Bear necessities of Chicago indie music

By Amanda Murphy

Since its beginnings in 2008, the band Bears of Blue River has been touring the country, charming hearts and feeding the souls of all who will listen. With frontman Gavin Ellis Wilkinson contributing crush-inducing vocals, Justin Allen Spring on a smorgasbord of instruments including banjo, Dobro, lap steel and piano, Margaret Alexandra Gard singing soulful croons reminiscent of June Carter and Brian Michael Swoveland on drums, the band balances a multitude of genres, talents and personalities.

Evolving their musical style, the band released its LP “Dames” on Oct. 17, which marks a departure from its sweet and innocent folk focus to a raunchier sound. With bopping beats and killer harmonies, Bears of Blue River have brought their unique, vintage sound to the eager ears of Chicago.

The Chronicle sat down with Wilkinson to talk about the recent LP release, working with members of Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s and their new, dirty sound.

The Chronicle: How did you guys meet?

Gavin Ellis Wilkinson: We met in a college town in Indiana, but I don’t think at that time any of us were at school. That was in Muncie, Ind., where Ball State is. We’re not terribly spread out anymore, though. We all live in Chicago, except for Maggie [Gard], who lives in Indianapolis. She’s the only straggler.

The Chronicle: How is that working for you guys?

GEW: Indianapolis is one stretch of road away, so we make it work. Sometimes we have to do funny stuff. I was working on a new recording and when we played a show in Indiana, we took a mobile recording studio with us and recorded [Gard’s] vocals before the show in this room. I didn’t know when I was going to see her next, and I needed her vocals for the song. I did it on the fly with her before the show.

The Chronicle: You guys recorded your EP “The Killer Bee Scare” with Tyler Watkins and Richard Edwards of Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s. How did that partnership come about, and what was it like working with them?

GEW: The Indiana music scene is small. I booked a show for [Edwards] when I was 13, so I’ve known him for a while. I went to them with my songs, and I told them I wanted to take this band to a more serious place. So they helped me do it the right way. They kind of acted like parents. If the songs were a little kid, and the little kid had to get dressed for school, they helped me make sure it had all the right stuff. They were also part of our most recent album “Dames,” but this time it was different. [Edwards]was there last time for the entire process, and I went to his house a lot and played him the songs and got his opinion on it. He would help me with ideas for the arrangement—like what a producer does.

The Chronicle: Are you planning on putting out [another] full-length album soon?

GEW: I’m constantly recording, but I don’t know how soon we will do [another] full-length. We have the material for it, but I think we need to tour more with the recordings we have now before we think about doing that.

The Chronicle: Tell me a little bit about “Dames.” How does it differ from your previous EP?

GEW: It’s definitely dirtier. Our previous EP, even with the title, [is] cute and precious. “Dames” is still precious a little bit, but it’s raunchier, and there are some more controversial song topics. There’s more dirt on the guitar sound. There’s an acoustic song on this record, too, which I didn’t do with the last.

The Chronicle: How would you describe your sound?

GEW: It’s boppy. It’s like if you took a lot of ’50s and ’60s pop and put it in a blender with some folk and guy and girl vocals. Instead of making it into a shake, you put it in a frying pan and try to make eggs out of it [laughs].

The Bears of Blue River will play a show at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., on Nov. 17. Tickets are $10, and the show begins at 9 p.m. The album “Dames” is free and available for download at