There aren't really "studio bands" anymore, at least not ones that make any money. Touring is where the profit is in the music industry these days. But for a certain type of musician, the studio remains a fun place to tool around if cashing in isn't a high priority. Alex Courtney is one such specimen. The local trio he fronts, Man Bear, performs around town infrequently but has released three EPs in the past 15 months.
"I think about us more as going the Guided By Voices route," Courtney says. "They were putting out albums for 10 years before they started really playing live a lot. A lot of it comes down to me, I guess — I don't like playing live as much because we can't do stuff as a three-piece that we do on our records. Also, I don't think I'm a competent enough guitar player or singer for live playing."
He's being modest, though self-deprecation is part of Man Bear's charm. The group's sense of humor is evident in its album titles: Talking Drunk at 2 a.m., Feeling Kind of Lo(Fi) and, most recently, Infinity Cat. Man Bear makes what people tend to call power-pop records, though that's a label that increasingly requires a more precise explanation. The debut, Talking Drunk, worships at the 1990s alt-rock altar of Superchunk. Lo(Fi) is a fuzzy homage to the Replacements. And continuing its pattern of working backward through the decades, Infinity Cat is Man Bear's ode to the 1970s. It's a tight, hook-filled record tailor-made for fans of the more upbeat, happy-go-lucky half of Big Star's catalog.
"I definitely wanted it to have a '70s rock vibe to it, yeah," Courtney says. "For us, a '70s rock record is about bands like Big Star and T. Rex as opposed to, I don't know, REO Speedwagon or something. Tom Petty is another guy I think we were all thinking about, too. There's a song on Infinity Cat called 'Gotta Go,' and that's sort of our attempt to write a song like Petty's 'Hometown Blues.' "
Courtney has known bassist Aaron Nickless for more than a decade. They recruited drummer Keith Howell via Craigslist about three years ago and started rehearsing on and off, mostly for fun. In 2011, they picked up the pace and readied Talking Drunk, which they recorded with Chris Cosgrove at Cosgrove Audio.
"The first one was us figuring out how you record music as a band, which took awhile," Courtney says. "The second one we recorded ourselves — five songs scattered out across five months, recorded in our drummer's basement and at my house on a computer. Those songs, I think, are more oddball, more like B-sides, more stylistically different than what we are probably typically going for.
"With this new one, I think we've done something that represents us more accurately," he continues. "Although it's not like there's a ton of thought put into it — really, we just had some new songs."
Courtney says to expect another Man Bear EP relatively soon. "The way the business works now, I think it's good to keep a steady stream of content coming out, and EPs are good for that," he says. "They're fast and easy. We could take our time and do a full-length, but that would take 10 months, and people would completely forget about us."
What about more gigs?
"I guess we'll probably start doing more live shows," he says. "We need to keep our drummer happy. Recording all the time isn't as much fun when you're the drummer."
Download at manbear.bandcamp.com.