Jonathan Berlin's keys give him away: He's a daddy. The Rewards R Us member discount card for Babies R Us and Toys R Us is the big clue. Indeed, he has a 1½-year-old son, which might help explain why we haven't heard much from his electro-pop duo Sunbears! since they received a dash of national attention following the late 2011 release of their debut, full-length album "You Will Live Forever."
Despite daddy duties, though, Berlin has been far from idle on the songwriting front. He and bandmate Jared Bowser have a flurry of activity planned, including a headlining performance during the second Clean Water Music Fest at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall. Proceeds from the all-day festival will be donated to the nonprofit charity, which installs pumps that provide clean drinking water to communities in developing nations. Its inaugural event raised about $11,700.
Expect to hear Sunbears! debut a few new songs from their new album set for release in spring 2014. They're recording it now at Twin Hill Studio in Atlantic Beach and will soon head to New York City for the sound mixing.
Revealing the album's name, "Future Sounds," caused slight, almost sheepish, giggles in Berlin and Bowser. They were hesitant to spill the news.
"Is it the name?" Berlin asked.
"Yeah, it's the name," Bowser replied.
It's not as if the title is outrageous, so the charade is a bit confusing.
"It's just that it's been a whole back-and-forth thing," Berlin explained. "Do we love it? Yeah, we love it. Wait, do we love it? Yeah, we love it. But do we love it? We love it."
Bowser said the new songs are "a lot less mellow" and "more upbeat and energetic." Considering that Sunbears! has a reputation for big, happy, dreamy pop, his description might be taken as sarcastic, but he's not being cheeky in the least. He's actually quite subdued and, having just ridden his bike in the blazing midday sun, seems a little wiped out.
"There might be some songs that people can dance to on it," he added.
In October, the duo plans to release a single on 7-inch vinyl, and then do a short tour incorporating new elements in their live show, including possibly adding guest musicians to replace some of the electronic music. They want to keep things fresh, Berlin said. For concerts, he has started to find some of the computer elements boring. The animated one in the duo, he talked excitedly about all the upcoming plans.
"I feel like lately everything is going by so fast," he lamented.
He said the lyrics, which he writes, toe the same line as those on the previous album. Peace, love and understanding play a role, as do death, legacy and spirituality. Here's where Sunbears! can get complicated. They can come off as light and fluffy, and sometimes get dismissed as such, but there's a heavy side to their lyrics. They are, however, never a downer. Early on, they distinguished themselves with a highly visual, psychedelic live show featuring colorful lights and streaming video. For just two musicians, they make a huge, bombastic sound.
Sunbears! was an easy choice for a headliner, according to the Clean Water Festival's co-founder Jordyn Jackson, whose folk-pop duo Flagship Romance is also performing.
"No. 1, they're great people," she said
They have performed before at several local charity events, including The Harvest of Hope Music Festival and Uncommon Music … For a Common Cause.