Interview – Scary Bear Soundtrack

Interview by: Jenna Melanson
Photo credit: Denise Lebleu

Scary Bear Soundtrack is a synth-pop duo based in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. The duo is composed of two women, Gloria and Christine. The duo just released a new full-length album in collaboration with Ontario indie musician Avid Napper (Charles Lynch) called The Longest Night. I had the chance to ask Gloria a few questions about their music and their future.

When did you first get into music?

I started taking classical piano lessons when I was five years old. I used to fight with my parents a lot for making me practice but in retrospect, that was really good for me. I don’t think my parents put me in piano lessons with the intention that I’d grow up to be an indie synth-pop artist, but here we are.

How did you come up with the band name, Scary Bear Soundtrack?

My friend found his old childhood teddy bear that had been squished in a box for over twenty-five years, and now the stuffed animal came out looking really demented looking. We named the evil-looking teddy bear Scary Bear and started making parody horror films with it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PugRjs44kaM). For some reason, I thought that naming the band after this evil teddy bear was an awesome idea at the time.

How did you do meet and form the band?

At the time I had just moved back to Ottawa after living in Toronto for a few years and I had been meaning to start a band. I met some great women who became the original members of the all-girl rock band – then I moved to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut and decided to continue with the band there.

I met current band member Christine Aye while we were both working out at Cambridge Bay’s only weight room, soon after we both moved up North. We both love exercising, and the weight room is pretty small, so I guess it was pretty inevitable that we’d run into each other.

You recently released a new full-length album in collaboration with Ontario Indie musician, Avid Napper (Charles Lynch), what can you tell us about that?

It started off with Charles emailing me some synth samples that he’d written. Just for fun, I played around with it and added some lyrics and other instrumentation, and flipped it back to him. He’d then send it back to me with some of his vocals added and other comments, and it became this cool collaborative process that we worked on by email over a long distance. It’s not the smoothest process because internet is pretty slow and limited in Nunavut (I get 20 gigabytes a month for $120, and sometimes it’s too slow to stream), but we made it work.

Because I wrote the lyrics, lot of the songs are about life in Nunavut, such as the insomnia we sometimes get from the 24 hours of daylight in the Arctic summers (“Summer North”), going out into the wilderness for the therapeutic benefits (“On the Land”), hunters getting lost in the tundra (“The Longest Night” – more about that later). Other songs are about more general social issues, such as Streets, which is about street harassment.
Because there are no recording studios (or really, music stores, concert venues, etc.) in Cambridge Bay, we recorded our parts entirely in my bedroom with a laptop. We had to really make do with what we had – including stretching pantyhose over a coat hanger to make a windsock for the microphone – but I think it ended up sound pretty good.

The album was mixed by Ben Leggett (North Bay) and Mike Kuehn (Ottawa), and mastered by Julian Marrs (Vancouver).

How did you come up with the name for the album, “The Longest Night”?

I’m combining this question with the one below it because they are related.

It was the name of our favourite single which had already gained some popularity thanks to our placing in the top ten acts across Canada for CBC Music’s Searchlight contest for Canada’s Best New Artist, and then spending some time on CBC Radio 3’s R3-30 Countdown for the top Canadian indie songs of the week.

The song is about two Inuiit hunters from our town who go lost out on the tundra last year for a few days during a snowstorm. It was amazing to watch the whole community come together to put together a search and rescue team. During that time, the two hunters also supported each other to stay alive. Eventually they were found and rescued. I thought it was a good metaphor for surviving the harsh Arctic winters, where we have six weeks of darkness when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon at all. It can be pretty tough to go through that, and we all have moments where we feel down or really tired, and really the only thing that gets us through this “longest night” is by supporting each other as friends. I find that up North, given our remote and isolated location, our friends become a secondary family.

What was the best part of making the album? What was your least favourite part?

(I’m going to repeat some stuff from my previous answer) In terms of least favourite part of the process, we had to deal with the limitations of the conditions that come with living in Nunavut. As mentioned, my internet is really slow, so sending the tracks back and forth was a pain, and sometimes expensive if I went over my tiny bandwidth. Also as mentioned, there are no professional recording studios here, so I had to make do with what we had at home. There are also no music stores here, so if any of our equipment broke, well…So, for example, my microphone stand broke, and I had to just repair it with duct tape. I had to build my own microphone windsock with pantyhose and coathangers. Also, there was one part of the summer where it was actually really hot (relatively…it was about 10 degrees, but that felt like boiling for us), and of course houses in Nunavut don’t have air conditioning, so we kept the windows open while we were recording…but the snow buntings kept chirping really happily all night (because of the permanent daylight) and were getting on the recording.
In retrospect though, I think that’s what really makes the album recording experience really unique, so at the same time, the best part of making this album was the whole do-it-yourself aspect of it, and the whole “making things work despite limited resources” mentality which is really prevalent among people who live in the North.

Can fans expect a full Canadian tour from you anytime soon?

Traveling is difficult in the North. Communities in Nunavut are fly-in only, as there are no roads connecting them. Also, a flight from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, to Ottawa is about $3000 round trip per person, so maybe once we sell that many copies of our album…but we hope do get a chance to do a Canadian tour eventually!

In the meantime, we are playing some shows in Cambridge Bay, and we also have an upcoming show at After 8 Pub in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories on Saturday, November 8, sponsored by Radio Taiga.

What’s next for Scary Bear Soundtrack?

We just can’t stop writing and recording songs, so we’re already working on another album.

What advice would you give up and coming Canadian artists?

Hmm, I’m trying to think of something unique.

I guess one advice is to figure out what you want out of music as a goal. Is your goal to make a full-time living out of making music? Is your goal to express yourself to the world through your music?
I say this because for me, my goals are more aligned with the last point (expressing myself to the world through music) rather than the first (making a full-time living out of making music), and that has shaped the decisions I make about my music career. I work a day job as a human rights lawyer that I am passionate about, and I will never quit my job to be a full-time musician for many reasons, one of them being that my work as a human rights lawyer helps fuel my music and generally helps me be a well-rounded person.
This means I move to faraway places that don’t necessarily have a booming indie scene, like Namibia (in southern Africa), or Nunavut, because that is where my job takes me, and I end up having interesting things to sing about.

This means, I will never quit my day job and move to Toronto to become a full-time musician, despite the advice the music industry gives me.

This also means I make enough money to record my music without requiring funding from a record label or grants. I have total artistic freedom over my music, and because I don’t care whether my music becomes a Top 40 hits (because I don’t need my music to make money), I can write whatever weird music I want to, including songs without choruses or songs that are 8 minutes long. I don’t feel the pressure to tour to make money. I do whatever I want, and it works for me – and I am quite happy about this, because even though I have taken this attitude about my music career, people still end up liking my songs.

I am NOT putting down full-time musicians or people who quit their day jobs and move to Toronto. I think those folks are dedicated, passionate, and vital to the music industry. They also have different goals and priorities than me, and I just want new musicians to consider what theirs goals are, so they don’t feel pressured into making choices that are not actually right for them. I also don’t think that it is right to have this perception that people who have jobs other than music are somehow not actual musicians.

At Canadian Beats, we like to include a small portion of “random” questions that may help your fans get to know more about you, so here goes:

Canadian Beats is all about Canadian bands/ artists, who are you favourites?

There are SO MANY. I grew up adoring Broken Social Scene, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Do Make Say Think, Stars. In more recent years, we’ve also come to adore so many other Canadian musicians, including Woodhands (did you know drummer Paul Banwatt is also a lawyer by day?), Tanya Tagaq (who is from Cambridge Bay!), No Joy…
If anyone is ever looking for suggestions for newer Canadian musicians that I think are going to go far, I suggest Fitness Club Fiasco, Diamond Bones, Whoop-Szo, Predator/Prey, and the Jerry Cans (Nunavut!).

What was the first concert you ever attended?

This is kind of embarrassing, but in grade nine, my high school booked the Canadian boy band Voices in public (also known as VIP) to play our grade nine orientation week. Do you remember VIP? I think one of the band members went on to become a lawyer. I think we actually went to the same law school.

What is your go-to karaoke song?

Let me just preface this with the explanation that I am Korean and Koreans have pretty much perfected karaoke. I love Korean-style karaoke, where you book your own private room at a Korean karaoke bar, and you sing your heart out with your friends while the bar sends you loads and loads of free snacks and tambourines.
Anyway, for some reason I always seem to pick H.O.T.’s “Candy” to sing. H.O.T. was a Korean pop boy band in the 90s. And I always fail, because I just can’t rap in Korean. But I keep picking it anyway.

If you were able to choose two other Canadian bands to go on tour with, who would you choose? Why?

We would LOVE to tour with Tanya Tagaq! I don’t care that our musical genres are different. She would just be so inspiring to follow.

Otherwise, off the top of my head, I think it would be really cool to tour with Diamond Bones. We love their sound. We have somewhat similar musical styles, and it would be an awesome women-strong lineup.

Think back to the beginning, what was the first song you ever sang in front of people?

I ‘m having a hard time remembering. When I was eight years old, I entered the New York Ulster County talent show, playing a classical piece on the piano. I won third place, which was $25. I used that to start up a savings account in the bank. I know, so rock and roll.

Last but not least, is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?

Come visit Nunavut! It will blow your mind to see how different and wonderful a place can be, without even ever leaving the country.

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