Ellsworth Steve Bear did not set out to create an album of 39 other musicians and singers from all over the world.
The drummer for popular local band The Crown Vics had a few rock tunes running through his head that he knew were enough to make an album.
“I was just starting to feel like, ‘Yeah, I have some songs I want to do,'” musician Ellsworth said in the living room of his Bayside Road home.
“It’s a Global Rock Thing” was released earlier this year and ended up featuring 40 musicians calling themselves “Steve’s Theme Park,” which is the name of their unique band. The 16-track album is a homage to rock ‘n’ roll as an art form and a crazy twist of Bear’s own musical journey. But the production process is just as engaging as the end result, so we’ll start from there.
The first step in bringing it back to life was laying down the album’s bones. So, the drummer went to his friend Jeff Crossman, who runs The Engine Room, a local recording studio.
I said, ‘Jeff, I know the songs, just put up the mic on the drums, give me a stand for the music, I’ll put the piece of paper in front of me, you know, let’s say the first track, ‘Dandy Man.’ I’m going to put up ‘Dandy Man.’ I’ll go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 in the parking lot … ” Pierre explained, imitating the recording process. “I knew the songs in my head. They were really tightly arranged… I’d kind of been living with this stuff long enough. So then I just sat there with the drum tracks and said, ‘Okay, what am I going to do?'”
At this point, Bear had all his building blocks up and running, but he also had two problems. One of the problems was the lack of artists available from the local scene to help him realize his vision. To solve this predicament, Bear went straight to his Rolodex of Rock and began accessing some of the many connections he had made during his life immersed in the staple clubs and bars of the music scene up and down the East Coast.
“I just started thinking, ‘Well, who’s still active? Who is still kicking ass? Who is still paying attention? And, you know, it didn’t take long to start sort of filling in the pieces.”
His first call was to Tommy Frenzy, lead singer of Tuff Darts, an old CBGB band from New York that Bear did some gigs with. The frenzy will end with him loaning his vocals to several tracks on the album. Nazir also leaned heavily on connections from his days playing in New Jersey bars along the Jersey Shore. He recruited former bandmate Bob Solberg, with whom he played in a band called TV Toy in the 1980s. As Stan Steele called, “the rocker from Jersey Shore who knows all the other rockers from Jersey Shore,” as described on Steve’s Theme Park.
But Bear doesn’t want this project to become just a “rock ‘n’ roll veteran’s show.” Therefore, he reached out as far as possible, even across the border, to find some young talent willing to participate. And that’s where the second problem, a little thing called the COVID-19 pandemic, helped and damaged the process.
Bear was adamant that while COVID-19 may have shaped the last album, “It’s a Global Rock Thing” wasn’t a product of staying home during lockdown or anything like that. He had the idea in his head and was in full swing with production before celebrities started rolling out split screen zoom collaborations (Bear said) “These things drive me crazy.” But the extra time allowed by the pandemic has allowed certain artists to participate who would normally not be able to.
The prime example is British singer Gemma Barr Smith, who responded to Barr’s London ONE ad.
“Jima is usually on a cruise ship [where she works as a singer], or back-up singing to someone on a UK tour,” Beer explained. “She was locked in her London apartment, you know, with a home recording set up. And she had plenty of time on her hands. So, I’m starting to find that, well, I have some veteran contacts, but now I’m finding people who have time on their hands and are kind of like-minded.”
While the pandemic created some opportunities for Peer, it also created some logistical challenges when it was time for rubber to meet the road and the album was recorded.
Bear was sitting in his living room with his partner Katina, recording the guitar and acoustic parts from the various tracks as he envisioned them and then sending them to all the artists who were involved in recording that specific song. Sometimes they will have to send multiple videos in order to get it right but they will also get different but optimized recordings and you will end up on the final track.
“Instead of being in the same room, like a regular band or regular players… would be this prolonged, epic kind of communication style,” the drummer recalls. “You don’t want to use the cliché of herding cats, but it certainly was.”
This method of collaboration also contributed to the band’s size. Often a peer sends requests to artists and does not respond to them immediately. He then moves on to another option, only to have the original contributor submit an audio clip he or she likes. Bear was eventually surprised at how many people were willing to help.
“It was all, though no one asked me for money or said, ‘Well, what good is that to me?’ ‘ I’d always say, ‘Well, what I’m doing is I’m going to do this. I will finish it. You know, believe it or not. I’m going to print a thousand CDs, I know it’s an old school format, you can have as many as you want and I’m giving them away for free. I don’t sell them. So, it was basically just telling people: Give me something, give me a sound, give me the guitar, give me a part of the keyboard, give me something. And you get some free promotions for your career. And everyone was like, “Okay, that looks cool.” And I thought it was unusual because most people would be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that. Give me a few hundred bucks or something. That wouldn’t be my response, but it wouldn’t offend me if someone asked for compensation or fees or something,’ But no one did. That, again, made me think I was running with the right mass.”
Simply put, Steve is an amazing guy to work with and you just want to help out,” said Peter Cook, one of the artists who collaborated on the album. “Steve is a typical drummer insofar as they are often the best, most patient and humble of the band members!”
Finally, Peer ended up soliciting contributions from artists in the aforementioned California, Florida, France, Georgia, Iceland, Ireland, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Sweden, Texas and the United Kingdom. He even ended up getting help from some locals, with Annie Schwartz, Greg Mitchell, Frank Richards, Trisha Mason, Jay Lundstrom, Laurie Jones, Doug Hoyt, Frederic Hanke, Andrew Vifland, Kyle Duckworth and Michael Townsend all getting along. , and Steve Spurn for credits on the finished product.
The album itself is just as fun and frenetic as you’d expect something to be forged that way. The performers’ wide range of talents and styles means an almost entirely different hearing experience for the listener as they move from one track to another.
The only constant throughout the entire album is Peer. Not only are he rocking steady drum tracks for all 16 songs, you can feel his passion and energy that is ingrained in the album’s DNA.
Bear, who quit his day job as a special education officer, wants to put a smile on your face while also sneaking in a few quick strokes of truth to make you think.
His songs have begun to pick up on many independent and community radio stations, which Bear considers the perfect home to Steve’s theme park.
“I see Community Radio as a new college/independent radio, where many university radio stations have been defunded or reduced to internet only and listeners are slashed,” Beer explained. “Community radio continues to shock the airwaves as long as listeners help fund guerrilla-style programming tactics. Also due to the ‘global’ nature of the participants, stations in the UK, France and Sweden have been enthusiastically spinning around the tracks.”
The next task is to push the album far and wide. Pierre created two videos for songs like “Sister Supersonic” and “No More Heroes,” an ode to rock legends that the world has recently lost. He plans to make more videos and hopes to use some of the local scenes around Ellsworth.
He also launched a website prominently displaying everyone who contributed to the album.
“I feel an obligation to these people, you know. I didn’t promise them the world, but I promised them the world rock thing, anyway.”
The only thing not on Bear’s to-do list is figuring out why he put this album together in the first place.
I never tried to ask myself this question. Because there were so many times I would sit here to put it all together and try to plan a trip. We want to go somewhere, we want to do something or even just want to go to the movies, but no, Steve is farting with his amusement park…” Bear explained.
“The joke between Crossman and the engineer and the guy who put together all that crap, our little joke was, ‘Don’t ask why. You know, first of all, we don’t really have the answer. We’re so childish. We’re so selfish. We think we really matter. We think we have something to say, but don’t ask why, why do we do this? You know? It’s the unanswerable question. Why? Because I used to have people in bands, you know, I’d say, “Hey, let’s shoot the singer and the guitarist and have some fun.” And they’d be like, “Well, why do we do that?” Some fun! It would be exciting! People would love it! You know? Because that’s what Freddie Mercury would have done. I don’t like when people ask me, ‘Well, why do we do this? Why do we wear these funny clothes? Why do we do that? Because it’s rock ‘n’ roll! That that you do.”
Bear made 1,000 copies of Steve’s Theme Park album “It’s a Global Rock Thing”. To listen to it, go to https://www.stevesthemepark.com/team-2