Grolar Bears release album inspired by fictional "Blaxpoitation" movie

Categories: Vinyl Release
Grolar Bears Photo 2.JPG
Betsy Collins
The Grolar Bears, like many musicians, face an overwhelming choice of sounds and instruments laid out before them, yet the 19-piece Minneapolis band was able to hone down their sound and has latched onto using their new album Cos: The Original Motion Picture as their lifebeat.

In this new environment of an over-saturated music scene, it's easy to forget that music can inhabit other worlds: of lushness, joy, or another story created entirely around the music -- a story set around an imaginary movie.

Gimme Noise: Nineteen people in a band. How does everyone's roles play out onstage?

Jonathon Kramer: Grolar Bears acts as a community and family. We all strive for complete communication on and off stage. And being such a large group everyone needs to know their roles and parts. The groove is dependent on that cohesion. The group began with myself on bass, Dave Afdahl on piano and Andy Myers on drums. The bass guitar really dictates the direction of the song. It's funk, bass is always going to play a major role. I present a written bass part to my percussion partner Andy Myers and within seconds, we are grooving. Our beat helps map out the congas/bongo's, shaker's and guitar's role which are to layer, give textures and different rhythms. Dave Afdahl then adds piano as a form of harmony. We bring in our three person string section, four person wind section, and five person gospel as a form of melody. 

On stage, we just communicate and have fun. It sounds silly, but I hear all of the musicians' personality in their playing. The solos and fills represent who they are as individuals. We may only be making eye contact, but we are having a full conversation on stage. I love that about the band; it's nineteen individuals but one funky mass.

You say the album was recorded in dozens of places spanning over a year. Who coined the term "guerrilla recording," and how do you describe it? What's the craziest/most memorable place you recorded?

I purchased some recording gear (Digi 002 for the IPR and McNally geeks) in high school and have been toying around with it since then. Two years ago, I wanted to record a funk album and called my closest college friends and Twin Cities musicians to see if they wanted to be part of the project. This was also a sneaky way of me learning how to record a funk band. We became obsessed with tone. We wanted the instruments to be as organic as possible. They needed to sound '70s-ish.

The songs and instruments deserve quality acoustics. We could not afford Paisley Park, so we did what we thought was necessary and snuck into places and used their rooms. We had a mobile recording studio which was a suitcase filled with hardware and microphones. We snuck into churches, band rooms, and auditoriums. The reverb in some of these churches sounded like God talking to us. It was incredible.

For most places, we ventured into them when no one was there. A few places we taped down the door latches during business hours and came back at night. That was a necessity to be able to use a 10 foot Steinway grand piano. It was exciting.

We began to call it "guerrilla recording" because where ever we needed to record with took our suitcase. It was about getting the tone at all costs. It was dangerous, exhilarating, yet organized. One time we did get caught. We were in a church in South Minneapolis and the priest walked in on our gospel recording session.   He was upset and loud. Catching him off guard, I immediately thanked him and the church for letting us record there. I then follow up by complimenting his secretary (which I assumed he had), and said she was pleasant to work with. I pretended that we were suppose to be there and I knew what I was talking about. At the end of our conversation, he wished us luck for our "Christian gospel" album.

Any particular track that is your favorite off the new album?

"Lucious Fox" stands out as a favorite to me. It oozes '70s "Blaxploitation" funk. It was the first song that I toyed with the guitarists of Sans Aura. Sans Aura is a "riot grrrl noise band" from the Cities and I loved how they used sound as a form of landscaping. I wanted these arrangements to be immersed in a sonic soundscape. I am huge nerd for the sound of OK Computer, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Loveless, and The Downward Spiral.

On "Lucious Fox" I used the noise as the villain from the movie. It seeps its way into the song like a cancer or infection. Just before it seems like all hope is lost, the gospel breaks free and sings to the masses. The chorus lyrics of the songs are close to the heart. "I want someone more for my children, peace and a home, why do I fear?" All the profit of the show is going to Second Harvest Heartland. I hate knowing kids go hungry.

Grolar Bears Photo 1.jpg
Betsy Collins





Most of these pieces on the album could almost be more arrangements than songs. Why do you suppose it turned out this way?


The idea was to not have a front person or lead instrument, or to create arrangements rather than pop songs. We grew up on Motown but we fell in love with the scores of "Blaxploitation" movies. I love the deeper connection you get when you watch a movie with a powerful score. It was something challenging too. Once we began writing arrangements, the idea of a funk score came into our heads. Then we let our imaginations run wild and we created an imaginative "Blaxploitation" movie to score. The songs' themes would resemble the story line of a movie.

Track 1: "Dr. Afwho's Strange Adventure" is the theme of our
protagonist. They are cool, groovy, badass.
Track 2: "Turtle Revenge" is the introduction of our villains. It's
mysterious and dark.
Track 3: "Peachy PG" This is the 70s porno groove song. Self-explanatory.
 Track 4: "Lucious Fox" is the crisis of the movie. The audience sees
the "Man" and his master plan taking shape. One can feel and hear the
infection of noise grow in the music.
Track 5: "Funk Brothers and Sisters" is when the protagonist with his
funk brothers and sister challenge that plan.
Track 6: "Secret Song" shows the group of funk renegades succeeding in
stopping the "Man."
Track 7: "Reprise" would have played during the credits.

The album tracks could almost be a narrative to a movie. Would it be a movie that you made up? 


Once we began to write a score to an imaginative "Blaxploitation" movie, ideas of the plot came into be. The protagonist is a musician who also sneaks into a church to record and overhears a troubling conversation.

The "Man" was bringing in drugs threw the church while a dirty priest was disturbing them after Mass. He is seen and caught but escapes! Now he has to fight for community and bring down the "Man" But the "Man" is no sucker. As the story developed, we thought it would be an incredible idea to shot a fake trailer for the "Blaxploitation" movie.

Liking a  a documentary called "100," which was about a group of runners who ran a 100 miles straight for charity, I connected with its director, John Mackin, and proposed the idea of us writing and shooting a fake "Blaxploitation" trailer.  For three months, we filmed car chases, shoot outs, junkie fights. At the end, we had a ten minute long trailer that can be viewed at our website, www.grolarbears.com, and a longer trailer that will premiere at the show. It's a celebration of those early "Blaxploitation" movies.

The opening line is a narration: "Are you sure you can dig this? This is the tale of two cities! One of the baddest cats, yeah, a solider of soul, funk his faith, enough groove to appease all the needs, can ya dig?"

Why release on vinyl when it's not as accessible as other mediums?

We released it onto vinyl for multiple reasons. The target markets are funk and soul connoisseurs -- DJs similar to Hipshakers and Hot Pants, or record collectors. We worked two years on this record and we want the listener's whole attention. We want our audience to sit down and listen to it all the way through. One can't skip a song easily on vinyl. Plus vinyl has better sound quality and it's something I can frame above my toilet.

What can we expect to see at the vinyl release show?

A whole lotta dancing! It's going to be FUNKY. To start the night, in between bands and closing the show, funk and soul DJ Hipshakers will be spinning some classic jams. The opening band, The Max Corcoran Project is a jazz trio who uses loads of reverb and loop pedals.

It's great to see the turn around and Max Corcoran solo or harmonize on top of his looped sax. The next band is Saltee who will give an incredible performance. The best way I can describe their style is an indie, urban, organic, neo-classical trio steam driven by Afro-Cuban beats made by the body/human voice. Crazy I know!

Then Grolar Bears will attack the stage, all 19 of us! We will be playing through the album
with a few covers. Half way through our set, we will be focusing on our next project. We have recently been asked to do a score to a real documentary that focuses on House of Talents. It is an organization that connects talented artisans in developing countries to consumers worldwide so that through their work, they may construct the lives they envision for themselves. We received a rough cut of the documentary and during our set we will perform a live score to 15 minutes of it. Come join the community of Twin Cities funk.

The Grolar Bears will release Cos: The Original Motion Picture on vinyl on Sunday, May 27, 2012 with The Max Corcoran Project, Saltee, and DJ Hipshakers at the Triple Rock Social Club.
18+, $5, 8:30 pm



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