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American Wit: An Interview with Cameron Matthews of Bear Ceuse

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Courtesy of Cameron Matthews/Bear Ceuse

Courtesy of Cameron Matthews/Bear Ceuse

It’s not just a song title. “American Wit”, a song by the up-and-coming St. Louis-spawned band Bear Ceuse, now transplanted to New York, is the title of a musical movement that incorporates rock with a playfully intense attitude about, well, pretty much anything.

We had a chance to interview the front-man of Bear Ceuse, Cameron Matthews, to see that attitude in action.

Patrick Emmel: So, what exactly, or inexactly, is a Bear Ceuse?
Cameron Matthews: A “berceuse” is the French word for lullaby. However, berceuses differs from other lullabies in that they are usually played in a flat key, featuring wild chromaticism and in a compound meter.

    Bear Ceuse is a band of Alaskan bears that ate a bunch of classical composers’ sheet music.  They became highly evolved and quite angry.  Steve Jobs bought the bears on Ebay for several million rubles.  The bears were kept at a German zoo for 16 months before escaping and claiming the lives of hundreds of food critics.  If you see one, call your nearest authorities and turn on Lady GaGa as loud as possible to deter their interminable hunger for middle-aged flesh.

Patrick: For awhile, thanks in part to Beavis and Butthead of MTV fame, the term “college rock” was a label many musicians tried to stay away from. It seemed there was a fine line between “college rock” and “alternative. ” Now, we have awards like MTV-U’s Best Music on Campus Contest. From your end, is it weird? Or is my old age showing and you have no idea what I’m talking about?

 Cameron: I know exactly what you’re talking about and college music isn’t “uh…cool.”  The mtvU thing was interesting and furthered my career, but it wasn’t a turning point by any means.  I was a freshman in college.  Now I’m a freshman in life and I like it better.  My music will continue to change and grow, but “college” it is not.  I am the least-read English major I know.  As with most things, though, I give music the ole’ college try.
Patrick: You’ve played Arlene’s Grocery in New York City. Did you find us NYers to be as bloodthirsty as the rest of the nation views us?

 Cameron: I’ve met three native New Yorkers.  They are each very kind and very helpful.  Two out of three are Jewish.  One is my agent, one is a consultant and dear friend, and one is my lawyer.  The rest of New York City’s residents are from the other 49 states.  I grew up in the same town for 18 years.  I am usually looking at the ground, hiding my head in the sand.  New York changes people.  You walk faster, talk faster, and adapt.  I’m tall and wide.  I don’t fit easily in small enclosures.  Most restaurants in New York are too small for me.  What happened to all the real estate?  You know…I like New York a lot.  But I don’t think it would ever feel like home to me.  Hell, St. Louis doesn’t necessarily feel like home.  I drive my car.  I have a cat and my lady.  The rest of the nation only looks at NYCites as “bloodthirsty” because they feel like it.

Courtesy of Cameron Matthews/Bear Ceuse

Courtesy of Cameron Matthews/Bear Ceuse

Patrick: Would you take the term “Buddy Holly on an acid trip” as a compliment, or an insult?

Cameron: Best compliment ever.  Thank you.

Patrick: Did we at least get close to one of your musical inspirations?

Cameron: Buddy Holly was so ahead of his time.  Just listen to him, he sounds like he was popular in the 90s.  Though BH is on a long list of inspirations, I have a couple of closer inspirations.  Roy Orbison is just…wow.  What a voice.  A tremendous and jolly voice.  His song writing, and the whole bit are fantastic.  The acid trip part is an amalgamation of things.  Deerhunter, Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound and other recent noise bands are something I’d like to achieve.  They’re all in a class with Brian Wilson and Hal 9000.

   I was clouded with all kinds of musical ideas for several years.  I’m still getting the hang of it.  I think I’ll keep working until I make something really special.  Something special to me.  I’ve gotten too close to my inspirations before. Lately, I’ve found myself singing like Stephen Malkmus.  Is that a problem, or is that a good thing?  I don’t know yet.  I thought I sang closer to Roy Orbison.

These are what inspiration do.  They mess you up enough so that you make your own recipe.

Patrick: What advice would you give other up-and-coming musicians striving to play more than open mic nights in their towns?

Cameron: Be honest with yourself.  I wasn’t.  It became embarrassing.  I used to play music that sucked.  If you play music that sucks, you aren’t going to get many shows.  So you need to sit down and really take a closer look at your repertoire.  I’ve been playing out since I was 14.  Look where I am now! …the same place.  But that’s not a bad thing at all.  I’m better now.  I’m comfortable in front of an audience.  I can play guitar better than when I was 14, slaving away in Chico’s in Washington, Missouri for four hours twice a month on Saturday nights.

   People and places and things and television and food and love all convince you to think differently.  As an artist, just listen to people and they’ll tell you something ridiculous and beautiful.  This answer is ridiculous.  Inspiration is often nonsensical.  If you are worried about making it in music then fine…nothing’s gonna happen.  I don’t have a label.  I have to hit the road for a while and make something of myself after I’ve already made something of myself several times.  Write a lot.  Write something down and then throw it away.  Make everything fresh.  Write fiction.  Study poetry.  Go to school and get a job.  Graduate school and make things work.  Move away from home.  Get away from the folks.  Get so far away from your parents.  Let them support you, but show yourself that you can do it without them.

   I once had a music teacher that always said, “perfect practice makes perfect performance.”  As a fourth grader, I really despised that.  I wasn’t exactly a shining example of an overachiever.  But as I got older, that crazy lady’s words have gotten more important. Get lazy, you get restless.  Get off the couch, get off the Wellbutrin.

Bear Ceuse has since relocated to New York and continues to rock. They will be holding an album release party at The Rock Shop in Brooklyn, NY on July 20th.

 

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Patrick began collecting a library of VHS tapes, DVDs, and CDs when he was young, and continues to build a library that could easily double as a video store and/or a revitalized Tower Records.

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