Solar Bears are Irish duo John Kowalski and Rian Trench; together they make music that navigates and interrogates pastoral psychedelia, krautrock, kosmiche, drone, and everything in between.
Their synthesis is an organic one, a seamless fusion rendering the gaps between genres and styles incomprehensible and their music timeless. In the distracted world of electronic music, warmth is often neglected in favour of functionality or futurism, and Solar Bears’ lack of concern for either of these allows them to direct their attention elsewhere: namely, to melodies and textures. Their ‘electronic music’ is a different one than that of modern dance music, inspired by the evocative synthscapes of composers like Vangelis and Moroder.
While they are impossible to classify, they seem poised at a precipice, finding compatriots in an ill-defined UK scene that seems interested in exploring the same sort of fuzzy pseudo-nostalgia they espouse. Producers like Lone, Oriol, and fellow Mu upcomers Tropics share in the duo’s love for inviting soundscapes, while artists such as Oneohtrix Point Never, Radio People and Emeralds harbour a similar admiration for the emotional resonance of the synth, though the Bears’ style is slightly more approachable.
Through the interview, one thing becomes clear: Solar Bears exist in their own world, not fussed with the expectations or desires of others. Their only contact with our world is through their records, portals to fantastical dreamscapes that exist entirely in palettes of warm and soothing colours. But no matter how detached they are from our realm, the ‘Bears’ are still human – their preoccupation with film music especially comes through in their use of transparent and straightforward emotional motifs: riffs and melodies that aren’t afraid to be obvious when they need to be, alternately melancholy, maudlin, heartwarming, and triumphant.
Finding a home on the ever-unpredictable Planet Mu, Solar Bears release both their debut EP Inner Sunshine and LP She Was Coloured In this fall. The former is a particularly woodsy affair, prominently highlighting acoustic guitar and synth interplay (and remixes from Lone and Letherette), while the latter is an overwhelming display of hyper-saturated colours and textures, mixing in digital elements effortlessly. They cover a remarkable amount of ground, moving from motorik-powered krautrock on ‘Trans Waterfall’ to the post-rock crescendo of ‘Photo Negative Living’ on the EP, while the LP features the vocodered Black Moth Super Rainbow pastiche of ‘Children of the Times’ and the tunneling disco of ‘The Quiet Planet’ among many other stunning tracks.
“I’ve always wanted to hear new music, new instrumentation and new sounds”
Go ahead and introduce yourself.
“My name is John Kowalski, I come from South Dublin but I currently live in a coastal town called Malahide on the North side of the city. Rian, who co-writes and co-produces Solar Bears, is from Wicklow. He lived in England when he was young and has a very musical background with two parents in the business.”
What attracted you to music and to start making music?
“I’ve always wanted to hear new music, new instrumentation and new sounds. Ennio Morricone was an early favourite and so was John Carpenter. The string arrangements by John Barry for the Bond films made a lasting impression too. I used to hide away and listen to records on my own. I had track ideas I wanted to try out and Rian was up for collaborating; the first effort ‘Trans Waterfall’ went fluidly so we decided to continue. I had no experience making music prior to that session.”
How did you meet Rian and start collaborating musically?
“We met at a recording college in Dublin called Pulse about four or five years ago. I contacted him just over a year ago to work on a track I had worked out in my head with most of the parts mapped out. He records at home, so we simply began one day after I got the train down to where he lives.”
When did Solar Bears begin to exist, and where does the name come from?
“After we had two or three tracks I put up a page on myspace as a catalyst to keep creating. It was mainly as motivation and to make the project concrete. There are a few reasons [for the name]. It was a possible track name and I wanted something plural to represent us. It’s a reference to Solaris by Tarkovsky as well as Native American culture. Furthermore it is a play on words and a metaphor for wildlife dying out because of the sun which is inherent in a lot of science fiction.”