Boy and Bear, the longstanding indie rockers who are still firing off with real strength sit down to talk with Ewan Gleadow about their latest, self-titled record. Jon Hart, vocalist, mandolin, banjo and keyboard player talks through the heavy rehearsals hitting the band and their need to find rhythm in a creative, taxing space.
Ewan Gleadow: Five albums in is a major achievement, what is it about this self-titled record that sets it apart from all the rest?
Jon Hart: It’s the latest evolution in our sound, we’re kind of always moving creatively in the sense that what interests us, collectively, from album to album changes. And on this record, we produced the whole thing ourselves, whereas historically we’ve tended to work with a producer or co-producer. We made it locally, so we worked on songs, lived with them for a few weeks or months and then were able to revisit them and make changes if we felt like.
For most of our past records, we did the recording in a shorter period of time, often overseas, and so what we recorded in the few weeks of the session is what we went with, whereas this time around we had the freedom to re-record or change things along the way. I’m not sure that’s necessarily better, sometimes too many options is bad, but at the same time, if you record a song and still like it three months later, that’s a good sign, and if you don’t, maybe it’s good to be able to change it.
Ewan: You’re heading out on tour next month too, are there any preparations or pre-tour rituals the band have to get themselves ready?
Jon: We’re in pretty heavy rehearsals right now, the nature of the recording process is that it’s often so different to playing the songs live that we have to learn the songs again to be able to play them live – particularly for me on keyboards and Killian on the electric guitar.
Oftentimes, a song will have more parts than just each one of us playing one thing, so we’ll have to find the most important bits and arrange the song (sometimes with different sounds) to adapt to the live environment. That being said, some songs tend to play themselves (for example, our latest single, Strange World). And then we have to sequence the set so that there’s a nice flow to it, which I think is the magic of a live set. It should feel like a journey, but not a journey with awkward delays! When we get it right it feels like the set disappears and in the last song, it feels like we’re just getting started.
It takes some time to get it feeling good, so we move songs in and out and change the order to try and get the vibe right. And then we play it a bunch of times in that order so that by the time we play the first show it feels natural to us. That being said, it doesn’t matter how much you rehearse, when the first gig comes it’s a bit of a shock to the system. But the energy of that uncertainty is pretty intoxicating too.
Ewan: There’s a clear change in direction and mood on this record compared to earlier works, was this an active choice or something the band came to subconsciously?
Jon: It was subconscious for us, and for us, it feels more like an evolution of what we do rather than a change in direction, but we’re open to other people’s thoughts on it! In general, we have an aversion to doing things that sound like something we’ve done before, not because we don’t like those songs or aren’t proud of them, but it’s the nature of the creative process that we want it to feel new and exciting for us. So each album we’ve made, to my ears, has its own sonic identity which is distinct from any of the others.
Ewan: In interviews before the release of Suck My Light, there seemed to be a bit of a struggle in penning lyrics and finding the energy to create. Did that feel different before this self-titled release?
Jon: Yeah, Dave’s health struggles have been tricky for him to manage, but he’s been making progress and was able to find a rhythm to how we were working which meant we got a lot of songs demoed and then we recorded the best of those.
Ewan: Looking back on your early days, the submitted songs to Triple J radio station and supporting Mumford & Sons, how important were those early experiences?
Jon: They were really important in their own ways. Being played on Triple J gave us a chance for our music to reach music fans across Australia (and the world) and led to opportunities at festivals in Australia where we were able to try and establish ourselves as a festival band – it took us some time to feel comfortable at a festival where rock or dance artists always sound bigger and more energetic than we do – which actually ties into the Mumford supports too.
Those shows put us on big stages with a band that was blowing up all over the world and we relished the challenge of trying to win an audience over who was ostensibly there to see someone else. I think we found that it forced us to really tap into the well of self-belief (and youthful exuberance) and try and find the things that you do well as a band (or artist) rather than mimicking the headline act.
Ewan: Further on from that, how do you feel you have maintained the band and the music over a decade? It’s a long time to say the least, and the band has helmed its fair share of changes.
Jon: There are two main parts to how we’ve been able to maintain the band as long as we have. We try and look after each other as people and look after the relationships in the band. It’s not always easy, as it’s like a large family, and after a while, it’s easy to take each other for granted and life on the road gets more complicated when people start to be in long-term relationships or start families.
The second part relates to what I talked about earlier about creative evolution. We’re still interested in the process of writing, recording and performing music. We listen to music as music fans and we write music together and separately from our individual and collective points of view, so everyone is bringing a bit of a different thing, which means it always feels fresh and new. And I think this sounds a bit trite, but we also feel like we’re always learning and I think life is more fun when you’re learning.