By Brian Tucker
Ted Feldman was in Fresno, California on his way to a radio station for an acoustic performance with his band Bear Hands. The guitarist casually shared thoughts on producing their latest album Distraction to his at-ease indecision to play guitar or remain a filmmaker. The conversation eventually revealed Feldman’s ability to multitask in a band that marries addictive music with thoughtful ideas.
The Brooklyn based indie rock band garnered a lot of attention for their 2007 EP Golden. Three years later its follow-up Burning Bush Supper Club arrived, ensnaring more listeners with the catchy, piano driven “Crime Pays.”
Dylan Rau’s high strung Prince-like vocals made lyrics like “Everyone knows that crimes pays/And everybody does it/Everyone knows that crime pays/And everybody loves it” oddly palatable, if not fun. Better was “High Society,” a danceable and even more infectious song.
Infectiousness, and atypical song craft, continues on Distraction, notably on “Agora” and “Giants,” the latter fusing dance club atmosphere with indie rock. The album title is literal, referring to the myriad of things keeping them from making a new record. Feldman stepped in as producer “out of necessity” to get it made.
“It just happened,” he added. “I took the wheel and made decisions. It’s a lot simpler than leave it to four people to make those kinds of decisions.”
Success has been a slow build in the wake of all the initial attention. Four days after Fresno the band would win over attendees at Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. Not bad for a band that until recently kept day jobs. Feldman said that for the first time ever it’s all about the band.
“At the very moment it’s solely all about music. We always had to work other jobs but right now there’s no time, we’re on tour sort of constantly, at least for the next month and a half and a lot more (to come).”
Feldman plans on keeping his day job – filmmaking. Feldman and Rau attended Wesleyan University for film studies and in that time he’s worked as an editor plus directing videos (like the band’s “Agora,” “What a Drag,” and “High Society”).
“My day job consists as working as a freelance editor mostly, working in film production also. So I’m trying to keep those skills sharp.
Feldman’s “Agora” video is stylish and at times humorous. Shot over two days it features a highly watchable Rau as someone afraid to leave their apartment. Playfully incorporating trappings, it highlights numerous locks on the door, Rau pacing the room, televisions as strange bedfellows, even Rau retreating from a blade of daylight.
But watching “Agora” it appears Feldman is adept separating himself properly enough to edit his own directorial work. He cites working as an editor for several years as a big help.
“I’m getting better at it. I can easily slip in that role and separate what happened on the (shooting) day,” Feldman said.
The video for “Agora” is an eerie relative to “Sleeping on the Floor” from Distraction that Rau wrote.
“He spends a lot of time in his apartment holed up in his bedroom, watching TV, writing songs, surfing the internet, smoking cigarettes. You could call it agoraphobia, you could call it depression, you could call it laziness, but that’s his home base.”
Feeling pressure to commit to one job or the other, Feldman remains steadfast about the double interests he’s juggled nearly a decade. Though challenging in terms of time management, they’re hard to give up.
“I’m sure I’d be more successful if I committed all my time to one or the other. I want to do it all, I love both mediums. I hope I can continue to work in each and meld them together.”
Additional Q&A with Ted Feldman
Are you able to explore a town much on tour?
Feldman: Rarely, we accidently left San Francisco early so we ended up here in time to see a movie which is extremely rare. Now we’re scrambling to get to a radio session to play an acoustic set of songs. We show up and drink till we pass out in the hotel. We get to explore the two block radius of the club.
Has the band’s success been a slow build? A plus in the overall sense?
Feldman: It’s definitely been a slow build. We had, at the very beginning of the band, a good spark of attention and since then it’s been a real slow build. But always improving, always a little bit of both, which I guess keeps everything together. Right now with the new record (things are increasing).
Why the title Distraction?
Feldman: A mix of reasons. There were a lot of things that kept us from actually making a record, a lot of distractions. It would be a good title for this time period, a lot to distract people from important things, think about what are the important things, what they are being distracted from. It sort of relates to anyone in different ways.
You stepped in to produce the album.
Feldman: It was sort of out of necessity to get the thing made. I had to sort of take control; it was sort of a natural evolution from practice space stuff. Someone just had to take the helm. It wasn’t like we decided that I would be producer, it just happened.
“Agora” is interesting, with Queen band imagery on TV’s, the floor cleaning.
Feldman: I had an idea for a video and usually it’s a process about to decide to do for a video for us. But this one, I laid it out in simple terms and everyone said yeah, that’s good. We developed it and shot it over two days. The label gave us a little money, nothing crazy, but more than we had before. It felt luxurious but it was a pretty low budget operation. I had a lot friends working on it as a favor, locations, and the DP and the producers and production designer were friends from college. Everyone committed to make a cool thing so we got to spend the money where it counted.
I don’t know, we just started using background vocals in our songs and it seemed appropriate to me. I feel like a lot of conversations are born out of TV episodes, and movies and videos. I just like to throw in tings that have struck me in the past.
Is it hard to edit, separate from what you directed? Is it tougher than editing a narrative film?
Feldman: I’m getting better at it. I think working as an editor primarily for the last couple of years has helped a lot. I can easily slip in that role and separate what happened on the day.
I think its harder actually, film is a specific story you’re trying to tell and you’re not trying to fit exactly into a beat or specific amount of time. A scene can take five seconds or five minutes. In a music video you’re trying to fit things in small spaces. It’s a lot about keeping things exciting, it’s more visual and impressionistic. It’s not a program you have to follow. Its freeing in some ways and in some ways a lot harder.
Was it hard to direct Dylan?
Feldman: We had some good talks beforehand and he took direction well. And I think he harbors an interest in acting in the future. We have a good rapport.
Do you struggle to choose between the band and filmmaking?
Feldman: I’ve been juggling them for the last eight, nine years. A lot of people, there’s a lot of pressure to commit to one or the other. I’m sure I’d be more successful if I committed all my time to one or the other. But they’re both hard to give up I want to do it all. It’s definitely a challenge just in terms of time management. But I really love both mediums. And I hope I can continue to work in each and meld them together.