Gig Economy: Swimming With Bears

Singer-bassist Joe Perry (not that one) talks about keeping your focus in the face of crappy jobs.

Gig Economy is a Talkhouse series in which artists tell us about their work histories, from part-time pasts to the present tense, in order to demystify the many different paths that can lead to a career as a working musician. Here, Joe Perry of Swimming With Bears discusses washing cars, serving enchiladas, and the importance of maintaining his focus through it all.
— Josh Modell, Talkhouse Executive Editor

One of the worst jobs I’ve had: me and the drummer, Ryan, used to wash cars in Austin. These guys in their 20s started an app where you could order a person to come by your house and wash your car. So most of the cars we’d wash were like Teslas or Mercedes, stuff like that. Sometimes it’d be sprinkling outside and kinda cold — 62, which is cold in Texas — and they’d say, “Hey, you guys wanna come out and wash cars?” We’d say, “Sir, it’s raining a little bit out here,” and they’d say, “Just keep on washing that Ferrari.” That was definitely the worst job.

They would pay, like, $40 or $50 to get their car washed. They’d have it unlocked so you could vacuum out the inside and wash the outside. It was cool sometimes, if the person was cool, but a lot of times it was just ridiculous. They’d just say, “Come to this parking garage and clean my BMW convertible.” A lot of parents would have us wash their kids’ cars. “Can you wash my daughter’s car? She’s going out this weekend. Can you go wash my son’s car? He goes to UT and he has an F-250.” Why does he need an F-250? “I carry my frat brothers around!”

 We’ve had jobs from being salesmen to being waiters to lifeguards. We all have college degrees, but we can’t have regular jobs because as soon as we get there we say, “Oh, we have to peace out for tour,” and they fire us. This one time we were in Nashville at a hotel — we only stayed there for one night, and for some reason they thought we stayed there for two nights and they tried to charge us for two nights. We were like, “Hey, you’re overcharging us,” and the lady said “Get the F out of here!” We were there for two hours trying to fight with her, and she called the cops. They told us we had to leave and figure it out online, or whatever. Then we get in the van and Alec goes, “Man, I just got fired from my job back home!” And we’re like, “Dude, that sucks,” and he goes, “Ryan, they told me to tell you you got fired, too!”

 When we play shows in Austin, we’ll play a big show and then the next day I have to go into work and serve enchiladas, and people are like, “Dude, you look familiar. But anyways, I want this green chicken enchilada plate…” You just keep going, you know? Or you go to the bar, and people are like, “Dude, I saw you last night! Take a shot!” And I have to get back to work. 

The dream for most bands is not having to work a side job. People think if they see bands on Instagram or on a record label or doing big tours that they can’t possibly have side jobs still. Doing any type of art full time is always difficult. When people ask what I do, I want to be able to say, “I’m a musician.” When I wake up in the morning, I do my morning rituals, but by noon we’re practicing and doing band stuff. It’s a big drive.

As told to Josh Modell


On their new self-titled EP, Swimming With Bears deliver a batch of five songs that showcase the next chapter as a band: truth and escapism. But beneath the vulnerability and personal lyrics are upbeat and fun tracks that everyone can relate to.

The self-titled EP due out later this year via Cinematic Records, marks a period of major growth for Swimming With Bears, who spent the better part of the last few years honing there craft in the writing room as well as on tour, highlighted by press like Nylon who praised them as “Swimming With Bears knows this and turned it into a glistening alt. rock anthem. Oh la la, indeed.” In bringing the new EP to life, they worked closely with producer Ryan Hadlock (produced for Lumineers, Vance Joy), immersing themselves in a more thorough recording process than they ever attempted before.

As a result of the new project, Swimming with Bears created a new genre they like to call “Pop N Roll” that is a little bit of Indie rock, a little bit of pop and always a damn good time.