Now in their mid-30s and early 40s, the three Fort Worthians comprising the shoegazing, psych-rocking Year of the Bear are undertaking the novel task of learning how to write music and handle the nuts and bolts of running a band. But the three musos say they’re getting the hang of it just fine.
Do not mistake Year of the Bear’s unfamiliarity for inexperience. Drummer Robby Rux, guitarist (and Robby’s wife) Jennifer Rux, and bassist Josh “The Bear” Browning have all earned their musical bona fides playing for various North Texas acts over the years.
Robby, in particular, has sat behind the kit for something like 15 bands, he figures, since the percussion bug bit him during his teenage years in the early 1990s. “We never wrote songs,” Robbie said. “We’ve always been somebody’s band. But this is the first thing we’ve ever done where we have to make all the decisions. It’s kind of tough. It’s fun, though.”
Browning is probably the best known of the three, having played in Lift to Experience, the mid-’90s Denton shoegazing trio that received critical acclaim and an international following before disbanding several years ago. But he took more than a decade to finally reunite with Robby, with whom he had played as a teenager in a group called Carousel, and Jennifer, whom he’s known for years.
Each member says that Year of the Bear’s mere existence is in itself a feat long thwarted, whether by Browning’s touring schedule or, more recently, by his decampment to Snyder to work a day job as a restaurant manager. It wasn’t until last year that Browning heeded his friends’ request to join them here.
For Jennifer and Robby, 2011 was, um, the year of “The Bear.” But this year is when the band will release its first collection of tracks, on vinyl.
Year of the Bear’s members are also carving a niche as their Near Southside neighborhood’s go-to recording spot. Since Browning’s return, Jennifer has begun recording local artists on analog at Dreamy Soundz, her studio on her and her husband’s property, an old house turned apartment cluster in the historic Fairmount district. Browning lives onsite too, so he and his landlords have no shortage of opportunities to jam and record. The trio has about 13 songs ready to hit the wax, though it’s unclear whether the band will release them on one full-length or on a pair of EPs.
In June, Year of the Bear released a two-song 7-inch EP. Though an admittedly brief glimpse at what the band has to offer, the tracks are promising samples of what could be in store.
Both tracks are built on tinny effects and rolling melodies. Imagine an intense, moody timbre like Joy Division’s mixed with –– at least in the case of the second track, “That Violent Light” –– the melancholic woe of Red House Painters.
More than a month after roughly 100 copies of the record were pressed, the three friends huddled at a local watering hole and said they couldn’t be more thrilled with the sample’s distinctly echoing quality, an effect the group took great pains to achieve. To hear this bunch tell it, analog recording is not just a means to an end. It’s a near-religious musical rite.
“Once you hear the vinyl, it’s so much better,” Browning said. “It separated everything, and you could hear it all.”
If analog is religion, then Jennifer, the chief sound engineer, is among its prophets. She explained the importance of distancing the microphones from the amps and letting the sound ricochet around the room. The band’s recording methods often go so far as to plop an amp in an empty bathtub and bounce reverb off the tile. Jennifer explained her voracious appetite for the effect.
“You’ve got to let [the sound] breathe,” she said.
Since Jennifer quit her job as a teacher in February to work full time behind the soundboard at Dreamy Soundz, the Ruxes’ property has become somewhat of a magnet for young but knowledgeable creators. Fresh faces like Jeevan Antony of Madràs and Bobby McCubbins of Skeleton Coast have landed on the doorstep, ready to write, record, mix, or all three. Robby, Jennifer, and Browning are toying with the idea of recording a collaboration album featuring many of their new friends.
“Fort Worth is crazy right now,” Robby said. “I haven’t seen it like this in 20 years. Every day there’s another badass band that comes around. The thing is they’re all really cool people, which is better than them just being really good. … We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to record some of them.”
When Year of the Bear isn’t sharing the stage or studio, the band books as many gigs as possible. Recording also remains a priority, and, creatively, all three members are growing more comfortable (though Robby and Browning write most of the band’s material).
Sometimes other musicians from back in the day ask if their old friends have logged too many years to continue gigging. These skeptical acquaintances might even ask, point-blank, “Why are you still playing?”
“Because we have to,” Jennifer tells them. “It’s just what we have to do.”