With the release of In The Future Only The Rich Will Live Forever in 2021, Strong Like Bear uncharacteristically waded into the realm of stoner fuzz. In exploring the dialogue surrounding the album, there’s an interesting contrast at play with it. Little Village commented on the band being “as silly as they are serious” in a review, and speaking to the Ames Tribune, guitarist and lead vocalist Bryon Dudley commented that the release “started out kind of as a joke, but then we kept getting serious about it.” The music never really screams “silly,” though it does sound borne of playful experimentation, and the same holds true with the group’s new single, “The Slow Collapse.” The song covers a lot of ground, musically, in its five minute run-time, though it takes a dramatic departure sonically from the aforementioned stoner-leaning affair; elements of whirling pop-rock act as a counterbalance to more distorted riffs before giving way to a wavy jam of an outro. In this edition of Singled Out, Bryon Dudley, drummer Rachel Dudley, and bassist Greg Bruna dig into the track, discussing their collaborative process, the song’s lyrical focus, and the influence of Sonic Youth on its sound.
villin: Sonically, the track aligns with its title – maybe not collapsing, but at least meandering away from its initial direction. Does the song’s title have much to do with how it plays out musically?
Bryon Dudley: It definitely does. We were trying to create some tension so that when we got to a release it would hopefully actually feel like a release.
villin: Vocally, the song utilizes a little distortion in complementing the instrumentation, but what is the track’s focus lyrically?
Bryon Dudley: The lyrics tell a story about a group of cyberpunk kids in the future, hanging out on a rooftop, making fun of this city jam-packed full of people. While they’re taking videos and things, martial law is declared, and cops stream in and start arresting everyone. The punks steal a car and escape the city in a big chase, and learn to live outside the city in Nature. And they’re punks, you know? So they’re not really equipped to do that. But they end up feeling more free than they’ve ever felt before.
villin: In another lifetime I used to contribute to a music blog with a couple other guys, including one who would without fail find a way to include the word “jangly” in his reviews when talking about guitars. That word is, itself, a bit of a pet peeve for me, but it’s also what was coming to mind when listening to the track as it changed directions and winds down. When we first connected, Bryon, you called it “a big spacey jam.” What was the sound you were going for there?
Bryon Dudley: I used to write for some music blogs, and am also guilty of overusing the word “jangly” to describe guitars (hahaha). I’m blaming Big Star.
We were really trying to do this big buildup, and then have a release that would sort of sonically demonstrate the bliss in Nature that these escaped punks were feeling. Something very chill, but also very free, ideally without any sort of attachment to anything else, a new beginning. I’m also a big fan of the SYR series of Sonic Youth albums, so there’s a healthy amount of that DNA in there as well.
villin: Greg and Rachel, when approaching a song like “The Slow Collapse,” did you find your approach to crafting the rhythm changed significantly from some of the more stoner rock-leaning music on the band’s last album?
Greg Bruna: Well, the song was supposed to be a bit of a palette cleanser for us. We were working hard on all these heavy, riff-based stoner tunes and we wanted to clear the air a bit. I like to think of myself as being able to meld into whatever genre I’m recording and serve the song on its own terms. But to be honest, if you were to listen to just the bass tracks of “The Slow Collapse” soloed, its over-driven, I’m pounding on one riff through most of the song, and the chorus is filled with tritones! It’s all pretty much still stoner rock, so I may not be as clever as I like to believe.
Rachel Dudley: I wouldn’t say it changed significantly, but it was certainly different. I had been learning a lot of covers of ’80s pop tunes at the time and that opened up some new riffs in my bag of tools, so to speak. My first instrument was the guitar, so my habitual instinct is to play the drums like a guitar player, but I am constantly trying to break out of that mold. Immersing myself in classic pop tunes that I grew up with and picking up some of those chops was a great way for me to grow as a musician. The timing of our recording “The Slow Collapse” worked out great in that respect.
villin: And is there a song writing process that you’ve locked in on by this point within the group?
Greg Bruna: If Bryon is bringing the nugget that the song grows out of, then the process tends to be him playing that piece over and over while we keep trying stuff ’til something clicks. Emphasis on, “over and over.”
Rachel Dudley: I would echo Greg’s assessment on this one. Bryon typically brings a couple of chord progressions he’s come up with and we’ll just jam on them for a while until we find the grooves we like in each of them. Then, we start hammering out the arrangement of a song. It is definitely a collaborative process, and what I really enjoy about this band is that we are all open to and respect what each of us brings to the table.
villin: Seeing as though there’s a lot of stylistic free-flowing from one single or album to the next, with the band, do you find that working as a trio allows you more flexibility when writing music?
Greg Bruna: Being a trio is definitely limiting in some respects; we can do a lot more in the studio than live. However, I find the smaller the group, the tighter it can potentially be. Often this translates into complicated arrangements as we dive deeper and deeper into trying crazy ideas when left to our own devices down in The Spacement. We are maybe a little too good at indulging each other when an idea sprouts up! I think being together for over a decade has allowed us to develop a great sense of trust in each other. So if one of us wants to go out on a limb exploring, we know the other two will be right there. Over the years this has allowed us a lot of leeway when we start talking about what music we want to create next. It’s something I really appreciate about this band.
Rachel Dudley: Again, I think Greg summed this up perfectly! Each of us enjoys a wide variety of music and it’s really fun to explore various styles. We challenge each other to explore and see where we can go. At the end of the process, I feel like we all grow as players with each new single, EP, or album. I also think that, in the end, we always sound like us, and not like we are trying to be something we are not.
Strong Like Bear will be playing a couple of upcoming shows at The Angry Irishman in Ames, including a July 21 gig with Goatfeathers and an August 11 show (which will feature SLB’s original lineup) with Miss Christine. For more from Strong Like Bear, listen on Apple Music, Spotify, or YouTube, and follow the band via Facebook.