We’re stoked; therefore, you should be, too: Bear Hands, Brooklyn’s groovy, jangly, rock-groove team, are premiering the video for their new single, “Blue Lips,” with us today. The clip features frontman Dylan Rau’s idiosyncratic vocals against Ursula Rose’s brusque, had-it-with-you-loser, icy rapping.
“The song is about listening to someone’s problems over and over and over until you die and your lips turn blue,” Rau explains. “Excuses, promises, optimism crashing on the rocks of reality and getting bored with someone’s shtick and hanging up on them.”
The clip’s director, Jon Chu, conveyed the sense of noise (and light) pollution by placing flat-screen televisions, smartphones and video projections in various situations for some solid commentary.
“I felt like the song was centered around miscommunication,” the director says, “and I wanted to visually convey that feeling of speaking into a void, not sure if anybody is listening. TVs seemed like the best representation of that idea. There are always people talking on screens, but who is listening?”
“Blue Lips” is another highlight for the long-running outfit of Rau, bassist Val Loper and drummer TJ Orscher, who started the band in Connecticut, heading out to Brooklyn, New York, to make a go of it close to 11 years ago. This time there’s another cause for celebration: Rau moved to Los Angeles two years ago after spending most of his 20s in Brooklyn. When AP checks in, he’s on his way to band practice, something he hasn’t done in a while.
“I definitely needed a change of pace,” Rau says about his escape from New York. “I definitely burned Brooklyn to the ground over the course of 10 years. Also at the same time, the neighborhood has changed. We were going to our practice space, and we were driving down Bedford Avenue. There’s one block that was like, Duane Reade, T-Mobile, Verizon, Whole Foods and Dunkin’ Donuts. It wasn’t like that when I moved here in 2007. Something was telling me to leave.
“But L.A. is so weird,” he continues. “Just the car thing alone and the inability to walk to places was a real bummer. But I got really depressed during the winters on the East Coast, just the dreary darkness and cold. It’s really nice to go to the beach in the winter. I grew up in Connecticut and winters were just a staple part of life. So it’s very cool to skip them.”
Right now, Rau and his band have conjured a sonic cold front with “Blue Lips” and its capsule-sized summary of how the act of being available for someone emotionally seemingly turns into another full-time job. Rau and guest vocalist Rose had been lovers for nearly three years before they ended their relationship. Well, kind of…
“Me and Ursula were together when we wrote the song, and then we broke up shortly before shooting the video,” Rau says with a nervous laugh. “And we still had to make the video and be in the same room together. I think we still love each other, and we’re still friends, and we still talk a lot. But it was certainly one of the most surreal video-making experiences I ever had.” Rose wrote her verse and delivered it with icy cool on the recording. “I pictured the rap like a voice-mail message, like the sound of someone leaving you an angry voicemail,” Rau says.
In addition to “Blue Lips,” the band also released another new track, “Ignoring The Truth,” which feels like a companion piece to “Lips,” further manifesting that feeling of post-relationship defeat.
“That’s another song about being in denial,” he reveals. “I think it’s impossible to not let your life infuse the kind of art you want to make. I know I’ve written a couple [of] songs that were taken from another human being’s perspective, but I think the most successful ones are usually about you. The idea that you write what you know.”
Rose actually wrote the first verse of “Ignoring” as well, during one of her and Rau’s particular method-writing exercises. “We had this ritual going where we’d make dinner, drink red wine and then take Ambien. Then I would put on a track, loop it, let it play through the house and then we’d separate into our own little rooms and then reconvene when someone had an idea that was worthwhile. There would be several times where we’d wake up the next day and I’d say, ‘Did we make music last night?’ We’d check the computer and see what happened.”
For now, there’s plenty happening in the very near future for the trio. Guitarist Ted Feldman left the band, moving to L.A. right around the same time Rau did. He says Feldman’s resignation was amicable (“Plenty of services rendered on his part, and we can’t begrudge him for moving on”) but admits that when Bear Hands embark on their first tour without him next month supporting Walk The Moon, “it’s going to feel kind of weird.”
The band have enlisted Alex Marans as a touring guitarist after first meeting him playing bass in Atlas Genius when both bands toured together. “We auditioned maybe four or five people, and he was the guy,” Rau says. “We were watching a video he sent us of him playing ‘2 AM’ which has some of the more intricate guitar parts and him just nailing it.”
Rau also hopes to have the follow-up to 2016’s You’ll Pay For This out into the world this summer. But since starting Bear Hands in his final year at Wesleyan College 11 years ago, the music scene has changed dramatically, with downloading and streaming eroding a lot of players’ revenue streams. Rau looks at it with a worldview steeped in both resignation and abject terror.
“I’ve defined myself with this band,” he resigns. “This band are my life’s work. That world of being ‘a lifer in music’? The financial rewards at this level are scant, but it’s what I want to do. It’s what I’m good at. I’m 33 now, and my list of applicable skills in the real world has dwindled in the past 11 years. At times, I feel compelled to make a crazy change, like cut my hair and become a square or something with a bit more stability.
“I can’t imagine saying goodbye to music,” he says assuredly. “I know I’d always write songs, even if no one is watching. Like people who write graffiti in the New York subway that no one’s ever going to see. There’s a nobility in producing art with no intention of people loving it or monetizing it.”
“Blue Lips” is available now, and you can check out the video below.