INTERVIEW: Denver's Morning Bear on Dropping Everything for Music & His New Single, "You're Right"
Morning Bear, the orchestral indie folk project of Denver singer/songwriter, John Runnels has had quite the journey leading up to where we find him now, poised to release his latest single, "You're Right" this month. In 2014, Runnels quit his job as an engineer and bought a one-way ticket to Europe to pursue his music full time. In the years following, this drive and a passion for music has taken Morning Bear on national and international tours, most notably to Iceland where he recently penned "You're Right."
On September 8th, Morning Bear will celebrate the new single with a release show at the Walnut Room, accompanied by a full string quintet before embarking on a run of tour dates stateside and rounding out the year overseas. Learn more about Morning Bear below.
Interview by Dom Vigil
Can you tell us a little bit about Morning Bear for any readers who might not be familiar?
My name is John, and Morning Bear is my project. It started in 2014 once I realized a lot of the material I was writing didn't fit with my singer-songwriter history as "John Runnels." After a pretty intense break-up (of course) I began to write much more open, cinematic songs with room for strings and orchestral arrangements. I wanted to create beautiful music that creates an experience. In my life, music has gotten me over some of my biggest emotional hurdles. Through Morning Bear I hope to create beautiful music that helps people process tough times. I love the feeling of having a catharsis through music, and that's what I try to share with the audience.
The origin story behind Morning Bear is definitely pretty unique as it includes quitting your job and traveling across Europe first. What inspired you to take this path and ultimately begin this musical project?
Music has always been a part of my life, but I didn't take it seriously until I was an adult. I had graduated from CU with a degree in engineering in 2011, and was working at a firm in downtown Denver. In 2014, at 25 years old, I had a quarter-life crisis moment - what am I doing with my life? I realized that music and travel were two of my greatest passions, and that if I wanted to pursue my dreams there was no better time than now. I refused to allow 50-year-old John to regret not trying. I didn't want to look back and wonder "what if?" So I quit my job, took a one way ticket to Europe, and since then have (mostly) done music.
The past couple of years have been a little quiet, but you’re just getting ready to release your new single, “You’re Right” on September 8th. What is the story behind the song?
"You're Right," at its core, is about being stubborn. The song explores what it takes to relentlessly pursue what you believe is right. It's also about being obstinate when you are wrong, and refusing to see reason or truth. It's about what a delicate balance you have to strike between truly believing in yourself while being able to accept criticism and understand your weaknesses. Can you, or should you, fight for something even when you know you might fail? In my mind I imagine the warrior who continues to fight despite the battle being lost. Personally, I go through a lot of existential crises... This song definitely has some influence from me processing my own self-doubt.
You recorded “You’re Right” while you were in Iceland during Iceland Airwaves. How do you feel that experience and environment affected the song?
The song was recorded here in Denver actually, with Joe Richmond (past member of Churchill, has worked with The Fray, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Brent Cowles). The song was written in Iceland during Airwaves, which is an incredible music festival that I've attended the last three years (and played in the off-venues of twice). And, of course, I'll be back this November! There is something magical about travel, and particularly about Iceland. Perhaps it's the volcanic activity, or the northern lights, but the place lends itself to creativity. During the winter, there is also not much sun - there are only 6 hours of daylight, and even then it's usually overcast. As such, it's very easy to be introspective, and I feel that shows in the song. I have always been inspired by new places, and much of Morning Bear's material has been written while traveling.
For the single release, you’ll be performing at the Walnut Room alongside a string quintet, which will surely make this show a special one. What can listeners expect from this performance?
This is the first time Morning Bear has played with such a large ensemble - 9 players total! Featuring the Denver Nexus Project (who will be playing a set of their own), all in all it will be 5 string players. Our rehearsals are sounding incredible. The string section really brings out the emotion in the music, giving it a glorious and cinematic feel. It will absolutely be the best Morning Bear performance to date!
After the 8th, you’ll be on the road for the majority of fall and winter. What are you most excited for in the upcoming months?
I can't wait to get back on the road. When I'm in Denver, I usually work a day job and save money for 6 months or so. I've always been one to get a bit stir crazy, so I'm ready to be out there traveling and performing. Airwaves is one of my favorite events every year, so I'm very excited for that, but perhaps I'm most excited for the European tour. This will be my first proper tour in Europe, rather than just traveling with a backpack and playing every now and then.
With “You’re Right” out soon, do you have any other big plans for the rest of 2017? Could fans expect more new music soon?
I'm hoping to get back to work and release a new EP or album in 2018... but all of that will have to wait until after the tour is over. I'm a notoriously slow writer (as you might expect) - I will only have released one song in the last two years once "You're Right" is out. But I plan to take some time off from any of the business side of music so I can really focus on art, something that is long overdue.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for the chat!