Steven Kellogg catches ‘The Bear’
“Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.” Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers are really starting to catch that bear. The Sixers’ new album, “The Bear,” which hit stores in September, addresses the many trials and tribulations of life, as well as the chronological progression from being a teenager to middle aged. “Our manager actually came up with the title, and it’s very fittin,.” said Sixers’ bassist Kit “Goose” Karlson.
A full time act for six years now, the Western Mass. based rock group has only now really begun to take flight. “The Bear,” released on Vanguard Records, debuted at number 189 on the Billboard 200, thrusting them a little closer to rock-star status. Their hit single, “Shady Esperanto and the Young Hearts,” has endeared them to the mainstream crowd and has received radio play all over the country.
Their reputation for passionate, energetic live performances and a wide range of instrumental abilities works in their favor as well. Karlson, for example, is an accomplished bassist, pianist, and tuba player. He even rocks out on the accordion on a few songs. Drummer Brian “Boots” Factor is versatile as well, as he is known to give the drum set a rest every now and then to throw down on the mandolin and the banjo. “We all look up to The Band, who play a lot of different instruments,” said Karlson. “So during shows we try to break out the accordion, or the tuba, or the banjo at least once.”
Their recent success has been no stroke of luck, however, but rather the product of a lot of hard work and more time spent producing a record than they had spent ever before. “Our biggest problem before was that we didn’t have enough time. We would be touring eight months out of the year,” said Karlson. “This time we spent about six months making the record, whereas before we would go in and do it all in two weeks.” The attention to detail can really be felt on the record, as well as their increased collaboration while song writing. According to Karlson, Kellogg would do the majority of the song writing on previous records. This time around, Karlson and Factor had more opportunity to contribute their own ideas. The Sixers have also begun to play with new guitarist Sam Getz, from Ohio.
The three core members, consisting of front man Kellogg, Karlson, and Factor, all attended UMass Amherst at the same time, although their vision of the Sixers was far from fruition. “We knew of each other, but didn’t necessarily know each other,” said Karlson. Years later, Kellogg-who had been performing as a solo act for some time-was working at a ticket kiosk when he ran into Karlson. They soon arranged a jam session. Coincidentally, Factor also met up with Kellogg, and asked him if he wanted to play sometime. “We all kind of had crappy jobs at the time, and then randomly got together,” said Karlson. Factor and Karlson, who were both in dissipating bands at the time, joined forces with Kellogg full time and in 2003, the Sixers were born.
After their debut release, “Bulletproof Heart,” and their follow-up self-titled album, both released with Universal Records, the Sixers switched gears and released “Glassjaw Boxer” in 2007 with OAR’s label Everfine. “The guys in OAR have been good friends of ours, and we figured it was a pretty good situation for one album,” said Karlson. The album was met with critical acclaim, as Brian Mansfield of USA Today listed it on his Top Five of the Year. The Sixers have now released “The Bear” with Vanguard, and appear to have found a home with them.
With the rising popularity of their single, “Shady Esperanto and the Younghearts,” the band and their colleagues at Vanguard figured it was time to shoot a music video. Since they all went to UMass, the state’s flagship campus provided the perfect setting. “I got a call at a friend’s wedding about 10 days before the start of band camp from our manager who actually pitched the idea to us to shoot the video with the marching band,” said Karlson. A former member of the band himself, Karlson approached band director George Parks with the idea, who readily agreed. The lighthearted video, which features members of the Sixers dancing around in marching band uniforms, was recorded all in one morning session of band camp and two hours into the afternoon. Directed by Factor himself, the video has quickly become a YouTube hit and has also afforded the Sixers a unique opportunity to rekindle ties with their roots. “The song itself is about never growing up, and that’s what UMass is all about, the whole Peter Pan thing.”
In the meantime, the Sixers are in the midst of a nationwide tour that will have on the road through the end of February. They’ll be stopping by their old stomping grounds on December 27th, where they will be playing at the Iron Horse in Northampton.
David Mansfield can be reached at email@example.com.