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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Gold-Bears' Jeremy Underwood chats about songwiting and indie pop's place in punk history

Local noise-pop standard-bearers Gold-Bears may not play Atlanta often, but their occasional road trip usually involves at least one festival date, including last summer's Indietracks Festival in the U.K. The brainchild of Florida transplant and veteran musician Jeremy Underwood, Gold-Bears have the respect of their indie predecessors, evidenced by the band's relationship with Slumberland Records. A second LP, slated for a 2014 release, is currently being recorded, and will include a guest appearance by Pam Berry, vocalist of Black Tambourine. Below is a brief interview conducted on a rainy Friday afternoon with Underwood, as we sought shelter at El Myr.

Aren't some of the Small Reactions guys in your band now?
Jeremy Underwood: Depending on the date, they are three-fifths or four-fifths of Gold-Bears now. Our guitarist, who was the last original member, is moving to San Francisco, so I asked the guitarist from Small Reactions to join. Now their keyboardist is playing with us, too. Sean Zearfoss, their drummer, has been in the band for over a year now. Whenever our bass player can't play, their bass player plays with us. At SXSW it was me backed by Small Reactions.

I guess that makes it easy to tour with them in the future as you have just one extra person with them. but that adds a headliner on Slumberland Records to the bill. I'm not sure if you've planned that far ahead.
Actually, we are. Gold-Bears just got asked to play the Northside Festival in Brooklyn, which is pretty awesome because Black Flag and Iceage are playing. We're playing the New York City Pop Showcase of that. I'm going to jump in the van with them and try to do a Small Reactions and Gold-Bears tour to and from there in June.

Have you gone through a lot of musicians in the short time you've done Gold-Bears?
We were kind of laughing about it the other day because we've gone through five or six different people since 2009.

Is it still you as primary songwriter coming up with a melody and lyrics, and then taking your fleshed-out idea to the full band?
Yes, I am pretty particular about it, for better or worse. I have a vision for the sound and how I want everything to be. Typically, I achieve it. ... My current lineup is more in tune with stuff I listen to, so they are kind of like an extension of my brain. They know what I'm going for, which makes things a lot easier.

What's the scoop on the second album's guest appearances, aside from Pam Berry from Black Tambourine?
The girl from this band called Standard Fare that used to be from London is going to sing on one song. A girl from the School, a Welsh pop band that sounds like Camera Obscura, will also appear on one track.

Had you met her before you went to England last summer?
No, not before we played that Indietracks festival in the U.K. We were at the merch table and she and her kids came up because they were big fans, and she is a fan too. We were just talking and the next night we played with one of her bands. When I got home, I contacted her to say I had a song she should sing on, and she said yes.

A lot of the bands you emulated while playing music in Florida and then here with Gold-Bears are peers now. You're recording with them, or at least the door is open to collaborate. That's got to be awesome.
The entire indie-pop community is closely knit and supportive, like how punk rock used to be. People are open to trying new things.

I think people in general associate indie-pop with the '90s. Do you think it's a throwback thing, or is it still relevant?
I think it was always there. It's stuck around. Indie-pop is an extension of punk and post-punk. After post-punk, there were people like Orange Juice making more pop music. That's where it came from. I've always said that indie-pop is the true extension of punk rock. It's all about saying, "Start a band because you can and it's fun."

The last time I saw your band was at the Drunken Unicorn, playing at that Grass Widow show booked by Emory's radio station. That was a weird crowd, since it was mostly students that were not really fans of the music out to support the station.
That was a weird crowd. A bunch of drunk girls came up to Sean and wanted his photograph and for him to sign a poster. We asked them if they liked our band, and they were like, "Oh, we didn't see you guys." Grass Widow was so good, as usual, but it didn't seem like the kids there were all that into them, which was a shame.

Gold-Bears, Beach Fossils, and Red Sea play the Earl tonight (Sun., April 14). $6-$8. 9 p.m.

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