Yet unlike a lot of their folk band counterparts, Trotting Bear is not at risk of floating away into the ether. Theirs is an aura of roots-down sincerity. "I think it's about having an organic sound," muses lead singer and guitarist Andy Berkholt. "An honest sound. What matters to us is being able to bring out something authentic in the music we make.
Woodblock percussion, a rolling guitar and warm violin chords ground Trotting Bear's instrumentation, complementing the clarity and simplicity of Berkholt's voice. A muted drumbeat, a humming flute -- it all becomes a patchwork of tones and texture that reflect the band's preference for understatement.
"It's very natural," says bandmate John Donovan. "It's a collaborative and natural process for us to make this music. There's no actual, written music. We play it all pretty much by ear."
"When I work on lyrics or melodies," adds Berkholt. "I really don't have expectations. I try to spend an hour a day writing, and I see it really as a reflection of my own experience. The fact that we all create and combine our own sounds in this really natural way is one of our strong suits, I think. We bring melody in, we bring harmony in -- it all ends up being a kind of musical conversation."
Trotting Bear's cooperative and organic approach to creating music resonates in their sound. Though he's the frontman and vocalist, Berkholt treats his voice with the musical sensitivity of an instrument. It waxes and wanes throughout each piece, and never assumes an overpowering dominance. "We pay close attention to what's best for the song," he explains. "We're really aware of the 'flow' of our music. It has a lot to do with creating that a kind of energy. We want to take the listener on a little bit of a journey through our music."
Indeed, the ambience of Trotting Bear's music seems in perfect harmony with the sun-dappled, woodsy landscape of St. Louis' Tower Grove Park. Whether perched in a tree (temporarily) or playing their way through the park's wooded glens, the members of Trotting Bear (Andy Berkholt, John Donovan, Joanne Landis, Camille Medema) appear genuinely at home in their environment and fully absorbed in creating music together.
And that really captures the essence of Trotting Bear's energy: an understated, honest distillation of both experience and emotion.