In The Middle with Eliza and the Bear

As I sit at a table in the unique venue that is The Wardrobe, I am both excited and intrigued to meet Eliza and the Bear, a band that is greatly adding to the British indie-rock scene.

Immediately I am met with firm handshakes and warm smiles from James Kellegher (lead singer and lyricist) and Martin Dukelow (lead guitarist). As we take our seats, I quiz them about their whirlwind year that has seen them added to XFM’s ‘Xpectations’ list of 2014, combined with a non-stop journey of touring and writing.

The guys respond to this impressive list of recent accomplishments with a modesty and openness that justifies every success mentioned, cheekily describing it as a “bizarre” experience that “you can’t complain about.” Eliza and the Bear have been playing together for nearly three years, though the members have known each other since school days, and these long friendships burst through their energetic and contagiously fun shows.

The band has now been signed after producing early EPs and playing live shows independently, which have triggered an increasingly strong fan base. Dukelow comments “we knew fans on first name terms – like a family,” and this authenticity is still a huge part of the band’s attitude. In fact, Kellegher explains, “When we first signed, the label told us not to change anything. They said not to mention that we had been signed because people might find it more forced if we shout it out.” They continue to describe how fans have changed from their early shows, where by current fans will instantly gravitate to the front barrier to ensure a good view of the band, and all ages are attracted to their sound.

The band has a strong social media following, which they interact with personally and constantly: “with social media we are hands on.” “We massively appreciate any fans … and we want to make a deal out of it.” This symbiotic relationship is clear later that night when all fans are singing lyrics back to the band, and irresistibly dancing to every song. Dukelow explains, “The buzz we get from fans singing the words … it’s what you thrive on… especially being away from home.”

“People need to connect with the words…”

We move on to discuss the creative process. Kellegher writes the lyrics while Dukelow and other bandmates develop the guitar riffs and hooks. Once the song has developed enough, “Martin will sit down and try and pin point what I’m saying in the song, and if he can’t see a clear message, then the song isn’t doing the right thing … people need to connect with the words… or take what they want to hear from it.” (Kellegher)  We all laugh, agreeing that no matter how poetic a song may be, “convoluted words” aren’t the answer.

It is clear that Eliza and the Bear are inspired to make energetic, fun, and honest music. They are a band that merge genres, rather than fitting into a category, and they are influenced by “everything,” (though Dukelow mentions he is a big fan of Radiohead). The band is happy to engage with different music styles, especially as all “genres have merged … and pop is not a dirty word.” This is most evident in their very catchy hooks. Eliza and the Bear have also started experimenting with more technology, using sample pads and synth sounds: “with synth … you have these little amazing mistakes … at the back of songs … there are no boundaries.”

Now touring, I asked the band what has changed between this tour and previous tours. Interestingly, Kellegher comments that there has been “a shift in fans.” In their previous headline tour, “every show was really busy … but it felt more like it was a curious fan, this time round it feels like people are properly passionate about the songs.” This understandably feeds into the energy and “buzz” that we discussed earlier, and talking at this point Dukelow conveys enthusiastic excitement as he talks about their live shows.

Eliza and the Bear have stayed true to their organic musical process, and though the band does not include Eliza or a bear, it was a pleasure being welcomed into their paws of trust. The band will start recording a new album straight after this tour finishes in Bristol on 24th October.

Nina Fine

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