Jeff Gustafson and I have played together in two different bands, and all during the time we’ve played together, he would periodically mention a side project he had going with some of his friends called “Thieving Winona”. He wouldn't talk about it much. He was never quite disparaging about it, but all indications were that it wasn't a "real" band, more just friends goofing around in the basement. He didn't seem to take it very seriously, so when he mentioned that they were playing a show, I was surprised, and very intrigued.
Intrigued, you ask? Yes. The reason I wanted to see them was because one of the founding precepts of this band is that each person play an instrument they'd never played before. Jeff, a great drummer, was the lead vocalist who' never sung before. DeeJay Sharton, ordinarily a guitar player was the drummer who'd never drummed before. Mat Kister, normally a bassist or drummer became the guitarist who'd never played guitar before, and Brady Johnson had never played anything before, so he became the bassist who'd never played bass. This can either be a recipe for crap or greatness, and in the hands of these four, it's definitely the latter. Their show blew me away for a thousand reasons. The music is great. Heavily influenced by old-school punk, but with incredible melodies. They can crank out incredible rockers like "Sweet & Low", "Three Times" or "Ultra Big Phil", and turn around and play beautiful songs like "Wormcheck" or "Prescription Anti-Gravity". I was shocked by Jeff's incredible lyrics. I mean seriously, how the hell does he think of this stuff? Heads gilded in gold? Ouija boards in the outhouse? Racoon Faces? The song Ultra Big Phil is was taken from the logo on a convienience store cup, but has nothing to do with cups. Then there's Jeff himself. Suave Lumberjack? Fat Elvis making Pancakes? Tom Jones on speed? It's impossible to call, but the show Jeff puts on must be experienced! This is a band with great songs, but as players they're kind of inexperienced on their instruments, so when I see/hear them, it brings back everything I loved about The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and other early punk bands who'd not played instruments before they started up their band. The musical performance isn't perfect, but that only adds to the quality of the songs.
Perhaps the saddest part of all this is that by the time you're reading this, the band doesn't exist anymore. DeeJay is moving to Colorado, and some of the band don't want to continue on without him, then after that, Mat starts school in the fall, so even if they got another drummer, the band wouldn't be playing for that much longer anyway, so they've decided to just call it quits. Despite the fact that this band has only played about 4-5 shows in their short life, they will always be one of my favorite bands in Lincoln.
SCS: How and when did Bear Eats Fish, or more correctly, Thieving Winona form as a band?
Mat: Thieving Winona started back in December of 2002 (and yes, I have a recording of our first ever practice that proves it!). Originally, Mike Decatur (Minutia Stew) was asked to sing, but Jeff showed a great interest so we inserted him into the starting lineup and that's how it came to be.
Deejay: I think we started as a joke, but after our first band practice and our first recording people seemed
intrested, so we decided to keep doing it.
Brady: Well, the whole concept for the band was that we were going to all play an instrument that we'd never played
before. So DJ who is a guitarist picked up the drum sticks, Mat who had played Drums and Bass in other bands with DJ got a guitar, and I had never played anything ever so i picked up a bass. So we screwed around and wrote a few songs. Eventually we decided
we should probably find a singer. At the time Jeff was living with DJ and I, we asked him and it kind of just came together. All of that was probably about a year and a half ago. We went though big periods where Jeff couldn't make it to practice because of other
commitments, so it took a long time to be ready for a show.
SCS: How would you describe your band or your sound to someone who’s never heard or seen you?
Mat: Crappy 4 chord rock
Brady: I always have a big problem describing us to people.
I guess i usually say we're kind of garage rock with a
big pixies influence with fucked up lyrics. If the
person goes who are the pixies I tell them never
Deejay: I think we sound like a bunch of people who don't know
how to play, working well together.
Jeff: John Irvin describes it best: "Suave lumberjack Rock." We'll try and entertain you as best we can.
SCS:How would you describe a Bear Eats Fish show? -- If people come to see you live, what can they expect?
Brady: A very large man prancing about the stage singing
about animals while the band makes a lot of noise.
Mat: Loud. Jeff is funny. The rest of us are dull and boring since we can't play our instruments which nixes any type of rocking out on stage for fear of screwing up horribly.
Deejay: Well, live, we are a fruit cake of fun, over the top vocals, way to many hooks, and goofy break-downs. We
don't play well, but we play hard.
SCS: What types of music and which musicians/groups influenced the band members?
Mat: I wish I could be influenced by other bands, however since I can't play guitar, I just put my fingers on strings and make noise. I don't know what the other members are influenced by.
Brady: Man there is a huge range of bands, obviously the
pixies, nirvana, and grunge in general. I personally
listened to a lot of punk music so that's in there
somewhere too. Bands like nofx, bad religion, less
than jake. I suppose there is a touch of indie rock
influence as well, saddle creek stuff, like cursive
and death cab for cutie. I don't know i just like
making lots of loud noise.
Deejay: I kind of like The Dirt Bombs, and have borrowed a lot from Jeff's drumming style.
SCS: I have to confess, I thought Thieving Winona was a lame name, so when you changed it to Bear Eats Fish, I was glad, but considering your other choice, The Colon Polyps, I think you still made the wrong decision. Where did the name Bear Eats fish come from, and does it mean anything in particular?
Mat: Thieving winona came from DJs obsession with Winona
Ryder. He is in love with her. So we were teaseing DJ
about her and how she's a cleptomaniac, when somebody
said, she's thieving winona and we took that as a
name. Bear eats fish came from after a practice we
were all discussing how were were tired of the
thieving winona band name and wanted to change it, so
people were just tossing out band names and that was
one of them. We narrowed it down to that one after a
bit. I think Colon Polyps is a disgusting band name
and refused to have it.
Mat: Means nothing. Jeff just made it up out of the blue at a show. The name "Thieving Winona" has an interesting backstory, but I'm not tellin!
Jeff: I believe it came from the lips of Brady. It has come to mean alot to us as of late--what exactly, I am not sure.
Deejay: I have no idea what the hell our name means, and I still like Thieving Winoana much better.
SCS: When Jeff announced from the stage during your very first show that you were changing the name of the band, did you guys know he was going to do that, or did he just do that in public because once you do it in front of a room full of people, you kind of can’t go back on it?
Deejayt: Jeff anounced it with out me knowing. The change of name was as new to me as it was to you.
Mat: He mentioned in passing, jokingly we all thought, that he was going to change our name. We didn't know he was going to change it to Bear Eats Fish. Although I might be mistaken on the specifics, I don't really remember. ask jeff.
Brady: I don't remember to tell you the truth...i think we decided on it before hand.
SCS: How have you grown, musically and creatively, since the band first started?
Mat: um....I can play power chords a little better than when I started.
Brady: We all sort of know how to play our instruments now.
Deejay: Well, none of us knew how to play any of our instruments when we got started, and now we know how
to fake it well. I think that is a great step in the right direction.
SCS: Who writes the songs, and how do they go from someone's idea to a finished product?
Deejay: Brady writes all the songs but messing up, when we hear him make a mistake, we turn it into a new song,
so basicaly they're all writen like a 3rd grader coloring outside the lines.
Mat: Actually, We write the songs collectively. Brady and I have written most of the musical aspect of it, then Deejay and Jeff complete it with drums and vocals, respectively.
Brady: Yeah, I think it's a 50/50 split between mat and I. He'll
come to practice with something and we'll hammer it
out. With me, i'll be screwing around on the bass and
both mat and DJ will shout at me to keep playing
whatever i was playing and a song will form out of
that. Then Jeff will sit and write lyrics while we're
working out how we want the song to go. Really i'm
amazed every time we actually get a song worked out.
Jeff: The music is usually written before I get there, I just come up with lyrics and a
SCS: Jeff, Where do you get inspiration from for your lyrics, and why don't you tell our readers the story behind "Ouija Board In The Outhouse"
Jeff: I had a neighbor who lived about a mile down the road who worshiped the devil. He
used to read the Satanic Bible and cut himself on the school bus. I remember going
over to his house and he'd be playing with a Ouija board and listening to Rush. He
was like 17 and I was 8. One day my brother and I found a Ouija Board in a land
fill behind our house. We really didn't know what it was, but it looked cool so we
hung it up in our fort. One day our dad saw it and told us of the evil powers it
possesed. Being the gung-ho do-gooders we were, my brother and I decided to burn
it. We placed the Ouija in a wheelbarrow atop a bed of straw and and shot holes
through it with our guns while it burned. Believe it or not, it kept coming back to
SCS: What was your most memorable live performance and what made it that?
Jeff: Scenefest 2 was definitely the must Un(re)memorable experience--thanks to Mr. Rempe and Mr. Clark
(Dan and Ben made a point of getting Jeff all liquored up before the performance)
Mat: I'd have to say our first show, since we had practiced for over a year and it was
the first time we played in front of an audience.
Brady: I would have to say our first show at the 9th St
Basement. I was in the Hot carls briefly and the
closest thing we ever got to a green room is that
gross little room off the side of the stage at The
Grove with that closet bathroom. We go to this place
and they have a room with a big screen TV, couches,
and beer. There was even a velvet rope to keep out
the riff raff. Then when we actually got up to play
it was great. I was screwing around getting my bass
ready and i looked up and there were all these people
just a few feet away. They all had this look of
anticipation. We were all nervous as could be. Then
we started playing and everything just seemed alright.
All the people were smiling and getting in to it. We
didn't play our best but it felt great.
Deejay: Most memorable would have to be the first show. The fact that it actually went well and that people were
intrested was quite a shock.
SCS: Most embarrassing moment in a live show?
Jeff: It's all a little embarrasing for me.
Mat: Screwing up Science Killer after I started laughing uncontrollably during Jeff's vocals... "and my tamborine says chiki-chiki-chiki-chiki"
Brady: Personally I think our whole Hallum performance was
embarrassing, now let's never mention it again...
Deejay: I can't drum, thats hard to hide.
SCS: What do you like and dislike about the music scene in Lincoln?
Jeff: There are multitudes of very special people--this is good.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of support/interest--this is bad
Mat: Like: people lying and saying that they like you after a show. Big ups for ego boosters. Dislike: elitist attitudes of a lot of bands. I hate bands that think they are great when they are simply crappy 4 chor....er,..next question.
Brady: I like how some bands are very supportive of one and
other. It also seems like there is quite a bit in the
opposite direction. Like SlamOmaha.com's message
boards. It always seems to me like there is a ton of
trash talking about bands on there. I quit going
there a long time ago though so maybe it's different
SCS: No, it's the same old shit over there. Who are some local bands or musicians that you admire or feel should be
Mat: I like Minutia Stew a lot. Mikes a musical genius. I am really amazed at some of the crazy stuff he thinks of. And of course Jeff Gustfson on drums and vocals. I haven't seen a local drummer as good as he is and he has an great unique stage persona and performance.
Brady: I admire Rent Money Big, Suzy Dreamer, Minutia Stew,
and the Zyklon Bees even though i like Caeaser the
Greaser as a band name more than the Zyklon Bees.
Keep an eye out for Sad Old Lady From the South.
Deejay: Jeff and Madison. My drums only steal from their table scraps.
SCS: I had gotten a letter from someone at UNL prior to the Hallam Benefit recommending I "preview" The Zyklon Bees music to make sure it wasn't pro-nazi propaganda. I assured them it wasn't. What's in a name, If I beat someone to death with an umbrella, does it make the umbrella evil? should no band ever be called The Umbrellas because of it? Enough of my speechifying..what was the first album/CD each of you bought?
Jeff: Album: Nevrmind-Nirvana, CD: Doubt--Jesus Jones
Mat: The first album I ever bought was Hootie and the Blowfish. However, the first cd I ever received was Kris Kross because my grandma thought that was the "in" thing when she got me my first cd player for christmas. ah, grandmas...don't you just love them.
Deejay: The Cars
Brady: I honestly don't remember, probably nirvana or nofx
or something similar like that. I remember the first
cd i got was a gift from my aunt and uncle, it was
Aerosmith: Big Ones. I think my mom took it for
herself eventually, which is good because she probably
appreciates it much more than i do.
SCS: Whose music are you listening to right now? -- What other bands would you recommend people check out?
Brady: In my car stereo i have the new Beastie Boys Cd. At
home i'm listening to The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi
Battles the Pink Robots, Gomez: Split the Difference,
and Matt Sharp's self titled cd. I really recomend
checking out Matt Sharp's solo stuff. Really
different then the Rentals or Weezer, but really
Jeff: Tripping Daisy, Camper Van Beethoven, Yngvei Malmsteen
Deejay: Supergrass, Decemberists, and Fire On Thursday.
Mat: Right now I am listening to Hum, A Perfect Circle, Deftones, Pixies and Nine Inch Nails. I would recommend that people check out Deadsy, Superchunk, and 10,000 homo dj's.
SCS: Amen on the Superchunk, I love them. What are your top five albums of all time.
Mat: The Fragile, Nine Inch Nails
Around the Fur, Deftones
The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails
Jeff: Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb--Tripping Daisy
Whipped Cream--Herb Alpert and the Tijiuana Brass
Key Lime Pie--Camper Van Beethoven
The Lonely Bull--Herb Alpert and the Tijiuana Brass
RAM--Paul and Linda
Brady: Beatles - The White Album,
David Bowie: Space Oddity,
Bad Religion: Suffer,
Nine Inch Nails: The Fragile,
Counting Crows: August and Everything After.
It's so hard to just pick 5. I think this list is really
effected by my mood at the time as well.
SCS: What single song, in the entire history of music, do you most wish you'd written?
Mat: "Stars" by Hum
Jeff: All Her Favorite Fruit--Camper Van Beethoven
Brady: i have no idea...I'll probably figure it out next
SCS:Are you planning on recording the rest of your songs that aren't on the first E.P., because If I don't have a studio version of "Wormcheck" there's gonna be trouble!
Jeff: I think there's a possibility
Brady: I think so, some band members want to go into a professional studio, while others think we should just
do it in DJ's studio.
Mat: Since Deejay is rich now, he has been boasting that he is going to pay for us to go through Presto Studios, however I don't believe him. Maybe we can just use his "portable studio in a box".....
SCS: So what's the deal with the future of the band, Deejay is moving away, and rather than get a new drummer, Mat wants to let the band die? What's up with that?
Jeff: That's a very good question.
Mat: Oh so its all my fault eh? I'm being blamed for destroying Bear Eats Fish?
SCS: That's the word around town
Mat: Ah well, that's how it goes I guess. Seriously, it wouldn't be the same if Deejay isn't in the band. I'm not a big fan of replacing members and I don't really want anyone else. Plus, I am going to be doing school full time as well as working as well as hopefully getting a film project off the ground this fall and I just wouldn't have much time for practice, let alone shows. Anyways, I hate the band and all the members. I'm taking my songs and getting the hell out of here!
Brady: Yeah, It wouldn't be the same without DJ. We've all known
each other for so long there is just chemistry there.
DJ really thinks he can make it back and forth from
Colorado to practice twice a month. We'll see how it
goes, but i think mat and i are just both pessimists.
We don't think it'll happen. Plus mat is starting
school this fall. Between all of us working, the
drive dj has to make, and schooling, it's going to be
real difficult to find a time to practice. Personally
i think we shouldn't kill the band, just let it go
into hibernation until things are less hectic. Mat
and i might try doing something different if this
falls through. I also have another friend who wants
to make music with me so we'll see what happens
Deejay: Death is a part of life, you'll die, i'll die, she'll die, they'll die. It sucks just like a chicken scratched johnson.
SCS: Anything else you want to share with our readers?
Mat: Never trust Greeks bearing gifts.....
Brady: It's been fun and i'm still in shock that anyone
actually likes the noise we make. Thanks to everyone
who has supported us and shown up to our shows.
Deejay: T.V. is the devil. Colorado is great, and drinking is better. Good money for doing nothing is greater than any driving force in the western part of your life, and of course don't forget to wash behind your ears!
- Tery Daly