Spirit of the Bear grows up on third album

Joel Oliphint

When Spirit of the Bear singer/guitarist James Harker and his bandmates looked back on their last album, Fade Into Blue, which was made as the group of friends graduated from high school, they realized they had gone through a period of growth.

“We’re all in a better place, and all of us, as individuals, have better ideas of who we are and the type of people we would like to be,” said Harker, who formed Spirit of the Bear in Youngstown with high school classmates Danny Svenson (keys, vocals), Ethan Schwendeman (keys), Jamie Vitullo (drums) and Mike Perorazio (bass).

Other, more practical things have changed in the interim, too. For one, Harker and two of his bandmates now live in Spirit of the Bear’s home base of Columbus, where Harker came to study music technology at Capital University. Since graduating, Harker launched a studio and creative hub in Olde Towne East called Moonlight Audio. (He also plays in local act Ghost Soul Trio.)

For Spirit of the Bear’s third album — a supremely catchy self-titled record due out on Friday, Jan. 8 — the indie-pop act wanted to capture its sonic growth, as well. “It feels like the album we've been trying to make for a long time, and we finally have the production knowledge and the songwriting chops to make it happen,” Harker said.

To kickstart the process, the bandmates assembled demo ideas from April to June of 2019, and in the first week of July they headed to a Kentucky cabin in the middle of Daniel Boone National Forest. “We had several acres of woods around our cabin; there were no other houses around. We were there for about eight days, and that's where we wrote 85 percent of the album. … We were so focused,” Harker said. “We were all in the room playing instruments live together, like we used to do in high school. … Our phones were off, and we were pretty much disconnected from everything except for what we were working on. So it was super calming and really nice to have this sense of, ‘I don't necessarily know what time it is, but we're just out here to do this one thing.’”

Spirit of the Bear left the woods with 10 mostly finished songs, which the band recorded during Harker’s last semester at Capital in the fall of 2019, followed by post-production mixing and tweaking at home. “We wanted to make an album that has the same production quality ... as bands that we've loved for a long time,” Harker said.

The lyrics came last, and playing off the maturation theme, the album took on a seasonal structure. “The first couple of songs represent spring — taking stock of where we were and how we're going to go forward and who we are trying to be. The middle stretch is summer, and the songs are all about where we are now,” Harker said of the radio-ready tunes. “There’s a fall leg with two or three songs ... and the sonic space complements that; the lyrics are a little bit more introspective, and it gets a little bit darker. And then winter is kind of thinking about how our actions now affect our future.”

The pandemic upended Spirit of the Bear’s intended summer 2020 release plans, but the band is now planning a virtual album release show on Jan. 15 at 8 p.m., when the group will screen a concert film interspersed with documentary footage from the bandmates’ old haunts in Youngstown. “We were trying to capture the experience of what it would have been like if we could have done that album release party,” Harker said.

Spirit of the Bear