Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and if any of you are like me (in the boathouse with no potential valentine) then you’re going to need some bear love. On February 11th and 12th at the Erikson Off Broadway Theater, the BEARatones brings you their latest concert, My Fuzzy Valentine that will ease you into this sappy, highly under-rated and over-populated holiday that makes some of us quiver with negative spirits. Stop what you’re doing and gear yourself up for a concert of music with a group of bears who has a message to deliver to you; yes – only you! Read our interview with Artistic Director Tony Gilkinson:
SGS: How did you guys first get involved?
Tony Gilkinson: The idea of the BEARatones came from when I was still living in Salt Lake City in 1995. Two of my friends and I harmonized to ‘O’ Holy Night’ at a Christmas party one night and we thought we should try and put something together as a trio. Well, that never got off the ground before I decided to move to Seattle in 1996. The first attempt only lasted about a year and then it wasn’t until 2004 that I tried it again and that was when 1st Tenor, Mike Krake joined the group. Steve Wolf joined in 2005 and the group followed by Clair Stevenson in 2007 when trimmed the group down from 10 singers. I worked with composer and arranger David Maddux and our then accompanist, James Roth to put together a group of 5 singers who could sing great 5 part harmony but also showcase their solo work as well. We have been performing steadily around the country ever since.
SGS: Who are your biggest influences?
TG: If you would have asked me in 2007 when the group had reformed to the current version, I would have said that Australian a cappella group Suade was our major influence. We owe those guys a lot as they shared some great arrangements with us and have been supportive all the way from Melbourne. So we really look to a lot of the small ensemble groups that not only sing well but really entertain their audiences. That said, we have worked very hard to fine tune our sound to our own unique BEARatones style.
SGS: Tell me a little bit about My Fuzzy Valentine.
TG: “My Fuzzy Valentine” is a new cabaret-style show that takes a musical look at love and the people and things that inspire it, all served up with bearish good humor that the BEARatones are known for over the years. So instead of two hours of the 5 of us standing in a semi-circle singing love songs, audience members can expect to see some tongue in cheek numbers about our love of men, cruising, stalking, the pain of courting a man you are interested in and even our love of FOOD.
SGS: What inspired you to produce this concert?
TG: Last April, we had sold out our show “Singing In Our Underpants” and we knew we wanted to keep going and so we immediately looked at the calendar and picked Valentine’s Day as the inspiration and the show just grew from there. However, it was only a month later when our other 1st Tenor Aaron Rodriguez made a professional career move with his partner to Phoenix, Arizona. So we needed to audition a new guy for the group and get him up to speed on our existing music plus the new stuff we had just introduced. Thankfully, we found Paul Bartholomew and he really hit the ground running and has been a great addition to the group.
SGS: Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?
TG: We have several. I mentioned David Maddux. Right after I decided to make a major change in the make up of the group in 2007, he wrote an original song for us called ‘Bear With Me’ and gave it to us as a gift for the new group. We love that song and will be performing it again this weekend. Christopher Smith, who joined us as our Music Director and Accompanist, after James Roth left in 2008 – has brought not only his incredible work on the piano, but wonderful original compositions and arrangements to the group. This weekend, we have two people joining Chris for our band include musician Tony Marcacci and singer/songwriter Shannon Grady. Lastly, the person who sat with Steve and I over coffee one day and then brought to us three songs inspired by those conversations is Seattle based composer and arranger, Charles Baker. Since then, Charles has written several original songs for us and did the a cappella arrangement of “My Buddy” that you will hear during the show this weekend.
SGS: What’s next for you after My Fuzzy Valentine?
TG: We have all committed to going back into the studio and finishing off our CD. We have three songs in the can, but we have several more from “Singing In Our Underpants” and “My Fuzzy Valentine” that we would like to include. So that is our main focus for the next few months. Then we will start working on our next show. A couple of the guys would love to take on the Holiday Season, but it is a crowded time of year to put on a show. So we’ll see…
SGS: What would you say to an LGBT youth member of our community who is considering life or death?
TG: Choose Life. The BEARatones support Bears Against Bullies which raises money for The Trevor Project through the selling of shirts and pins through GRRRWear.com . And the Bear Community originated 30 years ago for men who felt the gay community was unwelcoming to guys who did not fit the body norm. So any kid who feels like they do not belong because of who they are attracted to or do not look like what is expected – look to us. We have all been there and it does get better. We all have our careers outside of the BEARatones and we get together to sing because we love music and we love singing together.
SGS: How would you describe your frustrations with the potential anti-gay laws being thrown around in Uganda?
TG: Well, you can bet that The BEARatones will not be making a stop in Uganda on our world tour. In all seriousness, it is a horrible thing to think that homosexuality is illegal there and that someone could be placed in prison for being Gay. However the rhetoric that is being spewed in Uganda isn’t much different from what is still happening here in the U.S. Even now, as we talk about this the Indiana State House has voted to sending a constitutional amendment to the floor banning same-sex marriage, even though it is already illegal. Mexico, Canada, Spain, Argentina, Belgium, Iceland, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands all have Gay Marriage. Civil Partnerships and the like are recognized in so many countries today, but only about 10% of US States do at this time, and we have states working to reduce that number.
SGS: What is your favorite animal?
TG: I feel like this is a question from James Lipton from “Inside the Actors Studio”. Is “What’s your favorite curse word next? Cause if it is, it would be ‘Fu#@ Me!” Anyway, getting back to your question, I would have to go with the obvious… “Bear”
SGS: If you could talk dirty to me or any member of Seattle Gay Scene, what would you say?
TG: [Laughs] “Woof! Yeah, Fu#@er – If you do not cum to the BEARatones concert, we may have to come to your house and give you some personal instruction on what the Masochism Tango is all about. C’mon! Get your Bear On!”