Ducking into Mac’s tavern, I’m pleasantly surprised to find the cozy pub oddly quiet on a summer afternoon. In fact, the only customers at the bar were the very guys I was looking to meet. Walking up to introduce myself, I’m greeted with immediate smiles and jovial banter. Bandmates Jeff Pearl, (vocals and guitar), Cody Smith (drums) and Steve Sikes-Gilbert (guitar), were kind enough to sit down and afford me a glimpse into the heart behind their band Bummers. Chris Steris (bass) was able to join toward the end to chime in a few thoughts of his own.
The troop has caused quite a buzz in Columbus with their unique take on rock and roll.
From being labeled “alt rock” to “surf-tinged,” no one can seem to pin down their multi faceted creativity of sound. They have done everything to stay outside the lines.
It didn’t take long for us to walk through every plateau of thought from adventures abroad to love gone terribly sour. Almost speaking simultaneously at times, you could tell these four were naturally in sync as they finished each other’s every sentence. Some responses were compiled as a band, while others warranted individual reflections. Either way, it’s safe to say these fellas were anything but a ‘bummer,’ and had me fully entertained throughout our interview.
Emily: First, I’ve been listening to your music and I’ve gotta say it’s killer! I really dig it. What kept standing out to me was the variety of sound in all of the songs. I’ve heard people describe you with a few different genres. How would you describe your own sound?
Bummers: This seems to be the million dollar question. I think we can kind of get away with anything because we don’t put ourselves in a box. A lot of people call us surf music because we’re in Ohio, but if you went to California we’d be nowhere near surf music. I think we’ve always had fun with it on things like facebook - calling our music “duck spit” or “spanish harlem.” It’s an iteration of variations of rock and roll, just different ones. We’re always expanding, kind of how the Beatles went from bubblegum to off the rails psychedelic. Depending on who writes a song or who comes in with a chord progression, it can be totally different from one day to the next.
Emily: How did the name Bummers arise?
Pearl: Bummers kinda came out of the blue. Chris, Steve and I went to see our friends band play at Ace of Cups. We were sitting at the bar after the show, half-jokingly looking around naming various objects - “the stools” or “the light bulbs” just thinking of dumb names like, we should start a band. Somehow “Bummers” came up and we all nodded our heads like yea, life’s kind of bummer sometimes. We’re happy dudes but life can be shit sometimes. That night we wrote “The South” and a couple more songs and Cody was our first thought for a drummer because we had just played in a band together previously. It’s been pretty fun ever since.
Emily: What is it you respect most about each other? Who brings what to the dynamic?
Pearl: Wow that makes you think. I will say what inspires me is that Cody doesn’t mess up. I’m personally good for 3-5 mistakes a show, I’m just good at masking them. 99% of the time I put money on Cody because he’s consistent and positive. Sometimes I can get antsy before a show, playing things over in my head, and Cody’s a good rock to look back at because he’s always smiling. We’re laid back and chill, nothing’s forced.
Smith: That’s a wild question. I have a couple years on these dudes. I can get really lethargic and tired at times. I admire that they keep things fresh; they motivate me. I feel like an inherently old dude, jaded and tired, and they keep me spry. At our last band meeting I was like, “Listen guys, at this point we’re kind of stuck with one another. We’re gonna do it, we’re gonna keep doing it.” We’ll get in fights but at the end of the day we squash it.
Sikes-Gilbert: Cody is as good as any drummer you’ll find in terms of skill and he’s dependable. I think we’re lucky that we’re all friends. We have something when we get together that, I don’t know how or why, seems to inspire and encourage people. We also know each other well enough that when we do get pissed at each other we can get over it pretty quick.
Steris: I think what I respect about our band is that we work hard, even through times I know we feel like we’re not doing enough. We’re always doing things behind the scenes and showing up for practice. I work with bands for a living at a production company, and seeing the dynamic of other bands really put into perspective how much our band makes an effort and works well together.
Emily: Who writes most of the songs? Can you tell us about your songwriting process?
Bummers: It’s kind of unorthodox how we come up with songs. Typically in a band one person writes most of the songs, but we do it together. Everyone kinda spills their influence into the writing process. Pearl might sing a melody to it. Cody will come in with a beat and he’ll describe the feel or Steve’s listening to something that inspired him. We always have phone’s going or some kind of recording apparatus during our practices in case someone does something like, hold on, record that! Then we’ll send it, we’ll all go home, dwell on it for a minute. That’s our mantra: always record, even if you’re messing around. We’ll have a night where we have a couple beers and start blowing up each others phones with stuff. 80% might be garbage but 20% might stick.
Emily: Pearl, you once said, “When things are good I won’t be able to write anything. I need pain to fuel it.” I can relate to that being a writer, sometimes it feels like I hit walls unless I’m immersed in extreme emotions. Does this sentiment still ring true or do you feel like the motivation behind writing has changed, evolved?
Pearl: I think it’s easier to be hurt and write. Our whole self titled album was about a bad relationship. I’ve been on the short end of the stick many times. I used to always be in that realm of emotion but now I’ve been in a 4 year relationship and things are really good. I’m a high strung dude, I can create a lot of my own chaos in that respect. I don’t need to be in deep, dark pain ‘cause I’ll find something to get angry or agitated about, these guys know. I think I’ve learned to not dwell on just writing about painful situations or heartbreak. Its good fuel, but our songwriting has evolved. There’s a lot of other things to write about.
Emily: You’ve got a new album titled Delores. Is there a special significance in the name? Tell us about it!
Pearl: We always come up with album names on a whim. We were going through names and couldn’t figure it out. The backstory is I taught kindergarten for a couple years and whenever the kids said they smelled something bad I’d tell them it’s my ex wife, Delores, even though I’ve never been married before. It became this urban legend. So after sorting through endless names, I was like dude we should just call it Delores. We’re really proud of this EP, it was really fun to do. Black Halo was actually written 3 years ago and we just never knew how to finish it. Cody left the band for a minute and we had our buddy fill in. Then Cody came back ready to shred and the first thing we did was finish that song. The rest just fell into place.
Emily: I read you self financed this album. That had to have taken a lot of hard work. What was your main goal in the process? What is it you most wanted to say
Sikes-Gilbert: Yea, we self finance everything. We don’t take any money for ourselves, just put it back into the band. We’ve done without a label, without kickstarters. We were responding to our own emails until we finally got a manager recently, who we’ve known for a long time. What we most wanted to say? That we were still making music. (Laughs)
Pearl: I think we’re all in the same boat. We don’t like to owe money. Especially when we started we had people offer financial support but we’ve always just prefered to do it ourselves. Steve even does the artwork. For me personally, I wanna have things to share with my grandkids. Like, hey, we used to kill it! The recording process is cool, like finalizing art. It feels really good to go in there and buckle down on songs. I think we wanted to say hey, we’re still around, we’ve grown.
Smith: It was meaningful to me because I had taken a break. I felt rejuvenated and ready to come back. Plus our tunes were more refined. The songs are a little different, but I think they still sound like us. I’m really excited for people to hear it. I listened to an interview once where they said if you don’t like your own band, then there’s something wrong. I find myself listening to our stuff all the time. I’m really proud of our songs.
Emily: Speaking of songs on the new album, I wanted to ask about “The One I Love.” It’s playful but it’s also honest and raw. Then out of nowhere a trumpet comes in! What was it like writing that song in particular?
Pearl: The trumpet! We knew we wanted horns on the album, so I put out a feeler to find someone. Everyone kept recommending the same dude - Jonathan Jacky. He’s just a jolly guy who’s really focused and passionate about playing music whenever he can. He’d never met us before, called off work and drove up from Dayton just to play with us. It was pretty funny at first, between his classical training and my fluid direction. I like using colors to describe things. I’d say, “I want a bright burst here.” Eventually it clicked. We were excited to play with someone who had structure and he was excited to learn from a couple dirtbags, it just worked out.
Emily: Campfire Experiences are times we gather around good music and good friends in a space that allows us to connect to nature and get back to our own authenticity. Do you have a campfire experience of your own you can share? A memory of a time and place that allowed you to slow down and reconnect to yourself?
Bummers: When we first started our band we did this really cool camping trip at Deer Creek with a bunch of our friends. We had just written the record and it looked like one of those Jimmy Fallon scenes. Sitting around the campfire, we had our guitars but all Cody had were some baby shakers and toy drums. We were in rare form, mind you, but we gave an impromptu show. As a whole, we were super excited to play for them and they were really excited to listen. We did our entire set, which in hindsight probably wasn’t that great but everyone had a wild time.
Emily: What’s been one of your most meaningful outdoor adventures you’ve had with each other?
Bummers: Chicken Man’s Ranch! This dude is the stepfather of one of our friends and they call him the chicken man. His real name is Jim Morrison. He’s a Boozefighter. Before there were Hell’s Angels and the Mongols, the Boozefighters were the oldest american motorcycle club around. Picture a big guy with a beard who looks like ZZ Top. We went and played at his place out in the country where he has huge acres of land. We were drinking moonshine and motorcycles were ripping around everywhere. It was the best kind of chaos, just tons of fun. That was early on when we started playing, and camping there together was one of the first things we did as a band.
Emily: Sounds like a blast! Well we’re so pumped to have you for our August Campfire Session! What are you most looking forward to sharing with us?
Pearl: Well, obviously we like to talk. I think we definitely have stories. I dig watching stuff like the behind-the-scenes No Direction Home Bob Dylan documentary because you get to see him as a person, rather than a spectacle. One of my favorite things is learning about when a song is written. I’m excited to give people some background behind our music.
Emily: We can’t wait to hear your stories and we’re really excited to share your music. Where can people find you? How can people support you?
Bummers: You can find our music pretty much everywhere. Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, ITunes, Bandcamp. 102.5 has been jammin’ it up. We’ll be playing the Commons August 17th, Independent’s Day Fest on September 16th, and then we go on a little mini tour up to Chicago. We’re approachable dudes, we’d love to talk to anyone who wants to say hey.
About the Author:
Emily Routson is a writer, an herbalist, and an adventurer. She craves knowledge and new inspiration with every hike climbed and believes traveling opens the mind and heart to new levels of conciousness.