Anybody and everybody, when fervently or even just mildly interested in a band, will fight to investigate what they used to define and create their sound. Bands like Jack and the Bear, the musical act who performed at MUSIC Matters’ Whole Foods Fundraiser this past Tuesday, have a burgeoning fan base across the country. These fans, a group to which I include myself, are attracted by the elusiveness and originality of this band and their chosen list of influences. We want to know, truly, what created and defines the unheard of genre of “theatrical rock?”
“It’s a lot less marketable,” explained the band’s guitarist and writer Brandon Schreiber, “but this was just something we wanted to do. I know every band says that but we didn’t want to blend in with every other band just by calling ourselves a folk band.”
And so in 2013, when the then-folk band of Jack and the Bear started recording with Tom Waits’ former producer at Prairie Sun Studios in Sonoma, California, the band was aided in not necessarily changing their sound, but opening up their embedded talents and strengths to a less traveled road of music: the indefinable, uncategorized kind. Other artists among the band’s listed influences, including Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, or Mr. Tom Waits himself, ventured through their careers in a similar fashion. With mild influences and a few recognizable familiarities to music of their predecessors, these famed musicians sonically struck out on their own to make the music that felt most natural to them. Jack and the Bear has followed suit: while not easily defined, they are easily enjoyed.
Adam Schreiber, the drummer and freelance sound engineer for the band and brother to the band’s guitarist Brandon and horn player Christina Nielsen-Schreiber, quickly interjected an unafraid confession: “Disney stuff, we took a lot of influence from the music of Disney.”
While this description appears surprising at first, the band’s music and Tuesday’s live performance explains this comparison. It’s as if the music of Jack and the Bear is a modern expansion of the formula that has defined the music of Disney for decades: whimsy mixed with more fantastical elements to be mediated by sheer, undeniable musical talent. The band is collection of music minstrels, made up by the Schreiber family music trio, bassist Evan Close and pianist/vocalist Ryan “Reggie” Servis, worthy of this comparison. The horn of Christina Nielsen-Schreiber, the quick drum interjections of Adam Schreiber, and the steady, strengthening bass guitar of Evan Close add a tangible depth—that “music makes you feel something” quality—to the Jack and the Bear’s melting pot music. The vocals of Brandon, the band’s writer and guitarist, in tandem with fellow vocalist and pianist Reggie add meaning and whimsy through their lyrics and instrumentation. Eccentric but filled with meaning, jazzy with sporadic, small folk admissions all strewn together with talent and experience of an well-traveled band, Jack and the Bear need no validation for their Disney influences.
So while they aren’t on the road as they were for most of 2013 and 2014, and when they’re not fostering predictable friendships with brother bands like Dr. Dog and Deer Tick, Jack and the Bear is working on expanding the influence and opportunistic variety of their craft. Recently the band converted an old house in Michigan’s Bolles Harbor into a studio, calling it “Jack and the Bear Studios.”
“We call it ‘Jack and the Bear Studios’ as if it’s our own ‘Walt Disney Studios’ or something. And we put together our own house shows. And we like helping other bands too, mostly because we know how tough it is,” explains Brandon.
The band could easily foster a local collective á la Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros with this newest expansion. Their sound is so infectious and involuntarily pleasing that finding bands interested in creating a similar sound, or even in being associated with a band of this originality, should be fluid.
The hard work that compounds from a national tour and two-time participants in the popular Vermont summer music festival, The Friendly Gathering, have left this originated-in-Michigan band with a nationwide, sporadically strong fan base. So while the University of Michigan campus may be generally less acquainted with this folk gone theatrical rock band that does a fantastic rendition of “Bare Necessities” from Disney’s “The Jungle Book,” it shouldn’t be long before many of us are in the know.
Jack and the Bear will be playing the Blind Pig in downtown Ann Arbor on April 17th, 2015.