By Shaima Alsslali
We sat down with the mellowest band around in Riyadh for an exclusive behind the scenes segment to find out how their creativity flows.
The formation of the Saudi instrumental alternative band Bear and the Happy was a rather random incident. And, oddly enough for musicians, it started in an educational institution.
“Ahmad invited Koosh and Salah over to jam,” they tell us. “Later on, we heard about a talent show and decided that very same day to form a band and sign up for the talent show. We needed a lead guitarist, so Koosh suggested we bring in our friend Mohammed Hakeem because of his unique style. We all met up and started working on our first song. Thankfully, it finished before the talent show and we got accepted for our performance, and it was there that the band officially formed.”
Bear and the Happy is a name with a ring that’s unfamiliar around these parts. Amusingly, it turns out that it was picked at random. “One of the band members was throwing random band names until he came up with “Bear and the Happy” and it was catchy. In the beginning we didn’t wantto actually keep it but then it just grew on us,” the band explains. “We feel it attracts attention because you don’t know what kind of music to expect from a band with a name like that, and since we don’t really have a fixed style or genre, it seems fitting.”
Being fans of experimentation and trial, their influences and styles progress with every jam session. Starting off with heavy metal influences, the band “became more appreciative and influenced by a larger variety of music. From progressive to post rock to jazz to chill-out lounge to whatever sounds good.” It shows in their process of creating music, as the band is more free form than strict.
As the band explains, “We usually derive most of our ideas from our jams; we jam more than we work, which is not necessarily a good thing but it always gives us new ideas and material we otherwise can’t come up with by sitting down and discussing what to play.”
All bands get influenced somewhere, and Bear and the Happy is no exception. The band sought inspiration mostly from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Led Zeppelin and Muse. But later, the band digressed into other territories of music. “We started getting into post-rock/metal music especially the band Long Distance Calling dramatically changed the way we play as a band.” But Bear and the Happy is still loyal to its main influence, Opeth. “In one year, they managed to change our perception of how a song could be constructed. They gave us the best of both worlds; they play the heaviest and most brutal metal then they surprise us with their chill and incredibly beautiful music. They’re definitely our favorite band.”
The band is composed of four members. The lead guitarist is Mohammed Hakeem and Ahmad Al Anbar is on drums. The band is fluid, and each member puts in more than merely playing an instrument. Koosh’s role, for example transcends playing bass, as he is one of the main contributors to the band’s song-writing and composition processes. Salah moonlights as the band’s manager.
As for the band’s hopes and aspirations, they see an album in the future, but for now, they’re just updating their SoundCloud account with improvised jams and demos. What sets them apart, however, is that Bear and the Happy are more into the local scene than the international one. “As far as we’re concerned, we’re not at a point to compete internationally. For now we want to focus, keep developing and reach out to our local community. There are numerous musicians and music lovers in Saudi and it is our privilege to be part of that. We hope we can encourage other musicians to step forth and show the global music scene that Saudi Arabia has talents to show and be proud of.”
They express gratitude over the degree of support they’ve received from the Saudi music scene. “We are all thankful to have the support of our families and friends. We signed up for a contest sponsored by Zippo that was inclusive of the entire Gulf region musicians, and thankfully we won. And our talent show with Luxury Events was a kick-starter for us as a band. Even though we hadn’t signed with them, they gave us many opportunities to be featured in their shows.”
Since the band aims to be self-dependent, all proceeds from their paid gigs went into purchasing instruments and recording equipment. They heavily urge people to share their local artists’ material through social media and word of mouth citing that “musicians here need all the support they can get.”