Bear’s Den are a relatively young vibrant “folk-rock” act from London. Through their record label Communion, the debut album Islands and their full-length follow-up Red Earth & Pouring Rain , the band has earned a lot of dedicated fans. Selling out multiple shows on their recent North American run including two nights in New York City. During their first show at the Bowery Ballroom, many of their fans sang along to nearly every song performed. And the band treated the crowd to an impressive encore with “Gabriel” performed in the middle of the crowd and a stirring cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York”.
The current iteration of the band has changed since Islands as four touring musicians now accompany Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones. Previous member Joey Haynes, the band’s former vocalist/banjo/guitarist, departed the band in early 2016 as he chose to involve himself with home life. PopMatters spoke with Davie after the Bowery show. Although he did demur when asked about Haynes’s departure, he readily spoke about the band’s most recent album, Red Earth & Pouring Rain , their North American tour and the band’s appreciation for America’s roads.
Red Earth possesses a ’80s sheen and has less of the rustic or “Americana” feel its predecessor had. How did you approach recording differently for your sophomore album?
Red Earth was really all about trying to capture a certain mood. We got a bit obsessed with this idea of driving at night and trying to create sounds that suited that spirit of mystery, escape and nostalgia with every song. The songs were all written over a three-week period in Holland as opposed to our first album. Islands was the amalgamation of about five years of songwriting in a certain way. Perhaps it was a more reflective record lyrically whereas Red Earth & Pouring Rain is more immediate and in the present tense.
What artists/albums were you listening to that may have influenced this sound?
We were bingeing on Stevie Nicks, [Bruce] Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac and so much more. I think it’s fair to say that they all had some influence. The album ideas were all formed while touring across America and listening to those artists a lot.
There is a lot of heartbreak on the album. How are you holding up?
Haha! I’m still here.
Good! Okay, more seriously, as you’ve said there are conversations regarding “love and relationships” in the album. Lyrically “New Jerusalem” seems to be about family while “Roses on a Breeze” seems more like a relationship. Is there a single relationship that comprises the heartbreak in the latter or is it creative expression?
“New Jerusalem” is actually a song about my sister. She’s this incredibly strong and brilliant person who I’ve looked up to my whole life. That song is about the difficult dynamic of being a younger brother and wanting to protect an older sister who, in truth, has always protected and shielded you.
In terms of heartbreak/relationship stuff, I’m always much more interested in what those songs mean to people than what they mean to me. All of the songs across both albums/EPs/etc are intensely personal to me and are about many different relationships. Red Earth & Pouring Rain is focused quite heavily on one relationship for me but as you said it is a creative expression and all kinds of stuff comes out when you write honestly.
The album cover shows a girl in a left-hand drive car. You don’t drive on the left at home, though — care to explain?
Very true… I guess the idea that inspired the artwork was of someone trying to move forwards but also being really aware of what’s behind them. The idea of someone looking in the rear view mirror and trying to run away from something but they’re not able to. With left hand versus right hand drive….We’ve spent almost as much time touring the States as we have in Europe and the songs were massively inspired by the long drives through the night we’ve taken in the States so maybe that was a contributing factor. Also driving from Manchester to Glasgow isn’t quite the same as say Seattle to Minneapolis in terms of distance…We just did it and it took 2 days and 3 nights through some pretty crazy snow.
As our roads have influenced you how, if at all, has America’s political culture affected your current tour? You hit the road while Obama was still President and now….
The main thing is that the conversation has changed. Travelling from the West Coast to the East Coast of America has been fascinating. Listening to so many different people’s views and how things have affected them or what they feel potentially might benefit them through the new presidency has been really challenging and eye-opening. We, as a band and crew all have strong views on it but the most important thing is that people from both sides want to talk about it.
And what is that keeps you on the road or from growing weary of touring?
Touring is awesome. Getting to travel the world with your mates and play music doesn’t really get old. It gets difficult at times to be away from family and friends but the more you do it, the more your touring crew and band mates become like a family and that stops you from growing weary. Kev[in Jones] and I have been friends for like 10 years, long before Bear’s Den was ever even an idea so we’ve always looked out for each other. With Marcus Hamblett, Jools Owen, Christof Van Der Ven, Harry Mundy, Benny Curnow, Scott Humphries, Ryan Wyatt and all the other brilliant people we work or have worked with it’s just an extension of that.
Per your request, Bear’s Den fans have highlighted songs for you to cover -– one of which you end up performing at each city/tour stop. Which song has been the most surprising or which has been your favorite?
The most surprising and my personal favourite would probably be “Bobcaygeon” by the Tragically Hip. The audience in Toronto were definitely the most forthcoming with suggestions and we really didn’t know about the Tragically Hip at all. So many people asked us to play “Bobcaygeon” and also gave reasons as to why we should play the song and the love and connection that people from Canada have with their music and the songwriting of Gord Downie was overwhelming. Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last year which is just so sad and to listen to his albums and learn about him has been so interesting and educational and then to be in that room and celebrate his music and all those peoples’ connection to his music was a huge honour for us.
You must have had a tremendous reaction when you played that. Other than these covers, since the album you’ve released (at least) one song, “Berlin”. Do you anticipate the band’s next release might be an EP or would you expect to work on a full album?
I really don’t know right now, to be honest. “Berlin” was a song that we’d been working on for a while but didn’t quite fit with the mood of Red Earth & Pouring Rain. It needed to stand on its own somehow. In terms of what we do next, I’d imagine it’s more likely to be an album, but it’s hard to know.
Well I always like to ask, what is a work of art you have recently consumed that has left a significant impact on you personally?
I watched the movie Anomalisa a few months ago at the Curzon in Soho. (Such an iconic and fantastic cinema – would be a total tragedy if it closed down!) I’m a bit obsessed with Charlie Kaufman’s movies and had high hopes for Anomalisa. It totally blew my mind. His movies are so genuine and moving and how his brain works is so incredibly inspiring to me on a personal level.
His BAFTA screenwriting lecture is also one of the most insightful things I’ve ever listened to about art and creating. He just has a brilliant mind.
Bowery Ballroom 2/1/17 Setlist:
Red Earth & Pouring Rain
Don’t Let the Sun Steal You Away
The Love We Stole
Roses on a Breeze
Love Can’t Stand Alone
Dew on the Vine
When You Break
Above the Clouds of Pompeii
The Only Living Boy in New York (Simon & Garfunkel)