Himalayan Bear Interview
Interviewer – Phill Bruce
Interview Date – 5th December 2011
Ryan Beattie - The Himalayan Bear
It’s not often in Europe that you hear of decent bands from Canada and it was purely by coincidence that I heard about Himalayan Bear. His style is unique and he’s getting himself quite a following in the alternative scene. I got chance to catch up with the man behind the Himalayan Bear Ryan Beattie and here is how it went.
GC – Hi Ryan, thank you so much for giving Grave Concerns this interview. Firstly can you tell us a little bit of a background about yourself and where in this beautiful world you are from?
Ryan – My name is Ryan Beattie. I am from Victoria, BC Canada. It’s on an island south of Vancouver. The city is small and increasingly full of uptight, rich, professional 30 something types. But it has always been a wonderful environment for music to flourish. Some music critiques have noted that bands from Victoria, even if they do end up moving to Montreal, seem to have a feel or sound. This is like our musical terror that comes from the usually perpetual gloom of the rainy northwest, darkened forest walks, logging towns, booze and a perhaps general “devil-may-care” (at the risk of employing cliques) attitude, “lets shred guitar” or what-have-you.
I grew up in this scene and started playing music when I was around 14. I’ve played in several bands such as Chet and Frog Eyes. Himalayan Bear has been a thing since 2005. This is my third album under that name.
GC – Why choose the name of Himalayan Bear, what meanings does it have?
Ryan – I just liked the sound of it. It comes from an Earl Birney (a Canadian poet) poem.
GC – It’s quite rare that we hear in Europe of bands from Canada, has this been a problem for you and have you had any obstacles getting your music out to the masses?
Ryan – The making of music is very much the easy part. My experiences touring in Europe have been wonderful. Touring in Canada and gaining a Canadian presence is most likely the hardest thing to do since the distances between cities are so long. You have to drive for 10 – 12 hours between major cities and that’s something not a lot of bands can endure for more than a tour or two. The bands that stay with it tend to really want to be doing what they’re doing. There are several obstacles one being that there are just too many bands in North America, it can be very hard to gain attention.
GC – What was life like growing up in Victoria?
Ryan – Victoria is a small town on the southern tip of a large island. It’s pretty idyllic for a kid. Surrounded by the ocean, lakes and mountains.
GC – Your previous bands Chet and Frog Eyes, what sort of style were they and have you taken any elements into Himalayan Bear?
Ryan – Victoria bands all tend to be a bit on an influence on each other. There are definitely similarities in the sounds of bands I’ve played in to Himalayan Bear.
GC – At what point in your life did you decide to form your band and why?
Ryan – I decided to form a band when I was 14, in high school, really into a lot of different music and I felt no place to fit in with the groups at my school. Making music was a fantasy world where I could express whatever I wanted. I made lots of 4-track records in my parent’s basement before I played with a band.
In the small town I grew up in there were 3 or 4 other bands at my high school and we’d rent out the local hall on weekends and have shows. Most of the other bands were punk bands or whatever. We played feedbacky drony stuff, I really couldn’t play guitar very well, and everyone went outside to smoke for our sets. It was great fun.
But I think when I started touring in my early 20's was when I really found the joy of singing and playing guitar. Getting to play every night is about the best low paying job a person could ask for. I discovered at this point that I had this crazy voice and could sing as mournfully as my heroes.
GC – So who were your heroes in your early days and was there any musician that you really aspired to be like?
Ryan – I grew up in the grunge era. Nirvana was a favourite of mine or course. I also liked Hawaiian music very much and Hank Williams.
GC – Have your influences changed over time and if so who are your influences these days?
Ryan – My influences change every time I discover some new band or musician.
GC – How has your music evolved over time?
Ryan – I’ve become a better lyricist, melodist, guitar player. Of course the first 5 records I made are unlistenable and they’ll never see the light of day. I feel like most people should go through the process of making 5 really horrid records before they even begin to take themselves seriously.
GC – What is your fondest memory of touring in your early days?
Ryan – In the early days of touring I was just so excited to be in a band playing shows every night. Drinking beer, wailing vocals, sleeping on floors. These elements of the job are still very much the same to this day.
GC – Who besides yourself is in the band and what background are they from?
Ryan – This band is comprised of a revolving crew from the wealth of musical buds I have in my life. Most of them are also in a half dozen other bands so the line-up really is different depending on touring, working, recording schedules.
For the west coast part of the Hard Times tour the band will be my brother Patrick, who’s played with me in bands since we were teenagers; Megan Boddy, Violist, singer and multi-instrumentalist; and Matty Skillings who plays in I don’t know how many bands. He’s a very sweet man and a wicked drummer.
GC – Out of your revolving crew is there any musician in particular that has a special talent or plays a particular instrument that really adds a difference to your music?
Ryan – My brother has a really fancy synth whose sound is irreplaceable. I work with 3 drummers, they are all in so many different bands that 3 is the number of people I need to play with to ensure at least one will be available for a show. Each drummer totally changes the way the songs feel. That to me is a great part of this band. The songs constantly evolve.
GC – What are your musical influences?
Ryan – My favourites are all over the place. When I was younger I was exposed to a lot of hard-core at all ages shows and of course I grew up in the Grunge era, but then I also listened to Roy Orbison at the same time and Hawaiian Lap Steel music. I love John Fahey and of course Hank Williams, Scott Walker, The Cure, Richard Thompson...uh, Kraftwerk, Lola Beltran. This list is kinda funny. I am influenced by whatever I’m obsessed with at the moment including local bands, which are 90% of the live music I ever see. There are some great bands from here called Slam Dunk, Freak Heat Waves and DAD.
GC – Hawaiian Lap Steel music is a great influence but this is something that a lot of people may not have heard of, could you describe the magic of this style for the people who may never have heard of it?
Ryan – Hawaiian Lap Steel is a weird mesh of things. It’s largely influenced by the music/melodies of indigenous Hawaiian cultures but it began in the post war era with electric “lap steel” guitars. They are basically the same kind of lap steel slide guitars used in American Country music (not to be confused with the pedal steel guitar. An instrument employing the workings of pedals and pulleys to bend certain strings into different major or minor keys.) The steel guitar is just one part of the music. There are also ukes, guitars sometimes electrified vibraphones. My favourites of this era are a sort of tropical crooner music. Alfred Alpaka, who sings in a much more western Bing Crosby-esque style, is a favourite. As is Lena MacHado, the proclaimed Hawaiian Song Bird, who sings in a much more indigenous style with the use of yodels and falsetto. There are strange similarities between early Americana, post war Hawaiian music and straight up early country music. The mourning and blissful melodies, yodelling, and even the rhythms tend to correlate.
GC – What sort of style do the local bands play?
Ryan – Victoria is so eclectic. There really is a host of every kind of band here.
GC – Where do you see your band in five years and what are your hopes for the future?
Ryan – Hopefully we will have more records out. I’ve enjoyed my tours with other bands in Europe a lot. I want Himalayan Bear to find a European booking agent and go there all the time.
GC – Is there any particular place in Europe that holds mystique for you?
Ryan – I’ve always liked Berlin. On the three European tours I’ve done with other bands our booking agents were based out of Berlin so I’ve sent some time there. Eastern Germany and the Czech Republic have always been really beautiful countryside on our drives.
GC – So if there are any European booking agents reading this what could you offer and why should they book you?
Ryan – Because our music is authentic. Not perfect or polished at every moment, but a life blood. I want to be destroyed by music and then lulled back, not simply entertained. This is our approach to it. We’re discovering what “it” is every time we play, without sounding too pretentious. This is something that the European audiences I’ve had the privilege to play for have responded to.
GC – Is there any place or venue you would like to play at and why?
Ryan – I’ve played on a lot of bigger stages, some of them famous, some of them not. But I really just like playing small shows in halls or art spaces or people’s back yards. Small theatres are cool.
GC – What is it about the smaller venues that you like so much?
Ryan – As I was saying above, engagement and interaction are key principles of live music for me. It’s easier to build that when you can see the whites of someone’s eyes who’s there. There is a more immediate energy to small shows. You aren’t spending half your time winning people over because, most of the time, the intimacy is enough to bridge that divide.
GC – Have you any tours planned at the moment, if so where can we expect to see you?
Ryan – We just finished a tour of the West Coast of Canada and the US. We’re heading out East in December and playing from Montreal to Nashville and up to Chicago. I’d really love to come back to Europe early in the New Year.
GC – Without giving too much away is there any instrument or program you wouldn’t be without and why?
Ryan - Reverb. I use perhaps too much of it sometimes but I like guitar soaked in reverb. I play a Gretsch baritone right now and have for the last 2 or 3 years. Switched from a ‘71 RocJet. But the Baritone is so great for dirgey reverb swells that I am afraid to be without it now, plus it has a Bigsby. I hate to get a pair DeArmond pickups from an old Silvertone put in it.
GC – Okay a little fun now, desert island discs and others. You are stuck on a desert island what book, film and album would you want to be stranded with?
Ryan – Book: On Science and Cooking by Harold McGhee
Film: Ugetsu Monogatari directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
Album: I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight by Richard and Linda Thompson (but this one really would change most days. It’s a hard question.)
GC – And how would you occupy your time whilst on this desert island?
Ryan – Fishing, hopefully playing an instrument of some kind. Despairing. Swimming. Building some kind of really sweet tree fort house. Trying to find water in an effort to not succumb to my inevitable death.
GC – How do you relax these days, is there anything you like to do that helps you switch off and chill?
Ryan – Fishing, cooking, music playing.
GC – There are days when you just want to eat nice food and pig out to relax, what is your favourite pig out food?
Ryan – Sushi, no contest. Where I live, we have the best sushi outside of Japan.
GC – What is your favourite place in the world?
Ryan – I’ve quite fond of Hanalei Bay on the island of Kauai. I dream that I’ve returned there sometimes. Like I just wake up in a tent on the beach and go fishing and buy some beer and hang out in the mountains. Then I wake up and think, “woe to dream. It’s raining outside again.”
GC – Thank you so much for giving Grave Concerns this interview, is there anything you would like to add?
Ryan – Thank you for conducting this interview.
GC – Thank again Ryan, good luck for the future