In The Middle with Bear’s Den
Bear’s Den have changed a lot in the past few years. When I was first introduced to the soothing melancholy sounds of Above The Clouds of Pompeii, the group were a folksy three-piece. Now one member down, the band have morphed their sound into something more epic and electronic. Their latest album, Read Earth and Pouring Rain is the perfect soundtrack for a night-time drive, and shows the band have more life in them yet.
Before they stop off at Leeds on 2nd April, we caught up with the pair about the inspiration behind the latest record, and their favourite gig to date…
How has the Europe tour been going so far? What has the reception to the second album been like?
It’s been awesome. Were currently in Barcelona for the first time as a band and its so cool to be playing some new cities on this tour. We feel really proud of the album and audiences have been incredibly positive about the album. I guess you have this fear when you make a new album that when you play it live, people just want the older songs but honestly from the reaction, you really can’t tell which album a song is from which is so cool.
Your second album, Read Earth and Pouring Rain, took your music in quite a different direction, with a more epic, electronic sound as opposed to the gentler acoustic sounds we heard on Islands. How have you found performing this kind of music? Is there a different vibe at gigs?
We bloody love playing the new songs. I think our live show was naturally evolving towards a bunch of the sounds we ended up using on REPR. Marcus Hamblett was already playing his Korg MS20 and his Prophet 08 in the live show and Kev and I were moving more and more to electric guitars on some of our earlier songs so most people who’ve seen us before aren’t too surprised. The set seems to ebb and flow pretty naturally and it’s just really cool, for us, dynamically, to be able to play a song with synths, drum machines and Jools playing some huge sounding drums and then on the next song be completely acoustic with 2 banjos, horns and no microphones or anything. It keeps us and hopefully the audience on their toes.
Why did you decide to take the music in this direction? Was it a conscious decision?
I think it was conscious in the sense that we actively pursued this idea of making an album that somehow felt like you were driving through the night. With all our musical ideas we tried to make sure they fitted with that quite abstract idea. Does it make you feel like you’re driving through the night? Was something we asked a lot in the studio. To a certain extent, the subconscious element is that we spend so much time touring across enormous continents, driving through the night, playing pretty much everywhere and we just started listening more and more to artists like Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Tom Petty. Those artists seem to suit that mood so well and paint these beautiful musical landscapes and tell beautiful and moving stories in their songs. That was our aim with the album.
Did you worry that by moving away from the folk music you became known for with Islands you might disrupt your established fan base?
We feel incredibly lucky to have such awesome fans who support what we do and believe so deeply in what we believe in. However I’d be disappointed if a band I loved just made the album I wanted or expected all the time. I’d get bored of the artist as sooner or later they wouldn’t challenge me in the ways, we deeply believe music should. I love that beautiful period of time when you’re falling in love with an album. You don’t fully understand it but is full of intrigue and depth that you wanna learn more about. To deprive your audience of that experience is to settle for something way beneath what any artist or musician is capable of.
There’s a very ‘American road trip’ feel to the latest album, with both the sounds and album artwork. Where did this theme come from?
The album cover came from this idea of someone trying to drive away from something but they can’t take their eyes off the rear view mirror. Trying to move on but being unable to because of something in your past. Lyrically the album explores similar ideas and that visual idea perhaps embodies what is at the core of a lot of the songs on the album.
What’s your favourite song from the album and why?
They’re our kids!!! Just like with having children, you say you don’t have a favourite but you inevitably do. My personal favourite right now would be the title track. It was the first song we demoed for the album and I remember how it came together at my Dad’s place, we just holed up and messed around with drum machines and synths for a couple weeks and I had this melody in my head but didn’t really know where to go with it. Then I talked to the guys about this idea for the title being Red Earth & Pouring Rain and that night like all these lyrics came tumbling out and I wrote like 30 verses over this musical idea we’d been working on. I then tried to narrow it down to 8 or something and we had the first song of our album.
How has the band evolved since Joey decided to leave? Was there ever any question of a complete split of the band?
Whenever a band member decides to leave it’s really difficult at first to know how you’re gonna move forward. Touring as much as we did together, we’re like brothers, the three of us and that will never change. I think it would have been really easy for things to have become derailed at that point but fundamentally the album we were in the process of making is something that we were so focused on and to this day Kev and I are so proud of and we wanted to finish the album and to get back out on the road and tour it. We work with some of our best mates and some of the best musicians you could hope to work with when we go out on tour and we all rallied round each other and the live show has evolved and grown considerably since we started touring again last year. Christof Van Der Ven and Harry Mundy are two awesome lads who joined the live band at the beginning of last year and it still feels like it’s growing sonically now.
Are you excited to be coming to Leeds to perform? Have you played in the city before?
We’re really excited. Leeds is an awesome city and we’ve been fortunate enough to play at the legendary Brudenell Social Club twice, the Holy Trinity Church and Leeds festival as well. It’s been a while since we last played in Leeds but we’re super excited to finally be coming back!
What do people coming along to the gig have to look forward to? What’s so special about this tour?
I think we give everything to our live show. We’re a live band before everything else so we just can’t wait to play. I think people can expect us to tear the O2 Academy a new one.
What’s has been your favourite ever performance to date?
That’s really tough…We played a sold out show at a venue in Chicago recently called Thalia Hall which is really beautiful and the audience we’re so awesome. We invited our mate Jack Garratt up on stage to perform a cover of Sufjan Stevens song Chicago with us and he just killed it. The energy that guy brings when he performs is insane and it was just a huge honour to play together in such a beautiful room. We also got to sing Nothing Compares 2 U with our mates, The Staves in Minneapolis and that was just magic. Those girls individually have just the most beautiful voices in the world and when they sing together it’s just mental.
What other plans do you have for 2017? Are you playing any festivals?
Yeah. We’re playing at Leeds and Reading festivals this Summer and we cannot wait! We’re also playing loads of European festivals this Summer as well which we’re really excited about.
Do you see a third album on the horizon?
Somewhere in the distance on the horizon yeah. We’re just starting to have some ideas now which is perhaps the most exciting time creatively for us.
Watch the band’s brand new video for Greenwoods Bethlehem: