Violent Bear is a garage folk band with the kind of southern gothic touches one would expect from a band named after a short story by Flannery O'Connor. While married couple Tammy and Stephen Herzig are the band's musical and songwriting core, the duo recently expanded to a four-piece upon the release of their excellent Pink EP. We are pleased to help spread the word about this Kansas City band with an interview with Tammy Herzig, along with the band's book, movie and music recommendations.
Please introduce yourselves. Where do you live and work?
Stephen and I have been playing together and been together for almost ten years. It's trite, but we we're friends first so making music together has always been really easy. Stephen graduated from UMKC and is an electrical engineer. He is the marketing director as well for the local firm Herzig Engineering. I am a stay at home mom/artist that home schools our children. There are 7 total but only 5 at home. I follow the unschooling method. This terrifies their grandparents but has made for some very self-sufficient and unusual children. It also allows us to be pretty tight here and still play music as a band.
Shed some light on the origins of Violent Bear.
We started as the West for a couple years, but found that a band in Seattle already had that name and a pretty heavy following. So a couple years back after taking some time off to procreate again we decided to call ourselves Violent Bear. This was based off one of both of our favorite novels by Flannery O'Connor, the Violent Bear It Away. Our original sound was roots music and Southern Gothic so this suited us very well. Over the last couple of years we have been joined by the Cassity Brothers. Noah, intellectual bleeding heart that might be one of the most creative humans ever on lead guitar, and his older brother, bassist Jonas. Jonas has added a ton of depth and character to the sound. What was once a mom and pop garage folk band has kind of reinvented itself totally out of our control. Stephen is on percussion but every now and again he will sing live. I write most of our music and front (use that term loosely) the band. Recently Noah has started to write some of our music and it has become much more politically charged as well as gained a more youthful tone. We learned early on that we were making music out of love and because we felt like we had something to say and stories to tell. Turns out this has allowed us to be okay with the sound as it starts to take on a life of its own.
Talk about how you both make Violent Bear work as a creative union in the context of a marriage. How do you move through creative blocks and disagreements?
I should have had Stephen write this as he is actually a writer by trade as well. He tried his hand at novels but ended up writing engineer training manuals. Hahahahah. As far as working through the creative aspect of the project, I most often do the foundation writing and the lyrics. And because Stephen is so chill, he really doesn't get too controlling of that. Though one of our most popular songs, "Ghost and the Canary" was written after I heard him playing this haunting banjo riff. I had just finished reading The Cove by Ron Rash (great book) and that riff reminded me of the plot line. So "Ghost and the Canary" is actually about the novel. Our new stuff has totally come from a place in our past. I was in a punk band as a kid and wanted to kind of get that voice out there again, even if in a more mature manner. Having a couple college guys in the band hasn't hurt either, as youth makes you feel youthful! Contagious, ya know.
How and where do you record your music?
We recorded our first album (using term loosely) in our friend Matt Allen's basement. Though in all fairness he is a sound engineer with top of the line education and equipment, so it was professionally done. After that we have just sort of messed around with home recording, though I think we will hit the studio this winter. We have a show this Friday then are taking some time off until February so it will be a great time to tackle a new project.
What inspires you about music and art in Kansas City?
Kansas city is such a strange place for music and art as it is all over the place. Actually, most of our original sound came from our time in the south and living in Pensacola. It still has our heart. But I like the slow modernization of KC. Also there are some really amazing and progressive bands. Drugs & Attics and Shadow Rabbits are two of my faves for sure.
Book, movie and music recommendations from Violent Bear:
Book: Infinite Jest by Davis Foster Wallace. He has owned and given away at least 10 copies of this book. He reads it about once a year and swears it is the most eloquently written novel of the human mid/heart/character.
Movie: Dr. Strangelove.
Music: Velvet Underground and Pavement. He still buys CD's and reads all post modern but currently is reading the graphic novel series SAGA. Stephen got all of us hooked on it. Noah's favorite book is Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut.
I love Southern Gothic literature as well as fantasy and graphic novels. Anything by Flannery O'Connor is a an annual reread. I have read the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan at least eight times since high school. The Watchmen by Alan Moore. Anything Shel Silverstein ever wrote. Love Actually is still my favorite movie. Neon Bible by John Kennedy Toole. And my favorite band is still Arcade Fire!