In the past year or so the UK trio of Bear’s Den have experienced a steady rise to stardom. The release of two well-received EPs in 2013, extensive touring in Europe, North America and Australia and a brand new album on the way. At Inner Ear Media we figured it was about time to talk to them and see what drives them as a band and what their plans for the future are.
Last friday I sat down with Andrew, Kev and Joey at label HQ and we chatted for some time. Since not everyone may be incredibly familiar with Bear’s Den, I asked them to describe the band and the music they make. Tentatively they started describing themselves as “we’re a band that plays songs…. that have lyrics… and melodies.. and harmonies.. well yeah, that’s about it.” After we all had a good laugh we talked a little more. Bear’s Den would describe their music as “post-nu-folk-folk”, which is a term they had thought of recently. It’s impossible to try and box in a musical genre or sound and Bear’s Den couldn’t really describe it exactly, but ‘post-nu-folk-folk’ is the moniker they are giving their sound.
I asked if the ‘post-nu-folk-folk’ sound could be described as their signature sound or if they might be inclined to experiment with different soundscapes and musical expressions. The band feels their brand of music is not very restricted to one soundscape or another and they feel like they mix in different ways to express themselves with in their music. Eventually it is the people in the band that make it unique and create a certain vibe or sound. If you would even change one of the members of the band, the sound would change. Through the different influences the members of a band bring to the equation, the style of songwriting and the vocal sound, the band gets a certain identity but in the end the songs are what holds it together. That’s the central message of what Bear’s Den told me when I asked them what it is that sets them apart from other bands and what makes them unique.
We started talking more about their creative process and how they go about their songwriting and recording. Bear’s Den is known for songs that are very descriptive and almost provide a visual. When you listen to their new single, Above The Clouds of Pompeii, and close your eyes, you can easily picture yourself in the song. Since this is only the first taste of their upcoming album “Islands” which drops on October 20, 2014, I asked them what we could expect on the record.
“Probably more of the same. Recently someone told us that just like movies have soundtracks, our songs should have movies because of how they are so visual. I really liked that. And I think that’s what we tried to do on the album. As for the album title, each song is an island of sorts. You could say the album is about isolation. Self-imposed isolation. That would be the central theme.”
When I asked about reworking old songs for the album, the band mentioned Elysium, which was a couple of years old when they revisited it for this album. They brought in some friends, including Marcus Hamblett on horns, and the song worked out beautifully, in a way they couldn’t as a threepiece. The band dedicated the song to a video shot by friend and director Marcus Haney which started out as documenting the last care free days of Seattle students before a tragedy occured. To watch the video and read about the way Elysium evolved into something more, click here.
During the making of the album, not all the songs the band wrote worked out. There are unfinished songs, songs that didn’t work out, etc. I wondered what happens with those songs, so I asked the band. They joked about burying the songs and hitting their heads against the wall in frustration. The remembered how a friend of theirs actually shoots songs that don’t make the final cut as a ritual to part ways and we started discussing ways to get rid of ‘unwanted’ songs. This was all in good fun of course. But Bear’s Den said they don’t want to get rid of those songs entirely because “what if they work later on” but they all agreed they’d have to shelf them for the time being. Andrew said: “You try to look at songs in different ways and at a certain point you know when something is good or when it isn’t. All three of us bring in something different artistically and those different influences create tension, which is necessary to produce great songs. But sometimes it doesn’t work out. It’s a process.”
The band is currently on a European tour, playing the new songs live, so I asked them how the songs were being received. The band said “the response has been relatively equal between the different songs. It changes a little from place to place but I don’t think there are one or two songs that get a better response than others.” Also, I asked them which song they like playing live the most and which one is the most terrifying to play live and the band started to laugh and at the same time they said: “that’s the same song”.
Joey explained it was Think of England because there are a lot of new things going on in this song and it is the first time he is really playing drums live. Also, they use a little loop in the song and it’s always a scary moment to see if it actually works. Andrew and Kev joined in and told me Joey was doing an excellent job.
We started talking about other things they pursue artistically, outside of music. Recording with other bands was mentioned and Andrew and Kev mentioned they like writing sometimes and Kev also likes to make things, build things. But the real artistic expressions outside of music were Joey’s FIFA-skills. He said: “The way I make those little men move, is pretty artistic.” And if you want a recipe for meatballs a la Bear’s Den, ask them about it when you see them. Suffice it to say I left this interview craving meatballs. And cooking good food, in my book, should always cound as art!
We circled back to the descriptive, visual nature of Bear’s Den’s songs and how the songs are almost like literature sometimes. I assumed they were into reading and they confirmed this. So I asked them for some suggestions we should all check out. Joey immediately answerd: “Twilight” with a twinkle in his eye. Also mentioned were Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse 5” and Raymond Carver’s short stories were classified as essential reading.
After all this it was time we talked about music again. As I mentioned earlier, Bear’s Den extensive touring took them to North America, Europe and Australia. So they’ve been to some interesting places. I asked them what they thought the most interesting places have been so far and where they’d still want to go.
“We were on tour with Mumford & Sons in the United States and we went to all these smaller towns of maybe 10,000 people, like Guthrie, Oklahoma and Troy, Ohio, and at night at the shows there were twice as many people. That was surreal. And when we stood next to the Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois. And Hobart in Tasmania was pretty cool!”
The real kicker, however, was the place they’d like to go. Would you have guessed Botswana? I wouldn’t have. But that’s what they said. Recently, the band received an e-mail that told them their song had reached #14 in the Botswanan charts, which they thought was really interesting. Other places they mentioned were anywhere in Africa or South America. So don’t be surprised if the band ends up touring there in the future. And while they hadn’t quite figured out how it would work out, they thought it would be fun to play a Trans-Siberian Railroad tour. Now that’s something, right? And we weren’t quite done yet.
“We’ll have to give a shout out to Big Steve. A while ago we met this guy called Steve. Big Steve for friends. He offered to takes us up in his hot air balloon and said that he’d bring wine and cheese.” Reminiscing about this they said: “Big Steve, come and find us and lets go on tour in a hot air balloon.” So Steve, if you’re reading this…
As I got a signal that our time was almost up, I asked the band what the worst and best thing is about being a musician because it can’t always be easy. The band told me that you have to make sacrifices. You spend a lot of time away from home, you can get sleep deprived and it can be hard to get a decent meal, but when it comes down to it, you make those sacrifices because the good outweighs the bad. You get to see so many new and interesting places and meet so many great people and connect with them while you’re doing what you like to do most. They also gave a shoutout to Christoff, who is touring with them at the moment and, according to the band, is keeping the spirits high while they are on the road.
Finally, I asked them what it means to them if a fan tells them that their music changed his or her life or that it brought people together.
“That’s another one for ‘best things about being a musician’. It is amazing. Truly blessing. Very surreal. There are so many songs that have shaped our lives and to be a part of that is pretty magic.”
The band remembered someone proposing during their set in Bristol and also a few years ago a couple told them they were about to file for divorce but after they listened to one of their songs they decided to give it one more try and they were working things out. So the band decided their new slogan should be: “Bear’s Den: keeping divorce rates low since 2012”.
It was an absolute pleasure to talk to you, guys and I hope you are having an absolute blast on tour. Keep doing what you’re doing and I hope to talk to you again soon!