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My Name Is Bear

It sounds like the logline for a classic sixties film…

An Oregon native leaves home at 18, follows love from Alaska to Louisiana only to learn about heartbreak the hard way, meets his birth mother for the first time, eventually settles in Hawaii, and launches a successful band. It isn’t the fulfillment of some loose end in Easy Rider or Five Easy Pieces though. It’s the origin story of Nahko captured on his 2017 solo offering, My Name Is Bear [Side One Dummy]. The album predates his rise to mythos among diehard fans in Nahko and Medicine for the People, and it’s an important piece of the puzzle that is Nahko.

Collecting music he penned between the pivotal ages of 18 and 21, the musical maverick appropriately describes the 16-track journey as “a prequel.”

“It’s the first chapter,” he elaborates. “I leave home at the beginning. On the back end, I meet my birth mother at 21, everything changes, and the Medicine for the People catalog begins. It was about coming of age and shedding that skin. When you’re on your own, those are the first steps to freedom. You have to take care of yourself and survive in a world with the tools you have. For me, those tools were my guitar, my songwriting, and my thumb to hitchhike. 95% of the tracks were written during or about psychedelic trips. There’s a tinge of real mystical revelation as I went from Alaska to Hawaii. I became open to other spiritual texts, and they transformed me. I was on the road, in love, and everything was amazing, but I kept asking myself, ‘What the fuck does this all mean?’”


My Name Is Bear might incite some of the same questions. Artfully merging rustic acoustic guitars, upbeat energy, tribal flavors, fiery percussion, and ponderous lyrics, these recordings reflect the soul and spirit fans have come to know and love from his work in Medicine for the People, while venturing into decidedly more “rocking” and “personal” territory, as he puts it.

Along the way, he realized who he was.

“I came from a broken indigenous home, but I was raised in a beautiful, privileged white home by my adoptive parents,” he says. “It was pretty confusing as I began to come of age because I knew I didn’t come from that household, but somehow through my music I was able to garner the attention of many young people going through the same thing and coming to a similar conclusion. My music did not define me at 18-21 the way it does now. It was my comfort zone. I turned to it to get me through all of the transitions. I had no definition of life at the time. Music is my language, that is certain. It is my way to get in, out, over, and under. It’s my bridge. I can connect with people and many other things with it.”

Strengthening that connection, Nahko introduces this collection with the lead-off and first single “Dragonfly.” Fingerpicked acoustic guitar builds into an unshakable melody punctuated by an African-style beat and chirping birds as he carries the chant, “To my former dragonfly, I resist and I survive.” The companion video, starring Nahko’s friend Paris Jackson, brings the narrative to life vividly.

“I wrote that at 18,” he recalls. “It’s a special one about following my heart in relation to a first love. I was very enamored with her. We met in Alaska, and she had a similar story to my birth mother. I followed her to Louisiana by way of a very long road trip. We spent four months in a house in the Deep South hanging out. It came from surviving that first year away from home. It was a special piece for me.”

He pays homage to the influence of Ram Dass’s Be Here Now with the swaggering electric guitar, groovy bass, and bright horns of “Be Here Now”—originally penned upon his arrival in Hawaii. The gorgeous conclusion “Die Like Dinoz” nods to his experience in a Hawaiian treehouse at the base of a volcano as it compares two lost dinosaurs to lovers who lose their way.

As much as My Name Is Bear serves as a prequel to Medicine for the People, it can certainly be construed as the foundation for meeting his mom as well. To rewind even further, Nahko’s birth mom gave him up for adoption as she was just 15-years-old. She would be thrust into unthinkable circumstances but managed to send letters and photos until he turned five. At 17, his parents handed over the correspondence. In 2007 following his return to Portland from Hawaii, he Googled her name on August 6. Turns out, his birth mother lived 15 minutes away.

“I drove there and, there she was, my mom,” he continues. “My two sisters, their kids, my two brothers…everyone. Mom was crying. I was crying. The first thing she asked was ‘What do you do?’ I shrugged and said, ‘I play music.’ It literally happened like that—all by divine intervention. I picked up, left Hawaii, and came home to not so randomly discover my mom lived basically down the street from where I grew up.”

Consequentially, this transpired towards the end of the period chronicled on My Name Is Bear. He penned “Early February” about it.

“It’s the only song that has anything to do with my birth mother or my family,” he says. “It’s about identity. That link ties to my other records, because they’re full of stories. My Name Is Bear celebrates becoming a man.”

Finger-snaps set the stage for a delicate and heartwarming narrative about the birth of his brother’s first child on “Call Him By His Name.” Strings underscore the emotional heft of the soulful ballad “Susanna,” which relays the journey from home towards love. Meanwhile, the shimmering piano of “Alice” echoes with lively and lush melodies.

During 2016, Nahko began combing his catalog for choice tunes from that crucial period. In the midst of that process, he uncovered a box of tapes where he audio journaled his travels. Those comprise the four “Interludes.”

“This was long before Notes on the iPhone,” he laughs. “I would literally record a daily log on a RadioShack tape recorder. It’s a time capsule through California, my first Burning Man, busking from Portland to Maine, and picking up hitchhikers. The tapes couldn’t have been more perfect for the album.”

In the title, he also subconsciously embraces his given moniker Nahko, which means “bear.”

“I reclaimed the name at this time,” he goes on. “I was going by my adopted name of David until I got to Hawaii and a friend encouraged me to go by Nahko. It’s a statement to myself. I’m no longer a little bear. I’ve reached a place where I’ve progressed through this journey of music. I can share these songs from a very specific period today.”

At the end of the day, this prequel sets the stage for a whole lot more from Nahko though.

“To be honest, I decided to make this last year as the world was changing,” he leaves off. “I know I could go deep on Medicine for the People, but I had to go back in time for myself, clean out the closet a little bit, and give listeners something that feels good, but makes them think. I hope in making them feel good for an hour; it makes them feel better. That’s how I feel.”

Follow Nahko on social media: Website / / Facebook / / Instagram / / Twitter


Paul Freundlich

Alicia Brown

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To practice and teach ecologically conscious agriculture, empowering individuals and communities to cultivate alternative systems of living that restore human and environmental health.

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