The momentum right now is very musical. I kinda just go with the flow.
STEREOGUM: What’s the experience of being a well-known actor in a band? It must come with its share of advantages, but I’d imagine there are also some different kinds of challenges.
MINTZ-PLASSE: It’s a little bit of both. I know that when we toured with Young Raps, we hired a booking agent, and we told him not to promote it like, “It’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse” or “It’s McLovin’s band,” or anything like that. Behind our backs, he told every venue that McLovin was playing and we’d show up to the venue and there’d be posters of me. That’s a hard thing to deal with: Are people going to listen to that? But also, there’s more ears. Maybe they’ll be like, “Oh, this actor’s in this band, I’ll give it a listen.” Five people can hate it, five people can love it, so I think having more ears on it is always a positive, too.
STEREOGUM: Do you have that issue, like people coming to shows and just screaming “McLovin” all the time?
MINTZ-PLASSE: Sometimes. It would’ve bothered me three or four or five years ago, but I have a buddy who’s in Incubus, and he tours as Ben Kenney solo. I remember for the longest time, he wouldn’t want people to be like, “I want Ben Kenney of the Roots” or “I want Ben Kenney of Incubus,” but he was like, “I don’t really care about that anymore, because I just want as many people to come to the show and as many people to hear my music as possible.” So if people come for the reason of like, “Oh, this actor’s in this band,” and leave loving the band, I think that’s a success.
STEREOGUM: So going forward, are you looking to tour with Bear On Fire a lot? How does that work with your movie schedule?
MINTZ-PLASSE: Nothing’s booked right now movie-wise, which is nice. I think we’re just gonna keep playing shows. We’re sending the record out to labels and such, hopefully it gets some buzz. Right now, just looking to play as many shows as possible.
STEREOGUM: One thing I was also curious about — it sounds like you guys have a good thing going, but is it weird for the other guys in the band to have you as an actor onstage?
MINTZ-PLASSE: No, these are [five] of my best friends, three of them are from childhood, two of them I’ve known for seven or eight years, so they’ve been along with me for the acting ride. They get it, they know what the deal is, and they’ve got my back.
STEREOGUM: Are they all full-time musicians or do they act or do something else as well?
MINTZ-PLASSE: Funnily enough, they all have intense other jobs that pay very well, too. One of them is a special makeup artist and makes, like, monsters for movies. He made the Superman costume for the Superman movie. Our drummer just created an app with his father and just raised a million dollars to start creating that app, so he’s a tech genius. And then Adam, our songwriter, is a writer for Nickelodeon. That’s why it happened so organically. It wasn’t like anyone at any time was like, “I need this!” It was like, “Oh, we’ll just meet up once or twice a week between our jobs” and it just kinda took off from there.
STEREOGUM: That’s a pretty interesting variety of careers within a band.
MINTZ-PLASSE: It’s great. When we need photos, our guitar player is a great photographer. Adam wrote our bio. Ben’s going to make little creatures for our stage, for touring. And Patrick, the tech-savvy guy, takes care of the whole website. It’s very handy.
STEREOGUM: Does anyone ever say, “Hey, if this takes off I’d want to quit my job and do music full-time” or is everyone into the idea of having a foot in each world?
MINTZ-PLASSE: That’s a tough question to answer. I think I’ve proven a little bit that you can have two worlds and can do both. Right now, I think, it’s literally “Whatever comes, we’re gonna do it.” We’ll make the time and if we can’t play this show because Ben has to fly to Georgia to make Zac Brown Band a dragon, then we can’t do it. [laughs] Which he had to do.
STEREOGUM: So, my editor wanted me to make sure to ask you if you ever jammed with Michael Cera back in the day.
MINTZ-PLASSE: No, I have not. I don’t see Mike that often. I know he’s a great musician, but we have not gotten the chance to jam.
STEREOGUM: My editor is going to be so let down when I tell him this.
MINTZ-PLASSE: I’m sorry. [laughs] I know, I feel like I let him down.