10 min read

That's Not The Vibe

That's Not The Vibe

On Bearings, growth, and that intangible thing that makes music matter

THIS ESSAY WAS ORIGINALLY SHARED ON AUGUST 6, 2021

The first time I saw Bearings, they were the first band on a four-band bill playing a room that holds no more than 420 people. The jokes about the venue capacity write themselves, so go ahead and insert your own here: ________________.

Hilarious.

Given that Bearings were so low on the lineup, you might not be surprised to learn that only a handful of dedicated concertgoers were present for the band’s set that night in 2017. The small room felt spacious at that moment, but as the group began with “Petrichor,” the lead single off their debut EP, there was an almost immediate energy shift in the venue. With a few simple lines and a guitar part anyone can learn in a matter of minutes, Bearings captured the zeitgeist of youth:

Sometimes I find myself in a crowded room
With good friends and a feeling this will end too soon
Some things just end too soon

Pop-punk has traditionally been the product of young men who act like boys writing songs about young women they perceive as being out of their league (and let’s be honest—they’re right). Times are changing for the better in terms of diversity both in lineups and the stories being told, but that is a relatively recent development. When “the girl out of my reach" isn’t at the forefront of a song, you can expect to find something along the lines of an anthem for friendship or a refusal to grow up and act their age. It’s as rebellious as a metal band shirt purchased from a hot topic, which is to say it is entirely safe until someone starts hitting on a minor. Following the genre's blueprint doesn’t matter as long as you add your spin to the mix. Most know the moves but never understand the reason for it all.

Bearings started like all the rest. Hailing from Canada, the band members quickly built a following for their innate ability to capture the realization that we spend our entire lives trying to figure out an existence that is doomed to end too soon. Their music explores the cold hard truth of life’s fleeting nature through the lens of introversion. Each track captures a moment in time as perceived by someone desperately fighting—and often failing—to get out of their own way. It’s about the minutia of being and how the smallest moments often make the biggest impact on the trajectory of our lives. The hook of “Petrichor” summarizes it perfectly as if acting as a mission statement for the band’s entire catalog:

Right now, though things could be better it
Is a reminder that nothing here is permanent
We’re dead or dying and I guess we’ll never figure it out
Dead or dying, at least I’m trying
So hard not to dwell on the past
Breathe in every goodbye and try to make the memory last
Petrichor reminds me of when I was younger

A “Petrichor,” for those who’ve yet to Google it (I know I did), refers to the smell that accompanies the first rain following an extended dry spell. It’s almost impossible to describe the sense of comfort that washes over your soul when that scent hits your nostrils. None of us chose to have that response, and yet, nearly everyone experiences it. Our bodies are repeating behaviors most likely learned centuries ago when the return of rain brought an incredible sense of relief. Rain meant our crops would grow. Rain meant we would have something to drink. Rain meant we were able to live another day. You and I may think of precipitation in the context of a quiet afternoon or a treacherous rush hour spent bumper to bumper in traffic, but for generations of people, it was a gift from God(s).

That first night I saw Bearings, it was clear that they were meant to write songs far beyond the scope of what they were performing. “Petrichor” was and is great as an appetizer, but it’s also only a taste of what the band may still accomplish. Everyone has to start somewhere, and when you’re in a genre like pop-punk, you start with what everyone else is doing. That song and others like it were familiar in as many ways as music can be without being labeled a complete rip-off. What stood out more than the songs themselves was how people reacted to those hearing familiar concepts presented by a group of young men they had most likely never seen before. It was as if someone flipped a switch inside every person in that room that made them not only put down their phones but listen to—and fully experience—what was unfolding in front of them.

Here’s a photo of Bearings from the first time I saw them perform. Credit: Benjamin Howell Photography

There is nothing like the rush of hearing something for the first time and knowing that it can change countless lives. When art of any kind connects with anyone, we recognize a familiar idea, feeling, or sensation. That recognition is an act of seeing the sameness in people. It’s us looking into a mirror and recognizing a part of ourselves, perhaps for the first time, which also exists in someone else. That’s an amazing and crazy thing! It’s miraculous, even. That you and I, two different beings with separate minds filled with thoughts that we believe to be uniquely ours, can experience something and agree that it’s good is perhaps the best evidence for the oneness of all things.

I don’t remember the first band that made me feel the way that Bearings did that night, but I know the feeling well. That sensation is a dragon that I have been chasing my entire life. Like a drug, it’s something I need to feel normal. To quote Taking Back Sunday, “I’m an addict for dramatics,” but only when they involve unrequited love and existential dread. If you can make me feel less alone, congratulations! You’ve got a fan for life or until the second consecutive record where you abandon everything that made me relate to you, but that’s a discussion for another time.

On their first proper full-length, Blue In The Dark, Bearings came out swinging. The record is a mix of lessons from the road and reflections on the cost of chasing dreams. “Lately, it’s not hard to destroy me,” sings vocalist Doug Cousins on the album’s third track, “Eyes Closed.” The lines that follow make it clear he’s referring to how he feels after spending more time on the road than at home over the last year, but it also speaks to how life has changed for him and his bandmates. Where “Petrichor” spoke of impending changes that would irrevocably change the group’s existence, the majority of Blue In The Dark focuses on living life with those changes and the knowledge that, one day, they too will pass. That is rarely clearer than it is here, with Cousins singing to someone who has his heart and is (hopefully) awaiting his return. It’s the thought of that person and the life they’ve yet to build together that is getting him through the moment at hand, which is explained in the unforgettable chorus:

Ya make me
Smile with my eyes closed laying in the living room
I wanna take you everywhere
Anywhere you wanna go, I’ll take you there just let me know
Oh but we both know that isn’t trueFor now, but give this a little time, I’ll do everything I can, I’ve got the still frame in my mind
When I’ll be there, I’ll be there, smiling with my eyes closed

“Eyes Closed” also touches on something far more universal than the strains of life on the road, and that is the desire to prove yourself to the one you love before they grow tired of your bullshit. In this case, that sentiment is best expressed in the promise to take the person Cousins is singing to anywhere they want to go. He realizes their patience has made them something like a saint in his world, and to a certain extent, he feels as though he’s unworthy of that affection. If only he can get home before they realize he’s not the person they see in him, then they’ll do whatever it takes to keep that person around, but at the same time, he wouldn’t blame them for leaving. Of course, he doesn’t want them to, but no one would blame them if they did.

Life may or may not be about finding true love, but it certainly isn’t about begging for it from someone else. Cousins stops short of begging himself, but he swears to prove himself worthy of the love he isn’t sure he deserves just as soon as he can get home. The romanticism and wanderlust that run throughout the song are meaningless unless the object of his affection is waiting for him when he finally gets off the road.

You don’t have to tour to understand those emotions. We’ve all watched films and heard stories where characters realize a little too late that they love someone who isn’t receiving the partner they deserve. It’s a lesson we learn repeatedly. The luckiest amongst us know it early and, if they’re lucky, find a partner who understands it as well. The rest of us…well, the divorce rate in America speaks for itself. We want love, but we don’t always know what love is until it’s too late.

“Sway,” The lead single off the band’s 2020 LP, Hello, It’s You, does not waver from this pattern. The song explores the fascination one person has with another, and it’s in the way they express what makes this other person so special that the music comes to life. Again, it’s about the small things. It’s about how she loves California but hates Los Angeles; it’s about how she bases what she’s drinking on the place and time of day. It’s about all the little things that add up to somebody you cannot get out of your head.

Sway
You're swimming in my veins
Around your room
And it's not the same without you
To something blue
She bases what she's drinking on the place and time of day
Says that she loves California but she hates LA, okay

But I think the same is true for most of us. We do not want carbon copies of the people we see on television or in the movies. We do not fall over ourselves to meet the same person again and again. The only time most of us ever truly feel alive is when we come across someone that is unlike anyone we have met in the entirety of our existence. Whether that person sets our hearts on fire with a passion that we cannot deny or they become one of our closest friends is up to fate to decide, but either way- originality is what we are looking for in other people.

And do you know why? Because we see ourselves as being original. We are unique! We tell ourselves we are one of a kind! There is no possible way another human like us exists, so when we find someone with even the slightest thing in common with us, our bodies go haywire with endorphins and serotonin. We overlook the sameness because we frame it as unique. We tell ourselves, “they’re the only person I know who feels the way I do,” instead of saying, “They make me feel less alone, and oh my god, am I sick of being lonely.”

It’s clear when listening to “Sway” that the men of Bearings want what we want. We will never know who they are writing about, but it doesn’t matter because we all have met or long to meet a version of that person for ourselves. The melody and structure certainly help, but what separates the unforgettable songs from those that are merely catchy is how much we connect to the emotions behind them. That connection to the feelings being expressed is what makes the material so good.

“Sway” takes all the ways love can make you feel like a crazy person and turns it into an earworm that takes up rent-free residence in your brain, much like “Eyes Closed” and “Petrichor” did before it. The topics change, but the relatability only intensifies, as if each song brings both the band and its listeners one step close to a collective catharsis. That kind of career-long creative journey is what I believe most artists aspire to achieve. It’s not about storytelling for the sake of telling stories, but an approach to community that has, to date, made thousands feel part of something bigger than themselves. If that’s not the goal of music, then I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure Bearings will do that as well.

All this might lead you to believe Bearings is now one of the biggest bands on the planet, but you would be wrong. While I think they’re fairly successful compared to the vast majority of musicians worldwide, the band is still grinding it out in clubs and makeshift venues where dozens or hundreds of kids gather nightly to sing off-key together and sweat on one another while the band plays. Their nights on the road are spent in vans listening to songs they’ve heard a thousand times with only the support of their fans and one another to keep them company. They are working musicians, and that’s what they’ll always be, but they’re living the dream. Each day they wake knowing someone somewhere is feeling seen because they exist. They’re making a difference, however small, that means everything to those who experience it.

Now and then, when I start to feel that all too familiar sense of music industry burnout, I find myself reflecting on that summer night with Bearings a few short years ago. If I could go back and tell the band that they were on the right path, I’m not sure they would believe me, but they would probably accept the compliment because Canadians are traditionally very kind. I don’t know if the songs they write will do for you what they’ve done for me, but I know there are artists in this world who can fill that void in your life. There are songs, films, books, paintings, and probably experimental sculptures made out of broken neon signs that say something about existence that you will recognize from somewhere deep within. At that moment, you will feel alive in a way like no other. That’s what I want for you more than anything else. I want you to have those experiences again and again throughout life so that you understand how much you matter.

I haven’t been thinking much of myself lately, but thanks to Bearings, I know I’ll make it through.