For over a decade, Sun Bears have been one of the more interesting bands to come out of South County. They have a take on instrumental music that incorporates avant-garde jazz, progressive rock and psychedelic tendencies. It makes for an entertaining listening experience that makes the structures, chords and rhythms hard to predict. Seeing them live is even better due to seeing firsthand how each song operates. Overall, this quartet has an inventive quality that can’t be overlooked.
I had a chat recently with drummer Cody Silander, guitarist Bryce Silander, bassist Jack Mills and keyboardist and saxophonist Joel Caputo about the band’s beginnings, musical influences, how things have changed over the years and a new album they’re releasing next year.
Rob Duguay: How did Sun Bears start out?
Cody Silander: All of us except for Jack went to high school together at Chariho. Sun Bears formed from a band that was initially a guitar and drum duo started by Bryce and I in middle school. Later it would be a four-piece band with our good friend Kevin O’Connor on bass and Brad Grimshaw on trumpet. Joel joined soon after on keyboard and eventually started playing saxophone as well creating basically the core sound of the band. Our style was further developed through a lot of free improvisation.
This included all the people mentioned as well as a bunch of other friends like Will Allegretto. Jack replaced Kevin while we were working on our first record Hive Mind and we’ve all been having a great time playing together for the past decade plus.
RD: That’s cool how the band has been around that long, some bands don’t make it past three weeks.
Jack Mills: Yeah, that can happen sometimes.
RD: Who do you consider to be the main inspirations for the band’s abstract sound?
Bryce Silander: Overall, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis are probably our collective favorites, although lots of other artists are definitely huge influences. Listening to a lot of King Crimson, John Coltrane, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Sonny Rollins, Steve Lehman, Keith Jarrett and Charles Lloyd has played a part in us forming our sound. We also get a lot of rhythmic inspiration from stuff from Steve Coleman and Meshuggah.
RD: That’s a pretty diverse array of influences, especially with Meshuggah which surprised me a bit since they’re a Swedish metal band. Joel, along with performing you also teach music. Does your mindset change a lot when it comes to performing versus teaching or do you think it’s all relative?
Joel Caputo: If I’m teaching or performing, it’s definitely relative. The mindset is different though. When teaching, I am focused on the needs of the student. When performing, I am focused on the music being played in the moment.
RD: What do each of you think has changed the most with Sun Bears since the band started in 2008?
BS: More improvisation, new sounds and structures. We like to experiment a lot when we write new material.
RD: You guys haven’t released a record since “Hive Mind” in 2016. Can we expect a new one soon?
CS: Actually, we’ve just finished writing the last song for our new LP. We’ve been hard at work writing and developing these songs for the past few years. While there is a lot of room for improvisation within the structures, the melodies and rhythms are technically demanding and they take time to internalize. We are very excited to start recording and should have a new record out in the next six months or so. In the meantime we hope people come see us live because that is probably the best way to experience our music.