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Bear Left braces for their Urban Safari

Greg McKenna | Issue date: 2/4/03 | a & e

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Howie Kislowicz waves his hands in the air as Matt Wiviot holds down the beat.
Howie Kislowicz waves his hands in the air as Matt Wiviot holds down the beat.

Bear Left, a local acoustic folk rock band comprised of McGill students, will be releasing their second album this Saturday at Café Campus. The show represents the culmination of a number of dogged jam sessions and the combined effort of the band's members.

The group is a three-piece outfit: Shai Korman on percussion, Howie Kislowicz on guitar and vocals and Matt Wiviott on bass. Having met in junior high, Korman and Kislowicz played in a variety of bands together before creating Bear Left.

"We were pretty awful, but we had good [band] names--stuff like Gorilla Fish, Marsupial Soup and Monostat 7," said Kislowicz. "Shai and I started playing soon after as a duo and then Matt joined us, originally on the cello, but then he started playing bass."

The band played their first show together--all underage--in 1997 at the Yellow Door. Soon after, they were playing regularly at small venues, having the chance to develop their live show and improvisational skills.

"We got into our whole improvisational feel when we were starting out," said Kislowicz. "Our live concerts are a lot of fun. We have the structure, we know the songs, but we really fly by the seat of our pants. We like to interact with the people and screw around."

The new album, Urban Safari, is a mellow, folky, clear-sounding compilation, with an easy listening, acoustic feel. The writing for this album has taken place over the last two years, but the recording was done in about four months. For the band, it was a much more concentrated experience than their last album, You, me, we..., which was completed in about six years.

"This album is a lot more mature than anything we've ever written," said Korman. "We picked the songs that we felt best fit together for this album and best portrayed the band as we are now."

The majority of the songs are written by Korman and Kislowicz, often over the phone. Over the years, they have developed a unique language that enables them to adequately communicate different feelings or sounds that they want in their songs.

"Shai will say to me that this song needs some 'vroom'," explained Kislowicz. "People will be listening to us writing songs, not understanding a word we are saying, but in the end, I'll make an adjustment in the studio and Shai will be like 'yeah, that's exactly what I meant'."

Bear Left records all of its music in a home studio. The studio, which began as a computer and some microphones, has grown, enabling the band to put out better recordings with better sound quality and consistency.

"Our studio leaves a lot of room for improvement with every new effort," said Kislowicz. "I think this album sounds a lot better in terms of the recording quality than the last one. It's a more consistent-sounding recording and there's a lot more warmth."

Kislowicz admits that most of the songs on the album are love songs, reflections on events in their lives. Although there are a few references to Israel in their lyrics, there were no political intentions when they wrote the songs.

"The most typical songs of our writing usually sound like they're about one thing but they're usually about something different that one of us is dealing with," said Korman.

The band also enjoys telling a story in their songs. In the song "Dear", they create a tale of love and desire based on a busker that they pass regularly on their way to school at the Peel metro.

"I come out of Peel metro every morning and I see this guy performing," explained Kislowicz. "He's just standing there singing, and his songs are totally bizarre. As I saw him everyday, I became fascinated by him and thought this guy probably has the most interesting back-story, so we wrote it for him."

With the release of their CD, the band plans on doing a few shows to promote the album and hopefully break even with the costs of putting it all together. Having played mainly in Montreal over the past few years, they have cultivated a strong local fan base.

Now, as the members are finishing up their degrees at McGill, the future of Bear Left is uncertain, but they are optimistic and happy to see what will happen next.

"We're letting it plan itself at this point," said Kislowicz. "Thanks to our fans, I think we'll have a good life span here in Montreal. I think we'll be able to keep everything going and just wait to see what comes up around the next corner."

The release party for Bear Left's album Urban Safari will be held this Saturday, February 8, at Café Campus. Doors open at 8:30 pm.

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