Monday, September 2, 2019

Chicago band Kid Bear to celebrate release of new album with show at FitzGerald's


Chicago musician Matt Neuroth experienced a life-changing moment when he was living in New York City and the legendary Steve Earle stopped in the store he was working at, Matt Umanov Guitars.

"He picked up an acoustic guitar and just started strumming some chords," Neuroth related. "And…I don’t know how to put it except to say that, when he played G and C, it was every country song ever written. When I played G and C, it was just a couple of chords. But, when he did it, it was deep; it had soul and groove and power. It really blew my mind. I’d been touring with all these loud rock bands (including Oh My God) and had all these chops, but he had the song in every strum. I’ve been chasing that ever since."

These days, Neuroth is releasing music under the name Kid Bear. Earle's influence can be heard on Kid Bear's latest release, "EP 2." To celebrate the release of "EP 2," Neuroth and his band will perform Sept. 5 at FitzGerald's, 6615 W Roosevelt Road, Berwyn. 

Also on the bill is The Claudettes. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, available at

I had the chance to talk to Neuroth about the EP and other topics.

Q – Great talking to you. In sitting down to make "EP 2," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 

Great talking to you, as well! 

It’s an interesting question with this EP because, in a lot of ways, my goals for this EP were really more personal than musical. For most of my career in music, I’ve really struggled with perfectionism. 

I would make recordings and then decide they weren’t good enough for one reason or another and then I’d just basically bury them and move on to the next one. Predictably, this has meant that I’ve done a super horrible job of getting anyone to listen to the music or to care.

They never even had the opportunity because I guess I was just too afraid of failure to really put it out there.

So, this EP is different for a few reasons. The first is that it’s a mix of new songs and some older ones that, with the distance that time brings, I decided actually might be good enough and that I wanted to share wit people. And secondly, we’ve actually hired a publicist and are going to try and see if we can get some attention.

So yeah…I mean, I care a ton about the craft of songwriting and of record making and I could talk about that for hours. But I also just want to push myself and find out if anybody other than me actually might like my music.

I’ve never really had any sort of fan base and I’m simultaneously terrified and super excited to find out what that might be like and whether my music could actually mean something to people other than my family and friends.

Q – The first few chords in the song "A Simple Thing" sound like they could be in a Steve Earle song. How much of an impact did Steve Earle have on this EP and your music in general?

If I’m getting anywhere close to sounding like Steve Earle, I must be on the right track! It’s funny…in a way, I don’t actually spend a ton of time listening to Steve Earle himself (although I really enjoyed his recent "So You Wannabe an Outlaw" album), but he had a really huge influence in the sense that he just really opened my ears to the power and importance of the song. 

Of course you need a good song, but I’d always kind of been drawn to big, complicated songs – Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Radiohead. Even if the songs were simple chordally, they had big riffs or complicated arrangements or were hard to sing. Or all of the above! 

But just hearing in-person the power of a couple simple chords really opened my ears to all this old country and folk music. My personal style still has a lot of rock and roll in it, but I just fell in love with trying to do more with less and thinking about songs from a place of groove and melody and storytelling rather than fancy riffs. 

The opening track from my new EP, “A Simple Thing," for instance, is just those same three chords throughout with no real variations.  But those old country songs…they’re not flashy, but they’re DEEP. 

I think I used to chase flashy and now I’m trying to dig deep. 

Q – So can you still remember the day that Steve Earle stepped into Matt Umanov Guitars in Greenwich Village? What do you remember about that day? How did you feel following his performance?

Well, I’ve simplified the story a bit for the purpose of the bio because I actually worked at Matt’s and Steve was a regular customer. So, my first impression of him was just how friendly and absolutely hilarious he is.

He’s a fabulous storyteller in-person and just very charismatic in a down-to-earth kind of way, which intrigued me immediately. But I absolutely remember the first time I experienced him just conjuring up a whole song in a single chord.

There was a rack of less expensive guitars in the middle of the sales floor and he picked up a little Seagull guitar. They’re like $300 guitars and great for the price, but it’s not some vintage Martin or something.

He picked it up, strummed a G chord for a minute – BOOM magic! – and then put it down and said, “those are really great little guitars.” He left a couple minutes later and I picked up that guitar and…ya know…just a G chord.

No magic. He summoned like a whole genre and I summoned…a G chord. Nothing special at all. 

That just blew my mind because it was such a stark contrast: same chord, same exact guitar…and the results were so stunningly different. I still enjoy playing lead guitar and such, but that really redirected my head.

Q – Do you think it was fate that you happened to be in the store at the time? What kind of music do you think you would be making these days if that encounter didn't happen?

When I moved to NYC, I had actually decided that maybe I should “grow up and get a real job” or something and try to quit pursuing music so seriously. But I needed a job – any job – in order to actually move and it just so happened that I walked into Matt Umanov’s about an hour after one of their sales people had just said he was quitting.

So, they pretty much hired me on the spot and then I ended up working there for three years and getting to meet a lot of my heroes and finding new heroes and just generally getting inspired all over again. And it wasn’t just Steve Earle, but some of the most significant relationships and experiences of my life came directly out of that store, including my wife, some of my current bandmates, lifelong friends, crazy tour adventures, ill-advised nights in the bar and all the rest.

So yeah, I think it was fate in a lot of ways and, without it, I might not be making music at all!

Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it? 

Great question and my honest answer is that I’m still trying to figure it out.

I moved back to Chicago from Brooklyn in 2012 and then my wife and I welcomed a couple little kids into our lives, so let’s just say it’s been a lot harder to have the time and energy to really get out on the scene like I did in NYC. 

That said, I think this show we have coming up at FitzGerald’s on 9/5 is a clue. FitzGerald’s is such a great venue and certainly a real home to so much Americana and traditional American musical styles. 

And it’s right down the street from where I live! And we’re playing with The Claudettes, who have a unique take on blues, ragtime, punk…well…you just gotta hear them. 

I played with their chief madman and piano player, Johnny Iguana, in his old band, Oh My God, and we’ve been friends for years. And I knew the guitarist in my band, Dave Mendez, in college here in Chicago.

A place like New York is so full of change and excitement, but it’s harder to have roots there. But Chicago is just so full of amazing musicians who are lifers, ya know?

Actors, musicians, etc. Chicago makes it possible to be a serious artist and still afford your life and that’s something I think is amazing. 

And the kids sleep through the night now, so my wife and I can actually get out of the house once in a while and I’m excited to explore the scene in a lot more depth.

Q – What is the significance of the band's name? 

My real name is Matt Neuroth, which nobody can spell, pronounce, or remember. So, we needed a name!

I used to go by “Matt Lenny” (long story), but I wanted a band name because I’m not usually a solo acoustic act. Then one day, my son was talking to me about bears (he’s five now, so bears are pretty interesting) and he asked me about “kid bears” because he didn’t know the word cub.

It just kind of stuck with me as a phrase and I like the way it could sound kind of indie or kind of folky and also that it came from my kid and something he was excited about, so I went with it. Like I said at the beginning, I’m trying to overthink things less and just roll with it.

Q – I understand that you work for a software company. How do you juggle that job with being a musician as well as a husband and father?

It’s not easy! And I say that in a “first world problems” kind of way.

I mean I’m incredibly lucky to have the life that I do and it’s a hell of a lot easier than mining coal or something. But yeah, I think the biggest thing is that I married well.

My wife really understands that music is something I viscerally need to do or I just can’t function. She’ll periodically say to me, “Your brain is breaking! You’re awful to be around. Go play guitar!” which is simultaneously accurate, kind of insulting, and a huge relief! 

And then it’s a combination of commitment – I get up at 5 a.m. a lot of days to go play music in my little home studio – and just making it a priority. At my job for instance, one of the reasons I decided to work at my current company is because they were OK with me keeping a guitar in the office and taking music breaks periodically when inspiration strikes.

Tech can definitely have hard hours and stressful situations, but they do also place real value on creativity and they understand that me playing guitar for 30 minutes might allow me to be twice as effective for the rest of the day. But I had to ask for that, which was kind of hard to work up the courage to do.

It’s also had good effects that I didn’t really expect. For instance, I recorded and mixed “A Simple Thing” entirely at home out of sheer necessity.

Between not having enough hours in the day and having real-world expenses that eat up my money, I couldn’t hire a producer and go to the studio with the band like I would have in the past. So, I just had to learn to do it myself and, while it was not easy and I’m still not gonna win a Grammy for “best mix” or anything, it’s pretty empowering that I can make professional sounding records at odd hours in my own house!

Q – Do you have any dream projects or collaborations (perhaps working with Steve Earle?)

I think I’d be afraid to work with Steve Earle, but also pretty excited. He’s the real deal as a songwriter and I kinda think he might think my songwriting isn’t up to snuff…I mean he learned from Townes Van Zandt!

But it would be an amazing learning experience to write a song with him.

I’d love to make a record with Dave Cobb in Nashville. I love the old school way he works – live in the studio, no pre-production - and he just keeps producing some of my favorite current records. 

That’s actually a goal of mine that I blogged about a while back. It’s not just that the recording process would be awesome, but I’d give up a lot to be part of the scene in Nashville he seems to be at the center of – Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, John Prine, Brandi Carlile, and on and on.

The music is great and they all seem like super cool people, too.