Attention Sasquatch!-goers: Bear on Fire are a Los Angeles–based sextet whose alt-blues hints at golden-era ’70s melodic rock. They just released their debut album, Velicata Back. They are playing Saturday, May 23, at 1 p.m. on the Yeti Stage. If you arrive (or wake up) in time to catch their set, you may recognize Bear on Fire’s bassist and not fully understand why. This is why: He is Christopher Mintz-Plasse (you can call him Chris), the actor who played McLovin in the movie Superbad. In fairness, he has played other roles, as well. He spoke from his home in Los Angeles.
Have you listened to much Christopher Cross? It’s pure 1970s glory. I think you guys could cover the shit out of his song “Sailing.”
I’ve heard of him, oh yeah. I’ll see what the band thinks. I know “Sailing.” [He sings the chorus. I join him. We sing “Sailing” together.]
Your guitar player puts down nice, sly work.
I agree. That’s Adam Aseraf for you. There are licks happening all over the album. Before this band, Adam and I were in another band where I played drums for eight years. It was a more shred-based, Pearl Jam riffy-type band. Our bass player quit by text message on my birthday [laughs]. I’d been playing some bass. Adam and I wanted to keep it going, so we started Bear on Fire with me on bass.
Your previous bass player quit by text? So cold.
Yeah. He was sort of a mess. He was 24 and didn’t have a driver’s license. He was living with his mother, and I think music was bringing him anxiety and stress, which is the opposite of what music should do. So he just needed to get out. It wasn’t his path.
I’m liking your song “Red Belly.” What effects are running on the guitar? That’s going to sound nice early Saturday afternoon at Sasquatch! Especially when it segues into a 17-minute Christopher Cross jam.
Definitely. It’s a slow chorus and some delay. It’s just those simplified jazzy chords that really let the effects come through clean. Straight from my guy Nick Chamian there for you. We’ll get to work on the segue.
Talk about your evolution from drums to bass.
I started playing bass about four years ago, not seriously. I was living in my parents’ house and had the drums in the garage. After 6 p.m., I couldn’t play the drums, but I would still be wanting to play music. So I bought a bass, because I could play it at night with headphones. I think if you want to do one thing successfully, you have to completely put your mind on it, and my thing at that time was drums. Bear on Fire was originally a side project. Adam and I would get high and mess around in the garage writing tunes. When the bass player quit, and the old band Young Rapscallions ended, continuing Bear on Fire was just an organic thing. We asked our buddy Ben Bayouth to play keys, and Patrick Alan Davis to play drums, and Nick, who was in Young Rapscallions, to play guitar. And Morgan Demeter on acoustic. Slowly, the music started getting better in our eyes. Then we were ready for shows. Then our friend Erin Tate, who lives in Seattle and used to drum for Minus the Bear, heard a couple tracks. He was starting a management company, and he started representing us and getting us gigs. Then we made an album. And here we are.
We have a bear connection here: Minus the Bear. Bear on Fire. Bears. How do you know Erin Tate?
We do have a bear connection [laughs]. I met Erin when they played a show about six years ago at the Wiltern. I went backstage and he was the chilliest dude. What are the Seattle bands people in Seattle love?
I’ve always been partial to Modest Mouse, even though they’re more Olympia. There’s a rapper Raz Simone. Gifted Gab, as well. This guy OCnotes is his own continent. Nightmare Fortress are very cool. Helms Alee for heavier movement.
I’ll check all that out. When I was 16, I was all about Modest Mouse. I love some Pearl Jam, too.
You acted throughout high school, right? Did you do music then, as well?
I did theater classes when I was like 8 years old. And every year after, I did drama productions. Superbad was my first movie. I was 17 years old and got some money from doing that movie. What does a young guy go out and buy himself with money he’s just made [laughs]? The first thing I did was buy a drum kit. I’d always loved music, but I didn’t really start playing until then.
What music did you play to when you were learning?
White Stripes. Meg is such a simple, yet tasteful drummer. The first drumbeat I wanted to learn was “Hand of Doom” by Black Sabbath. It’s the coolest beat.
Nice choice. Sabbath is music history.
Yes. Classic rock. When they started playing again recently, I guess Ozzy called out the original drummer Bill Ward for being too fat. He said: “You’re out of shape, man. You’re not going to be able to play three-hour sets every night.”
The name Bear on Fire. What are we talking about there? We’re talking about bears, obviously. And fire.
Three of the guys in the band are in a comedy sketch group, the Los Angeles West Valley Chillers. They shot a scene about band names and put it on Facebook saying they needed stupid, silly band names. In the comments, someone wrote in Bear on Fire. Adam and I thought it was a cool, random name.
How do you approach live shows?
We don’t want to play songs exactly like they are on the album. We like to try to make the live experience different, and bigger. We’ll add interludes, and jam. I just went to Coachella and saw Jack White. The way he intro’d the set was to not even come out for three minutes. The drummer, bass player, and fiddle player came out and shredded a heavy jam for three minutes. I was like, “Oh man, my dick is hard. I WANT TO DO THAT.” So I came to band practice all fired up. At our CD release show a few days ago, our intro was just a three-minute guitar solo [laughs]. So whatever’s inspiring to us at the moment. We want people to see us and want to come back because it’ll be a little different every time.
What’s some music you’ve been digging lately?
Three things I can’t stop listening to right now are My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall, Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color, and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Man, the Kendrick album continuously blows my mind. I had a couple friends who played strings on it. Super funky, and dark, and incredible.
Do you get sick of people asking you McLovin questions? I mean, it’s one of the greatest adolescent characters of any film, of all time, ever. Up there with Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles.
Without that role, I wouldn’t have had a career in movies. I wouldn’t have bought a drum kit. There are so many things that role has affected in my life. I did a charity event with Seth Rogen a couple weeks ago where we flew to a college and watched the movie while doing live commentary. It was the first time I’d seen it in its entirety in eight years. And it’s still good and still funny. So I’m proud of it. But when I’m talking about the band, I don’t want to make it about my movie career or McLovin. Because it takes away from the five other guys in the band, who work hard. So I don’t ever want to make it about just me. The McLovin stuff doesn’t really annoy me unless you’re blackout drunk and you’re putting your arms around me and you’re yelling about how you want to buy me a shot. That’s when it gets a little out of hand.
Please tell me about your mom having to be in the room when you filmed your McLovin love scene.
I was 17 when I filmed it, and because of legal issues with shooting a sex scene when you’re under the age of 18, a parental adviser has to be on set. It’s the dumbest rule ever. So my mom had drive down and chill on set while I shot my sex scene [laughs].
Was it awkward? Or was she like, “NO, Chris, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG”?
It wasn’t that awkward. It’s not like I was really having sex. I think she had fun hanging around with the producers on the set. She was a proud mother. She was giving me tips.