In this highly informal, laugh-and-compliment-heavy Q&A interview with Bentgen and Bear In Heaven’s fashionably late Jon Philpot, both banter about their thoughts on late night New York City, how confounding human nature can be, and what exactly defines a “best pizza”. You can see our previous two interviews with Bear In Heaven here.
How long did the music video take?
Bentgen: We met up at this place, Best Pizza. Have you been to Brooklyn?
I have, but I have not been to Best Pizza. Is it the best?
Nick Bentgen (Bear In Heaven): It is not the best; I mean, yeah, sure! It’s the best. It’s the best pizza. I feel like… no comments about the pizza. I mean, it’s good pizza! I would just feel bad saying it’s the best; I don’t want to shortchange any other pizza places. But uh, we met at Best Pizza. It must have been a couple months ago. I guess it was June, and… they sent me this track, and it kind of blew my ears off. It was really good, but it was totally different from anything I’ve worked on before, so I was like, “Oh man, we could do so much cool stuff with this percussion and the way the track changes so much” — so maybe this is New York at night, and we just do a portrait of what goes on at night and let’s go out and kind of lose control a little bit, like the song does. I guess we were talking about it, and it turns out that because they’re in a band, they’re way cooler than me, and they know a whole lot of cool people, so they hooked me up with some of their friends. [Guitarist and keyboardist] Adam [Wills] — a lot of people love him, that’s for sure — and I would e-mail some of his friends, and they would be like, “Oh man, totally! Come over with a camera!” which is kind of not really New York. It’s not normal for New York for people to be like, “Yes, will you please come and film me?”… but mostly, it was me and my producer, who I work with a lot, Lisa [Kjerulff], just kind of spending a lot of late nights out in Brooklyn and Queens and Manhattan, just kind of trying to meet people and being like, “Hey, can I take your portrait? Do you want to be in a video?” and then the most magical stuff. But it was like a month. Six weeks. It was like a month.
That seems pretty short considering that the scope of it feels like it took a long time.
Bentgen: Yeah. It definitely did at certain times. There were times when we’d be up until 11, and then nothing was happening, and we’d be like, “Okay, let’s go home,” but then other nights, it was like, three, four, five, six in the morning, late nights, and those were the times when I was like, “Whoa, we spent a long time on this.” But it’s cool, because the song has so much energy, and it’s a weird energy, and I feel like that reminded me of the weird energy of New York at night.
What’s the percentage of strangers to acquaintances or friends?
Bentgen: Okay, so sometimes we would go out, and I would have liked cast my friends. I’d be like, “Luke, we’re gonna go to this party, and we’re going to ride the subway, and we’re going to walk under the [bridge], and that’ll be the night,” but then midway through, we’d meet a bunch of people, and then I’d be like, “Can I take your portrait?” I’d say, maybe 50% of the people I knew beforehand? Probably less? 25% to 15% were people that I knew, and then other people were total strangers.
What was the reception of the total strangers to being filmed? Was it difficult or easy?
Bentgen: It was funny, because that was kind of a reason to do the video, for me. I’m kind of not really always the most extroverted guy, but I can be, if I have to, so I forced myself to be like, “Hey, can I take your portrait?” or with some of the dancers, it was kind of a, “Can I hang out with you tomorrow night,” kind of thing. It was really good. The reception was really good. You wouldn’t expect New Yorkers to be that way, I guess, but I’ve made documentaries in Northern Michigan and a couple videos in Memphis and Arizona, and everybody around there — if you explain yourself — everybody is totally receptive, and I was worried in New York that people would be like, “Oh god, here’s this guy with a camera,” but actually, 90% to 95% of the people were like, “Oh yeah, totally, you can take my portrait or film me for five minutes.” I wouldn’t always ask beforehand, but.
Do you think it was because you were finding a bunch of late night hooligans?
Bentgen: (Laughs.) Yeah, totally. I think there was definitely that aspect to it, for sure. We talked about making the video, and I was like, “Yeah, we’ll start like, next week,” and I get home, and Adam had e-mailed me and was like, “Dude, there’s this drag show that has been going on for like, two years, and this is the two year anniversary, and you have to go tonight.” I was like, “Oh shit!” I’ve never been to a drag club; it was a drag event that happens every week — it’s actually really cool — but I’m like, a straight dude from Wisconsin that spends most nights watching Netflix, so I’m like, “Okay, I’ll go!” and so I went and kind of e-mailed Adam the next day and was like, “I called your bluff.” We were challenging each other, making sure we were touching a lot of the stuff you remember when you walk home at night.
That’s the great part about New York. So many things you remember walking home at night.
Bentgen: Yeah. I feel like… in your 20s, you sometimes have a story for your roommate or your friends, where you’re like, “I can’t believe what I just saw.” That’s what we were going for.
I read that some of the scenes were recreated from memories. Which were those?
Bentgen: Oh, the guy who…
(At this point, Jon Philpot of Bear In Heaven joins the conference call.)
Jon Philpot (Bear In Heaven): Hi… sorry… I was totally spacing out.
Bentgen: No worries, dude.
Philpot: Basically, whatever Nick says is the truth; he was the best guy that ever made a music video. What else did you want to know? He’s very smart; he’s handsome. And we’re not bad, too.
(Queue a long series of questions, answers, and small talk)
Well, let’s talk about your video! Though I don’t know what to do now, since I already asked Nick a bunch of questions…
Bentgen: We’ll pretend I didn’t say anything.
Philpot: Well, the truth is, he knows all about it. He was there. He was the one who flipped the script, and he did it. We were just these sort of bystanders that wanted him to do something crazy. He rose to the challenge. He did it.
He did a really good job, definitely. How did you guys come to know each other and collaborate, and how much did you communicate throughout the process?
Philpot: I would say there was a lot of communication from Nick’s side — probably not so much from my side.
Bentgen: Adam’s very chatty, and John is not chatty, but just was e-mailing a lot, and I felt like you were the one I really needed to impress, because you talked very little.
Philpot: Adam likes to talk more than I do. But I think I had faith. Let’s just say that.
Bentgen: Yeah. It was definitely a collaboration. I feel like — I had just met you through the label. I had made some videos for JagJaguwar before, and I got recommended through that. But I had met Adam in passing after a Small Black show, I think, and we were both a little too drunk to actually remember. It was like a one night stand with Adam. But then yeah, that was like June that we met up, at Best Pizza. The Best Pizza.
Philpot: Yeah, that’s right.
Hey Jon, is it the best pizza?
Philpot: It’s really good. It may be the best. I mean, it’s not the best pizza; there’s a lot of other…
Bentgen: (Laughs.) I said the exact same thing…
Philpot: But it’s really good. Did she ask you that exact same question?
Bentgen: Well, I was like… it is… no, it’s not… it is… no, it’s not.
Philpot: I mean, technically, it is the best… it’s Best Pizza… it’s really good, though. I do kind of crave it more often than not, I would say.
Bentgen: It’s a good sauce to cheese ratio, and its crust is good, too.
What’s the best, because this is what I’m always looking for when I’m going to New York, and I always find myself disappointed, and I’m always most satisfied by the jankiest pizza.
Bentgen: I feel like you have to be really drunk. I feel like the best pizza is when you’re like, “Whoa, this is the best pizza.” I feel like it’s more about you than the pizza place in New York, but maybe I’m wrong about that. I mean… people always say Lombardi’s, but I feel like the dive places are better for me.
Philpot: There’s a pizza tour you can take here. Yes. And it will take you to some of the borough’s finest pizza places. And I think it’s relatively inexpensive. I would suggest that if you’re into pizza, trying the pizza tour. You won’t regret it. You get to eat a lot of pizza.
But I might, because New York has the best food ever. I need it all; I need everything.
Philpot: I know. Tell me about it.
Yeah, you guys are lucky in that regard.
Philpot: There’s a lot of temptation. A lot of wallet temptations out there. It’s especially bad when you’re subscribed to food blog things like I do, and get e-mails about good food.
Bentgen: Are you a foodie, dude?
Philpot: Nahh… I eat food. I eat food.
Bentgen: Yeah, I used to cook, and now I don’t cook as much, but I need to. For sure.
Would you say there’s a difference going from Manhattan to Brooklyn to Queens in the middle of the night, or would you say it’s kind of the same through all the different neighborhoods?
Bentgen: Oh man, I kind of lost my mind on day four or five and couldn’t remember where I was all of the time, because I wasn’t really sleeping. But Lisa, the producer — we had a Zipcar, so we weren’t really doing the subway thing all of the time, which actually kind of helps you remember which borough you are in… but when we were in Brighton, it was a totally different vibe than like, Harlem. I don’t know. We went to so many different places, but they all have their own specific feelings, I feel like. You can tell you’re on the Lower East Side — but some things kind of blend together. It depends.
Philpot: The Brighton one was the scariest part for me.
Bentgen: Were you afraid that we were going to get like…? Those kids were all drinking Poland Spring bottles full of… full of liquid. That wasn’t water. They were all fifteen, and it was definitely their show, and they were very kind, but they were definitely showing me what I should film, in a good way. What do I know about Brighton? They were very welcoming and cool.
Which group of kids was that?
Bentgen: I think there’s a kid… they’re playing football and doing acrobatics on the boardwalk and being very, very argumentative with each other in a lively way. Like they’re getting into a fight, especially when the girls showed up. You should have seen the change. It was a bunch of fifteen-year-olds, and when the girls showed up, it was like, oof, the whole vibe changed.
Bentgen: There was one guy who was like, “What’re we doing dude?” and the other guy was like, “It’s the same every night, dude. We’re gonna be here on the boardwalk. We’re gonna hang out. The girls are gonna come by, and we’re gonna drink. That’s it.”
Bentgen: That was a fun time.
Yeah, I was surprised by the number of youth in it; it seemed at least half young kids.
Bentgen: Yeah, man. Those subway guys — it was crazy… it was kind of crazy what’s going on in New York right now. I don’t want to get into it, but it’s kind of a dicey thing to ask New York people if they like the showtime performers or not, and there’s a crackdown from the police about it. But it’s a real artform amongst some of the kids that are really good at it. There’s some really beautiful stuff, and they were really down to show us.
Philpot: I can totally imagine them being like, “Oh yeah, you wanna videotape this? Oh fuck yeah.”
Bentgen: Yeah, totally. It was very much that way. And we were out on the Bedford L and there was a busker guy who was playing guitar, and then these guys, for the camera, wouldn’t stop doing flips, and they were clearly taking all the money away from the guy with the guitar, and I felt bad, so I gave him money. But it was like — they were definitely one-upping each other for the camera, in a good way.
Jon, did you guys go on any of the nights of shooting?
Philpot: No. I was busy. I had to work, like crazy. Which was a great thing that Nick was able to forge ahead without us, because it was one of those times. I think we’ve been — except for one video — we’ve been in or been involved in the making of the video, and it’s always quite an undertaking, because usually, in that time of making videos, we’re juggling work and probably trying to figure out how to play our songs live. That’s exactly what we were doing. So, yeah. It was pretty… I was going through a crazy time with my jobby job. But it’s over now, so, I can just relax.
What’s your jobby job again?
Philpot: I edit.
Bentgen: I was incredibly stressed to find that out. I was like, “I gotta up my game.”
No, the editing is fucking ace. The editing is really good; I was actually just thinking that it’s one of the things that makes it as good as it is, for sure.
Philpot: Yeah, it’s a good edit. It is a good edit.
Bentgen: You guys totally elevated it, too. Whatever, this shouldn’t turn into a… but you guys totally elevated the challenge, in a good way. I was like, “I can make it better,” in a good way.
This is gonna be the worst interview; it’s just going to be you guys complimenting each other the whole time.
Philpot: Ugh, come on. What else could it be? It turns out… life, you know, we’re friends, now… we’re new friends… it’s good! Like, positive on all fronts!
Were there any friendships you made from this process? Have you guys let people know about the final product?
Bentgen: People were so excited about it that they were like, “Holy god! It just premiered on the New York Times!” I got a bunch of e-mails back. We film a portrait from somebody, and we get their e-mail address, and we never see them again. But a lot of people were really excited, which was cool.
Philpot: If I was randomly in that video, I’d be really excited.
Has this video — either making it or viewing it — changed the way you view New York or the people in it at all?
Bentgen: Everybody’s really nice? But I think that’s the thing you can say about New York. Everyone thinks there’s rude assholes, but they’re actually really nice; everybody’s really accommodating. That’s kind of a lame answer. I feel like I realized that it’s going to outlive me. I’m going to get old — or maybe I already am — and not be out there. And there are some people that are still out there, every night. It’s just kind of crazy that that person’s fifty and they’re doing this; they’re out at 3 in the morning. I could never do that.
Philpot: It made me look at nature in a different way. Human nature. Or humans in nature. Or whatever this nature is that New York is. I guess it’s kind of like nature, right? It’s our nature.
Yeah. What was the change?
Philpot: Just kind of… for me, it’s that shot, Nick, with the kids in front of the excavator. That just trips me out. It says so many things. I look at that, and I’m like, kids in their prom dresses, just totally unaware that there’s — or I’m sure that they were aware that they were standing in front of an excavator, but they’re sort of like, “I don’t care.” So unconcerned that there’s a working excavator right there behind them. Excavators working and it’s the middle of the night. I don’t know. It’s just one of those things, where I was like, “Oh man, this is a weird world that we live in.”
Bentgen: Yeah, that’s one of my favorite shots in the video. Those kids had just finished prom, I think, and they were like, “Oh yeah, we came to Times Square when we finished prom, because that’s what you do.” And I was like, “Really?” I guess I would have done that in high school, too.
Jon, do you guys have a visual setup traveling with you guys on tour this time?
Working on it.
Bentgen: Oh yeah, you guys have lights?
Are you programming them all yourselves again?
Philpot: Yep. Of course. We’re broke musicians. And there’s no one… we can’t really… we’ve got help! For sure, we’ve got help. So we’re getting closer to having something figured out to get us into a professional world. We’ll be doing all that next week. Figuring it all out. Then we roll.
Bear In Heaven 2014 Tour Dates
Mon. Aug. 4 – Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade (in-store)
Wed. Aug. 20 – Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s
Thu. Aug. 21 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
Fri. Aug. 22 – Washington, DC @ Rock and Roll Hotel
Sat. Aug. 23 – Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle (Back Room)
Sun. Aug. 24 – Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West
Tue. Aug. 26 – Baton Rouge, LA @ Spanish Moon
Wed. Aug. 27 – Houston, TX @ House of Blues (Bronze Peacock)
Thu. Aug. 28 – Austin, TX @ The Parish
Tue. Sept. 2 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echoplex
Wed. Sept. 3 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
Fri. Sept. 5 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
Sat. Sept. 6 – Spokane, WA @ Bartfest
Sun. Sept. 7 – Seattle, WA @ Chop Suey
Wed. Sept. 10 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry
Thu. Sept. 11 – Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
Fri. Sept. 12 – Columbus, OH @ A&R Music Bar
Sat. Sept. 13 – Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern
Sun. Sept. 14 – Montreal, QC @ La Sala Rossa
Tue. Sept. 16 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
Wed. Sept. 17 – Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Thu. Oct. 2 – London, UK @ XOYO
Fri. Oct. 3 – Brussels, BE @ Beursschouwburg
Sat. Oct. 4 – Paris, FR @ Espace B
Sun. Oct. 5 – Amsterdam, NL @ Bitterzoet
Mon. Oct. 6 – Cologne, DE @ Club 672
Tue. Oct. 7 – Berlin, DE @ Berghain
Thu. Oct. 9 – Copenhagen, DK @ Ideal Bar
Fri. Oct. 10 – Lund, SE @ Mejeriet
Sat. Oct. 11 – Stockholm, SE @ Kagelbanan
Sun. Oct. 12 – Goteborg, SE @ Pustervik
Mon. Oct. 13 – Oslo, NO @ John Dee
Tue. Oct. 14 – Bergen, NO @ Landmark
Thu. Oct. 16 – Aarhus, DK @ Atlas
Fri. Oct. 17 – Hamburg, DE @ Aalhaus