Their trailer-hauling SUV sped across the barren expanse of west Texas, through the inky night. It was their first time playing South by Southwest, and Bearcubbin'! was not going to miss their opening set. They had just spent eight hours driving from Las Vegas to Albuquerque for a show, only to quickly pack up their gear and head toward Austin — a 12–hour drive.
"We didn't sleep for two days," says drummer Mike Byrne just after leaving the festival last Sunday. "But it was super worth it."
Bearcubbin'!, an instrumental math-rock band, came to SXSW with three scheduled shows and left having played six — a huge accomplishment in a festival that features more than 2,000 acts. After the grueling effort to get there, Byrne describes his group's experience as quasi-religious.
"We had no idea what to expect," says Byrne from the middle of Texas, driving with bandmates Chris Scott (guitar and keyboards) and Patrick Dougherty (bass). "But things just kind of snowballed. It was this strange dynamic that playing well one time gets you another show."
It's not that Byrne, 24, isn't used to touring hard. In 2009, four months after starting Bearcubbin'!, he was handpicked by Billy Corgan to be Smashing Pumpkins' new drummer. Through that time, it was hard for Bearcubbin'! to tour far and wide because of Byrne's conflicting schedule. But now he's focused on the Portland-area three-piece. Already this year they've released a brand-new album, Girls with Fun Haircuts, which took a year and a half to complete, and a compilation disc full of their old tunes and remixes.
"We're proud of the sound that we've culminated," Byrne says. "We pillaged all sorts of stuff to get this sound. It's more dancey now."
He describes the band's music as complex information that they've worked hard to make digestible for the listener. With various pedal and looping effects, time signature changes and sporadic vocalization, the experimental act has matured into a darker place. As such, they see no reason for lyrics.
"It's one of those things; we're very attracted to the instruments, and when we play we want the focus to be on them," Byrne says.
Saturday, Bearcubbin'! will play Spokane for the first time since 2012. By the time the band arrives at Mootsy's, they'll have played shows in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Montana and Idaho. Byrne swears they won't be burned out.
"We don't stop playing," he says. "So basically, we'll be really good at playing this set." ♦
Bearcubbin'! with Belt of Vapor, the Lion Oh My, Drag Like Pull • Sat, March 22, at 10 pm • $5 • 21+ • Mootsy's • 406 W. Sprague • 838-1570