Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Patrick Stolley
It's impossible not to think that ultramark, the curiously named lead singer of Stepdad, hasn't been called a big, old teddy bear less than a thousand times in his life. He must get it all the time. He's got the countenance and the hair for it. It's the easiest part. He's got the big man shape and he's got the classic bear falsetto. He refers to his fur and his nails in the song, "My Leather My Fur My Nails," a piece of music that makes a woman sound like a hunter, ready to gun down a half-man, half-beast and the theme song from "Growing Pains" or "Family Ties." The woman in question is a demanding mistress, always needing more and more. There's a strange pet fascination, or a man on a leash sort of dynamic happening, where nothing's ever enough for her. She needs to control everything and the animal is just going to be used for its leather, fur and nails. It's a story of the teddy bear getting worked over by the more dominant, though inferior in real strength and power other person. The big, old teddy bear act only works for some situations and for others, it leads to a cage at the zoo. Ultramark and his Grand Rapids, Michigan, bandmates, Ryan McCarthy, Alex Fives and Jeremy Malvin write songs that straddle the line between some form of come-on and the survival skills that mankind's acquired over time. There is a need for ultramark to tell his woman that she is all there ever will be for him. She is the apple of his eye and he tells her so, almost in those words, choosing to regale her with platitudes of syrupy sweetness. He sings, "I'd block the sun forever just so you could read by candlelight" and he tells this lucky woman, in the next breath, "I wanna hold you til it feels long enough to stop saying I missed you." Some of it seems like the actions of a man trying to make up for something or compensate. He's trying to win back the favor of a love who needs to hear certain things or see specific attempts to allow the man to rest easy. It's as if she's always holding the strings and at any time she can cut them and fly the coop. It's what makes the man so insistent in his love and it's what makes him sound, at times pathetic, in the most romantic of ways. No matter how you look at it, that exceptional or free-fall sort of love is always slightly pathetic. There's no way to get around it and Stepdad bring us eye-to-eye with it. It's sloppy and it's awkward and, you know what, it gets the job done. Those needy ladies, trying to poach their own big, old teddy bear fall for it every time.