Creation is Divine: A Conversation with Bear and The Forest
This story appears in the Fall 2018 issue of EMMIE Magazine.
The drive to create and innovate is a divine, innate and uniquely special quality of humanity which differentiates us from all other creatures. Generation after generation, people have been ushering new ideas, inventions and trends into their own spirit. Artists have an especially distinctive drive to create, as their artistic pursuits may not necessarily have an inherently practical application, yet it is the creations of artists which affect, influence and shape our culture more than any other practice. Every artist has a unique creative process and draws influence from their own distinct sources. I had the opportunity to spend an evening with Madison-based band Bear and The Forest as they rehearsed some new songs in their cramped, underground studio. I talked with them about where they draw their inspiration from, and how they felt their creative process related to the divine.
Bear and The Forest is a new iteration of Alberto Kanost’s solo project, similarly titled Bear in The Forest, but more has changed than just the second word of the band’s name. Kanost has been joined by a smattering of talented musicians including Benny Koziol on keys, Nick Urban on bass and sax, Kameron Kudick on the drums, Chris Zak on guitar and Thomas Curtis playing guitar and occasionally contributing vocals. Koziol is known for two of his own projects, Magic Rivers and Mittelstadt, as well as recording as a solo artist. Urban plays guitar for Camp Friends as well as guitar for the Milwaukee-based project Arthur Ellison. Both Curtis and Zak played together in the Milwaukee-based band Todd’s Basement.
Together as Bear and the Forest, each band member brings their own background to the mix, resulting in an indie rock sound with elements of folk, jazz and blues. I was curious as to how the guys in the band thought that creating music could somehow be related to the divine, so I asked them about their own experience creating music. Inspiration comes from places unknown to whoever is inspired. Something I found especially relevant when discussing the question of inspiration and its potential origins was when Zak, who often offers strong contributions to the band’s song writing process, said “I don’t believe anyone truly writes an original song. Rather, they find it.” As an example, Zak explained he believed that “nobody wrote the C Major scale, it has existed throughout eternity. Rather, somebody found it.” He went on to say that “if you are lucky enough to be that sort of signal, you can tap into that and share it. You are the gateway, or the vessel, for a song.”
Improvisation plays a major role in Bear and The Forest’s music, with most of their songs utilizing improvisational moments to create their distinctive sound. I was interested in finding out about the feelings associated with the experience of improvising music. Curtis gave me some insight, explaining that “there are moments when playing a song can feel almost… religious, or out of body.” At that moment Kudick interjected, “Like that solo you had tonight.” The band members all chuckled. Curtis continued to explain to me that feeling, saying that “It just takes you to another spiritual level. Something else takes over… and you just let it take over.”
Kanost offered his own perspective regarding the at times divine feeling of improvisation, saying that there are moments it feels as if “you are going into a different plane and tapping into divinity. My eyes roll back into my head and I’m somewhere else. That’s god to me. That’s my religion: playing music.”
Kudick shared a different, yet equally insightful attitude. He says, “For me it’s less personal, that feeling is only achieved with help from other people. I think that element of togetherness is what makes me feel emotional.” Kudick continued in a Lennon-esque way, saying, “I feel like more people should try to do anything together, because I feel like that really channels positive energy into the world.”
The way in which Koziol explained his experience was that “it’s like group prayer. One person says something and then it’s like, ope, damn, we’re up here now… Honestly it’s a very powerful feeling of imagination and soul being in a room of people who are all simultaneously tuned into the same channel and all giving off different things. It’s unlike anything else.” Again Kudick interjected saying, “It’s church.” Mumbles of agreeance came from around the room.
Our conversation regarding the many ways creation and improvisation may feel divine was wrapped up with an additional perspective when Urban gifted the room with some wisdom: “I just think it’s so conversational… It’s the humanity of it. The ability to speak to others without using your words — that purely human connection through something non verbal.”